Hardcore Triber Tells You Why Tribes: Ascend Is So Close To Being Transcendent

Hardcore Triber Tells You Why Tribes: Ascend Is So Close To Being Transcendent

I have played Tribes: Ascend. If that statement doesn’t make you jealous, provoke salivating, or awaken tense memories of last-minute flag captures that you can physically feel in your shoulders and mousing hand, this probably isn’t going to be the article for you.

Tribes is my all-time favourite game series of all time. Tribes and Tribes 2 are my number two and number three favourite games of all time. (Number one is “Tribes and Tribes 2 together”.) And while I don’t actually believe in ranking “best” — even “favourite” is borderline facile, ranking-wise — I’ve never in my life spent as much time playing and caring about a game as I have Tribes.

And it’s been more-or-less gone for a decade.

Irrational’s 2004 entry to the series, Tribes: Vengeance, actually had a lot to offer. (I liked the grappling hook!) But it lacked the sweeping playfield and delicate physics that made the first two titles among the most challenging and graceful experiences in all of multiplayer gaming.

Despite its silly quasi-fantasy science fiction trappings, Tribes is, well, elegant. If that seems like a weird way to describe a game with jet packs and exploding disc guns, all I can say is that you haven’t played it. If Call of Duty is modern dancing, Tribes is Fred Astaire.

There’s a new Tribes game coming down the pipe from Hi-Rez Studios: Tribes: Ascend a free-to-play variant that’s multiplayer only. (Tribes pioneered, along with so many other things, the multiplayer-only team game.)

A new Tribes game makes an old triber nervous. We’ve been burnt before. I’ve not let myself dip into the nest of venom that is TribalWar.com; I just don’t have it in me to watch my fellow tribers tear Tribes: Ascend apart — or worse, to find myself joining in the pessimism.

It’s the strangest thing, to love an old game that’s being remade. Part of you wants it to just be a perfect recreation of your old love. They don’t change the rules of baseball every year, do they? Another part of you knows the game has to be updated at least a little. How else are they going to draw in players from outside the dwindling fan base?

I’m happy to report that on this front, I think Hi-Rez has struck a fair balance: Tribes: Ascend feels like Tribes. The maps are more or less right. The aesthetic is there. The emphasis on the Capture the Flag game mode is there. There are tons of weapons and vehicles, just like T1 and T2.

The developers are working hard to teach new players about the importance of playing as a team — and more than that, to play like gentlemen. At QuakeCon, the live announcer often reminded attendees waiting in line for a chance to play the alpha build on display to be courteous and respectful of others in line, “like a good Triber”.


But there are problems. I’m about to talk about them. But before I do, I want to make something clear: Tribes: Ascend is very, very close to being the successor to Tribes we’ve been waiting for. So while I have specific, genuine criticisms that I feel are extremely important for HiRez to address, I’d be heartbroken if the ardent fans of the series take this as an excuse to write Tribes: Ascend off entirely.

That said…

It’s too slow. This was one of the first things I mentioned to Hi-Rez’s COO Todd Harris after my first 20-minute-or-so match. (Out of six.) He laughed and said, “Everyone else has been complaining it’s too fast!” He was talking about random show attendees, not tribers.

It’s a challenge for Tribes: Ascend, certainly. The tremendous speed that could be built up with proper skiing runs and disc jumps in the first two games did make it challenging for new players to literally keep up with veterans. But to make T:A a slower game to make it more approachable for new players robs it of much of its beauty and character. Tribes is in some ways a flight simulator — actually, call it a flying superhero simulator — than it is a standard on-the-ground mensch simulator.

Skiing doesn’t built enough speed, nor are there enough big hills. Speed is the backbone of the Tribes gameplay experience, especially for light offence players (like flag cappers) or light defence players who often have to go from zero to rabbit chasing in the space of a couple of seconds.

I’m a light D player by preference, although I’ve been known to throw together an impromptu run for the flag here and there. I spent several minutes trying to set up a maximal speed run toward a flag, even going so far as climbing the tallest hill I could find then disc jumping up to get as much gravity rate-of-fall into my skiing as I could. Didn’t matter — I just couldn’t build up enough speed to make a proper Holy-Shit-did-you-just-see-that flag pick-up.

Even worse, disc jumping didn’t help. In T1 and T2, you could, while facing forward, push your disc launcher down towards the ground and fire an explosive disc at your feet, which would shoot you both forward and — depending on your angle — up. You could also turn around and shoot a disc at your feet while facing backwards for a more lateral arc — perfect for speeding from a stop towards an escaping flag carrier, for instance.

Tribes: Ascend encourages you to use the turn-around-and-shoot model of disc jumping — and it doesn’t really make you go that much faster. I watched one Hi-Rez employee make a flag run in a medium-class load out that had three disc jumps. That sounds amazing, except he was using the discs like little pulse engines to push him slightly forward as he puttered toward the flag, not unlike those old NASA mockups of the interstellar ships that would work by igniting nuclear bombs behind the impenetrable rear of a spaceship.

