Review Date: April 20 2012
Publisher: Hi-Rez Studios
Developer: Hi-Rez Studios
ESRB Rating: Teen
Genre: Online FPS
When it comes to high-speed chases and spectacular air shots, none do it quite as well as the renowned Tribes series. Tribes: Ascend is the first addition to the franchise since 2004, and it's bringing back the blistering fast action for which this series is so fondly remembered. In this review I'll expand on my beta impressions, although the game has seen significant changes since then.
Tribes: Ascend has many things in common with other FPS games on the market. The ski (spacebar) and jetpack (right mouse button) abilities are the key adjustments players have to make. There is no single-player component to TA, although there is a target practice mode where nothing shoots back at you. It's helpful for trying out the weapons of the different classes before purchasing them.
The Need for Speed
Movement is a major part of Tribes. Skiing on a steep slope allows you to achieve tremendous speeds, and the skillful use of your jetpack and explosive blasts from weapons can add further to your velocity. High speeds are encouraged by large outdoor maps with lots of open spaces, which has made grabbing the flag at 200+ KPH one of the game's signature moves. At times you and your opponent are sailing past each other so fast that neither of you bothers shooting.
There are currently 4 game types in TA: Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Arena, and Capture and Hold. The latter 2 are unlocked when you reach rank 8. Capture the Flag seems to be the favorite and has the most maps. It's the best fit for the game's classes as they all have a role to fulfill in CTF scenarios.
Several vehicles are also available on some CTF maps, although they don't seem to get a lot of use. You have to earn points in the match to access them, and given that you are already highly mobile and well-armed, the vehicles don't have a big impact on the action, which may be intended.
The largest matches have 16 players on each side. The matchmaking system could use a little more work to make it easier to play on the same team when you join with a friend. They're planning to implement "dedicated servers" for private matches as well as ranked matches in the near future.
One area where this release breaks from Tribes tradition is the inclusion of classes. Right now there are 9 classes, 3 of which are available for free: Pathfinder, Soldier, and Juggernaut. The other 6 classes are purchased with XP or game gold. Classes are broken down into light, medium, and heavy armor types.
As is usually the case with class-based games, there is a considerable amount of teamwork involved. Curiously, they haven't integrated voice chat into the game, so organization is often lacking in public matches.
F2P games have earned a reputation for complicated and deceptive pricing schemes, but there are some that have managed to get it right. For the most part, I would say that Tribes: Ascend gets it right. Everything in TA, aside from a few cosmetic items, bundle packs, and XP boosters, can be unlocked with XP earned in-game. Many things can also be unlocked with cash, but gear upgrades require XP. Additional weapons can be purchased with either gold or XP, but the XP price is high enough to encourage players to spend on either XP boosters or the weapon itself.
Gold is available in several packages starting at $9.99 for 800, and getting slightly cheaper in larger amounts. Any gold purchase gets you a lifetime 50 percent XP boost, which will help a lot with upgrades. Classes sell for 160 to 280 gold, but weapons can set you back quite a bit more, with some of the more expensive ones priced at 780 gold.
Perhaps the most important thing is that you can be competitive in TA without spending money. Playing the free classes and using XP for unlocks doesn't put you at a huge disadvantage or make progress unbearably slow. Pricing a F2P game is always a delicate balancing act, and Hi-Rez has managed it better than most.
The Bottom Line
Tribes: Ascend is a finely tuned FPS and it delivers on the key features that Tribes fans covet. The extreme mobility factor and extensive use of the Z-axis set it apart from the droves of more realistic shooters out there. The precision and timing involved in this graceful dance require a special touch that keeps the game challenging, and it's strengths largely overshadow its few weaknesses. Hi-Rez has put together a reasonable price plan and still left room for people to enjoy Tribes: Ascend for free. When it's all said and done, this game definitely deserves a "shazbot!"