Back in the late 1990's, most people I knew were playing Unreal Tournament or some version of Quake. However, through the various LAN parties I attended, I was introduced to Starsiege: Tribes. The thing that set the original Tribes apart was the size/scope of the maps, the various classes, weapons, and the ground/flying vehicles. It also allowed players to mod the game in many ways, which kept people playing the game. Eventually, in the year 2001, the sequel Tribes 2 was released and, to the best of my memory, it had quite a few issues at launch. For this reason, it seems that the game faded into obscurity within a fairly short amount of time. Fast forward to the present and you can now look back at the handful of failed attempts that were made to revive this treasured game.
Tribes: Ascend was released in April of 2012, using a FTP (free to play) model, and it brought back some of the beloved playing styles and gameplay that pulled me into the original game. With this FTP model you can go to the game website and download the client for free. Once loaded, you can play the game without having to spend any real world money. However, the player will be constantly reminded of what they could have if they would only spend the money to get it. Luckily, a great deal of the items are unlockable through just playing the game and leveling up. Basically, most items allow you to use in game XP or GP to purchase the items. XP (experience points) are points you get for winning matches, scoring kills, and getting achievements. GP (Gold Points) are points that you can purchase and use in the built in store.
As with many games these days, the achievements system is there to push and prod you to do your best and keep playing. The achievements range from getting a medal for winning a match to landing a direct hit on a player while they are in mid air. Each of your achievements are listed in your profile (lifetime achievements) and you also get a summary of the achievements you earned after each match. Overall, I found the achievement system to be fairly well done and not just an afterthought. Please note that I picked up a Tribes: Ascend starter pack on steam, which goes for $19.99. The starter pack provides the following items and is also available via the in game store.
- Lifetime VIP Membership: Earn 50% more XP in every match you play.
- 800 Tribes Gold: Customize your experience in Tribes with 800 Tribes Gold. Buy cosmetic skins, additional weapons, experience boosts, and more!
- 4 Bonus Weapons: Enhance your Tribes base classes with the Soldier's Spinfusor, Pathfinder's Thrust Pack, Pathfinder's Light Assault Rifle, and Juggernaut's MIRV Launcher.
- Infiltrator Class: With stealth capabilities and heavy explosives, the Infiltrator can devastate an enemy defense. This class comes with the Rhino SMG, SN7 Silenced Pistol, Heavy Explosive Sticky Grenades, and Stealth Pack.
- Technician Class: The Technician is built for defense and repair, keeping base structures online and functional, and deploying Turrets to bolster defenses. This class comes with the TCN4 SMG, Enhanced Repair Tool, TCNG Grenade, and Light Turret deployable.
- Four Perks: Bounty Hunter increases credits for every kill you make. Reach allows you to grab the flag from farther away. Quickdraw lets you switch weapons faster. Ultra Capacity II gives extra energy for your jetpack.
The game uses an experience/level based system to unlock additional game content, and by spending some of your hard earned XP points you can unlock some of these items as you play the game. You can also purchase in game GP (gold points) that can be used to get these unlocks sooner.
The game has the following multiplayer game modes: (descriptions are straight from the game aside from the Arena.)
- Team DeathMatch - Obliterate Everything
- Capture the Flag - Bases, Vehicles, and Strategy
- Capture and Hold - Seize and Defend Control Points
- Arena (unlockable at level 8 ) - 5v5 in a smaller, but potentially deadly, environment.
When you start the game, you are presented with a fairly decent UI that allows you to use your mouse and escape key to go forward and backwards through the various menus. There is a training sub menu that contains some nice tutorials that allow you to explore the game maps, practice your shooting and develop your ski techniques.
What is skiing you ask? In the original game, the maps were fairly large and usually quite hilly. Your character had a jet pack and the players quickly found that, with the right timing, they could float (ski) down a hill and gain speed which would help them escape death or just put some distance between them and the person chasing them.
Tribes: Ascend has improved upon this game mechanic by separating out the Ski function from the jet pack. This means that you press a different key to start to ski down the hill, while maintaining the full capability to actually shoot and use your jet pack. Imagine quickly skiing down a hill while trying to shoot the enemy player beside you, who just captured your flag. The two of you locked in eternal... scratch that. The two of you locked in a downhill battle that ends with both of you dancing around each other while using the jet pack to keep yourself in the air. As I mentioned earlier, remaining on the ground is typically a bad thing as people can aim at your feet and lob that grenade, or futuristic disk of death, at you with the utmost precision.