In fact, none of the explosions add enough momentum to players. Put a disc at someone’s feet? They take damage, but they aren’t knocked one way or the other. Mortars don’t see to be sending bodies as far over the map as they should. (How are we supposed to play Tribes Golf using light players as golf balls and heavy mortars as drivers?)

The lack of momentum in the explosion modelling has its greatest effect in movement, but it plays into how duels between players work as well, becoming more about landing individual shots than juggling opponents from explosion to explosion.

With the lack of good disc jumping, the slightly too weak jetpacks become even more apparent. Playing as the lightest class, which even includes an pack that recharges his energy faster than the normal rate, I often found myself unable to ski-then-jet into relatively low areas like the fronts of bases. I was having to use floating step platforms to gain entry. Do you know how embarrassing that is for an old man?

And on heavier classes, the regeneration rate of the jetpack is too slow. The jetpack in Tribes is supposed to set up a rhythm in movement like the energy bar in Halo. You want players to have to manage it — and to have to guess how well their opponent is managing theirs — but you don’t want to keep them on the ground.

Speaking of Halo, the regenerating health for all players? Totally fine. The only real gameplay change I could see was on the defence side — you better make sure those attackers are really dead, because if not they’ll be coming back for your flag or generators with full health.

Finally — and maybe this is super nitpicky — but I think the disc launcher reloads too slowly. Just a hair! But there’s a rhythm in my brain that I know all-too-well from shooting thousands upon thousands of spinfuser discs. I know when the reload feels to slow. And unless someone boots up Tribes or Tribes 2 and measures them against Ascend‘s and proves me wrong, I’m trusting my gut.

There is so much that Hi-Rez is doing right with Tribes: Ascend. Bright, simple art. A focus on multiplayer. Tons of weapons, grenades and deployables. (Maybe even a few too many, but we’ll see how they match up.)

I don’t even mind their free-to-play model: they’re planning on selling load out variations, so if you want to play with a certain combination of weapons, armour, and deployables, you’ll have to buy that particular “class”. Would I prefer to customise my load out? I guess. But it doesn’t feel as frustrating as I thought it would. (When we know actual prices it’ll be easier to gauge how it’ll shake out in real play.)

And it would make me beyond happy if Tribes: Ascend finds real success in the marketplace. I want the younger generation to know what a beautiful game it can be. But it needs a little work before its release, and while I hate games writers playing armchair designer as much as the next guy, I just can’t help myself from giving a little physics critique.

Don’t take that as an insult, Hi-Rez. It’s a compliment. You’re so close to nailing this one. And you’ve got a few thousand passionate tribers hoping you get it right.

Because if you do and there are tens or hundreds of thousands of new players finally appreciating a Tribes game, we old veterans will finally be able to bring up the newblood — the kids who walked up behind me and said to me that “this new Halo game looks amazing” — how to properly play one of gaming’s most graceful, beautiful games.


  • If the core game is free and the loadouts are paid for and that’s it? Consider me in. I can totally dig that. I’m actually liking this new f2p ideal thats coming out lately.

    • They also mentioned rotating loadouts so you could try out others over time. Not sure if certain ones are always free. I’m looking at it like the League of Legends model with champions. Find a favorite kit, grab it and use it anytime. 🙂

  • I really hope this is good.
    I will play it anyway but it sounds like the fixing of the physics would be something that will keep me there.

  • Skiiing was one of the things I had the most fun with in the original, but the speed was intimidating when you got online.
    Playing a group of friends at school was fine, but when you started facing the world you’d ski off a big hill and get tagged by a sniper halfway across the map and hit by a disc before the laser rifle had enough energy for a second shot.

  • I have bad memories of trying to get into Tribes. Maybe it was the shitty PC and slow connection, so there’s that … but my experiences are similar to LoneWolf – spending your whole game dead is just not fun and that’s what happens when you start out in Tribes.

    Unlike HoN or TF2, more often than not you can’t even see where the attack came from nor is it at all clear how the frak they managed to get to you. Not to mention the endless stream of crap heaped on a newbie from experienced players with unrealistic expectations. I was turned off and went back to UT/Q3A/CS where I had a fighting chance. Those games were much more lag-tolerant and the close quarters made it possible to learn from better players without having to suck up to some dedicated clan.

    Why not concentrate on the advantages of the slower pace? The gameplay of SSFIV:AE is a lot less frantic than the likes of SFA3 or SF3:TS but that just means the focus is more on positioning and mind games. The change from UT to UT2k3/4 went in the opposite direction: players became more agile, weapons and powerups became more potent and, well, Onslaught.

    You’re not going to get the Tribes you used to play. The old Tribes turned me off and I see no reason to give it another chance. By the sound of it, the new Tribes seems to make it actually worthwhile to load up as a heavy/medium class as you won’t be instagibbed by a stupidly fast light class. I’d give it a shot.

