A Paladin’s Review: Tribes: Ascend: Out of the Blue Update. High Speed Fun and Spinfusors for the Win.

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It’s only three years old but I’ve got some updated thoughts about this high speed first person shooter.

This will probably be the last time I talk about Tribes: Ascend, as far as an official review is concerned. I mean, I’ve only talked about it three different times now. That’s probably more than enough. However, after the recent Out of the Blue update was released, I felt that I had to give it one last, final and official review.

Read and rate the review on Steam.

My Review of Tribes Ascend (Beta)…(Original review).

During the beta period, I reviewed Tribes Ascend and it was one of the highest viewed reviews I’ve ever done. It’s also not one of my best and it’s certainly got some issues in it, but I kept it up for posterity’s sake. Knowing that one day I’d be updating that review into this. I hope you enjoy.

A Paladin’s Review: Tribes: Ascend: Out of the Blue Update. High Speed Fun and Spinfusors for the Win.

  • Genre: Sci-Fi First/Third Person Shooter, Multiplayer Only High Speed Armor Based.
  • Developed & Published by: Hi-Rez Studios
  • Platform: Windows only.
  • DRM: Free Hi-Rez Player Account Required. Steam is optional.
  • Business Model: Free to Play System. Optional purchases for cosmetic skins, different voices or a weapons pack that unlocks all weapons, perks, items and loadouts immediately.
  • Played over 100 hours and bought some gold. Most of my playtime is in the non-Steam client.

Preamble and History of Tribes: Ascend

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Tribes Ascend was the first game I ever played from the Hi-Rez studios several years back. I had initially picked it up because friends had been playing it and it was unlike any first person shooter I had ever seen before. And we were certainly drowning in them back in 2012. High speed action, projectile weapons and a gorgeous Sci-Fi style, it had all the right things to draw our attention. I wrote my beta review for it and continued playing it for a little while longer. We had our ups and downs with after it left beta. I never felt like I had gotten good at the game either, but I sure as hell tried. However, problems started cropping up for T:A that I’ll talk about later and after the events went down, I “updated” the review a while later. I warned people off from it, stating that the multiplayer community was close to death and that Hi-Rez was probably going to pull the plug any day. Well, that never happened. Now, I have returned to give my complete and final thoughts on Tribes: Ascend, regardless of what happens to it from here on. Mostly, T:A’s issues came from its business model. 

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Originally, T:A started off with nine classes and a growing amount of weapons that had to be unlocked individually. If you were playing the game for free, the grind to unlock all of these weapons was long and arduous. Especially since each individual weapon then had it’s own separate progression system to upgrade and actually make it usable. Then there were massive balance problems with hitscan guns being extremely powerful and classes that were simply too strong or restricting. The business model was preferential to those that spent money on it simply put. Worse, every new update seemed to make the balance worse with increasingly stronger guns that upset the level balance between guns even further askew. They tried to avoid pay-to-win but unfortunately kept running into a semi pay-to-win scheme. The skill cap of T:A was high enough to mostly avoid the pay-to-win stigma but it wasn’t entirely removed despite multiple attempts by Hi-Rez to fix things. The playerbase bled regardless of what they did and the future of T:A looked set to fail.

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Hi-Rez decided that it couldn’t stop the sinking T:A ship and cut development in July of 2013 in favor of its new project: SMITE: Battleground of the Gods. You may have heard of that game, it was something of a success. The announcement was met with a lot of anger as players felt slighted at Hi-Rez quitting yet another game to go work on the next big thing. (They had originally been working on another game before T:A called Global Agenda but had shut it down over similar issues). It didn’t help that it looked like yet another MOBA that was (and is) the new craze for AAA developers. SMITE would be slightly marred during its BETA period over that controversy but survived it just fine. I’ll admit, even I stayed out of most of its BETA period over my anger about Tribes. Which was a pretty terrible attitude to take with them. It wouldn’t be until the end period of SMITE’s Beta that I forgave them and gave it a chance. But that’s a review for another day.

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As the years went by, I noticed that Tribes: Ascend’s servers were still up. The game wasn’t exactly in a great state but it wasn’t dead either. Some higher ups at Hi-Rez lamented T:A’s fate and talked about the mistakes that were made. Giving hints that maybe T:A would come back. After all, there were constant mentions about how Hi-Rez still believed in the IP and the work that they had done. So, it seemed unlikely that they would shut down the servers. But still, every company eventually pulls the plug to online-only games. After all, what’s the point of sinking money into a title that doesn’t make any money? But, December 2015 rolled around and a brand new patch called “Out of the Blue” was released for T:A. This patch promised to overhaul the business model and gameplay along with several new maps to freshen things up. It was promised to be a return to projectile weapons, three armor classes and balanced weapons and vehicles and much more. Hi-Rez also announced that they were releasing all Tribes games for free for players to enjoy at their leisure. It was a big move for them. 

