Preview: Tribes Ascend

The past several years have been unforgiving for Tribes fans. Tribes: Vengeance was…. different. Tribes 2 slowly died out and the freeware version of the game never really got the playerbase it deserved. Things were quiet for a long time – but now the sound of spinfusors are echoing across the virtual battlefield once again.

The most important question that can come with any new Tribes game is this: does it feel like I’m playing Tribes 1 and/or 2? The answer is – yes. It is surprisingly authentic. If you spent time with the first two games the combat will come naturally to you and you’ll be getting your first mid-air spinfusor kills within an hour. This is really the best compliment I can give Tribes: Ascend. The visuals, the audio, the map design – they nailed it and it put a smile on my face.

Playing the current generation of shooters had convinced me that I had lost my touch – that I was an old man in a young man’s game. Yet in my first round of T:A I managed to go 12-2 with a flag cap. Not jaw-dropping but indicative of just how different the current militaristic, brown-n’-bloom shooters are from more traditional FPS titles.

But ultimately, I’m not sure how long I’ll play the game. Why? One simple decision that Hi-Rez studious made really hurts the experience. Out of the box you can only play as one of two classes. Both are in medium armor with a limited selection of weapons. If you want light armor, heavy armor, or a wider variety of weaponry, you’ll have to spend actual money or attempt to earn the necessary in-game currency by playing… a lot. I’ve logged approximately 5 hours with the game and I have a whopping ~150 credits. I need 1500 to even unlock *one* new class. There are 15 in total.

This was a bad idea. It certainly isn’t pay-to-win as regardless of your loadout or armor, you’re no harder to kill than anyone else. Yet it is severely limiting the nature of game. One of the beautiful aspects of Tribes 1 and 2 was ‘periphery’ gameplay. While the main objective was to capture the enemy flag (as it is in T:A), equally as important was the destruction of enemy resources such as base defenses, generators, vehicle pads, etc. Limiting such a large chunk of players to just two classes cuts back drastically on the specialist players who excel at attacking the enemy through more indirect means or who were dedicated to ‘turret farming’ (i.e. a player that stays at his base and sets up defenses to protect the flag). In theory these classes and roles exist but in practice they are depressingly absent from most matches.

The game is still in beta so as more people play they will unlock more and eventually diversify. However we have to wonder how many players are driven away by the need to purchase and/or earn upgrades. At the very least, I would suggest that Hi-Rez maybe find a way to scale the way in-game currency is acquired. Another popular F2P game, World of Tanks, is very good at rewarding players early on while slowly cutting back on those rewards as they progress through the game.

Tribes: Ascend is still in its infancy, so there is plenty of time and space for things to change. Combined with its free-to-play business model, these changes to the way classes are handled can still be enacted. I think that freedom of modification of a game’s tenets is really one of the shining achievements of the rise of free-to-play titles. Long story short? If you’re a veteran of the series or a fan a of older PC shooters, you should be playing it. Other than that, its just a little too early to weigh in with any decisive verdicts.

Also: Shazbot.

Shaun Watson

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