Magnificent & Important Advent Calendar: Day Seventeen

By RPS on December 17th, 2012 at 12:00 pm.


The Seventeenth Day Of The Calendar Of The Endless Bear is one that is still celebrated with maypole dances in some British backwaters. The village of Elastic-Upon-Tweed makes it their bloody pseudo-Christmas, where a foreigner is eaten alive by children trained from birth in the art of man-hunting. So very British. What better way to celebrate then, than with this wholly unrelated videogame?

It’s… Tribes: Ascend!


Nathan: I remember the first time I ever saw a Tribes match. I was still young and impressionable – barely weened off my Nintendo 64 – and my older cousin was skiing circles around the competition on his fancypants PC with authentic dial-up Internet. I didn’t entirely understand what was going on, but it was absolutely mesmerizing. Brightly armored manly men soared and shot and shazbotted around a rolling, nigh-endless sea of green. Down hills they went, scenery whirring by as though being chewed up by a particularly aggressive blender. If one lingered for so much as a second, he’d be gone in a clumpy poof of blue the next. I just sat there watching, mouth agape and eyes wide. I wanted to do that.

So I did, and I was terrible. But Tribes was one of my first PC FPSes, and I loved every second of it. The exhilarating speed, the fluidity of movement, the damn near orgasmic satisfaction of timing a blindingly fast shot just right. Heck, if you pay attention to my playstyle in just about any other shooter, it’s basically just me wishing it were Tribes. Running around and taking cover is for peasants. I bound clear over people’s heads whenever possible. My home’s in the sky.

Naturally, then, I was concerned when the series ended up in the hands of some relative unknown called Hi-Rez. I mean, Irrational had already made some pretty big missteps with Tribes: Vengeance, and I was desperately afraid that Ascend’s spinfusor shot in the dark would be equally wide off the mark.


I was wrong. I was so, so, so happy to be wrong.

I was rusty when I first jumped in, so Death greeted me like an old friend. Over and over and over again. From every conceivable angle. But that’s what I wanted. I had to earn my wings again. My skills from other games didn’t really apply.

Granted, some things were out of place. There was a set-in-stone class system, and the Soldier – trustworthy jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none – didn’t even have a spinfusor by default. That was heresy. There was weeping, gnashing of teeth, mashing of keyboards – all of it. But then I fell in love with the Pathfinder’s ridiculous speed and well-tuned arsenal, and it was pure bliss.

It was Tribes. It felt good. It felt right. It felt like childhood. Jetpack childhood. For whatever reason, 2012 became the year of welcome revivals – that is, series or genres that dropped off the face of the planet before their time – and Ascend fit that bill perfectly. It didn’t stray particularly far out of Tribes 2’s wheelhouse, but it didn’t need to. Over the years, all sorts of jetpacks came and went, but no one really tried to replicate Tribes’ slippery, momentum-based take on them. Ascend was warm and familiar, certainly, but its wild speed and wide open outdoor levels also felt intoxicatingly fresh.

That said, Tribes did learn a couple new tricks along the way. For better or worse, it led the charge on this year’s crop of truly large-scale, triple-A quality F2P FPSes, and that came with its own ups and downs. Mainly, XP gain started off slow, and – while updates remedied it somewhat – weapon and class unlocks never quite picked up the series’ signature speed. But, at least for me, I suppose it’s a testament to Ascend’s mastery of the basic Tribes formula that I was never really bothered all that much. Sure, I occasionally had to spend an agonizing amount of time on my tip toes to finally reach the carrot at the end of the stick, but I never felt like I was just going through the motions. The slow trickle of unlocks was secondary. Fun came first.

Truth be told, I haven’t played for a couple months now due to burnout and various extenuating circumstances (you may now direct your attention to the man in the rock climbing gear who’s been bellowing “HOLIDAY VIDEOGAME AVALAAAANCHE” this entire time). There were a couple classes I hadn’t quite gotten a feel for, but I needed a break. I never uninstalled it or anything like that, though. Goodness no; I’d only do that if it were, like, the only way to disarm a city-leveling bomb or something. So maybe it’s time for me to jump back in already. I had to wait years last time, after all. I certainly won’t be taking Ascend’s existence for granted any time soon.

