At a glance...

Reviewer Platform Publisher Developer Players
Matt Bailey PC/Mac Hi-Rez Studios Hi-Rez Studios 1-32 (Online)
Requirements
PC Only.
Minimum: Windows XP SP2/Vita/7, Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz or Althon X2 2.7 GHz, 2GB (XP)/3GB (Vista/7) RAM, ATI Radeon 3870+ or Nvidia GeForce 8800GT+ (512MB video RAM), 10GB Hard Disk Drive space, 56kb/s internet connection
Recommended: Windows 7 64bit, Quad Core Intel or AMD processor, 4GB RAM, nVidia GeForce GTX 560+ or ATI Radeon 6950+ (1GB video RAM), 10GB Hard Disk Drive space, broadband internet connection

Tribes Ascend review

I've been playing Tribes Ascend for many months now, seeing it through from the closed private alpha days through to public beta and finally the proper release last month. This has given me a different perspective compared to the usual approach of reviewing a game which is pretty much at completion, possibly minus a release day patch. I've seen the game in its ugly and raw state, when there was just one map and the menu was functional but not stylish. There were a vast array of classes, and a confusing upgrade system. But I've also seen the game evolve and move away from all of that to reach its current state, with 14 maps now in the mix, a completely overhauled interface and upgrades which are much easier to understand. Essentially, I've seen Tribes Ascend become the fantastic game it is today.

The roots of Tribes Ascend go back to 1998 with Starsiege Tribes, a game that made the name "Tribes" familiar for those who have been PC gaming for more than a decade. It was followed up in 2001 with Tribes 2 as it established itself as one of the most exciting online first person shooters, at a time when most of us had dial-up connections. Online play was just starting to take off, and the Tribes series gained a cult following, but after the commercial failure of 2005's Tribes Vengeance the series went dark. That is until Hi-Rez studios, fresh from success with Global Agenda, announced Tribes Ascend. Having a new studio take on an old franchise could be cause for alarm, but Hi-Rez have kept the elements that made Tribes unique and popular; jetpacks, skiing, team-play and lots and lots of speed. This isn't a reboot or a 'reimaging' - or even simply an HD upgrade - this is an evolution of the series, a new game built on solid ideas.

You should keep generators up so that your turrets continue to operate

You should keep generators up so that your turrets continue to operate

It's the speed that makes Tribes Ascend stand out from the more plodding military first person shooters that dominate the online multiplayer landscape today. Success is often about keeping momentum; getting fully up to speed can make it possible to whizz a flag from one end to the other faster than the enemy team can catch you. Velocity is gained by 'skiing', which you achieve by holding down the spacebar which allows you to glide across the map. Doing so down a hill will see your speed pick up, and then the trick is to keep hold of it, and build it up, so that you're flying faster than most can keep firing at you.

To counter all this high-speed player movement are the weapons, which often feature projectiles, including the classic disc launcher, the Spinfusor. Tribes Ascend makes you think about where your opponents are going, rather than where they are now, and gets you to aim appropriately. You'll also have to be aiming your weapon in all six directions, with the jetpack allowing for plenty of vertical combat, and more movement prediction aiming.

Teamwork is important to Tribes Ascend, with all four of its modes featuring two teams; team deathmatch, a Battlefield-style Capture and Hold, 5-on-5 close battles in Arena, and the most important, Capture the Flag. This is a classic 2-flag CTF, with a team needing its own flag at base before it can capture an enemy's. The difference between CTF here and the same mode in games you've played in the past is the speed of movement, which generally stops a flag carrier from getting bogged down trudging across a map. They are vulnerable thanks to the icons above their head, but they can also shoot and move at full speed, so you'll need to keep an eye out for a sneaky foe stealing your flag and skiing back home before you've blinked.

Pathfinder's quick pace makes it one of my favourite classes

Pathfinder's quick pace makes it one of my favourite classes

The teamwork comes into play as people settle into their roles in a match. Some will be good just for shooting people, while others are best placed to earn the flag capturing points. You'll also need some troops defending and repairing the generator and other features at your base. While the adoption of natural roles generally allows a team to operate smoothly, the current lack of in-game voice comms make it more awkward to react to unexpected circumstances. Typing can be too slow in these moments, but there are a bunch of preset shouts you can use.

As with all modern shooters there's experience points and ranks to earn, with the former used to unlock new classes and upgrade items. It can be earned not just through your own exploits, but through time spent playing, allowing even those struggling to get into the game a chance of making progress through perseverance. Earning XP will move you up through the ranks, of course, but at the moment it seems that the ranks are pretty meaningless apart from being a bragging point. Rank 8 nets you access to two of the game modes, but there's no rank-based matchmaking at present.

After those months of betas, we now have what Hi-Rez Studios consider to be the official release, but that doesn't mean they will stop developing the game. We are slowly seeing the arrival of dedicated servers, available to rent rather than to run on your own machine, something which probably should have been finalised for launch. There are tweaks, and further pieces of content appearing (including two maps imminently), so there's no reason to believe that things like ranking won't get more attention in the future. Hopefully they will also make it easier for a group of friends to get into a game together and migrate server more gracefully.

BOOM! Vehicles can be powerful, but they also explode!

BOOM! Vehicles can be powerful, but they also explode!

So while we are assured of the gameplay, it is the financials that still require a critical look. Tribes Ascend is using an often-derided, but now increasingly common, "free-to-play" (F2P) model; that is, you don't pay an upfront fee for the game, but instead invest in microtransactions to pay for in-game items or functionality. You purchase Gold within the game (currently £6.99 for 800 Gold), and this can be used to unlock classes, weapons, equipment and perks without the high experience points cost. However, you only unlock the base version of each, with upgrades only possible through XP spends. You can get a benefit from Gold here, though, because just by putting some real money into the game you become a "VIP", and thus gain an extra 50% XP per match, and you can also buy boosters of varying time periods which give 150% extra XP per match while they are active.

I should note that Hi-Rez provided me with some in-game currency in order to explore the options early on, so I haven't had to make the decision about whether a class is worth my real money, but I have been playing with people who joined the beta by their own choice. Amongst them there is a mixture of those who are willing to pay, and those who are happy to progress at a slower rate and not pay anything. It's a theme that's common amongst F2P games; a lot of, possibly even most, gamers don't pay anything, but there's a significant minority who not only financially support the game, but do so significantly. It's hard to tell at this stage whether that group will be present here in large numbers, and whether Tribes: Ascend is sustainable in the long-term, but at least the current set up doesn't leave the freeloaders feeling nearly as much like second class citizens as some other F2P titles do. It's possible to unlock everything over time without paying, and the advantages of putting in real money are more limited.

The updates certainly give a sense that Hi-Rez are committed to the game for the long-haul, though. If people are going to invest in the game, both in terms of time and money, then they need to know it's going to be around and supported for a long time to come. They need to know that any game-breaking bugs that might crop up are likely to be fixed, that the servers will continue to function, and that the inevitable hackers will be dealt with swiftly. While Tribes Ascend is already a thoroughly enjoyable game that is well worth your time, it is pleasingly to think that based on experience so far, it has a bright future ahead too.

Ratings

Overall Free-to-play has often had a bad name, but Tribes Ascend feels like a modern, polished shooter a few years ago you'd have bought in a box. It's fast, fun and almost fully featured, and the entry price is nothing. Paying certainly helps things along, but it's not essential. With nothing to lose but time, every shooter fan should give it a go. 9/10

Copyright Information

Website design and content (c) 1999-2012 allaboutgames.co.uk.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License, except where otherwise noted.

Smileys taken from Crack's Smilies.