Tribes Ascend: Free to Play Done Right

A sign that the industry is a-changin'.

Mike Whiteby Mike White

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It had been almost two months between my last match on the Tribes: Ascend beta and my first attempt at the official release this past week. It’s a little like riding a bike, as they say. Only this bike goes upwards of 200 mph and has a jetpack strapped to it.

Getting reacquainted with the controls and the weapons fire physics took a little longer than I hoped. Lowering my mouse sensitivity at the advice of a few forum members helped push my kill to death ratio back to a reasonable level. Those two numbers are what I want to focus on for a bit.

Scoring kills and getting killed in shooters is what the genre is mostly about, right? Yes, there are game types which promote and require more depth to your thought process, but in the end, you're still killing other players while attempting to avoid them doing the same to you.

What I'm finding with Tribes: Ascend that I wasn't expecting, is a satisfaction from both sides of the coin. Crazy kill streaks into the high double digits in other games can seem epic, but is each individual one all that great? Where Tribes succeeds the most for me, is putting the emphasis back into each little moment rather than just the big picture.

Sure, it's disappointing at the end of the match if your side doesn't win, but I was too busy getting lost in chasing down a Pathfinder with low health who had just picked me off while I was reloading what would certainly have been the final Spinfusor disc I needed to kill the flag carrier. Or what about those moments when you are the wounded Gazelle being run down by two or three players? They just can't keep up with you though, because you're bombing those hills just right and laying down grenades to cover your ass. How long can you possibly hold them off?

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These are the sequences I love, and it's hard to find them in most games. If you can find enjoyment even when you weren't successful, that's good entertainment. I'm hoping it's a feeling that will last over the long haul.

The game is essentially the same as what we played during the beta. Classes and loadouts had some minor tweaks, and Hi-Rez is slowly introducing more customization options. The game looks beautiful, especially considering it’s free. The old stereotype about F2P games is slowly going out the window. The Unreal engine works perfectly for this franchise.

There are two new map types which I still need to log more hours on. In addition to Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag, Tribes now has an Arena game mode and Capture and Defend. I just recently hit rank 8, which unlocks the latter two options for you. This ties right into the Free-to-Play model Hi-Rez is going with for Tribes.

The initial download of the game is completely free. And you can access anything in the game with points you earn along with experience. The only way you can achieve new ranks and new unlocks is by playing matches. You can purchase (with real money) in-game gold to unlock new classes, weapons, upgrades, and boosts to get your ranks up faster, but it's never necessary to spend a dime if you don't want to.

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For those of you on a tight budget, this means less opportunity to try out new classes, as stockpiling the free currency can take some time. Hopefully that means you'll put some serious thought into what class works best for you. Don't get me wrong, the Soldier class you can play from the start is a great all-around model. If you're like me, you just have to try your hand at everything.

Some classes will obviously perform better depending on the game type. If you're just starting out, or only want to play Team Deathmatch, hold off on unlocking that Infiltrator. Hi-Rez still has a few tricks up their sleeves. Custom games and ranked matches are all in the works, as well as unlockable skins.

There's a lot to look forward to. For the low, low price of absolutely nothing, it's impossible to pass up. Tribes: Ascend is another sign that the industry has changed. I would argue that shooters with strong multiplayer components and large price tags aren't offering anything in comparison that outright justifies the financial investment. I'd much rather play a game for free to the point where I know what I'm getting. I'm sold on the gameplay and the delivery, not just hype and promises.

There's plenty of incentive to put forth a few of my hard-earned bucks towards the game. I certainly already have my monies worth. Why not give back to a game I enjoyed and get a little more in return? If you're a shooter fan or old-school Tribes diehard, there's no reason not to play.