This game, much like the older version, is a game of skill and timing. Unlike your standard run of the mill FPS, you have to keep moving and typically want to stay off the ground as much as possible. Otherwise, your best bet is to make sure you're going fast enough (enter the ski mechanic) that they can't really get a bead on you. The addition of vertical gameplay and speed makes this game a lot of fun to play.
I normally never trash talk in a game because I find it rather pointless, as the guy will probably nail you during the latter part of that same match. But in this game I found myself having so much fun that I really got into the combat and found myself thinking out loud and making comments (e.g. "ooh that's going to leave a mark!"). Speaking of talking and chatting, this game has no integrated voice chat, but it does have a set of hot keys that allow you to quickly blurt out "Shazbot!" (a beloved comment from the original game) along with other commands that will alert your teammates to a given situation. As I mentioned above, it also has team/world text chatting that uses a profanity filter to block out offensive language. However, I have hardly ever seen anyone use text chatting as there is usually so much going on.
Personally, I am glad that there is no voice chat in this game as I believe it would just lead to a lot of mouthing off and lag for the game (unless the voice chat was ran via another server). Although voice chat would make warning your teammates a bit easier, these maps are not so big that being able to talk to your team via voice would help it all that much. Basically, the team would probably just spend a lot of time bickering about who was guarding the flag, etc. Whereas without it, everyone can get on with playing the game.
Let's take a small break from the gameplay to discuss the classes. Please note that I haven't played every single class all the way through as I have yet to unlock some of them and some just weren't as fun, in my opinion, as the soldier class I regularly play. However, let's list out the current classes and a brief description of what they are about. The explanations below are from the in game menu when highlighting a given class.
Also note that the standard game initially allows you to play the Pathfinder, Soldier, and Juggernaut. However, the Starter pack grants you the Infiltrator and Technician Classes, leaving only the Sentinel, Raider, Doombringer, and Brute classes left to unlock/purchase. The classes that are available cover a wide range of playstyles, which means there is plenty of variety and depth in the gameplay.
Pathfinder - Pathfinders have amazing speed, making excellent flag cappers and chasers.
Sentinel - A sniper capable of dealing damage at extreme range, the sentinel is exceptional at attack or defense.
Infiltrator - With Stealth capabilities and heavy explosives, the infiltrator can devastate an enemy defense.
Soldier - The soldier is an easy to play, all-around balanced class.
Raider - The Raider is a durable attacking class, with weapons that can wreak havoc on defenses and packs that offer extra protection.
Technician - The technician is built for defense and repair, keeping base structures online and functional, and deploying turrets to bolster defenses.
Juggernaut - Juggernauts excel at long range bombardment and devastate the exterior of enemy bases with their mortars.
Doombringer - DoomBringer is a heady defender with exceptional anti-vehicle capability and defensive tools such as force fields and mines.
Brute - A heavy hitter with strong but basic weapons, the brute prefers a direct approach to combat, soaking up damage and dishing out punishment.
The game has an in game item store that contains various vanity (skin/clothing) items, bundle packs, XP boosters, and your very own deal of the day. The deal of the day offers you a percentage off of a given store item for a specific amount of time. The in game gold, that you can purchase using real money, is broken out in a fairly standard fashion in that you can get x points for x dollars. Also, the game has a fairly nice social area for you to keep track of your stats. This section also includes options for viewing your profile, friends list, and the ability to refer-a-friend or block players.
When stepping into a match, like a capture the flag match, you will be asked to pick a side you want to play on. You can choose the Diamond Sword (blue) or the Blood Eagle (red) team and will be asked to choose a class and an equipment loadout before entering the match. The loadouts are nice because, as you level up, you can use some of your XP points to buy additional slots for them. While in the game, there are stations that allow you to change your loadout while you are inside your base.
As the match starts, the first thing you will notice is that the map is huge and typically very pleasing to the eye. You will start somewhere near your team's base and can choose to go after the flag, focus on damaging enemy defenses, or stick around your base and help out with the defense of the flag and base assets.
