Tribes: Ascend

Publisher: Hi-Rez Studios
Developer: Hi-Rez Studios
Release Date: April 12, 2012
System: PC


Cries of “Shazbot!” and “Woohoo!” fill my ears  as I ski at a blistering speed of 200KM/H down the slope of a hill on a contested planet in my medium-sized powered armor. There are blue and green streaks across the sky, bodies both crimson and gunmetal flying in either the controlled path afforded by a jetpack or the chaotic spiraling of a dead man. Yup, it’s an average match in Tribes: Ascend, a fast-paced multiplayer-only free-to-play FPS. This is a game of speed, skill, and strategy employed in synergy.

It has been my favorite FPS of the last six or so months, which saw me playing during closed and open betas to now, a few days after launch. It is a free-to-play title but not pay-to-win, as is most potential players’ fear. There are items that can be unlocked with cash, but they can also be unlocked with experience, which is quite necessary to survive since experience is the only way to level up your arms and armor. Though experience is acquired primarily by spending time playing matches, there is bonus XP to be had if you do well. This provides a good balance for people who don’t have time but have money and vice versa.

All the classes and all their weapons can be handled in a training mode, offering a “try before you buy” experience not often found in many other free-to-play titles. It is best if one uses the training mode not only to hone your skills, but also find out what class suits you best, as you will want to spend at least a bit of money in order to get one or two unlocks that fit your playing style. My personal recommendation rests with the Spinfusor of the Soldier class. It is the game’s signature weapon and likely the most satisfying to score a kill in midair with.

As for weapon balance, well, it does need a bit of work. Arguably, one can do very well with the default loadout for each class (though only three classes are unlocked to start), but it requires skill that many don’t desire to hone, which means this game is likely to be a turn off for many. There will not only be people better than you starting out, but people who make it seem effortless to destroy you time and again. Here again I will sing the praises of training mode, which will at the very least help you not be too much of a noob on the field. Do the ski training at least once; it’ll become second nature after a while. The ski challenge is fun if you want to really test your skills. The other two modes are for help with aim and, as I said earlier, trying out all the weapons.

One aspect of training mode that is somewhat annoying is that your loadout resets to defaults when you fill up at an ammo station if the loadout you had contained something you haven’t unlocked yet. This brings me to other bugs in the game that can be insignificant, like the fact that the numbers shown next to accolades at the end of a match are limited to one digit, to stupid, like the game freezing or crashing when it can’t log you into the servers. This is by no means a game without imperfections, but these shouldn’t bother you unless you let them. Except the server bit; you can be angry about that.

The fundamental shooting mechanics rely very much on leading a target based on its velocity and acceleration while also considering your own vectors. This is, unsurprisingly, quite difficult to do, so midair hits are rare. Mostly people rely on staying in the air longer than their opponent(s), firing at their landing point. This leads to intense duels, where every movement counts, more so in enclosed spaces like generator rooms. The light classes are best out in the open, where they can outmaneuver pretty much anyone, the medium classes are fairly comfortable in any situation, and the heavy classes are best indoors, where their inability to move with agility doesn’t matter too much since they have a lot more health. This is not to say these classes are best used in such a way; it all depends on your particular skills as well as your loadout. For example, Infiltrators, despite their lightweight classification, are designed for getting into a base and taking out the generator and catching people unaware. The Doombringer is designed to sit on top of the flag (which always has at least two lanes of movement for cappers) and shoot incoming enemies.

Generator rooms are fairly important in one of Tribes’ game modes, of which there are four: team deathmatch, capture the flag, arena, and capture and hold (control points on the map). The generator room houses, you guessed it, the generator that powers a base’s defenses, sensor, and deployable items like shield walls, turrets, and jammers. If this sounds like more than your average FPS CTF, that’s because it most certainly is. There’s a lot more going on than just getting the flag, though that is still the primary goal. What often happens is a fight to defend/destroy generators and the win goes to the team with someone who keeps what’s important in mind. This is not to say generators aren’t important, as they do help defend the flag, but it can be difficult for many to keep in mind it’s just that: help. The primary defense is the skills of the team applied properly. Capture the flag is what Tribes has been known for since the first entry in the long-running series, of which Ascend is a successor in name and spirit despite having completely different developers.

Team deathmatch is the standard “kill anyone not on your team” stuff in other games with a twist: whichever team has the flag, which pops out of the first kill, gets double the kill count for each kill everyone on the team scores. This makes getting 100 kills less time-consuming than other games and gives focus to this traditionally hectic mode.

Capture and Hold

Arena and capture and hold were introduced late in beta. The first is a two round affair where your team has a limited number of reinforcements, with the exception of the last five lives, which gives each man on the team one last chance. The maps are small and the number of players proportionally limited. Whoever drains the other team’s reinforcements first wins. It’s kind of a scaled-down team deathmatch with no flag to worry about chasing. The capture and hold mode is familiar stuff for FPS vets out there: grab a point and hold on to it by not letting any enemy stand on the point too long. There are minor differences, though: each point has a few defenses, two of them being bases and the others either having a sensor or a turret. This adds a layer of strategy as to which points to hold. The points with sensors tend to be smaller and easier to defend. The points with turrets are larger but have that extra turret. All defenses are at their max level.

Generator Repair

Oh, and about those levels, you get points from doing various things (e.g. kills, repairs, flag caps) that you can spend on upgrades, vehicles (a tank, a “jet,” and a hoverbike), and call-ins (air strike, ammo station, and orbital strike). These points are not to be confused with the XP you get for upgrading and purchasing arms and armor.

Server List

There are dedicated servers, but you’ll be fine just using the matchmaking as it’s actually quite excellent at getting you in a nice low-latency game. The server interface has a few issues with navigability, though, which brings me to the UI.

You have to click this to scroll

A major gripe I have about the general usability of the interface is lack of scroll wheel functionality, which is quite odd for a PC-only title. It is an oversight that, though not game-breaking, is a true pain that I hope is rectified. Other than that, the UI is generally very clear and the language very helpful. There are a plethora of settings that will have most people satisfied, including “cheat codes” of which I know only one: GOTTAGOFAST.

Pretty

Visually, the game can be gorgeous, if you have the hardware. I, unfortunately, do not trust in my computer’s aging GTX 260 to handle anything more than medium settings. There is great detail and the vistas are beautiful, especially when considering the scope of the battles being fought in the greater lore, which I’ll leave the readers to find out on their own. It’s interesting if you like space operas spanning centuries. The music is of good quality, though not something I can give fair criticism on since it is left mostly to intermissions and menu navigation. It is easy to see that it was not a focal point for the developers. The sound effects, however, are quite excellent, especially the ching! of the “Blue Plate Special” accolade from getting a midair kill with a  spinfusor. Each sound seems well-engineered, like the hiss of skiing or footsteps of a possibly cloaked enemy.

With no regrets I heartily recommend this game to any fan of first-person shooters and skill-based games. This is easily the best shooter in the past few years, both technically and in terms of how much fun it can be, even with the bugs and few poor design choices. There is so much going on that you aren’t likely to get bored in a match, let alone across different game modes and classes that are all different enough to fit almost anyone’s play style. And, if you’re feeling generous or want to go deeper more quickly, drop some cash in Hi-Rez’s pockets. It’s worth it. See you on the field!

Pros:
+ Gameplay is amazing
+ Good looks
+ Sound design
+ Variety of modes
+ Free-to-play!
Cons:
- A few bugs
- Some UI issues
- Somewhat imbalanced weapons

VGW! 9/10

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