Hi-Rez Studios’ Tribes: Ascend captures the game play of the original Starsiege: Tribes flawlessly while introducing many new elements and mechanics. Based upon my time in the closed beta, I’m confident that Tribes: Ascend is the Tribes game that fans of the original have been waiting for.
Spinfusors, Skiing, and Shazbot—oh my!
Granted, Tribes: Ascend makes more than a few adjustments to the original game’s formula, and some changes might ruffle the feathers of hardcore, old-school Tribes ‘grognards’. (And of course, bear in mind this report is all from the closed beta, so changes can and will come throughout the beta period and well after the game has launched.)
[Check out Tribes: Ascend screenshots]
But despite many changes made to accommodate the free-to-play model upon which Tribes: Ascend is built, the gamesucceeds at its most important task: capturing the unique gameplay of the original game and restoring the core elements that defined and distinguished it: High-flying team and class-based aerial combat, vehicles, skiing (the physics-bug-turned-game feature)—oh, and the ability to shout ”Shazbot!” through in-game voice-emotes.
Tribes: Ascend might not hold the same appeal for FPS gamers more accustomed to the likes of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, where infantry-based combat is a decidedly different experience than Tribes aerial-dogfighting—but the same was true of the 1998 original Tribes. More than a few Quake players ‘back in the day’ were initially baffled as to why their ground-pounding, circle-strafing chaingun skills typically resulted in their own quick demise—usually courtesy of a spinfusor shot into the top of their heads.
Ascend also introduces subtle elements that flesh out and hint at the larger Tribes universe. For example, the Blood Eagle will automatically cry out “The Sworders have taken our flag!”, and if defeated in a match say “In defeat, we learn.” (No doubt we’ll see more of the Tribes universe brought to life in Hi-Rez Studios’ other Tribes-based game, the MMOFPS Tribes Universe.)
Balancing old and new
Most of the changes to the Tribes model are the result of Tribes: Ascend being created as a free-to-play game based upon micro-transactions. As such, the changes generally don’t affectcore gameplay as much as they affect how much of the game you can experience.
Like other free-to-play games, you begin with access to a limited subsection of the game—in this case, a starting class and access to a limited number of free-to-play maps (including Capture the Flag and ‘Rabbit’—both Tribes classics). Additional classes, access to VIP maps, and various perks and cosmetic content can be unlocked with in-game currency (Gold or Tokens). Tokens are earned by playing the game, and Gold is the currency you buy with real money—and as such will get you access to more of the game much faster.
Another change is the implementation of a credit-based economy—the framework for which existed in the original 1998 Tribes though it was never implemented—and a model that is now commonplace in modern multiplayer FPS shooters. Similar to thsoe games, you earn credits (money) for capturing the flag, killing enemies, recovering the flag, etc. Credits in turn can be used in a match to purchase vehicles or call downs.
One call down, for example, is the Tactical Strike, which points a shiny green laser at something while you wait for Death from Above to fall upon the target. Another call down is the deployable ammo replenishment station. (In the closed beta there are slots for 5 call downs.)
Classic classes, new model
Like the original Tribes, there are 3 armor types (light, medium, and heavy). Unlike the original Tribes, you don’t custom-build load outs at the inventory station. Instead, you must select a Class, which is a pre-configured set of armor, utility pack, grenade, and 2 weapons.
The Tribes: Ascend closed beta features a dozen different pre-configured classes (4 of each armor type), many of which represent fairly “classic” Tribes armor/weapon configurations. For example, there’s the Sentinel (light armor, sniper rifle, energy pack), the Juggernaut (Heavy armor, Mortar, energy pack), and the Raider (medium armor, grenade launcher, shield pack). There’s also the good-old Technician—the guy that fixes stuff and sets up defensive turrets.
Beyond the initial free-to-play Soldier class, you can either purchase additional classes with Gold or Tokens. Naturally, earning classes with Tokens takes much longer than buying them.
Tribes: Ascend also introduces an experience system to the game. The more you play a class, the more XP (experience points) you earn for that class. Experience unlocks additional, minor abilities you can purchase (with XP, not currency) to enhance that specific class. Some examples include minor increases to health or speed, for example. Others enable you to carry more ammo for the class’ preferred weapon type, or carry an extra grenade.
This gives you plenty of room to grow into each class. And though class abilities can’t be purchased with Gold or Tokens, you can spend gold to purchase XP ‘boosts’ that will earn you more XP for a period of time (the more you pay for the Boost, the longer it will last).
And finally, another new addition (for Tribes) is the addition of Perks, which are essentially minor buffs you select to take with you into battle. Free-to-play players have access to certain perks out of the gate, and you can purchase/unlock more by spending tokens or gold. Regardless of how many you own, however, you can only select two to bring with you.
Everything old is new again
Although some games have tried to capture the Tribes model—Section 8: Prejudice being a noteworthy (and very good) one, no game has yet captured the magic of the original gameplay. After a fair amount of time in the closed beta, I’m confident that Tribes Ascend recaptures that magic.
Free-to-play or otherwise, Tribes: Ascend is a game that will probably have fans reaching for their wallets. Hopefully it will also result in a long-awaited, long-deserved revival for an innovative franchise that has struggled for nearly a decade to re-take a place among modern FPS greats.