Your base contains a generator, which powers the base assets (like loadout stations and repair pack stations), along with powering the technician's light turrets, and various other class specific items. If the enemy can get to your generator, which is sometimes just inside a building or tucked away underground, they can shut down your turrets and stations. This can make things more difficult when you're trying to keep the enemy away from your flag. Note, if you come into the base and the generator has been destroyed, you can grab a repair pack and attempt to repair it in order to bring your base's defenses back online. You can also save up enough points, during a given match, so that you can call down air strikes on the enemy. This is a nice way to rattle the enemy's cage when they have your flag and are dancing around outside of their base.
If you choose to stick around the flag and protect it, you can do this by putting down turrets (Technician class), drop jammers (Sentinel class), force fields (Doombringer class), or just hang around and try to nail anyone that gets close to the flag with your weapon of choice. You choose a loadout prior to joining the match and each loadout contains the following options:
- Primary Weapon - Typically some sort of rifle, spinfusor, or other weapons you've unlocked.
- Secondary Weapon - A different set of weapons like grenade style weapons or silenced weapons, depending on your class.
- Belt item - Typically some sort of grenade that can be thrown.
- Pack- Usually a pack that increases your maximum energy pool, etc. (extra health, ammo, and speed)
- Armor upgrade - Upgrades to armor that can increase health, energy, etc.
- Primary perk - Adds things like extra energy, flag pick up range, and fall damage reduction.
- Secondary perk - A whole other set of perks like extra health, boosts to melee attacks, and extra health for vehicles that you use.
- Skin - You can choose from any skins that you've purchased from the store.
- Voice - Here you can adjust the way your in game character sounds when using the built in voice commands.
You will quickly learn that the large battle field is being traversed fairly quickly as some of the classes are lighter and faster than others. You will see some heavier classes dishing out more damage but moving slower. There will be turrets placed in such a way that a player is nailed as soon as they enter a building or perhaps even as they approach it. Moreover, you will see a lot of players dancing up and down hillsides trying to hit an enemy while dodging another enemy's fire.
All of this is taking place at a fast pace and is fairly exhilarating. It is possible to survive the attacks of multiple enemies, while you skillfully manage your jetpack's energy levels and lead the enemy ever closer to one of your team's turrets (or right into the arms of your teammates and their spinfusors). The game has fairly spot on aiming and I have actually been able to nail people from really far away even with the slower disk based weapons.
As for traversing the map, you will gradually memorize it to the point where you know when it is best to use your jet pack as opposed to your ski, and vice versa, in order to maintain top speed while heading to and from the enemy's base. There are a lot of cases where a well executed ski maneuver will save your life or a misplaced spinfusor disk will end it. There are also various vehicles that you can use like hovering speeder bikes and tanks. The speeder bikes being fairly quick but more fragile and the tanks being slower but more armored.
With all the game has to offer, its difficult to really name any major flaws. The game brings back a lot of the wonderful gameplay mechanics that I think are missing in most first person Multiplayer games these days. However, It seems like the developers mostly focused on refining the original elements versus coming up with any new types of mechanics. For the most part, the game sticks to the original formula while only making a few additions/changes. This means that even though the game is a lot of fun, it might not keep people playing the game for a very long time.
I think the developers were trying to play it safe with the choices they made for this game. Overall, this isn't a bad thing, but a lot of new innovations have been made since the original game released. I believe that the game could have benefited from destructible environments and perhaps the addition of more game modes aside from the modes I listed. For example, it would have been interesting to see an inside arena mode that involved your spinfusor disks bouncing off walls Tron style. These are just a few things that I think would give the series a nice reboot and pushed it in a bit of a new direction. Also, the game is missing the flying vehicles, that the original game had, and the ability for the community to mod the game.
As for the graphics, I believe that they made a good decision in not making the bar so high that moderately old computers couldn't run the game. The graphics showcase very pretty landscapes meshed with a sci-fi universe and are pleasing to the eye without distracting from the gameplay. Please see the following links for game information and system requirements.
Hi-Rez Studios has plans of adding more content to the game in the form of new maps, weapons, etc. Some of the maps are remakes of maps from the original Tribes game and some of the content is behind the scenes videos and interviews with the developers. Even though this game is Free to play, it really feels like the dev team has put a lot of effort into this title and I would recommend it to anyone who wants a challenging and fun multiplayer first person shooter experience. Overall, the game is highly enjoyable despite it not really breaking any new ground. Give the game a try and let us know what you think.