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51 Comments »

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  1. Deathmaster says:

    A worthy title of this year’s advent calendar. I have spent a rough 200 hours in this, and I don’t even play competitively. Great, fast-paced gameplay, and above all… it’s free, with no pay-to-win bullshit. Some balance issues though, and it’s quite sad they don’t issue patches as often as they did after it went live. Overall a great game which surpasses pretty much every multiplayer FPS of the past 5 years.

    • Greggh says:

      This summarized my entire opinion on Tribes Ascend, therefore I do not need to say anything else, so I will proceed to shut it. Thank you for reading this.

  2. Red Pen says:

    This game had so much potential.
    :(

  3. Premium User Badge

    Snidesworth says:

    I adored T:A for months, but eventually I got burnt out and put off by the constant steam of new weapons they pumped into the game. I’ve got fond memories of serving many a blue disc special though, as well the open wonderfulness of Raindance (even if all my friends said it was shit).

    Thankfully I never experienced the heresy of a spinfusorless Soldier. By the time Ranger and Soldier got merged into one class (the later imposing its vile, bullet spewing primary weapon on the union) I’d been playing long enough to have the XP to unlock the spinfusor immediately. Autoweapons might be more effective (or were last time I played), but they’re nowhere near as satisfying.

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    Phinor says:

    This is on my ever-growing list of games I was interested in but then they announced that it was going to be free-to-play. Thanks but no thanks.

    Also, I’m terrible at Tribes.

  5. caddyB says:

    You know that feeling when you get a blue plate special … you’ll never get it anywhere else.

    • Brise Bonbons says:

      While I won’t argue that Tribes has a certain special satisfaction able to be extracted by a dedicated player, I wouldn’t say the sensation is precisely unique.

      For example, I think mastering TF2’s Demoman is very similar. The feeling of popping an enemy skyward with a pinpoint grenade to the feet (don’t use stickies, mind – they are best reserved for carpet bombing if you are going for sheer skill-based enjoyment) and then nailing them mid-air with a followup ‘nade is sheer joy. Something about the act of setting yourself up and the just-to-the-right-and-a-bit-upwards arc that the grenade takes.

      Dunno, I never did get pulled in by T:A, so perhaps I just never “got it” when it comes to the spinfusor. Lord knows I tried to stick with the game to see if it would click for me, but I just bounced off it time and again – eventually rage uninstalling after a particularly bad string of one sided matches, after which I never looked back.

      EDIT: Sorry to respond to your simple expression of joy with a lengthy, buzzkilling rant. I certainly don’t mean to detract from your post, just offer my own experience.

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      Colonel J says:

      I’ve not had that pleasure in TF2 but for me the ker-ching of a Blue Plate Special or an Airmail is the most gratifying sound effect in all of gaming, it’s a delicious little spike of endorphins.

  6. yabonn says:

    “Jetpack childhood.”

    http://bit.ly/YbCqRL

  7. Premium User Badge

    Revisor says:

    Besides being a damn fun game, it has the best communication system I have seen in a multiplayer game.

    You can communicate via a series of keyboard shortcuts and in split second ask your team for help, announce an enemy in your generator room etc.

    http://tribes.wikia.com/wiki/Voice_Game_System

    For example:
    VSDF: I will defend our flag.
    VNS: I need support.

    Or
    VFF: I have the flag.
    VNE: I need an escort.

    You can also spot enemies like in the Battlefield series.

    If you want to try Tribes Ascend and think about purchasing the Starter Pack on Steam, DON’T.
    Buy the starter pack from Impulse/Gamestop. It’s much much better – unlocks all classes, some weapons and gives extra gold.

    http://impulsedriven.com/products/ESD-IMP-W3131

    VGCG!

    • Premium User Badge

      Keymonk says:

      The one on Steam is pretty alright if it’s on sale! Then you can also buy a small handful and give to any friends with good taste!

