Tribes: Ascend is a game I have been playing quite a lot lately. The frantic, team-oriented gameplay and free-to-play business model make it stand out in an industry that churns out generic first person shooters every other day. The attractive price tag alone is enough reason to give the game a shot. However, free-to-play games have always carried a stigma; if it’s free, it must be trash. Does the “freemium” status of Tribes: Ascend affect how great of a game it is? Not in the least. Tribes: Ascend by Hi-Rez Studios is a shining example of a quality free-to-play game. The game is so polished I can see my reflection in it. I am not just talking about the graphics either.
When you first start up the game, you will have three classes available to you: the Pathfinder, Soldier and Juggernaut. The Pathfinder a light armor class with exceptional speed. The Soldier is a medium armor class with moderate speed and great firepower. The Juggernaut, as the name might suggest, is a hulking behemoth that rains mortar fire down on enemies and bases. Surprisingly, the three “starter” classes feel sufficiently powerful and competitive. Hi-Rez clearly wants to keep this game as balanced as possible and they have succeeded with the three free classes. They’re still competitive when compared to the other unlockable classes. Balanced weapons and classes are a struggle for every competitive first person shooter, and Hi-Rez definitely seems on the right track.
There are two additional classes for each armor type, and each class is good at a particular task. Infiltrators, a light armored class, are good at sneaking around and assassinating flag carriers or destroying the enemy generators. Raiders are technically a medium armored class, but they can be modified to have one of the better defenses in the game and are great at making their way into the enemy’s generator room and setting up shop in there, harassing enemy technicians who are trying to repair the generator. You get the idea; everyone has a purpose.
One of the most important mechanics in the game is “skiing”. If you hold down space bar, your feet are no longer firmly planted on the ground. Instead, you are now hovering slightly above it. You can use this to slide down hillsides and glide along the flat ground at incredible speed. Combine this speed with your jetpack you can fly up to the next oncoming hill and ski down the side of that one for even more speed. This speed comes in handy when playing just about every game mode. It can be used as a tool to get from point A to point B, or as a means of self defense and evasion. Combine all of this speed and skiing with a light armored class like the Pathfinder and you’ve got an excellent flag capping class.
Speaking of capping flags, there are several modes in Tribes: Ascend. Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Arena and Capture & Hold are the main types, with Capture the Flag being the trademark game mode for the Tribes series. Grabbing the enemy flag is ingrained into the Tribes experience. Even Team Deathmatch makes use of the flag; when your team is holding the flag your kills count for 2 tickets instead of just 1 and make it easier to take your opponents down to 0 tickets. The weakest mode in my experience is capture and hold. It makes no use of the flag, which makes it feel out of place in the Tribes universe. It’s also the least fun, because you will often find yourself defending a base solo while praying for some action.
At first this can all be overwhelming. Each class has strengths and weaknesses, and skiing will take getting used to. Tribes: Ascend definitely has a learning curve. There are many different types of weapons and they all behave differently. There are spinfusors, grenade launchers and rifles that shoot projectiles that have a travel time, and these projectiles can be easily dodged by a speedy target who is skiing and jetpacking everywhere. There are certain weapons that are weaker per shot, but will be a direct hit as long as the reticle is on the target when you click. The controls are very tight and if you miss in this game it’s either because your connection is really poor or you have no clue how to use your weapons. The netcode is excellent and there are not many instances where you will get killed without deserving it. The game is not easy, but if you take the time to learn how to lead your shots and combine moving and shooting effectively, you will dominate.
[+Balanced Classes] [+Starter Classes Aren’t Weak] [+Various Game Modes] [-Learning Curve Might Turn Away Some Gamers] [-Not Starting With All Classes Can Be a Bummer]
They really outdid themselves with the visuals in this game. While still a DirectX9 title, the visuals are fairly detailed and “pretty” for lack of a better word. The character and weapon designs are really neat, taking several models from the previous Tribes games and updating them with modern graphics. The maps are well designed and span several different climates such as snow and ice, a volcanic field and a mountainous forest. I appreciate the varied environments available at launch. The maps that are currently available are gorgeous and very well designed. If you have a good sound card and a sub-woofer, prepare for some awesome sci-fi combat sounds. With all of the different types of weapons, jetpacking and explosions Tribes: Ascend does not lack in the sound department. One thing I think the game could use is more character customization. I’m talking about visuals, not equipment. We currently have alternate skins for two of the nine classes, but I think there needs to be more minor customizations to set people apart. For example, one of the neat things about the new skins is that they have unique thruster colors. While it’s not a huge deal, having the ability to customize colors of weapon projectiles and other minor cosmetic effects could be really cool.
Since this is a multiplayer game, there isn’t much in the way of story. You pick either Blood Eagles or Diamond Sword and you try to jack the opposing flag. As far as the writing goes, there’s really not much to say about it. Being a fast-paced online shooter, it would be out of character to worry too much about an intricate story. There might be a back story you can look into on the game’s site or wiki, but you won’t find story details in-game. The point of Tribes: Ascend is to steal flags and blow stuff up, and that’s where it excels.
