Tribes: Ascend in Beta

I have to be quite honest here, I really had no intention of playing Hi-Rez Studio’s F2P sci-fi shooter, Tribes: Ascend (currently in Beta).  The reason I didn’t want to play it was not because I’ve been feeling FPS-F2P overload recently. Sure, I’d been in too many ill-conceived FPS Betas the last few weeks…but that wasn’t it.  Nor was it because I was afraid that the game might be a badly resurrected parody of a dead shooter franchise.  No on all counts. I didn’t want to play it because I thought I would not like the sci-fi theme…it just sounded spammy. I even Tweeted my concern the other day:

Source

@Ckrawl Not a huge Halo fan and Ascend looks too much like it. I’ll give it another look see tho. Thanks. Do you intend to play it?

Recently though, I saw some of my online buddies playing the game, so I thought, why not…let’s give it a try. What follows are my experiences and what I learned about the game.

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In my original Tweet, I compared Ascend to Halo. That’s not quite right…let’s say that if Halo, Quake Live and Global Agenda had a three-way, the ensuing baby would look like Tribes: Ascend.  Given that none of the former games managed to keep my attention for very long, I didn’t expect to be interested in an amalgam either. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to suggest that Ascend is a knock-off of any one of those games. In fact, the Tribes franchise was a unique IP that has had long and successful history that actually predates many of the games I mentioned. In fact, Tribes traces its roots back to November of 1988 when the original developer Dynamix released Starsiege: Tribes.

The Tribes franchise produced two important releases, the original Tribes and Tribes2. And like most franchises, the third in the series proved to be its undoing. Tribes: Vengeance, as the third PC-based installment was called,  struck a discordant note with many of the game’s players and the series hit the rocks. In 2010, Hi-Rez Studios in Atlanta, the same studio that gave us the F2P Global Agenda,  came to the franchise’s rescue and bought the rights to the game. Hi-Rez then immediately stated it would create an MMO called Tribes Universe; however, it soon changed its mind and it decided to put the MMO on hold and instead developed a F2P variant based on the Unreal Engine 3. That variant was called Tribes: Ascend.

Speed is life

Set in the far future, Tribes: Ascend is a fast paced combat shooter game that uses a variety of sci-fi weaponry and vehicles. The maps are huge and feature hilly, but nearly-tree-less, uncluttered landscapes. Normally, the lack of cover in an FPS game would be rather worrisome. After all, how will you stay alive?

Well, the answer to that question becomes obvious once you begin playing and the answer is speed.  The game is played on the ground and in the air. To  stay alive you will need to learn to motor in all three directions: left, right, front, back, up and down. As well, in comparison to traditional shooters, Ascend is a very, very fast game. Possibly not as quick as the original, it nevertheless is faster than most current shooter games. While at one time, speed games like Tribes and Quake were the norm in the shooter-world, photo-realistic FPS’s like MoH, CoD and BF changed tastes and relegated the ultra-twitch-shooters into a small niche. Many of today’s young gamers will be taken aback by just how quick you have to think, aim and shoot in this game.

Skill is rewarded

True to its Tribe roots, Ascend’s gameplay rewards those that are skillful. The skillset you will need to be successful similar to but different than those you would need for “slow” shooters.

