Tribes: Ascend Review - F2P Shazbot Shooter
Perhaps more than anything, I am thankful to Hi-Rez Studios for making a shooter that moves faster than diseased livestock. Every other damn first person shooter on PC feels like molasses, and I hate to break it to you but there is no cover system to save you from a Fusion Mortar landing in your lap. So before I even begin my review, thank you, Hi-Rez, for making a video game that restores the glory of skill and speed, and the amazing feeling of nailing someone going 200 kilometers per hour with a disc in the face.
Former Tribes players who read the above paragraph probably jumped for joy. Its true; I can say as an avid player of both the first and second game (the others do not exist), this is a true sequel. Its not without flaws, but the strengths of Tribes: Ascend are wonderful, and the weaknesses fairly minor. Its not only a worthy successor, but a great game to screw around in with friends that are new to it as well.
Tribes: Ascend has next to no blood, but can have some dismembering when killed by a powerful explosion. It's still good fun for the whole family if they don't mind the Shazbot spam.
Gameplay - 90 / 100
Staying true to its roots, Tribes: Ascend goes in strong with a multitude of game modes -- team deathmatch and capture and hold are both present for those used to this console generation. Of course, the classic capture the flag gameplay of bases, vehicles, and 88 mile-per-hour juggernauts screaming by you is the most popular mode. Theres far more than just the flag to defend though, with your generator, radar, and turrets being secondary objectives that will hamper your team greatly if taken out.
As a passenger, you're still at the whim of the driver. On the Grav Bike... this can mean instant death in one solid hit you don't see coming since you're looking the other way. If the driver ejects, you should too!
Note that I did leave inventory stations and other classic deployables out from the previous games. Gone is the ability to completely customize your loadout to your liking. Youll have to choose from 9 classes, most of which have weapons unique to them. Each one is suited to a particular role, such as flag defense, bombardment, sniping, and the like. Not all of the weapons and features of each class are enabled by default though.
Youll start with only three classes unlocked to your account: one light, one medium, and one heavy. Note that you do have access to three of the most useful classes, so you will immediately be able to fulfill most roles for your team, and those that you can't are available for purchase with experience points. Experience is earned after each match, and there is a first win of the day bonus to help those of you who enjoy the game, but dont want to spend meaningless hours grinding to unlock the core gameplay elements. For reference, a class costs between 7000 and 14,000 experience and your first win of the day will net you at least 2,000 experience. Its not an unreasonable grind (for once!)
Sadly that goes by the wayside as you work towards unlocking alternate weapons, which can cost from 40,000 to 100,000. None of these weapons are absolutely essential to gameplay, however, and are often just a matter of personal preference or a means of presenting alternatives. For instance, the Juggernauts alternate Fusion Mortar is the MIRV Launcher, which is a less accurate but more chaotic artillery weapon--not a dealbreaker if you dont have it. Hell, I prefer most primary weapons to their alternatives anyway!
Classes and weapons aside, the name of Tribes is speed. Those coming back to the series are all too familiar with skiing, the momentum-based flight that will have you moving at 10 times your walking speed with a minimal amount effort. Skiing in Tribes: Ascend is as simple as holding spacebar now, and proper use of your jetpack to not lose momentum going up hills/landing perfectly sliding down them. Weapons will inherit your movements momentum though, which will take a lot of getting used to but lead to all too satisfying explosive discs launched at seemingly 45 degree angles to your target, which find their way to the target's forehead.
This hyper speed is used for both offense and defense, as a flag capper may grab the flag at the speed of light and its up to someone to respond. The resulting flag chases look like large wavelengths of players rising and falling, skiing and shooting, and are often really exciting because being accurate isnt easy at 150 km/h+ speed no matter how good you are at aiming. Prediction and splash damage become the name of the game, but bullet weapons do exist although most still have some required lead time. Direct hits are rewarded with +40% damage, and bonus in-game cash if the shot kills them mid-air.
Credits are now spent on two main things--upgrading static objects, and calling in support strikes. You no longer have to purchase your loadouts since you spawn in them. Upgrading a turret increases its potency all around, whereas upgrading your radar greatly increases its durability and detection range regardless of terrain or cover. Upgrading a generator makes it take far more punishment before going offline, at which point both all pre-placed and player-placed deployables will go offline. Its a crippling blow and defending the generator on some maps is just as important as defending the flag, for how easy the flag can be grabbed when the forcefields are offline. Support strike include an inventory station on demand, and two kinds of artillery strikes from afar.
Bases that are floating battleships? Par for the course.
Many of the maps are taken directly from the old games with only slight modifications. Figuring out how to put up a decent defense, or build insane speed on a particular map can take some practice. Fortunately theres a variety of practice modes including a sandbox mode where you are free to ski as you see fit and practice your routes. Theres a huge difference between grabbing a flag going 50 km/h and going 250!