    • caddyB says:

      VGS

    • Deathmaster says:

      Agree on the voice commands, probably the best since 2002’s MoH:AA. Can’t remember the last time I had so much fun with them, especially because you could issue a new voice command before the last had ended.

      VFS: Our flag is secure.
      VGCA: Awesome!

      VGH: Hi.
      VGTG: I am the greatest!
      VGS: Shazbot!

      • -Spooky- says:

        Uh? W:ET voice commands rules too and are one of my personal favs. Played this game long enough, like Tribes 1.

        Revive Me!

        [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fMt75g6-0rY] Full W:ET Commands

    • stillunverified says:

      To be exact:
      Gamestop: All classes, 800gold, 30 day XP boost, SLD Spinfusor, TCN Thumper, DMB Mines, 3 perks (Quick Draw, Bounty Hunter, Egocentric)
      Steam: 2 classes (INF, TCN), 800gold, PTH Rifle, SLD Spinfusor, PTH Thrust pack, JUG MIRV Launcher, 4 perks (Bounty Hunter, Reach, Quick Draw, Ultra Capacity II)

      The key component here is the 30 day XP boost, the Steam pack actually has more content in it (disregarding classes because they’re piss-easy to get, the XP requirement is tiny), but the Gamestop pack is infinitely better if you’re planning to play a lot on a day-to-day basis.

    • Nurdell says:

      “it has the best communication system”
      Except it doesn’t – The system in T:A is just a pale shadow of Tribes 2 (and guess what, Starsiege: Tribes too). They had customizable keybindings for the VGS system and taunts. And T:A could have used some in-game voice chat too.

  8. El_Emmental says:

    Aw, forgot about it a little.

    Bloody good F2P, pretty good Tribes.

    The problem of T:A was the later balancing, they went the Valve way of balancing, by mostly ignoring issues with unbalanced weapons and releasing more weapons.

    Stuff like the Jackal (wich is just the Sticky bomb launcher of TF2, nothing more, nothing less) took 6 months to ever see a single rebalancing patch, and even then they removed most of the nerf at the last second because of Jackal-spam kids whining on the forum. Also, plasma weapons.

    The biggest issue was the fact the new “OP” guns were also the most expensive, and forced people to focus on the corresponding classes rather than trying out all 9 classes, and most new players got tired of it rapidly (I saw plenty of them giving up because of that, same in the comments on various forums).

    Also, they decided to fit all classes with SMG-like weapons for mid-to-low ranges encounters, to let the less Tribes-ish players “enjoy” the game too:
    – Pathfinder: LAR.
    – Sentinel: Falcon.
    – Infiltrator: Rhino and SN7 Pistol (and variant).
    – Soldier: Assault Rifle (and variant) and Eagle Pistol.
    – Technician: TCN4 (and variant).
    – Raider: NJ4 (and variant) and NJ5-B.
    – Juggernaut: X1 LMG.
    – Doombringer: Chain Gun and Chain Cannon
    – Brute : the only one with no SMG-like weapon (but it has Fractal +Plasma Cannon)

    It makes camping in base much more easy and prevent beginners from trying more different weapons and moving out of the base.

    If you go on a public server, you rarely see anyone defending the flag or the base (why bother ?), while a third of your team is made of Jackal-Infiltrator, a third of Soldier/Fractal-Brute who will spam explosives/fractals* at choke point, a third of Mortar-Jugg/Sentinel harassing the enemy base just to get kills. And from time to time, an OP (= someone who learned to pilot it) Shrike.

    *8 months to see the fractals to start being nerfed. Great, now everyone still on T:A IS spamming (and loving) fractals.

    While in the early days there was a little bit more co-op, nowadays it’s a two-teams FFA deathmatch (especially on CTF servers), kinda like TF2 actually.