    • They tried slowing the game down and “easing” the learning curve with Tribes 2 Base (out of the box). They even had in depth SP missions to get newbies adjusted to what was what.

      But slowing the game down just made it crap. Defense was too powerful and in competition caps were extremely hard to come by against a semi competant defense. Tribes 1 and Tribes 2 classic are difficult games for newbies to play if they have zero Tribes experience for sure , not gonna argue that, but it’s much more rewarding when you do get decent at the game. This instant gratification and dumbing down of Tribes goes against everything that made the game the best and most challenging FPS game in history.

      Dumbing down the game is not the answer. All Hi-rez needed to do was make T1/T2 classic with better graphics and maybe a few additions. Like how T2 added the Shocklance and Missle launcher (due to the fact of the very powerful Vehicles).

      But the only reason people still play Tribes and Tribes 2 classic is because you can always improve. No matter how good you are you can always get better.

      From the gameplay I saw from Quakecon iirc, the game just didn’t look like it had that frenetic pace a good Tribes game should have. Also not allowing players access to make custom skins/maps/mods is an Epic failure. Playing Either tribes 1 or 2 with no custom Huds, weapon skins, reticles, iffs ect, ect is terrible. Setting up your GUI and Hud to the way you like it is one of the coolest things about T1 and T2. If I had to play with the default huds I wouldn’t enjoy the game nearly as much.

      Also alot of the weapons seem to sound like pop guns (RL handguns).Too much “bang bang” and not enough *pew pew*. Unless the sound quality of the gameplay footage I watched was complete crap (which I don’t think it was), the weapons did not sound correct.

      I’ll end this with a thought. Juggernaut “class” Weapons: Mortar and Spinfusor (xl or whatever). 2 Weapons????? for a heavy? Also different types of spinfusors?????? I mean are they even thinking any of this sillyness through? Also no Mine-discing.

  • If they’ve screwed up skiing and disc jumping as much as you’ve said, once again they’ve managed to waste an opportunity.

    Doing a perfect skiing run – expertly hitting the top of the next hill at the right angle to increase momentum is literally the only thing setting Tribes apart from most shooters.

  • Yep its in the movement.

    and that includes being maneuverable thru the air, no down jets is a ‘downer’.

    How skiing and gaining speed works is literally make or break for me with this game more than any other aspect.

    Coming from easily one of the biggest z axis fans ever born…. fingers crossed they tweak it a little more before release 🙂

  • Tribes Ascend: as much as you want to make it better, you are just copying off of legions and sucking at it. please dont ruin the game experience for the pros. just make it easy for the noobs, until they get good.

  • I’ve waited so so long for a proper Tribes game. I LOVED Tribes1 and Tribes 2 was a huge disappointment for me. It just felt so wrong. None of the other Tribes games lived up to the first either but this is the first time in probably a decade that I’ve been stoked about a Tribes game. I really hope Hi-Rez does it right. I’d love to return.

  • I have been playing the game in beta and the NDA has been lifted and I must say the game is very well pollished for a releast next year. You can tell that the mind behind the game played Starsiege Tribes in the day and I’m glad to see they took a lot from the modding community back then… with that sad i could careless if I have to pay for classes and I do like the f2p model, but at the same time what it causes is developers preventing the moding community from doing what they do best, some of the most popular and successfull games are mods (ie counter-strike, dota) Most of my friends that played tribes with me werent around for tribes before mods like shifter and renagade came out and the game wasnt as fun. Most people dont even remeber what tribes was like before it was modded.

  • game sucks lagging, not freedom of choice and boring gameplay original was better to many issues to even be worth it uninstalled after 1 day of play, free to play is a lie it more like free to try the crap side of it then pay for rest woe unto the game makers selfish in heart like rest of world they shall get their reward in coming years in tribulation. This world disgusts me nothing is ever done for the reason of giving it is always about money money money the devils resource to condemn souls good luck everyone in future you almost out of time.

  • You are bang on with your review. As a original player of T1, T2 and the dreaded Vengance, which killed the game. Much so that T2 is still played today…. What Tribes Ascend has to do in take T2, give it a makover, keeping the same physics, vechicles, glam the graphics and you have a winner. Vengance detroyed the game, much so that T2 is still played to-day. See you on the battlefield…woohoo

  • Good review. They have addressed a lot of things lately, but it seems they are generally pretty happy with the physics and whatnot. Personally I feel the game needs to be split into ‘public’ rulesets and then custom rulesets for private servers etc. The current setup is not bad for public noob play, but I feel like Tribers want a more customized set of rules and whatnot. Given this is in the UT3 engine, server-side controllable physics should be possible, at least jet pack strength for example. You can currently tweak your mass with perks/upgrades so why not jetpack strength? 🙂

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