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For great justice!

I think it’s noteworthy to mention all of this and give kudos to Hi-Rez for not simply killing Tribes: Ascend when it had become less than profitable. We’re now in the middle of an era where we are seeing major online-only titles being taken down forever from PC, consoles and even mobile games constantly. I’m more than happy that Hi-Rez is keeping T:A up but this shouldn’t be the exception to the norm. It should be normal that a game have a long lifetime to be experienced and not simply thrown away after a few years like so much trash. After all, if games from the 90s are still going to be playable 50 years from now and not titles such as these? There’s something wrong with the game industry when this sort of behavior becomes the norm. As such, kudos to Hi-Rez and any other developers that keep their games playable for as long as possible. So, without further ado, let’s take a look at the newly overhauled Tribes: Ascend from Hi-Rez Studios.  

Game Overview

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One of the few killing sprees I ever achieved.

Tribes: Ascend is a multiplayer-only online arena high-speed first person shooter. It’s an everlasting factional warfare between the Blood Eagles and Diamond Swords set in the distant future. These tribes are battling it out for ultimate supremacy in a futuristic Sci-Fi universe where the fighting seems unlikely to stop anytime soon. In-game, this simply affects the color of your armor, the announcer’s voice and where you spawn. Three different armor bases form the basis of what a player can and can’t do at any one time. There are a wide variety of different weapons ranging from explosive projectile weapons, hitscan assault weapons to sniper rifles and more. There are five distinct game modes and more than 40 maps combined spanning these modes. These maps are huge, allowing for high speed build up and action on a giant battleground. Each map is designed with its mode in mind and only share the general aesthetics. There is an official rule set for each mode but you can also set up your own server with custom rules. T:A sets itself apart from other first person shooters with high speed skiing, jet pack action and projectile preference over hitscan weapons. It’s free-to-play which means that T:A has a decent variety of skins and voice packs to customize your look as well. Is it worth checking out? Well, let’s talk about the shooting elements next.

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Repairing the generator.

FPS Combat Examination

T:A is now based on three different armor types and allows much more flexible with your loadouts. You now have light, medium and heavy armors to choose from. These affect how many weapons you can carry, how fast you can go and how much health you have. Additionally certain classes can wield weapons, deployables and items that other armors cannot. Light armors are about being much more mobile than the other classes. They tend to be the players going after the flag due to their high speed. Lights are the only armor class that can use sniper rifles and sensor jammers too. Medium armors are generally the average class, they have pretty good speed, pretty good armor and a good amount of flexibility in roles. They can duel, go after flags, attack/defend bases and fill whatever gap is needed. Additionally, they are the only class that specialize as a repair technician for bases though all classes can use a repair tool if truly necessary. They have access to turrets as well. Then, there’s the heavy armors whose speciality is to be really beefy, wield powerful guns and generally stick around for far too long. They tend to be used for base defense, assaulting a base from long range and generator assault (or gen camping as some like to call it). Finally, they are also the only ones who can wield long-range bombardment weapons and deploy shields or mines. For each armor type, you are given nine customization loadouts for quick-swapping during or between games. This means you can switch from a technician to a flag runner every time you respawn or go to a supply station. This new loadout system gives players a lot more flexibility in what they can bring to a fight and doesn’t pigeonhole you into a specific role that you have to grind up to be good at. A move that I definitely support. It allows players to focus on getting better at the game overall rather than mindlessly grinding for arbitrary XP points.

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One of the heavies.

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One of the medium armors.

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A light armor.

In addition to the three other classes, there are three vehicles in the game. All three vehicles can be driven by one person and have space for a second gunner/rider. There’s the grav cycle for speedy movement across the map or harassing the enemy. A shrike, a plane that can hover, which is generally used for chasing flags as well as harassing enemies. Finally, there’s the Beowulf. A tank with explosive shots and a machine gun that I’ve generally seen used for defensive purposes only. These aren’t exactly game changers due to their non-regenerating health and the anti-vehicle weapons in Tribes but they add a little bit of flavor to what players can use on the battlefield. 

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Grav Cycle boosting

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The tanks aren’t very good for base assault if no one sees you down there I’m afraid.

