Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tribes: Ascend - First Impressions

A few days ago someone suggested trying out the Tribes Ascend closed beta.  I was baffled at this, as closed beta's imply that I need an invite.  As my friend quickly explained, the beta was only quasi-closed, as receiving a key and access to the game was as easy as heading over to the developer's facebook page and liking the game.

I've provided the link here for anyone who may become interested as they continue to read.

Now I'm not one to really promote First Person Shooters on the PC - mainly because my first FPS experience was Halo back on the original Xbox.  Ever since then, I've been a hardcore console supporter when it comes to both first and third person shooters.  That being said, I'm quickly becoming a convert - games like this being the reason.  (Editor's after-thought; I actually had a great time playing Quake 2 - and its subsequent expansions - WAY back in the day.) 

Tribes is a typical shooter at its core, however it combines traditional game play with aspects of MMORPG character development.  The results are rather good, as you've got a series of characters (or classes, as the game calls them) that you can play with and build on with the experience you earn in each match.  Each class has its own quirks and play style to master - various roles are available from lightly armored flag runners and stealth assassins, to the medium armored turret-constructing technicians that safeguard an area, and even all the way up to heavily armored (and armed!) Doombringer and Juggernaut.

As you can surmise from the picture above, there are currently 12 classes available as of this writing.  They all have their little niche's - but there are a few staples that each possess.  First, every class is reliant on their jump pack for moving around.  This isn't too far fetched from other games, except now you've also got skiing thrown into the mix - the term used to describe gliding frictionless across any surface.  With skiing and jump-jetting being your key means of locomotion, it becomes a pivotal skill to master and it's very easy to spot the good players just based on how they move and react to their environments.

Also shared amongst all classes is multiple weapons - every class gets two, except the technition which receives a repair gun as their secondary weapon.  It's important to note that all classes can also switch out a weapon for a repair gun at a few convenient stations located throughout their base.  Repair guns can be used to fix a number of deployable and permanent fixtures from turrets to generators.

And finally, every class gets a belt item ranging from sticky grenades to claymores, or even the deadly fractal grenade that detonates over a few seconds and floods a room with laser fire (clearing it of most hostiles).

Matchmaking between players isn't anything new or special - there's no ranking involved (yet) and players are thrown into the next available match when they queue up.  It's possible to join friend's games, however you have to wait for a spot if none is available - I will say one thing, while unoriginal, the game's queue system is fast and responsive.  I've never had to wait more than a minute for a match, or to join a friend's match.  It works well and delivers fast paced action without a lot of fuss to get yourself there.

Expanding upon the class selection are skills - the skill tree is unique to each class, however some skills are shared throughout all classes.  For instance, almost every class can buy a skill which reduces the delay in health regeneration by 25%.

As you can see from the screen on the right, there's nothing new here as far as innovation goes - you've seen skill/experience based purchase systems before.  Experience is earned by doing damage, killing enemies (and/or killing them creatively via a sticky grenade or blowing up their vehicle), or repairing/upgrading objectives during the game.

Finally, regardless of which class you select, you can use two global perks as well.  These perks are unlocked by playing more classes and progressing down their skill tree.  However, once unlocked, they can be used with any class, regardless.  They're significantly more costly then skills, at 9,000 and 12,000 respectively (in the example above) however some of them can really provide excellent benefits to suit your role and play style, and there is a multitude to select from.

Thankfully you aren't locked into one class for an entire match.  You can change your class at any time either between deaths or via a refit station in your base or deployed in the field.  This allows a great deal of flexibility for teams as members can switch roles effortlessly to fill gaps as the match progresses.

Rounding out the game play is the credit system - you accumulate credits the same way you accumulate experience, however your team can also earn global credits for all its members by doing things like capturing or returning a flag.  Credits are used on a per-match basis (they don't carry over to the next match, so leaving them unspent is like turning away extra experience).  You can spend them to upgrade turrets, sensors, or the base generator, or to summon a vehicle, call in an airstrike, or even call in a refit station mid-field allowing you and your teammates the options to refill their ammunition away from the base.  A very cool way to add some depth to the game play and break the routine of just shooting other people to get experience. 

The overall picture is a fun game that you can easily find yourself jumping in for a few matches every day and then walking away for a few hours, only to come back and play a few more matches with a different class.  You get that sense of accomplishment from the experience system, and that sense of a goal to strive for in unlocking new classes and features to play with.

The game model is free to play, however for anyone who sees themselves playing this somewhat casually I highly suggest investing the minimum one-time purchase of $10 into the game.  Not only will this allow you to unlock a class of choice without the need to play dozens of matches, but it will grant your account permanent VIP status, which slightly increases the experience and tokens gained with each match.  Tokens are used to unlock new classes, and you'd need to play about 30 matches per class to unlock a new one with the VIP status.

Thankfully the free to play model really doesn't push itself into the realm of pay to win.  While accounts with the VIP status, and those that just pay to acquire the game currency (gold) will have a slight advantage in accessing multiple classes earlier, the rate at which you acquire experience is directly attributed to you performance in game.  People who excel at the game will gain experience quickly, and those that do not will still struggle to unlock new perks, skills and classes.  While its true the VIP status of an account will give you about a 60% bonus in experience gain, it's still marginal enough to provide access to newer things faster without giving a player an enormous advantage over the competition.

Regardless, veteran players will eventually unlock everything they want, and once that's done - experience and currency become completely irrelevant.  Even now, I'm about 50 total matches into the game and I've pretty much got my two favorite classes skilled up and decked out as much as I'd like them to be.  From here on out, they won't get much better via skills, they'll only benefit from my experience.

I highly suggest anyone with a FPS desire to give Tribes: Ascend a try.  It's a great find as far as a free to play game goes - and you can have countless matches of fun at your disposal all without ever spending a dime.

If you're interested in learning more - you can check out their website here.