All of this glory is marred by a few problems though--like some minor class imbalance. The jack of all trades classes in Soldier and Brute feel a little out of place--the Doombringer desperately needs a secondary weapon worth a damn, and the Technician goes from being unable to defend a generator to save his life or the gen, to being a monster at short/mid range when you unlock the Thumper to replace the default SMG. Some base layouts are a little strange as well. Fortunately, the flaws in gameplay are things you can get used to and not flaws that will permanently mar your playing experience.
Graphics - 82 / 100
Probably the weak point of the game lies in the visuals. While weapon models and player models look great, skiing almost looks static in motion, and the textures of the open world are a little lacking. Admittedly, you dont usually have time to admire the scenery in a Tribes game, but this F2P isnt going to shock and awe you visually. While I appreciate the blue disc explosions and massive green bursts of mortars from a nostalgia perspective, they feel like a static visual effect and not dynamic like an explosion should be.
Sound - 87 / 100
From the sound of a disc coming out of the spinfusor, to the locking on of a missile on some schmuck in a Shrike, to people mashing Shazbot globally, each individual effect is great. The music from menu to stage intro is actually pretty good, and sets the tone of the conflicts to come. I wish there was some more variety to the in-game shouts (I think there are two variations of each). After all, the previous games had tons of sound sets both male and female. Hearing 5 people say the exact same tone of shazbot just isnt the same.
Multiplayer - 82 / 100
How can the biggest teamplay shooter in recent years not have VOIP in-game? Theres a certain level of coordination required to break down a couple of stalwart flag defenders and make a clean capture, and its incredibly difficult to achieve in your typical match-made game. The in-game voice hotkeys work to some extent, but you cant shout at a heavy who just broke down the enemy defense to clear out of your way since youre flying at the flag at 200+ speed--next thing you know, he just casually waltzes onto the flag and you fly by with a whole lot of nothing in your hands.
Heavy on Flag, or HoF is a critical role that puts you in the line of fire constantly. But someone has to stop those pesky lights flying in at light speed to take your flag and disappear into the sunset before anyone can draw a bead on them.!
Some of the private/VIP custom server stuff has yet to be fully integrated as well, which is a shame. But despite a couple critical flaws here, the base game is every bit as fun as you remember it--or possibly more fun than you've ever had with an FPS if you're new to the series.
Value - 95 / 100
You can unlock all you need to be competitive in Tribes: Ascend relatively quickly--only a couple classes are essential roles that you dont start with, and the weapons are largely optional unless youre playing a Technician. All items can be obtained with in-game experience points, so theres no pay-to-win pressure. That doesnt stop 100k experience from being an incredibly daunting number, and even with a purchase of gold and a booster, it will still take you a couple of weeks to get.
But since the base package has a light spinfusor class, a heavy mortar class, and a jack of all trades--you really dont need a whole lot more in your basic team. Only once you start playing more competitively or with friends will you actually need additional classes to function well--and by then you can probably unlock them naturally. Any purchase of in-game gold permanently multiplies your experience rate by 50%, which then stacks with the 100% boosters so.... the potential for multiplying your growth exponentially for ten bucks is there if you want to unlock a ton in a hurry and forever boost your gains.
Lasting Appeal - 87 / 100
I always thought it was a joke that a free-to-play game was being developed as successor to Tribes 2 but now I see that it actually is a successor. Even though the bases and loadouts were simplified, the core gameplay and disc-launching action remains true and Hi-Rez has done a great job of listening to the community and making positive changes to the game. Perhaps most importantly, I dont feel obligated to put any money into the game to have a good time, and if I did, Id only have to give up dinner out for a night to get great returns forever on my experience earned in the game. Its a beautiful business model that provides ample return on your purchases, but doesnt require you to make them to unlock core gameplay elements or be competitive!
Pros and Cons
- Familiar gameplay to Tribes vets, fresh to those new to series, and just fun!
- This is my favorite F2P cash shop model in any action game.
- The long arc of a mortar, the impact of a mid-air disc... the scope, speed, and skill of this game are top notch and a breath of fresh air to the market.
- Eye candy wont blow your mind
- Some more customization would be nice--additional voices, female models, etc.
- Possibly too late for the franchise. Does anyone under 20 even know what Tribes is these days?
Tribes: Ascendis a game that is just fun as hell. It has something for everyone, not only the Tribes fans. If you dont like the skiing, pilot a vehicle. If you dont like the flag capping, defend your generator. If you dont like shooting midair, repair and upgrade your defenses. Hell, if you want to set up shop and play it like a modern FPS, you can play Sentinel, deploy a jamming pack atop a hill and snipe all day. Its a fun mix of great gameplay elements combined with a F2P model that doesnt demand you pull out your wallet to have fighting chance against the opposition, and has production values that will have you forgetting that you didnt buy this game retail to begin with.
Overall 91/100 - Outstanding
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