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Flying around in my shrike, trying not to crash into the outer wall of this map…

There are several different classes of weapons. The Spinfusors are the signature weapon of the Tribes series. These explosive projectile weapons shoot a disc (or two) in a direct line at the target that, upon contact with a surface/enemy, explode. These are considered the standard weapon that every other weapon is balanced around. The sniper weapons act pretty typical to other games with two variants: one traditional rifle and the other consumes energy when shot. There’s grenade launchers which rapidly fire little explosives in a sloping arc. These tend to do less damage in trade off for more shots. There’s plasma weapons which rapidly fire projectiles in a slightly larger hitbox than Spinfusors. They do less damage per hit but allow for more chances to miss. Then you’ve got your traditional shotguns, assault rifles, machine guns and pistols with their own unique variants that are generally used to finish off a wounded enemy. But that’s up to the player. Then there’s the bolt launchers which fire out a projectile in a bigger radius than Spinfusors but have a long reload and fall off much harder than other weapons. They’re a bit difficult to use, I’ve found, due to that long reload. Last but not least are the long range bombardment weapons. These timed explosives have an incredibly long range which makes them useful for base sieges or knocking out groups of enemies/vehicles but not so useful for dueling because they take a while to go off. There’s also a small variety of grenades that can be used for area of effect damage and knocking the flag off of other players. So, there’s a pretty nice variety of weapons designed to be skill shots and allow for a variety of different tactics. There’s something here for every role and class but it generally revolves around explosive weaponry and hitting skill shots. With a further complication.

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The accolade and badge screen. Plus points.

In T:A, combat is constantly moving at fast speeds and making your movements as unpredictable as possible while shooting at players doing the same. While the game gives you varying degrees of movement, depending on the armor, there’s the limitation of gravity and energy pool to contend with. As such, you’ll have to learn to aim where you think your opponent is going to be, not where they are at the moment you fire. Players have access to skis and jetpacks to stay mobile. Skis allow players to glide over the map and down slopes to keep their momentum going. Jetpacks, tied to the energy bar, allow the player to pick up speed and get over any obstacles. Each armor has a flat amount of health that can only be regenerated by picking up ammo drops, visiting a supply station or passive regeneration after a long time out-of-combat. This means that you probably won’t be able to rely on health regeneration to get you out of danger. All of these mechanics combine to create a pretty high skill ceiling even for casual players. Maintaining momentum, understand how weapons fire and where players are going to be, it’s a constant challenge to keep up. That being said, it’s not nearly so insurmountable either. I mean sure, even after 100 hours, I still have difficulty hitting mid-airs or killing sprees. But there’s enough players on the field that one bad player won’t drag the entire team down and there are novice servers to let you learn. Oh right, I should mention something else. There’s a scoring and accolade system that rewards players points for doing important objectives such as repairing base defenses, getting mid-air kills, killing sprees and other FPS important things. These points are simply for bragging rights and don’t affect anything in the game itself. Well, except for how much you may wish you were better. Oh, and there is a leveling system but again it’s just for bragging rights as it changes the player’s rank.

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Arena mode skirmish between Managarmr and I.

Gameplay Musing

With the Out of The Blue Patch, Hi-Rez has clearly shown that it has learned from the mistakes of the past. The huge amount of grinding is gone, the weapon play feels more balanced than it ever has in the past and Tribes is fun to play again. Despite its quirks and imperfections, Tribes still has something to offer after three years. It’s hard to deny the rush you get when you’re skiing at 300 km/h across the map while dodging all sorts of projectiles thrown your way. The increased flexibility with loadouts makes for a much more interesting play/counterplay setup if the rest of your team is on the ball. I’m not 100% sold on the current weapon or armor balance right now. It’s definitely better than it used to be but some of them, like the bolt launchers, feel superfluous or heavies are a little too good. However, it’s no longer a hitscan nightmare fest that it used to be. Where paid players had a clear advantage over free players. I’ll be curious to see how patches over the months and possibly years go. So far, they seem to be keeping the game going at a regular, if slow, pace. 

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The chaos of fighting over a flag.

Despite the game having up to 25 v 25 battlegrounds, you’ll rarely get yourself in a situation where you’re alone against the entire team or an overwhelming number of units. Though it can get extremely chaotic at times, with the team feeling like people are just doing their own thing. But everyone can take a role and work towards different objectives. With these massive maps that everyone plays on, it never feels crowded. Though there can be plenty of generator room camping where heavies will sit by the generator and kill anyone who tries to come through one of the limited entrances. This can get pretty old on some maps and I feel like the game rewards it a little too much. Still, if you want to snipe, siege, be sneaky or cap a flag, there’s quite a few roles you can tackle. And if you’re worried about the learning curve, there are some in-game tutorials which should help you get the hang of things. Speaking of which, let’s talk about game modes.

