At 250kph, you slice through the enemy’s defences and grab the flag on your way out. As you head back towards your team’s base, bullets flicker past your head and spinfusor shots miss by a hair’s breadth, which would be fine but you’re starting to lose your speed and you’re struggling to keep yourself airborne as your jetpack’s energy reserves hit zero every time you use them. Still heading towards your own flag, you turn around and shoot your bolt launcher at the ground just behind you. It gives you the burst in speed you desperately needed but at the cost of health, leaving you with only 150hp.
You take a shot at one of the two chasers – the one closest, approaching from behind and to the left. The bolt hits and you get some credits for the kill, but there’s no time to celebrate; you’re rapidly approaching the flag stand and, as you turn around, you see an enemy pathfinder on course for your flag. You can’t capture their flag if they’ve got yours, so you aim, compensating for both your respective speed and directions without even thinking about it, and let fly. The bolt arcs through the air, it’d be almost graceful if it wasn’t tipped with explosives, and it is a glorious shot. It knocks him off course just enough for him to miss the flag and hit a wall, giving you the kill credit. Choruses of ‘woohoo!’ erupt from your team as you bring the enemy flag home.
This is Tribes: Ascend. It’s a visceral, free to play, multiplayer first person shooter that features class-based gameplay and player roles, all orbiting around one important, unique feature: skiing. Skiing is exactly what it sounds like; hold down the space bar and you will ski across the ground in a pseudo-realistic manner, best used going down hill for picking up speed. Combine this with your jetpack to get up hills and you’ve got almost everything you need to really go fast.
If you’re looking for some serious firepower, the heavy classes are where it’s at – the Brute can take out a pathfinder with a single shot of his heavy spinfusor, the Juggernaut can use his fusion mortar (or MIRV launcher) to shell the enemy base, keeping their defences down and the flag stand empty. The Doombringer is best used in a ‘heavy on flag’ role, in which the player stands on the flag with the perk ‘superheavy’ equipped, which obviously makes the class much heavier. This presents an additional obstacle for any enemy pathfinders as they come in to grab the flag, as not only will hitting the Doombringer kill their speed, it can also kill them as if they were hitting a wall.
The medium classes are composed of the Technician, the Soldier and the Raider. The latter two are both high damage classes, with the Raider being geared up to terrorise the enemy base, be it taking out their turrets or keeping the flag stand clear, and the Soldier being a decent all round class that can adapt to the battle better, perhaps, than other classes. The technician can place turrets and motion sensors to defend the base, as well as fix assets more effectively than other classes.
There are 9 classes in total, all designed for specific roles. Not yet mentioned are two light classes; the Infiltrator, who is equipped with a cloak for, yes, infiltrating the enemy base and destroying assets such as the generator, turrets and the radar; and the Sentinel, a sniper who, in the right hands, can be absolutely invaluable for taking out enemies who are escaping with the flag. Each class can have multiple guns, perks, packs and belt items. Unfortunately, you only start with three of these classes unlocked; the Pathfinder, Soldier and Juggernaut. The classes have a default loadout – the Pathfinder, for example, comes with the light spinfusor, shotgun, impact nitron, energy recharge pack and the two default perks (Ultra Capacitor 1 and Determination).
You unlock new equipment by buying them with either XP or Gold. This is where the free to play nature rears its ugly head – and ugly it is. Whilst Tribes: Ascend is the most forgiving F2P title I’ve ever played in that all the weapons and such tend to be ‘side-grades’ rather than upgrades due to their situational nature and your own preferences (i.e. the loadouts and classes you start with are perfectly functional), it seems almost impossible to customise your class without spending real money.
Take the default Pathfinder loadout as an example. Of the 6 changeable items listed above, I changed 5 of them. To do this with XP (and therefore without spending any real money) I would have had to use 220,000XP to unlock the items I currently use. A new player earns around 500 per match once they’ve learnt the ropes – that means I would have to play 440 matches to earn the XP I would need to unlock the items I would want just for that one class. That’s not even including the cost of the upgrades or unlocking other classes.
As you can see, it is possible to unlock things without paying a penny, but it’s so impractical it edges towards the realms of impossibility. That said, after using the free 250 gold you get from liking the game’s Facebook page to unlock something I didn’t at all think through, I had absolutely no qualms about spending actual real life money on Tribes: Ascend. It is the first free to play game I’ve ever wanted to put money into, and that’s quite a powerful endorsement. If you can afford to invest less than the price of a boxed game into Tribes: Ascend you’ll be getting considerably more than your money’s worth.[drop]Buying gold will also give you VIP status, increasing all XP you earn by 50% forever afterwards. As well as using it to unlock items and classes, gold can be used to buy a booster, which doubles all the XP you earn. Combined with VIP status, you will earn 3x the XP you would without buying gold. That means 1500XP per match rather than 500 for a relatively new player. It still takes a while to unlock things with just XP, however, especially since some weapons cost 100,000XP.
The XP pricing on unlockables is not the only problem here, either. There’s a pretty steep learning curve if you’ve never played Tribes before. First, there’s skiing, which can take a little while to get used to; and then there are player roles. As mentioned earlier, cappers, chasers (both Pathfinders, usually), heavy on flag (the Doombringer) and heavy offense (Juggernaut) are all particular roles that you’re not really given any introduction to due to the purely multiplayer nature of the game. I’ve tried to explain some here and in previous articles in which I’ve covered Tribes: Ascend and it’s probably come across as very complicated.
I was lucky in that I wasn’t brought into the game from a review by a savant who was struggling to find the words to articulate the brilliance of the game. I just saw the game and recognised the name. After trying it, I was fascinated. Some Youtube videos and a lot of deaths later I’ve become pretty proficient with my most used classes and understand, at least to a reasonable depth, how the game works. It’s incredibly tactical, and even in public games (which is what you’ll most likely be playing almost all the time), you see just normal people who are following the roles that their classes tend to fit best into.
- Like no other modern FPS.
- Skiing is unique to the franchise and completely changes the game.
- Character classes are incredibly well designed.
- Learning the game is amazing, and the feeling of doing your ‘job’ well is just unmatched.
- The teamwork in a well versed team is brilliant.
- The XP costs of items compared to the rate at which you earn it is ridiculous.
- Graphically, it’s only really ‘pretty good’.
- Can take a little while to get used to both skiing and the meta-game.
It’s the meta-game that amazes me. There are no other games where this happens, I can’t think of a single one that organises people into a team so effectively, and it does it without actually doing anything beyond meticulously balanced and incredibly well designed classes. Exactly how it all works is all over the internet; it’s just a Google search away. There are guides everywhere; from basic beginner how-to’s to exhaustive, 30 minute long Youtube videos explaining exactly how to use specific classes optimally.
It’s a game of teamwork and cooperation that’s refreshing amongst this sea of chaotic, lone wolfing online FPS’. It’s done with such style and grace that every time you grab the flag around a Doombringer at 250kph your heart is in your mouth and beating faster than it has any right to be doing. That just doesn’t happen anywhere else.