    The only way to have fun on public CTF/C&H servers, either pick Pathfinder to have fun with 250+ routes (even if you never make a capture, because flags are always carried, because no one defends nor chase), or pick any damage-dealing class (Mortar-Jugg, Jackal-Inf, Spin-Soldier, Fractal-Brute) and do some frags.

    Since you’re on a CTF server (and not on a TDM server), it means the killing part is less difficult (read: less challenging), because of the level design and because not all players are looking to frag you on sight.

    That’s why CTF mode is filled with lone-wolf 2-hours in-out players, they don’t have the time to unlock OP weapons (OP according to the current public servers gameplay) nor play it non-stop to reach an higher “skill” level: they just want to go “wheeee” and “zaaap” and “wooosh” and do something else with their evening/night.

    That’s why there’s actually more teamwork on TDM games, with the 2x frags flag, than on the CTF/C&H games. On TDM, 3 to 5 people follow the carrier and protect him ; on CTF/C&H, you’re always alone.

    ps: Clan matches mean having to play T:A like a 2nd job (learning the 5 routes/tactics and practicing over and over), PUG means having to play the same 3-4 roles and get yelled at whenever you don’t follow the usual tactic.

    No more “let’s try to do some creative teamwork with random strangers” in MP games, especially F2P ones.

    • Scumbag says:

      TBH the worst of the weapons were the early ones (Jackal and Plasma Gun), and while the prices and powers were eventually balanced the state they were released in was pretty horrific.

      If anything got worse it was the weird maps. While Permafrost was nice in theory, the Gen focus at first created stalemate matches and then the removal of the flag lift to a single shield behind the flag made the gen pointless again. That plus the really weird Stonehenge butchery.

    • The Random One says:

      I find your TF2 comparison puzzling. I don’t remember the last time I joined a random public TF2 server and people were playing it like a deathmatch.

      • Brise Bonbons says:

        Maybe he only joins 24/7 2Fort servers?

        I concur that I’ve never really known TF2 to devolve into TDM, except maybe on Turbine when a stalemate is in full effect. But I also made a point of playing only on a handful of servers I knew to be frequented by good players who use voice comms and generally play smart. If anything the problems resulted when a few of the semi-pro players all got assigned to the same team and people started playing the objectives *too* well…

        Which is another problem I had with Ascend, the lack of named servers hosted by specific communities but open to the public. Or did I just miss that option when I played?

        • El_Emmental says:

          Good points :)

          First, I need to add that I never play TF2 on 24/7 servers, I always try to pick servers running most vanilla maps (and some non-silly custom maps too).

          But they’re the very small minority, and even then you need to find the very few servers with an active community. And you said it, using mic communications and everything is the key. I have a few of these in my favorites, but even there, beside the 3-4 hours where the locals are there, it slowly but surely get back to the usual TDM.

          Regarding Tribes: Ascend, there is a server browser, but it is kinda “hidden” and if I recall correctly, is separated from the autojoin server pool, so it’s very hard to have newcomers and passersby come in your server. The result is: most servers are empty, beside the “back from school/work” rush hour. The entire UI is made for autojoin, not a server browser.

          EDIT: Main Menu > Play Now > Custom Servers (Play and Manage)
          here: http://youtu.be/wysRBlPen4g?t=1m5s

        • mouton says:

          Yes, T:A is crippled by an idiotic decision to close the private servers to those who push the “play now” button, like it marvelously works in TF2. Effectively, few communities can gather, say, 12 dedicated people to play at the same time and the servers lie empty.

          I suspect it was one of those dumb design decisions when they wanted to “preserve the core experience” so that their game will be come an “e-sport”. Well, that didn’t work, did it.

  9. Scumbag says:

    The first F2P game I not only really enjoyed, but enjoyed it enough to pump some cash into it.

  10. Unruly says:

    Call me a buzzkill, but while I like T:A, it really needs a few things back from the olden days of Tribes. The maps need to be bigger, the mortar needs a better range on it, the target painter needs to be brought back, and the tactical/orbital strikes need to go away(replaced by the mortar/painter combo). It could also use a better selection of deployables, but that’s not really something I’m too worried about.

