Shazbot! Tribes: Ascend has been taking up quite a bit of my time over the past few weeks. It's currently in its open-beta phase, with a released date of April 12th. It's a free-to-play FPS for PC and many of you may already be familiar with the series. Tribes 2 was kind of a big deal.
You can head over to the official site and give it a go if you wish and hey, while it downloads, why not read this here discussion? Join me, my amazing segue abilities, and my discussion buddy Sterling "Aiayla" Lyons for our thoughts on the beta! Spoiler: we like it.
Patrick Hancock: So, if you had to describe Tribes: Ascend in ONE WORD, what would it be? I'm going with lovely.
Aiayla: I'd say ... extreme! And if I could use two more words: holy shit! or fuck yeah!
PH: Damn, now you've got me PUMPED! So I guess it's pretty obvious out of the gate that we're both fans of Tribes: Ascend. Have you played any of the previous Tribes games?
A: I actually have not. Tribes: Ascend is my first foray into the series, honestly. I remember hearing that jetpacks, vehicles, and large-scale battles were what the games were about, and that piqued my interest. Also the whole ... Tribes: Ascend-being-free thing. But yeah, I became a pretty instant fan when I first jumped in. It really is extreme, and awesome at the same time.
PH: Me neither! I've always known about it but I was always playing either Counter-Strike or Team Fortress Classic back then. You can imagine my confusion when I jumped into Tribes:Ascend and tried to zoom in and started using my JETPACK. The game is definitely unique, which brings us to our first topic.
Why is Tribes unique?
A: Not too long, actually. I thought that the game had a really good tutorial on how to ski, as well as a nicely laid out obstacle training course. Aiming while skiing -- that's another story. I think it's really cool how the skiing and the jetpacks complement each other though, and found that it really helps add some level of dynamic pathing to each of the maps I played on, whereas other games you'd usually stick to following a few rather laid out routes. Here, you could run, jetpack jump, land into a ski, and jump again to make it across areas in no time flat.
A: Oh yeah, I completely forgot about that tutorial. I jumped right into the game and eventually just figured it out. I saw people zooming across the level and just thought "I GOTTA GO FAST!" I'm still pretty awful at it, actually, as evidenced from the skiing mini-game included in the game where you build up speed to go for a huge jump off of a hill. This is why I stick to mostly defensive classes. Speaking of which ...
A: I stuck to the fast type of classes, like the "Soldier," and the "Pathfinder." I couldn't really stand how slow the bigger classes were, even when skiing. How am I supposed to become world SkiiFree champion ... wait, wrong game. Yeah, I liked having all that mobility at my disposal. I did end up choosing one of the bigger classes in a match where I just outright needed the more powerful weapons and the armor just to survive. I also unlocked the Technician as well to use in one of the capture the flag modes.
PH: Did you tinker with any of the class upgrades that were available?
A: Nah. I didn't really earn enough points to mess with much of that (especially after saving for a class), but I did do a bit of upgrading on one gun. It seems like upgrading might be fairly linear per each item, with things like magazine sizes, rate of fire, and a few other things. It looks like there are quite a few items for each class to swap around and interchange to make each class your own, so to say.
PH: Yeah, upgrading a weapon is linear and makes it clearly better, which might annoy some new players. However, upgrading a single weapon doesn't take very many points so it won't take long to max out any one of the early weapons. The real points are spent on new classes or different weapons. Some of them are a ton of points!
A: Yes. Then I switched to the one heavy class that was unlocked and, well, I guess not, actually. I don't think that buying anything really allots any kind of special unbeatable advantages, though. I really like how everything that can be bought can also be unlocked just by playing. I remember that Blacklight: Retribution ended up doing a very similar thing once it went into open beta, where all non-cosmetic upgrades could be permanently unlocked with in-game points. I think I like how it's handled in Ascend more because it cuts out the middle stages of cheap "temporary rentals" before you can hit that permanent unlock on all the things. Even still, I thought that the first three classes that come with the base package provided more than enough ways to handle all the situations I came across.
A: Yeah, they do give you a variety of classes to start with and as I mentioned before, it won't take you too long to unlock another one of your choosing.
A: I felt the same way about the Team Deathmatch mode. I actually spent most of my time in Arena Deathmatch. I dunno -- I guess I liked it because of the interesting structures that you fought on. You really have to watch your footing a whole bunch as there is very little to stand on, and falling off leads to a host of suicide deaths. Kills rolled in a lot faster there, and it was significantly more fun to me. I also spent a good chunk of time in the Capture the Flag mode as well. I like how the bases are established, with points that can be sabotaged to make it easier to make off with the enemy flag. It was a good mix of things to make it all interesting.
PH: Were the maps in Arena Deathmatch really big? Were there a lot of skiing opportunities?
A: There were less for sure, but there were a lot of straightaways. It felt more like the skiing was used to keep up momentum when clearing one side of the map to the other in a short amount of time. It felt like the jetpack was more emphasized here. I felt like I was being more tricky and skillful with my use of the combination of both abilities. A simple misjudgment on when to let go of skiing, or losing track of the platform when in the air is pretty much an instant death.
PH: Hmm, that's interesting, but I love that the various modes are so different that you'll never experience that feeling of deja vu. Oh and vehicles! There's vehicles you can buy with the points you earn on a per-round basis in CTF. I think there are three tiers? Light, medium, and heavy vehicles? I've jumped in some of them to fire weapons but never actually bought any myself. They seem to be taken out really fast with an air strike and make it seems not very worth it. Did you drive them? How do they handle?
A: You can't ski when in them, so I didn't really experience much in the way of vehicles. The few times I bought one, I died pretty quickly, and I didn't notice many other people using them. I mean, I saw people using them, but I never really saw it firsthand. Plus, then I went with the engineer class, and stayed in base pretty much all match long to stop spies from sappin' mah sentry generator.
PH: Yeah, I can't say that vehicles look that great. I think those points are better spend on other things. I saw teams try to use vehicles in a competitive setting only to have them blown up about 30 seconds later. Which brings me to ...
A: I dunno, but I always love welcoming new games into the foray of competitive gaming. I certainly think that it has a certain ... I guess the best way to put it is "extreme" factor. The whole thing reminds me of that "X-Games" atmosphere where you feel like you need to be over the top in everything you do. I suppose that fits in with how people have "optimal" routes where they can straight shoot the flag and back quickly. Plus the whole skiiing thing. It almost feels more like it IS trying to be a sports game, plus guns and shooting. If it doesn't take off like StarCraft of League of Legends, then I certainly think it will make its own niche in the limelight.
PH: Oh yeah, you saying "shoot the flag" reminds me of another advanced tactic: Flag Punting. Basically, you drop and shoot the flag with an explosive weapon all at once, usually when you're low on HP, and it goes incredibly far in one direction and usually results in you dying (since you would have anyway). I love that people are finding these neat little quirks to the game!
A: I personally don't really see myself spending any money on anything, unless they start putting out some pretty cool-looking skins for the character classes, or maybe even some additional maps in a package, ala Halo or Call of Duty. I think it's wonderful that they made all the core game-changing stuff earnable through play, and I definitely see myself sinking a good chunk of time in it over the foreseeable future. Besides, gonna need all that time training to be the best SkiiFree champion ever! GOTTA GO FAST!