  • Aim.
    Today’s FPS’s really only require you to be able to aim in one dimension: left, right. Possibly one reason for this trend is that game companies want to simplify aiming for all those console-gamers out there using their clumsy controllers.  Contrast the rather boring aim mechanic which evolved in CoD (CoD:UO’s aim requirements were much more difficult than, say CoD:WW’s or Black Ops) with that of Tribes’ where the enemy can be anywhere in space. This translates into having to develop really good aim in two-dimensions. Speaking of CoD, I can’t think of any shooter franchise that has helped dumb down the importance of aim. In CoD, you put your crosshair on the target and kapow…you hit it. That is not true in Tribes. Projectiles have arc and targets are moving up/down and left/right on your screen and are exceedingly difficult to track.
  • Movement
    Tribes is all about energy management. In this respect, it is more like a Combat Flight Simulator than it is an FPS. While some games give you some taste of energy management, CoD for example gives you a limited sprint capability, Tribes takes it to another level.  In this game you are constantly trying to maximize your forward momentum. Gravity will increase that momentum and rob it from you if you have to climb. A jet-pack strapped to your back will help you climb and a frictionless “ski” mode will aid you on the way down. If you run out of energy you will be pounced upon like a wounded gazelle in the Serengeti. There are two ways to keep your energy (and hence speed) up in the game:
    • Jet packs. Strapped to your back, they propel you forward and upward. Your jet pack charge lasts only a few seconds, after which it needs to replenish itself using internal stores of fuel. Once those are gone, you need to replenish your supply. Jet packs allow you to gain potential energy and are typically used to quickly scale hills. The interface in Ascend has not evolved much beyond the original. Jet packs can’t be will boost you in the direction you are running. Alas, it would have been quite interesting if there was a way to use vectored-thrust.
    • Skiing – frictionless, gravity-assisted sliding, skiing will let you attain breath-taking velocities.

I would have thought that disc-jumping (aka Rocket-jumping) would have also been a significant movement technique in this game, but disc-jumps do not seem to benefit much (then again, I may not be doing it right). Hi-rez has stated that they will be improving this capability.

While jet packs and skiing are used as individual modes of transport, the game also employs vehicles. The three I have seen in game are:

  • The Beowulf can have a two person crew. It has a machine gun on top of the turret as well as a slot for a driver.
  • The Grav Cycle also can have two riders. It’s very fast and is useful for catching flag runners.
  • The Shrike has a high-damage primary cannon and it benefits from a limited-use afterburner.
  • Timing
    Timing your motion is important in any shooter. If you play too linearly, your enemy will be able to predict your movements and he will lead you and you will get fragged. Frankly, doing anything in a predictable way in FPS games will get you fragged. This is no different in Tribes, but the game has its own rhythm and you really have to practice to get good at being able to manage your own momentum and be able to predict the enemy’s motion. One of the goals in any one-versus-one combat is to deplete your enemy of energy, get him down on the ground where he becomes slow and you can finish him off.

Beta

Currently, Tribes: Ascend is in Beta. The basic game appears quite stable and lots of fun.

You will need to get yourself a Beta key to play. These are actually found rather easily around the net.  You can try getting a key from the game’s homepage:

Tribes Ascend

Once on the homepage, you can download the game and sign up for a beta key. Rather than wait for a key, you can get one immediately over at Alienware Arena. There are hundreds available. Link

Primer

I first have to say that this game is a throwback to the old days of PC FPS gaming. Back then, you were either a noob and you sucked, or you were good. This game tends towards those days. In this game, you don’t get stroked for being able to color within the lines like you do in other FPS’s. For that reason, you need to have patience and a bit of a thick skin — noobies will get owned. There are quite a few really good Tribes players in the Beta servers and the pros are obvious.

You start off as a Ranger class or a Soldier playing under either the Blood Eagle or Diamond Sword flag. As a Ranger, you will get Medium Armor, an Assault Rifle (it has a fast rate of fire and is effective at close range), the Thumper DX (similar to a grenade launcher) an Energy Pack and an Anti-personnel Grenade.  Soldiers get Medium Armor, the Spinfusor, the Eagle Pistol and an Energy Pack.

I would start with the Soldier class and the Spinfusor as it is the most common weapon in the game. The Spinfusor launches explosive disc-projectiles. Given how difficult it is to target anyone in the air, it is not uncommon to see Spinfusors being used against targets near the ground. You aim near the enemy as he descends and the splash damage as the disc hits the turf is typically enough to do significant damage. Aside from the basic Spinfusor, there are Light and Heavy variants.  I did say “splash damage”, but there is nothing spammy about this weapon. It is quite hard to hit someone with it.

