by Jeff "Ethec" Woleslagle, Editor-in-Chief of TenTonHammer.com
The launch build of Tribes: Ascend was available at PAX East 2012, so who were we not to give the "world's fastest shooter" a vigorous playthrough before today's launch? With Hi-Rez CEO Todd Harris looking over our shoulders and explaining the intricacies of the game and its newest (oldest) map, Raindance, we offer our launch day impressions of Tribes: Ascend.
Tribes: Ascend Gameplay
The new map revealed at PAX East 2012 was Raindance, a map that's no stranger to series afficionados. "It's been in every Tribes game, but hasn't been shown in Ascend. It's a really popular map - massive hills, pretty big. This is pretty much a faithful 1:1 interpretation of the original, though the original wasn't symmetrical. We added that in, but other than that, this is the original map."
The hallmark of Tribes is maps lots of open space and verticality, and Raindance doesn't disappoint. I perched myself atop a peak as a Juggernaut armed with a Fusion Mortar, raining death down on the valley below. Like many weapons in the T:A arsenal, the Fusion Mortar has nearly divine range, though it's projectile arcs and must bounce a few times before exploding. Like Zeus on Mt. Olympus, I laughingly hurled down green bursts of AoE destruction until an enemy Pathfinder floated upwards and knifed me in the back a time or two.
Raindance is Tribes: Ascend's newest map, and utilizes the game's new Capture and Hold match type.
With a new understanding that movement is essential in the “world’s fastest shooter”, I had a battlefield introduction (literally) to skiing. Skiing might seem as anachronous as tribal overtones to a futuristic shooter, , but frictionlessly gliding across the ground is crucial to efficient movement across Tribes: Ascend's huge maps. Unlike jumping, skiing requires no energy and allows you to build speed going downhill and maintain that speed on the flat.
Alternating between right mouse button (for jets, to jump over obstacles) and holding down spacebar to ski, then releasing spacebar to jump again - not to mention the occasional aiming and shooting - it all makes Tribes: Ascend the fastest and most finger fuddling shooter I've ever played. Todd laughed as I expressed my frustration. "The nice thing about Tribes: Ascend is that it's different. It may be your type of game or not your type of game, but it is different."
Skiing and jumping aren’t the only ways to get around in Tribes: Ascend. Regardless of match type, players can call in gravcycles, two-seater tanks, and a shrike (a one seater flying vehicle), as well as call-in inventory stations, tactical strikes, and larger orbital strikes. CTF mode allows players to upgrade base defenses, such as generators and sensors- with credits as well. All of these options tend to be mid- to end-of-match features, for when the single-match credits really begin to pile up in individual players' accounts.
Tribes: Ascend Maps and Match Types
I was mortaring away on a newly introduced game mode called Capture and Hold. It's a map type familiar to anyone who's played capture points or League of Legends: Dominion style maps, and will have a three, four, and five point variation at launch complete with ticket count to 300. I didn't play enough of the map to venture an opinion, but Todd felt Capture and Hold will take it's place in the Tribes pantheon:"It's been well received; I think its going to be a popular one."
Tribes: Ascend has 15 maps total. These range from craggy to relatively flat and large toÂ not-so-large, but all are imaginitively sci-fi / fantasy colored and flavored. The game will boast four match types at launch: Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag (main one), Rabbit (a capture the flag mode where points are accrued only for flag possession - this one is only for custom servers), and Capture and Hold.
Another interesting feature (or non-feature) of Tribes: Ascend is the lack of built-in voicechat. "There's different opinions about [built-in voicechat], but Tribes already has the VGS system built in." In a system employed by a lot of tween-and-under games as well as shooters, players have a predefined list of vocalized phrases they can trigger. InTribes: Ascend this works by hitting a string of key( VGS, the key combo that started it all, triggers "Shazbot!", for example. Shazbot is an expression of surprise coined by Robin Williams on the Mork and Mindy show, and was resuscitated in the original Tribes games.)
Tribes: Ascend Leaderboards and Team Deathmatch
After my sound beating (complete with 40k-esque over-the-top "Do not underestimate your enemy" voice clip), I noted that the on the leaderboard, score is kept separate from kills. "There's actually no game mode where kill/death is the ultimate marker. Even in Team Deathmatch, it's more about reducing the lives available on the other team."
I played a round of Team Deathmatch next, and enjoyed myself far less thanks to a flag that spawns after the first death. Whichever team holds the flag scores double points, which tended to magnify a slaughter. The downside of holding the flag is that the flag's location is broadcast to the entire map. It might have been fun as an alternate match type, but I was hankering for an all out brawl and, instead, got a tornado of players whirling around the map with the score-doubling flag at its center. I found trying to shoot at people in the tornado to be just as hard as it sounds.
