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I honestly didn’t know much about Tribes before I got into Ascend. I’ve heard passing mentions about the series, but it was always dwarfed by the much more popular Quake and Unreal. Since then, however, the excessively fast FPS genre has more or less died out in favor of tactical shooters (read: camping to death). That alone should make Tribes: Ascend worth checking out.

PROS

  • Strong competitive scene
  • Free to play, limited pay to win
  • Diverse, versatile classes
  • Fast, heavily skill based gameplay

CONS

  • Extremely grindy progression
  • CTF gameplay is one dimensional and lackluster
  • Monotonous, unappealing map design
  • Monster PC requirements due to horrible optimization
  • Glitchy

VISUAL: 7/10

The in-game graphics option (yes, option, not options) is useless, so the first thing you’ll need to do is google a tweak guide. I’d also suggest you start from the lowest setting, since many of the effects are of outdated technology and yet put unreasonable strain on your system and do nothing but kill your framerate and obscure your vision. The bloom, for example, is horribly over-saturated and becomes almost like a fog, and pretty much completely blinds you when coupled with lens flare.

Besides that, it’s unlikely you’d miss the higher quality anyways. Every map consists 95% of random hills, sporting only a handful of buildings or other distinguishable landmarks. Most of the time, you have no idea where you are, and will eventually stop caring. No amount of static decals or building shadows is gonna make a bunch of hills that all look alike interesting. The detail on the player models is the game’s finest aesthetic touch, but most of the game is spent either going too fast or being too far to notice those details anyways. That said, the actual graphical quality of the game isn’t so terrible that it doesn’t look modern, but considering that it’s 2012 and how much system resources the game gluttons at max settings, it should really look like Crysis. And yet, it doesn’t even have anti aliasing.

How not to design a map

Where it falters in aesthetics, it generally succeeds in utility. HUD visibility is clear and it’s easy to tell which direction you’re being hit from, and there are options to improve visibility further, such as drawing smaller weapon models or turning off visor cracking. FOV is also adjustable in-game up to 120. Not knowing where you are won’t much matter thanks to the large objective icons.

AUDIO: 9/10

Low music in the background helps keep the adrenaline flowing, and weapon sounds are distinct and clear enough to identify both the weapon and direction it was fired from. Audio in a FPS really doesn’t need to do any more than that. The lack of built in voice chat may inconvenience a few, though I find it a blessing. This game has, by far, the largest selection of prerecorded voice messages of any FPS I’ve ever played in my life, and are probably sufficient for any tactical situation you’d encounter.

GAMEPLAY: 9/10

Although advertisements emphasize speed, it’s more a high flying shooter than a fast one. You can build up a lot of speed with skiing, which works by removing all friction once you press the ski button. Basically, falling onto down slopes accelerates you, while trying to ski uphill slows you down. You can pick up speed by using the jetpack to boost yourself up past up slopes and repeatedly dropping yourself on down slopes, and eventually you do end up going quite fast. However, most of the actual shooting each other isn’t fought at high ski speeds, but rather at walking and jetpacking speeds. Perhaps that’s still faster than something like Call of Duty, but it’s really only slightly faster than Team Fortress 2, and a far cry from Quake. That isn’t to say it isn’t much more difficult to hit people than TF2, however. The wide open terrain and jetpacks gives full movement across all 3 axises, allowing every class to have more defensive movement than TF2’s scout can even dream of.

The other thing that raises the skill requirement and makes defensive movement so much more effective is the lack of hitscan weapons (weapons that hit instantly after firing). Rather, most bullet weapons shoot a small fast traveling projectile, forcing you to lead your shots rather than just pointing the crosshair straight at the target. To make things more complicated, any projectiles you fire inherit a portion of your own velocity. Say you’re traveling N and fire to the E, your projectiles will actually travel a bit towards NE, rather than straight E. This makes landing significant damage highly challenging. In fact, the game awards accolades for killing an airborne opponent with the series’ trademark low rate-of-fire explode-on-impact weapons, such as the spinfusor. Don’t mistake them for being easy mode noobtubes, as their splash radius is very small for the size of the game’s maps, and most players spend a lot of their time being high up in the air, where the splash means nothing. This boils down the game’s basic strategy to chipping away with bullet weapons while they’re airborne, and trying to catch them with explosives when they inevitably land.

CLASSES

There are 9 unique classes, and all of them are balanced in the sense that they can all duel competently. The only exception is the sniper class, who although is given the only long range hitscan weapon, does terrible dps and has the lowest health. Rather, his main purpose is to be to pick off weakened flag carriers in CTF, which is the worst balanced and most shallow of all the game modes anyways.

THE GRIND AND PAY2WIN

You only start with 3 of the 9 classes, with only basic gear for each. All other classes and gears need to be unlocked with real money or experience, which is earned at a snail’s pace. You only get around 35-50 exp per minute depending on your scoreboard rank and whether or not your team wins, but usually you’ll end up at around 40. A single weapon can cost 88k exp, which is more than a 36 hour grind. Considering each class has to pick 2 weapons, a belt item, a pack item, and 2 perks, you might find that the loadout you want could take over 100 hours of playtime to achieve. Even the cheapest classes will take around 50 to deck out.