As I mentioned before, the difficulty of Tribes comes from learning how to shoot, move and work as a team. The weapons have their learning curves and it can take a while to figure out what weapons work best for certain situations. You also have to practice leading with rifles and launchers so that you’re not constantly missing fast-moving targets. Teamwork is very important in Tribes and a lot of the difficulty can come from getting your teammates to do what they are supposed to do to win. I have to say though, of all the online games that I have played, the Tribes player-base seems to have a fairly decent head on their shoulders when it comes to working as a team and completing objectives.
I believe I mentioned how polished this game feels earlier. The overall style of the game is solid. Nothing about this title feels amateur. Weapons and armor look good and not over the top to the point of goofiness. The weapons vary in feel but generally feel great, which is necessary when learning how to use a new weapon. WIth my fairly standard internet quality and the appropriate server choice I haven’t had any connection or lag issues to speak of. The amount of effort Hi-Rez has put into balance and controls is very clear, and this game has become another great example of how free-to-play games have come a long way in the industry.
[+Lovely Visuals] [+Explosive Sound] [+Excellent Netcode for Fair Gameplay] [+Very Tight Controls] [-Lack of Story] [-Limited Aesthetic Customization]
The amount of value you get with this game is an interesting topic. I’ve mentioned a few times that this is a “freemium” game. That word has garnered many negative connotations to it throughout the years. There are games out there that are free to play, but spending real money for in-game items gives you near god status and makes the game “pay-to-win”. Fortunately I feel it is safe to say that Tribes: Ascend is not a “pay-to-win” type of game. The classes and weapons you start out with are more than adequate to enjoy what the game has to offer, and you won’t feel like a total weakling once you get the hang of the game. You can be competitive with the stock setups. If the stock weapon setups aren’t doing it for you, don’t worry, you can unlock new gear fairly quickly.
There are two types of currency in regards to purchasing items and upgrades: gold and experience points. You gain XP by completing matches and doing well, and you get gold by paying real cash. Every weapon, armor, class and upgrade can be purchased with XP. In other words, you can unlock every non-cosmetic item in the game solely with XP if you put enough time in. If you are impatient and want to unlock weapons, armor and classes a bit faster, you can pay anywhere from $10 to $50 and get a good amount of gold to unlock those things. To balance this, gear upgrades are restricted to XP only. This way players cannot just pay a bunch of money to unlock all of the gear instantly and upgrade it to maximum effectiveness. Using gold to purchase a weapon means you have to play the game and earn XP before you can upgrade it from it’s stock settings.
Just to experiment, I decided put $10 into the game to see how much I got for my buck. The answer is: surprisingly a lot. I didn’t expect the gold I purchased to last very long, but for $10 I was able to unlock the Infiltrator, Raider and Brute classes, and I was able to pretty much unlock all of the gear for the Raider that I wanted. I had a bit of gold leftover to unlock a few pieces of misc gear for different classes too. If you are on the fence about spending money for a free-to-play game, I would recommend putting at least $10 into it. It makes it easier to find a class that you connect with and a play-style that you enjoy. That way you can save up XP to upgrade your favorite class and enhance your play-style instead of losing out on a bunch of XP for a class you may end up not liking. I should also mention that buying the smallest gold package gives your account VIP Status, which gives you a permanent 50% XP boost to your account. 50% may not seem like a lot but it really does add up (pun possibly intended). Additionally, the VIP Boost does stack with other XP Boosts that you can buy with gold.
You don’t have to worry about this game getting stale anytime soon. With multiple maps, game modes, classes and weapon combinations there is a lot of great content here. The game only came out recently and has just put out it’s second content update with new weapons and skins for the Raider class. If Hi-Rez continues putting out content like this there will be a lot of items to collect and upgrade and you won’t run out of stuff to work towards. Only two classes have custom skins at the moment, which cost gold to purchase, so if you’re into having a unique looking character there are seven more classes that need a new look.
[+Low Barrier of Entry] [+Great Bang for the Buck] [+Tons of Content to Unlock] [+You Can Get Everything for Free] [+Countless Hours of Entertainment] [-Some Might Argue “Pay-to-Win” is Still a Factor] [-XP Cost of Some Items is Very High] [-Gold Cost of Some Items is Very High]
Bottom line: the game is a complete blast to play. I came in open-minded of the free-to-play nature of the game and have become thoroughly impressed with Hi-Rez Studios’ efforts with this title. The game is fun, well made and has an incredibly low barrier of entry. If you have a computer that was built in the past few years and enjoy first person shooters, you owe it to yourself to give it a shot. If you don’t like it, you didn’t lose out on any money. It is a great alternative to a very stale first person shooter market and can cost way less.
[+Balanced Classes] [+Starter Classes Aren’t Weak] [+Various Game Modes] [+Lovely Visuals] [+Explosive Sound] [+Excellent Netcode for Fair Gameplay] [+Very Tight Controls] [+Low Barrier of Entry] [+Great Bang for the Buck] [+Tons of Content to Unlock] [+You Can Get Everything for Free] [+Countless Hours of Entertainment] [-Learning Curve Might Turn Away Some Gamers] [-Not Starting With All Classes Can Be a Bummer] [-Lack of Story] [-Limited Aesthetic Customization] [-Some Might Argue “Pay-to-Win” is Still a Factor] [-XP Cost of Some Items is Very High] [-Gold Cost of Some Items is Very High]