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Trying to defend the flag stand.

Tribes: Ascend Game Modes

There are five modes of play in T:A. Capture the flag, Team Deathmatch, Rabbit, Capture the Flag Blitz and Arena. Capture the Flag is the most popular mode. Two teams must fight over control of their respective flags while trying to secure the enemy’s flag to score five points or the timer runs out. These flags are anchored to bases that have defense turrets, a sensor tower, vehicle bay and power generator. Both flags cannot be out in the field at the same time so one of them must be returned before a flag can be scored for a point. As such, striking against the base may be required in order to secure the flag, disrupt defenses and draw people away from getting the flag. This is the mode that the game is balanced around and allows for a wide variety of roles and tactics. You can be anything from flag capturing or chasing, sniper, field technician, heavy assault bombardier and much more. This mode also has the biggest maps to allow players to build up speed for flag grabbing and dueling in the middle of the two bases with several different ways of infiltrating bases or grabbing the flag. It’s a lot of fun and the main reason people play T:A.

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Team deathmatch is exactly like every other team deathmatch mode you’ve ever seen. Rabbit is a free for all mode where everyone is chasing down the player with the flag. The longer someone holds the flag, the more points they get. That one was pretty fun from time to time. Arena is a collection of smaller maps with 5v5 action. The first team to run out of lives loses. Capture the Flag: Blitz is a quirky spin on CTF where the flag spawns in different places all over the map during the game. But otherwise plays the same as CTF. It’s generally not picked because the map’s spawns can ruin flag runner’s setups.

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Unfortunately, due to the small player base that T:A has right now, Capture the Flag seems to be the only mode being played publicly. So, is it worth playing the game just for CTF? I’m going to say yes, with reservations. It’s a very fun mode. The thrill of running around the battlefield in these big 25 V 25 maps is done really well. It still stands on its own for its unique combination of mechanics. But the lack of variety in played modes may be a negative for those coming from other shooters. It’s at least worth checking out so long as you appreciate the fact that the game has a small but loyal player base and content will be coming out at irregular times.

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Development Cycle

Hi-Rez returned in December to give T:A a much needed overhaul in balance and several new maps for players. But that will probably be the exception to the norm. Since then, there’s been smaller bug fix patches, a new map here and there and minor balance changes to address community complaints. Tribes: Ascend seems to be a passion project for Hi-Rez and as such I would temper one’s expectation of regular content. Unfortunately, the Out of the Blue update did not create a substantially larger player base. There was a big jump in players when they announced the patch, but it has since returned to the normal small levels it had before the patch. Even so, the game is playable now without the major issues that used to plague it. I’d say you’ll get about 5-8 public servers going on any particular day. So, there’s always something to do. For now, it seems like Hi-Rez plans on supporting the game for the foreseeable future with small updates to keep the game going.

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Multiplayer Community

Well, it’s an FPS game which means you should expect the usual norms with FPS players. In my own personal experience, it’s been ok. Some servers are filled with jackasses and others are just playing the game. I rarely see it go extremely toxic but your mileage will vary. I’ve seen trashtalking, cursing, racist, and worse statement said. You know, the usual multiplayer crap. None of it is excusable. But, I feel like I’ve seen worse in other FPSes and this community feels like it hasn’t slipped that far down. That’s not to excuse any of the people who do it in Tribes but this feels more removed from other games. Mostly because I think it’s hard to single out any one player’s poor performance when a team is losing. It’s not like a MOBA where you can clearly point to the hunter feeding causing your team to lose. So, it creates an insulation where people are far less likely to get toxic about poor performance. Still, I put in the caveat that I can let it go and I probably ignore/block out most of it. I haven’t noticed any large-scale hacking or cheating nor heard any complaints about it.

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There’s a voice game system, also known as VGS, which is designed to let you press a few keys to get a message(s) out to the team quickly. Commands include: attack a point, defend the generator room, take the flag from me and a lot more. It’s a fairly robust system that will require some learning on the player’s part, even if you’ve used the VGS system in SMITE or Paladins. The system is a pretty good replacement for an in-game team voice chat and a lot less noisy to listen to than 25 different mics that aren’t calibrated properly. I definitely do not miss voice chat for this game, I can only imagine how nightmarish that would be on public servers. Private mumble servers only for me, thanks.

