The Tribes series has seen its peaks and valleys over the years. So when a new game was announced then also revealed to be a free-to-play game, it's no surprise that it was met with some hesitation. However, Hi Rez Studios delivers a fast and enjoyable shooter that does a great job living up to the Tribes name. There is simply nothing on the market currently that plays like Tribes: Ascend.
For those unfamiliar with the Tribes series, there are two major gameplay elements that set it apart from most other shooters. The first is the game's thrilling and unique movement systems. Movement itself can be such a pleasure in this game, and Tribes rewards mastery as you learn the tricks that allow you traverse the levels that much quicker. Every player has a jet pack, which by itself makes the game more vertical by allowing you to rocket up in the air but it's skiing that really makes Tribes different. By holding down the spacebar you'll start to hover slightly off the ground, which allows you to glide around once you've built up momentum. Instead of running down a hill at the same constant speed, you'll actually ski down going faster and faster, and you'll retain that velocity until you run into something or bleed it off going up an incline. Combined with the jet pack to boost you over hills and you can barrel around in Tribes: Ascend at speeds normally only seen in vehicles from other shooter.
The other is the games dependency on being able to lead and predict your targets with your shots. In other shooters like Modern Warfare 3 a simple hit scan is done instantly to determine if your weapon hit anything. However, in Tribes most weapons fire an actual projectile that travels down range over time. Hitting people is further complicated by the movement system as players can both ski around quickly and spend a lot of time up in the air with the jetpacks. Proper mastery of timing your boosts, gaining speed skiing down inclines and aiming not just at but at where your opponent will be become essential to playing, and it leads to a great feeling of skillfulness that you just don't get in many other shooters where reaction time or level memorization become the biggest factors to winning.
Tribes: Ascend currently boasts ten plus maps across four game modes, so there is plenty of variety should you need it, but Capture the Flag is where you should spend most of your time. The inclusion of a set objective and defensive emplacements really meshes well with the game's class structure. There are a total of nine classes and they fall into dedicated roles with every class having its own assortment of weapons, belt items and equipment. A few classes can encroach into the other's areas, but for the most part you will need to work together with your team in order to win. This reliance on team based strategy leads to some great moments. A small and speedy Pathfinder can't capture the flag until a larger class like a Juggernaut clears the area around the flag of defensive mines, force fields and the like. Your team's attempt to capture could be further assisted by sneaking into the enemy base with an Infiltrator and destroying their generator, disabling all their turrets. This is my personal favorite; it never gets old to stab people coming to repair it in the back. The thrilling chase after having captured the enemy flag is a close second. You'll be zipping along trying to build speed and stay ahead of your pursuit, and the music even kicks into a higher tempo track to enhance the tension. This is all before even mentioning how upgrading your base structures and spawning vehicles can further change the experience.
To get you going, Tribes: Ascend starts you out with three classes, but you'll have to unlock to purchase the remaining six classes and all the other items and upgrades. This is where the game's free-to-play structure kicks in. There are two methods to unlocking items: with in-game earned experience and with gold that's purchased with real money. What Tribes does well is that every item, weapon or perk that effects gameplay can all be purchased with either gold or experience, and some things like individual item upgrades can only be purchased with experience. This goes a long way towards combatting the pay to win mindset that frequently plagues even free to play games. The pricing structure needs some work; ten dollars feels a little steep a single weapon and it's not even enough to unlock a skin. The experience values can be similarly pricy, with some weapons going for as high as 100,000 experience points. Even with the first win of the day bonus that rewards you a large bonus amount of experience, I was averaging a few thousand experience in a single day, which means it would take weeks to get that much. That said, the developers have already been willing to adjust prices based on feedback, so I am hoping they will continue to fine tune and find a better balance.
In the end, even with just the three starting classes and nothing else unlocked, the game is a lot of fun and still completely free. It's worth checking out for both old fans and those of you who don't know what a Spinfusor is.
Bottom line: Tribes Ascend isn't just another modern military shooter.
Recommendation: If the premise of a class-based shooter with some truly unique mechanics wasn't enough, it's free. Go try it.
Game: Tribes Ascend
Developer: Hi-Rez Studios
Publisher: Hi-Rez Studios