After the match, I escaped to the relative safety of the in-game store. For the grand price of a free download, players get three of the nine classes unlocked: the rangey Pathfinder, the run-of-the-grunt Soldier, and the anti-vehicle Juggernaut. The other six classes, along with equipment upgrades and new weapons, can be unlocked with xp or RMT-purchased gold. The only thing in the store that wasn't XP-purchasable were cosmetic skins for the Infiltrator class. Mercenary and Assassin skins were just added in the recent class update, "Cloak and Dagger."
Tribes: Ascend Class Updates and Future Plans
"Cloak and Dagger" represents the first of nine class updates. "That's the kind of thing we'll be doing more of," Todd explained. "We'll do class updates - kind of the way Team Fortress 2 did - with cosmetic skins, a few new weapons that players can unlock with xp or gold. We'll hit one class a month, which gives us a nice roadmap of updates through the fall." Todd was mum on the subject of the next class update, but stated we will see it in May.
Todd explained that the team will also be adding more maps along the way: "Not as fast as we did during beta, but some of those class updates (like we did with the Cloak and Dagger update) will include new maps and game modes.”
I asked Todd about a menu item labeled Custom Servers, and unwittingly provided a segue to his last PAX East 2012 talking point.- "The way it will work is this: from your in-game interface you can create and change all the settings of the custom server, the same way you'd change your graphical settings. You'll be able to set flags like if you want to play with friendly fire, if you want to ban a certain class, if you want to password protect your server, if you want faster respawns or cheaper Shrikes [one-seater flying vehicles]... those are all examples of flags we'll have in the first version. You can rent a server for as little as one day - if you wanted to run a tournament, for example."
The Capture the Flag map "Katabatic" is maybe the best example of the game's sheer verticality.
Lag compensation or prediction in Tribes: Ascend is top notch, but players will nonetheless want to minimize lag by playing on nearby servers. As for the physical location of these servers, Todd noted that Hi-Rez has that angle covered: "We'll have servers in all regions that we support."
As a final question, I asked if any of the Hi-Rez team had switched over to work on Tribes: Universe now that Tribes: Ascend is ready to launch."For at least the next 6 months, we're planning to keep a very sizeable majority of the team on Tribes: Ascend. We're going to touch each class, we're going to do skins, so no major announcements yet."
Things we liked about Tribes: Ascend -
- It’s fast. Maybe too fast for the mainstream PC gamer. But it’s certainly not the same shooter we’ve been playing for the past ten years.
- Despite the class hatred from Tribes grognards, the original Tribes flavor (and some of the humor) is preserved. The maps are colorful and imaginative.
- Classes are nicely specialized and progression is fairly shallow, so players can pick a class they like and get good at it for not too much cash.
Things we thought were meh -
- Gameplay is so fast that it’s hard to hit a target without painting a general area with automatic fire or explosions. Snipers might want to apply elsewhere.
- The score-doubling flag in team deathmatch tends to magnify any imbalance between teams. Since the possibility of an improbable comeback is a huge part of the fun in match-based games, I regard this as a pretty big (and needless) drawback of the Team Deathmatch match type.
- Battle damage turns your display to a fractured mess. In a game as fast as this one, messing with visibility can make a uncertain death a sure thing.
Note the crack in the lower left; it's just the start of bad things to come. Battle damage starts to obscure your vision, turning a shameless flirt with death into a steady relationship.
If you play, here are some quick tips:
- Whatever you do, keep moving! Also keep your distance (unless you’re moving fast on your way to grab the flag, for example) and avoid getting swarmed by enemies. Most deaths come from an enemy outside your field of vision.
- Remember to release your RMB so you’re not constantly burning your jump energy. It sounds silly, but it’s easy to do in the heat of combat.
- Tribes: Ascend uses projectile physics, so rounds arc and take time to close on the target. Be patient with your aim , it’ll improve over time as you learn to shoot where enemies will be rather than they currently are.
- Invest some time in the skiing tutorials. Skiing is the most efficient way of getting around and makes you that much harder to hit.
- Learn which classes are suited to which match types. The sniper-ish Sentinel and the stealthy Infiltrator may not be the best choice for Team Deathmatch beginners, for example.
- Gain some comfort with the core classes (the Soldier, in particular, is a good compromise between mobility and firepower) before buying into the other classes, and remember to spend your experience in classes that you like to play. A little investment can make a big difference.