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Business Model

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One such skin you can buy for medium armors.

This is a free-to-play game and, for once, I can actually say that without any reservations. I think in my last review on this title I did say it was free to play. That was technically true, but you were better off putting money down due to the enormous grind it used to have. But, the grind is all but gone, especially if you buy the $10 Weapons Pack DLC which unlocks all weapons, items and customization slots. The other thing you can buy from 10 to $100 is gold to unlock voice packs and cosmetic skins that don’t affect the gameplay. Voice packs change the VGS system and range from pretty standard sci-fi voices to one particular voice by Totalbiscuit. I definitely recommend buying the weapons pack just so that you have access to the entire game rather than having the grinding to unlock stuff. And really, $10 isn’t asking a lot.

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PC Settings and Audio/Video

I’ve decided that instead of giant paragraph blocks of information on PC settings to create tables instead. The general idea is that this will be easier and more accessible without having to repeat myself in paragraph form like I’ve been doing for the past couple of reviews. I am getting tired of saying “the resolution options are fine”. I think that this gives me the best of both worlds and fortunately both WordPress and Steam support this. Feedback will be appreciated on whether I should improve this or remove it.

Game Options: What the User Can Configure:
Resolution Options: Standards Included Categorized by: 16:9, 16:10, 4:3 and Other.
Graphics & Texture Detail: Selection Slider Minimal, Low, Medium, High and Very High
V-Sync changeable. No cap. Enabled/Disabled
Framerate Smoothing and Motion Blur Enabled/Disabled
Field-of-View 60-120 user set
Mouse smoothing, sensitivity and Invert Changeable
Weapon Size: Changeable Enabled/Disabled
Audio Volume Settings: User Changeable Master, Effects, Music, VGS and Announcer.
HUD is customizable Enabled/Disabled
Keys are rebindable Only one key per action, no secondary.

A bass booster for headphones is in the audio options. There’s also plenty of minor options including chat filter, damage numbers and so on that will let you configure Tribes to your hearts content. Keybindings are probably the most annoying to change as they are filtered out into a lot of categories and there’s no one list to look through all of them. The main menu UI is pretty dated and restricted to one side of the screen but is otherwise usable. This would seem to be a console limitation, had the game ever actually made its way to console. As far as I’m aware, that was never the plan to port it but I can’t say for certain.

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General options menu. The UI stays to the left on every screen. Server explorer does expand.

Tribes: Ascend is getting on to four years old now and is still looking great. It’s an Unreal 3 Engine title. Its colorful futuristic Sci-Fi look gives it a bit of timeless look that I think will help it age more gracefully than many other shooters that came out in 2012. Animations aren’t always perfect though and perhaps not all textures are either. But it’s hard to spot them when going 300KM across some of the more gorgeous settings including deserts, winter wastelands, forested jungles and many more locations. There’s always a sense of epicness to each map and some maps have space or atmospheric battles going on overhead. Sound quality is also just as good as you can distinctly tell what weapon is being shot at or around you at all times. Each giving a great depth perception so that you can tell if they are being shot at you. The VGS’s voice system is a mixed bag of quality but adds a little bit of flavor regardless. The music is a thumping orchestral/electronic mix that cements the Sci-Fi dystopian combat era T:A is trying to sell. It’s definitely a favorite soundtrack of mine.

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Some of the video options.

Final Thoughts

Out of the Blue shows how much Hi-Rez studios has grown since its screwup with Tribes: Ascend. Many of the balance problems are fixed, the large amount of grinding is gone, the business model feels a lot more fair and there’s more content to enjoy. Capture the Flag is clearly the focal point of T:A and its still really fun to play. This is the best state the game has ever been in despite its flaws. The community is still pretty decent too. However, said community is small and may not grow anytime soon unfortunately. There are some aspects of balance that may need to be adjusted as time goes on and I would like to see more content released. It’s also got a pretty difficult learning curve compared to most shooters that can be daunting for new players wanting to experience T:A. While I’ve never gotten particularly great at it, I always try to and its got a challenge that I still find compelling. Its a game whose mechanics, speed and shooting still stand up even after three years of gaming. I definitely recommend checking out Tribes: Ascend especially after this patch that came out of the blue

A Paladin Without A Crusade Referral Link for Tribes: Ascend. Sign up and get bonuses for playing T:A!

Thanks you everyone for reading this review. Feel free to check out my other reviews or share this if you really enjoyed it.

-KingIsaacLinksr

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