    I say the maps need to be bigger because they just plain do. Look at the size of maps in Tribes and Tribes 2 and you’ll see that they were massive. It was possible to go from one side of the map to another without anyone seeing you if you wanted to, whereas you can’t really do sneak attacks like that in T:A unless the other team is just plain blind.

    I say the mortar needs a better range because as it is you can’t even fire halfway across the map with it. In the old days you could fire from one base to the other with little problem, and those were bigger maps to begin with. Even the Deluxe Mortar has too short of a range. I don’t necessarily want it to be possible to lob mortars back and forth between bases again, I just want to be able to lob mortars from at least my side of center court. And I want to be able to do it semi-accurately, which brings me to the target painter.

    The target painter is a must. It was the thing I liked the most about using the mortar in the old games – I could be an effective mortar user without actually having the mortar myself. I’d paint the enemy turrets/solar panels/forcefields, and let the heavies hammer it for me. All they would have to do is aim at the position in the sky which appeared for mortar heavies any time a target was being painted, and rounds fired would hit that location pretty much dead on. And there’s nothing better than painting a target and watching what amounts to a precision artillery strike hit it.

    And the tactical/orbital strikes would just be made redundant by the proper use of the new mortar/target painter combo, while also getting rid of the “anyone can do it at any time” annoying bit and making it require a bit of a concerted effort for the team attempting it. It’s stupid that a guy who couldn’t quite catch me while I’m running with the flag can just call in a tac strike to kill me before I cap, because by all rights I should have beaten him. But if he can organize a series of mortar strikes to hit a painted target I’ll be a lot less annoyed because A) I’m not being stopped by a single person who otherwise couldn’t stop me, and B) it takes some team coordination to pull that kind of thing off. Also, this gets rid of situations where you’ll see 3-4 tac strikes hit the same general area at the same time because there’s just not going to be that many people firing that many mortars at the same time.

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      Revisor says:

      Aha. So that’s what the command “I need a target painted” is for. Thank you for the explanation.

  11. airtekh says:

    I had some fun with Tribes Ascend earlier this year. There’s an art to movement in Tribes which makes it stand apart from other multiplayer shooters. It’s a very skillful game, and I never did manage to master the iconic Spinfusor.

    I eventually got tired of it after playing a bunch of stacked matches resulting in 5-0 thrashings every time.

    • WedgeJAntilles says:

      The public matchmaking is just atrocious; I have played very, very few games that were even remotely close. Most of the time it’s a 5-0 roflstomp, which isn’t much fun regardless of whether you’re on the winning team or not.

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    felisc says:

    The first time i’ve ever had a go-to multiplayer game. I love T:A. Also i had an incredible amount of fun playing random rabbit with rps folks.

  13. Baal_Sagoth says:

    Worthy choice. I had a damn good run with the game even as a newcomer. Nice variety of game modes, satisfying shooting as well as tactical elements and a solid showing concerning maps. I burnt out on it after a couple dozen hours and I doubt I’ll be back – at least any time soon. Had very fun times with T:A though.

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    Tom De Roeck says:

    Still prefer Planetside 2 over it, even though I hated it from previews. I guess I like my MMOs to make more sense in a grand scale of things.

    • Claidheamh says:

      T:A isn’t an MMO, it’s a multiplayer arena game, much like Quake III, Unreal Tournament or, obviously, Tribes were before it.

      • mouton says:

        I really don’t get why the two titles get compared at all. Hell, even before Planetside 2 came out, people disenchanted with T:A were pointing to it as a shining upcoming alternative. Which is ridiculous, as these are vastly different games despite a few superficial similarities.

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          darkChozo says:

          Hey, Tribes has jetpacks, and PS2 has jetpacks. CLEARLY THEY ARE THE SAME.

          • mouton says:

            Also both are Halo ripoffs anyway!

          • Nurdell says:

            T:A has smoke generators, not jetpacks (try going off the ledge and fall 50 centimeters, you can’t get on the ledge after that height with full energy)

        • Kuraudo says:

          I think he’s trying to make the point that once you taste “persistent” battlefields like those offered in Planetside 2, it makes any sort of “round-based” shooter completely obsolete.

