GAME REVIEW: Tribes: Ascend

Is Free-To-Play finally coming of age? We’ve had FTP games for a while now, but often they’ve not been – if we are being honest – the highest quality. They’ve often been characterised as play-to-win classes and itemisation, or simply being subscription games going over to micropayments in the face of the few successful subscription games that dominate the marketplace.

But regardless of the quality of these early FTP games, they made money and now there are more of them coming down the pipe with more refined business models and a better balance between the “game” and the “commercial” aspects they employ.

I’ve been playing “Tribes: Ascend”. This is a competitive shooter descended from the Tribes lineage, made distinctive by large open battlefields and high-speed combat. The key to this is Ski-ing, where at the push of a button you can skim across the terrain gathering speed as you dive down the maps many hills and then using the momentum to zip around to where you want to go. Combine this with your jetpack, you can quickly learn to throw yourself in air and traverse large battles very quickly, get to odd nooks and crannies, and generally get anywhere, very fast.

This of course means that everyone is doing it, and hitting anyone is…well, a bit of an artform. Tribes has a tough learning curve; you’ll spend the first few matches just learning to get around, and getting acquainted with the respawn screen, then a few turns wrestling with the weapons, especially the signatory “spinfusors”, before you feel even vaguely competent on the battlefield. Even then, getting a clean kill feels like a major victory for a while, and there is always, always, someone better than you.

This last point is always the big stumbling block with online shooters of any stripe, as the vast majority they are so ruthlessly skill based. There is not better armour, or extra levels to save you and new guns do different things, rather than better things. Thats not to say there isn’t levels and exp (and cash) that can get you new stuff, but Tribes uses them to unlock different classes often with a different battlefield utility, or new guns that work in different ways, rather than being outright better. Balance, of course, is an issue, and hand-on-heart I think some guns are just outright better, but it’s not by design and already in it’s short life Tribes: Ascend has seen several patches aimed at balancing out real and perceived injustices.

Its worth mentioning at this point that the “free-to-play” model monetises itself around these extra classes and weapons, allowing to short-cut the vast amount of exp you’ll need to get anything by buying “gold” as an alternative currency. To be fair, even the smallest gold purchase will get you enough to pickup extra classes and weapons, and the cost are geared that the gold/exp exchange value varies depending on what you are buying so it’s vastly more efficient to buy a weapon or class with gold, but upgrade it with exp, than the other way around. Also, buying any amount of gold at all gets you a permanent exp-generation multiplier, which is reward in itself.

On top of that I’ve found the overall presentation of Tribes: Ascend to be very slick and accessible in a way that cushions the hard landing of the actual game. Getting into a match is quick and easy; getting around the menus is slick and the controls are refined and easy to get the hang of. The engine itself, running off the Unreal 3 engine, is smooth and stable and i’ve noticed any appreciably lag or warping when playing the game. So at least when I utterly fail to hit that guy I’m shooting at I have the comfort of knowing it’s my own lack of skill at work, not some dodgy netcode.

In conclusion, there is little to fault Tribes: Ascend for other than the simple fact that it’s inherently quite tough to get started with. The FTP elements seem fair enough, and I’ve certainly had enough fun with it so far (despite the toughness) to feel perfectly at ease buying some Gold just to say “thanks” to the Hi-Rez Studios team. If shooters of any sort are your cup of tea, you can’t go too far wrong giving this a look.

GS Score: 4/5
GS Reporter: Matt

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