Real money is drastically more reasonable, with 88k exp items costing only 500 gold without sales, which is roughly $5. While it’s certainly better than games that offer game breaking real money exclusive gear, the free option is so unreasonably ridiculous to achieve, that paying still gives a sizable advantage, especially if they used the money to deck out more than 1 class for the versatility.

Whether you pay or not, once you have the new weapon, you still need to grind for that weapon’s mastery to unlock sometimes crucial abilities, which could be be up to another 26k exp, or another 11 hours. Why Hi-Rez decided the game should have almost as much grinding as an MMORPG is beyond me, but it’s a severe nuisance that heavily discourages learning multiple classes.

GAME MODES

Technically, there are 5 different game modes. However, some are so similar to others that it only feels like 3, and 2 of them are pretty standard fare. TDM has a small twist of there being 1 flag which will spawn on the first kill of the match, and the team who holds it takes off 2 points per kill, and is easily the most balanced of all game modes. For a flagless experience, there’s Arena…which is basically the same as TDM, but limited to 5v5 and is played on smaller maps. Unfortunately, the maps are also much flatter, leaving the ski mechanic generally unused, transforming the game from the fastest shooter to merely the highest flying.

CTF Blitz is like CTF, except the flag moves with every cap. However, since the flag only moves about 3 feet, they end up playing out exactly the same. Many people have told me CTF is the main game mode of Tribes, but I find it easily the most shallow and worst balanced. Flag placements are almost always out in the wide open, which boils down capping to picking pathfinder, and just skiing really fast into it, which will bypass most, if not all the base defenses and defenders. The only real counter to it so far is having a doombringer sit on the flag and try to block the pathfinder with his fatness while cutting him down with his chaingun, or having a sentinel snipe the runner. The capper will then have to either navigate around the fat guy, or try to push him away by chucking grenades and shooting his spinfusor (if you’ve never played Tribes, they work exactly like a rocket launcher) at the flag before reaching it. Sentinels with the accuracy to hit a high speed capper the 2-3 times it takes to kill them at full health are extremely rare, causing the game mode to be renamed by many to Pathfinder vs Doombringer. This also causes the most severe team stacking of all modes, as anyone looking to play any other class in CTF is essentially being unimportant details, and the pinnacle of their contributions would be to inconvenience the enemy, hopefully enough that their defenders become so irritated that they leave the flag unguarded to kill them.

There are other mechanics, just as the team generator which powers all base assets such as turrets, forcefields, refill stations, and vehicle station, but most of those generally don’t affect a decent capper at all. Taking out refill stations might sound useful, but the respawn time in this game is so short (only 3 seconds), most players will just suicide to reload or get back into position anyways. Vehicles in this game are generally useless, but I’ll get more into that later.

The last mode is Capture and Hold, which is sadly often forgotten and underplayed. It recycles maps from CTF and TDM, and spawns cap points at several locations on the map. You capture them simply by touching them, and hold them by not letting the enemy touch them. Some come with their own turrets and refill stations to help the defenders. Periodically, captured points will give your team….well, points. It’s a more balanced attack and defend gameplay than CTF, yet most rounds often turn up rather slow and uneventful, as most players will simply focus their defenses on a few points and end up standing around waiting most of the time, or they’ll be checking each cap point to see which is left mostly unguarded. Eventually the game will reach an equilibrium, where more or less everyone turtles to death because every cap point has exactly enough defenders to not be taken. However, I imagine with an organized team that works together rather than pugs, the experience would be much different.

VEHICLES

Quite simply, they’re useless. The bike is supposed to be used for getting around quickly, but it isn’t remotely difficult to ski much faster than it. The tank is just a huge, slow target that people are only even gonna bother acknowledging the existence of to pick on for free credits. The cannon has a terrible rate of fire, and the person manning the much more useful chaingun can’t also be driving, making it not terribly effective for combat either. The jet is fairly mobile, but still not as quick as a good skier, making it’s primary use of ramming itself into flag carriers exceedingly difficult, even assuming the pilot is careful enough to not kill himself by crashing into a hill. Like all vehicles, the gun on it has a terrible rate of fire and only does modest damage. In the end, the jet is often merely a decoration, being fairly difficult to destroy, but also serving little to no purpose.

COMMUNITY: 9/10

Though healthy enough that you won’t have any difficulty finding a game, thanks to the atrocious matchmaking spreading everyone out, it’s a rarity to find a full 16v16 game (arena doesn’t have this issue, being limited to 5v5). You basically choose a game mode, and the game will automatically throw you into a match.

Cheaters are a rarity, having personally only run into 1 aimbotter in over 100 hours of play. The only gripe I have is the team stacking, though this is usually done by weaker players. Most of the best players will join teams randomly, so as long as there’s enough of them in a single game to spread out, teams end up pretty balanced anyways. CTF is the exception, but that’s more the game mode being terribly designed than anything. Player maturity also drops somewhat in CTF, with most players being bored and spamming voice messages nonstop, presumably because they’re neither a pathfinder nor doombringer, and is therefore incapable of contributing meaningfully anyways.

Visual: 7
Audio: 9
Gameplay: 9
Community: 9

OVERALL: 9 (not an average)

Regardless of its many flaws, the fact of the matter is that this is the only new fast FPS available. It certainly can’t stand up to impossible standard of finesse and depth of Quake and UT, but it does well enough that it’s still easily the funnest multiplayer FPS I’ve played since. Tribes: Ascend is a shot of adrenaline, digitally distributed.

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