Free to Play: Tribes:Ascend

For the next few weeks as we wait on the launch of Planetside 2,  I’ll be taking a look at what the FPS genre has to offer in the Free to Play market culminating in a critical analysis of how each one handles the model and which one offers the most bang for your….uhhh…lint? First up – Tribes: Ascend.

Back when I first heard that Tribes would be returning in Free to Play form, I was skeptical. The earlier Tribes games, along with the likes of Quake and Unreal Tournament, represented a formative time for me. These were the games I played when I first started dipping my toes into the world of multiplayer FPS. So as we look at the game a year after the beta release, does Tribes: Ascend do that for a new generation of gamers? Does it hold the attention of us ragged veterans?

Now, over 15 years later, I’m as involved in FPS games as I care to ever be. I’ve got a close group of friends that I regularly play Battlefield 3 with, another few friends that I play Team Fortress 2 with and I still regularly load up the original Modern Warfare in a vain attempt to relive what I view as the peak of my glory days. Now, I can add Tribes: Ascend to that list. Though there are noticeable changes to the game from it’s predecessors, the game still aspires and reaches a level of greatness not too often seen in these days of over-produced, tightly controlled manshoots.

Let’s start by addressing the Juggernaut in the room, shall we? The Free to Play model of Tribes: Ascend is a point of great contention among critics and fans alike. Many are insistent that it’s really just a Pay to Win model akin to other Free to Play games. Others insist it’s nowhere near a Pay to Win game. I fall somewhere in between these two camps. I don’t think it’s completely Pay to Win, but there’s no denying that someone willing to pay to unlock the items right from the get-go will have a strong advantage over those who don’t at lower levels. However, everything, aside from class skins and the recently added voice packs, can be obtained through regular play using the experience you earn. It’s also worth pointing out that for the most part, unlockable weapons and classes open up more ways to play the game rather than better weapons to play the game with. For the most part – NJ5-B, I’m looking at you!

The game itself is a symphony of well-executed concepts that come together to deliver an enthralling experience. Travelling at over 200km/h while you calculate where your enemy will be seconds later only to find your mental arithmetic has paid off and you’ve made a mid-air kill from a couple of hundred yards out is not the kind of moment you easily forget. Tribes: Ascend is full of these little moments and the regular, satisfying ‘cha-ching’ that hits your ears as medals appear centre-stage on your screen makes it very easy to turn a one hour play session into an all-nighter.

The game includes a mix of both projectile weapons, in the form of the iconic spinfusors, amongst others, and hitscan weapons such as the sniper rifle and certain handguns. The projectile mechanics are of particular interest. As with the original Tribes, T:A uses a concept called projectile inheritance. What this means in-game is that each projectile takes on a percentage of your velocity meaning speeding straight ahead towards an enemy and firing on them will send the projectile towards them faster than just standing still and shooting would. It also means that compensating your aim while moving becomes quite a complicated process, unfortunately boiling down to mere luck rather than any semblance of skill in the early days. Fret not however. Before too long, you’ll adjust to the mechanic and no one will be able to accuse you of having no skill…well, most of the time at least.

That presents a nice segue into my next point of discussion – the community. FPS games, like MOBA’s, have a bad reputation – justly earned – of being unwelcoming to newbies, or more contentiously; women, the LGBT community, and anyone the douchebag of the day deems ‘unfit’ for respect. In this, Tribes: Ascend can be no different. As Gabe’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory informs us, the anonymity of the internet brings out the asshole in people. Nevertheless, Tribes: Ascend is better than most in-game and exclamations of “Hacker!” and “Noob” are rare. You find yourself seeing familiar names and the more you do, the more you feel a part of the community.
This is further enhanced by the voice command system I think should be in every FPS game from here on out. While skating down hills and jetpacking over crevasses, pressing V brings up a voice command menu and pressing one of the displayed buttons brings you into a further menu, each series of inputs culminating in your character saying something. For example, using the combination [VGW] issues forth “Woohoo!” while [VSTC] says “I’ll cover you”.

Enough about that however. The last thing worth mentioning are the game-modes. While Capture the Flag is the name of the game for most players, Tribes: Ascend offers a range of other modes to keep you occupied from straightforward deathmatches to the 5v5 mode – Arena and beyond. Aside from Team Fortress 2 which let’s be fair has had plenty of time to beef up its offerings, you would be hard pressed to find a F2P game with the variety of Tribes: Ascend.

So there you have it. If you’re looking for a good FPS title to play, you can’t go too wrong with Tribes: Ascend. In any case, you’d be doing yourself a dishonour if you didn’t try it out for a couple of hours. It’s worth noting however that talk among the community is that it’s been put on low-priority for Hi-Rez as they work on newer titles such as Smite and Global Agenda 2. Regardless of this, the game as it stands is a fun and free way to scratch that FPS itch and it’s not too much of a stretch to say that the game’s tagline – Most Difficult Shooter Ever – is rather fitting.

By Declan Murphy

His dream is to one day have an entire room as a dedicated games library, wowing friends and scaring away potential wives.