Classes: There are three classes (light/med/heavy) and twelve individual types (more classes will come in the future). This vid shows each class:

Gameplay: This little vid is an excellent primer on gameplay.

Gametypes: Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and Rabbit Chase modes. Deathmatch is obvious, as is Capture the flag. Rabbit Chase mode simply requires you to capture the flag and keep it as long as you can. As with CTF, the flag runner does not regenerate health.

F2P?

Real money does have its rewards, but it can’t make you better. We are told that Gold will only short-circuit the grinding process, it won’t create a pay-to-win experience. Spending that money on in-game gold will allow you to unlock classes, skills and perks at a faster rate (currently, US$49.99 will get you 5500 in Tribes Gold). You can also get a VIP account. VIP Status increases XP by 50%, gives you more tokens after each game and access to VIP only servers. You can get VIP for $7.95 for 10 days or pay $14.95 for 39 days. And yes, that seems staggeringly high.

For example, if you were not keen on grinding the Juggernaut class (Heavy Armor, Fusion Mortar/Spinfusor MKD/Regen Pack and Super AP Grenade), you could simply pay money to unlock it for 260 Gold or 900 tokens.

During the open Beta, you can purchase the Tribes: Ascend VIP Starter package, which is a bit more of a deal:

The Tribes: Ascend VIP Starter Pack (29.99 USD, 24.99 EUR, 19.99 GBP) includes:

  • 3,000 Tribes Gold (Value: $30 USD)
  • 30-Day Booster (Value: $15 USD)
  • Lifetime VIP Status
  • Admission to Beta

Should I play?

This game will definitely challenge FPS gamers who have come on to the scene recently and have not been exposed to fast-action shooters. This game is definitely a throwback to old-school PC gaming. While it is not as hardcore as some old Tribes-franchise players would like, I think it is a valuable game and one that could begin to start pulling our community back to its roots.

I have been in the Open Beta for a few weeks and never played the original franchise. I initially did not like the rather sparse graphics and minimalistic scenery, but I have learned to appreciate why the game cannot have dense landscapes. The pace of the game is so high that you simply would end up having laggy play as low-end machines could not keep up with the rendering. As I learned to play the game, I realized that all my focus was on the gameplay and not the surroundings. Shazbot! That’s what I have been begging for forever and here’s a game that met my requirements.

While I could pick up any CoD and play it well within minutes, I have not acquired a competent level of skill in this game even after a week of play. That to me is the sign of a great game. It keeps bringing you back because you want to get better. What was the last game you played that made you think that?

Should you play?

If you are more of a slow-paced gamer that likes tactical realism, you might answer with a resounding no. On the other hand, if you want to play something that is lightning quick, requires considerable hand-eye coordination, accentuates team play, heightens the importance of skill and is a throw-back to the glory days of PC competitive gaming…then yes!

While the game will definitely appeal to the younger guys out there (and the young of heart), I have been so far amazed at how nice everyone in the Tribes’ servers have been. For example, you don’t often see server trolls spamming “you suck” in the chat window –something you see regularly in CoD and in many F2P games. Whether that is a function of the speed of the game (you just don’t have time to type) or whether the community is much more polite will be something to watch, especially as the game gets more popular and attracts ruder non-ex-Tribes newbies.

The only things I do see getting spammed are “Shazbot!” (type VGS in chat) andWoohoo! (VGW).  For me, the game has been a learning experience and fun. I have not came anywhere near learning its nuances and that’s the basis of a great PC shooter.

Tribes Ascend is definitely Woohoo!

VGCG

 

Competitive Gamers

Tribes is a perfect fit for competitive gamers. Hi-Rez has already reached out and snagged a tournament organization to feature the game. NASL has stated they will be playing Ascend in their Season 2 Finals of the North American Star League (NASL).  Here is more information: Source.

Links

Official site

VGS: Tribes’ in-game comms tool

Excellent Tribes beginners guide

Hardcore Tribes gamer gives his opinion of Ascend

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