          I get what he’s saying. Assuming I like both games, I’m not sure I can justify spending time with a smaller game. I suppose it mostly depends on whether you’re the kind of person who sometimes wants even teams in relatively tiny arenas – like counterstrike.

          Having said that, I also can’t imagine ever touching Tribes Ascend again because I am not one of those people.

          • Brise Bonbons says:

            The argument that PS2 and games like it make round based games obsolete is, however, rather ridiculous, as they are totally different experiences. Sorry if I misunderstood you or if you’re just rephrasing the OP’s stance; I don’t mean to jump down your throat, but it’s a strange statement to make.

            I mean, hell, PS2 doesn’t even make large-scale non persistent games – i.e. Red Orchestra 2 or the Battle Fields – “obsolete” in in any way I can see. The structure and scope enforced by round-based rules and time limits leads to a very different experience – one I personally find much more enjoyable, though that is subjective.

            Said another way, the persistence and massive scale of MMO games leads to a number of mechanical contrivances which are not without their own drawbacks. Where a round-based game can carefully design scenarios with certain resources and objectives available, MMOs always seem to end up torn between giving the player agency and denying them the freedom to push beyond intended boundaries.

            Not saying one is better than the other, just that they both have a very important place.

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      Tom De Roeck says:

      RE: everyone above: Tribes feels like an MMO to me. I dont like grindy XP farming, but for some purposes, it makes sense. It feels less grindy in PS2 to me than in Tribes. And the scope is generally bigger, which makes tactics grander, in my opinion.

      PS: I am a fan of Enemy Territory, Quake Wars & Brink, so I do like very concentrated things. But Tribes feels nothing like that, more like deathmatch shooters of yore, which are simply not my thing.
      I guess of the newer offerings, Natural Selection 2 would probably fit me quite well.

      PPS: I have played Tribes 2 back when. I liked it. Didnt play it often, though.

      • mouton says:

        To each his own, but there are no actual tactics PS2. It is a constant insta-respawn spam that might or might not eventually succeed depending on who gets more people. You get a nice World War I vibe there, yes, but 99% tactics you see there are emergent, i.e, random.

        F2P XP grind in Tribes is bullshit, but XP grind does not MMO make. It is a wonderful fast team shooter crippled by horrible payment model.

  15. siegarettes says:

    This is one of the few multiplayer games where the movement and combat just *clicked* for me. Even when I fucked up.

    There is an incredible satisfaction to simply capping the flag as well. The F2P structure is also one of the best I’ve seen. For once I’m not really thinking about the structure of the game and its unlocks but just playing the game itself.

  16. rockman29 says:

    Tribes Vengeance is my favourite Tribes :)

    No one else’s apparently though :(

  17. brulleks says:

    The Tribes games have always been the Marmite of PC games, and I’m afraid i found this salty, bitter and not worth the effort.

    I hope that if this figures in the games of the year, then either Chivalry or Air Buccaneers – two excellent indie online combat games that far outweigh any AAA offering (not that Tribes Ascend was AAA) – also will.

  18. deadly.by.design says:

    One of my favorite games of the year, as it occupied my gaming time from May thru September.

    I’m just a little too preoccupied with life and dota2 to be playing it lately.

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    Vandelay says:

    I really did enjoy this when it first emerged and I even put money down for the starter pack. I was one of the ones heralding it as F2P done right.

    After a while though, the problems with a free game that needs to turn a profit emerged. Once new weapons and various packs started to hit the store, I quickly lost a lot of my interest. This seems less of an issue with a game like TF2, perhaps due to its less competitive nature, but going up against opponents with weapons you aren’t going to have access to unless you drop some money or play for another 100 hours just got frustrating fast.

    I still love the speed and the level of skill the asks of its players, but it just made realise how much I miss an FPS multiplayer game that had everything available out of the box. Thank god for Natural Selection 2.