I'm flying through the air at speeds in excess of 200 mph, careening through the sky, barely in control, as if I was nothing more than a massive armored cannonball fired off with utmost precision. I see the large hill in front of me fill my view rapidly, and with a click of my mouse I activate my back-mounted jetpack, cresting the monstrosity and flying hundreds of feet in the air. That's when I see it: The Holy Grail, the Ark of the Covenant. The enemy flag, positioned securely in a minefield of claymores, turrets, and enemies in heavy armor wielding guns larger than my lean frame. I quickly flatten my arc, and adjust my angle to the perfect pitch. One more adjustment to my yaw, and....
GOT IT! Explosions rock my screen. One lands just behind me, launching me even faster through my escape route out of the opponent's base. The music crescendos into a hectic drum n' bass track to match my new situation. Suddenly, I am out of the enemy base, flying over a snowy wasteland. But the explosions don't stop. Keeping my forward momentum, I spin around. Two enemies are giving chase, liberally spraying the ground around me with all manners of explosives. They were desperate to stop my supersonic escape. A fool's hope.
I return fire, launching a single blue disk of death into the air behind me. It catches one of the pursuers in midair. He's not dead, but the force behind my shot stops him dead in his tracks. He won't be a problem anymore. I see myself elevate in relation to the other chaser behind me; I'm going uphill. Instinctively I jetpack, keeping my speed as high as possible. I turn around. I see the end of my run ahead. My flag is nestled securely at home. All I need to do is touch it to win the game for my team. But I get greedy.
I slam back into the ground as my jetpack runs out of fuel. I run headfirst into the side of my own base, losing all momentum. My own flag taunts me at the top of the 10-foot tall elevated platform on which it rests. Panicking, I desperately attempt to use the little fuel I have managed to let recharge. I go up, up, just a little bit more... Dead. The chaser swoops in quickly and returns his teams flag. Such is life in Tribes: Ascend.
What is Tribes: Ascend?
Tribes: Ascend is a new free-to-play game coming from Hi-Rez Studios (The makers of Global Agenda). It is currently in closed beta. For those who haven't played the two turn-of-the-century classics (Starsiege: Tribes and Tribes 2), Tribes can simply be boiled down into a few concepts:
- Capturing Flags
- The Base War
The emphasis here is on speed. In most cases, it is your best defense. Since hitscan weapons are rare, and most of the weapons feature fairly slow-moving projectiles (in relation to player speeds), it is advantageous to almost always be going very, very fast. You can achieve the most ridiculous speeds by utilizing one of the Tribes' series most unique and important mechanics: Skiing.
Skiing was an advanced technique developed in Starsiege: Tribes by competitive players looking to gain an edge. It basically consisted of pressing the jump-button while falling down a hill in order to negate the engine's built-in friction. This means that players would continue to gain speed as they fell downhill.
Skiing is a perfect example of a glitch or bug becoming increasingly vital to the gameplay mechanics of a series. It made its return in Tribes 2, and is made even easier in the upcoming Tribes: Ascend by simply mapping it to the spacebar on the keyboard. Skiing is a Tribes staple, and if you don't know how to do it well, then you will be at a severe disadvantage against players who do. And it will take you twice as long to traverse the large maps in the game. You don't want that, do you?
Luckily, skiing well in Tribes: Ascend is not that hard. The basics are this: Ski down hill, jetpack uphill. You simply need to angle yourself to fall onto a downslope in order to build speed. With a little practice, you'll be pushing the 200 mark in no time. Advanced techniques include propelling yourself forward with explosives and grenades, but it's best to get the basics down first.
Every Tribes game has revolved around a class-based system. In the older games, the classes were entirely customizable, somewhat more akin to the Call of Duty games of today. You picked from a basis of three armors (Light, Medium, Heavy), each with different weapon and loadout restrictions, as well as different physics attached. From there, the rest of your equipment was entirely up to you.
Ascend has eschewed this in favor of a much more rigid class structure. There are currently 12 classes in the beta, with even more on the way. While this could understandably seem like bad news to a seasoned Tribes player, it's important to understand why Hi-Rez Studios took this route. Ascend is a free-to-play game, and the unlocking of these classes seems to be the lynchpin of their revenue stream.
The classes in Ascend are unlocked through playing the game. All players start out with two simple classes (Ranger and Soldier) which are easy to play, but hard to master. As you play you naturally accrue "tokens", which are currency you can use to buy new classes to toy around with. These can range from support classes such as Technicians (Can lay down turrets and repair bases more quickly) and Scramblers (Can lay down a jamming device that hides you from enemy radar), to offensive classes like the Infiltrator (Can cloak and destroy bases quickly with sticky bombs) and Juggernauts (Can bombard enemy bases with long-range mortars). The class variety seems very well done, with most classes filling their roles exceptionally well.
You receive XP after each match, which only applies to the classes you've used during said match. You utilize this XP to "upgrade" your class with things like "more energy" and "faster health regeneration". The talent tree is kind of MMO-like, with a few branching paths to keep things interesting.
You can buy "boosters" from Hi-Rez, which effectively doubles the amount of tokens and XP you receive after a match for a limited amount of time. It's a welcome choice, since some of the classes can take a LONG time to unlock without them. Luckily, all of your unlocked classes and experience will carry over once the game is actually released!
The name of the game for tribes has always been "Capture the Flag". Sure, there are other modes to be played, but the game has always been balanced mainly around two teams with two bases, with dudes going in between trying to get from one base to the other. As this is the case, I urge all newcomers to Tribes: Ascend to jump directly into CTF without even bothering with the periphery modes of Team Deathmatch and Rabbit, both of which are currently in the beta.
Capture the Flag in Tribes is different than it is in other games. The class system, the base defenses, and the speed of the players involved create a very cool dynamic which demands that various roles be filled in a team:
- Runners (Classes with light armor; try to get the enemy flag and get out as fast as possible)
- Chasers (Medium/light armor; Pursue enemy runners)
- Defense (Medium/heavy armor; Defend the base structures/Defend the flag against enemy runners)
- Assault (Light/medium/heavy armor; Destroy enemy base structures and pave way for friendly runners)
As you can see, there are numerous roles that must be filled lest your team be at a disadvantage. And unfortunately, you're unlikely to find acceptable levels of organization in any of the randomly matched teams you'll find yourself on when starting up the game for the first time. I recommend new players play more of a defensive style to start. Learn the way your weapons function and the way your base is layed out. The bad guy's base will mirror yours, so learning your own blueprints will inevitably help when you go on the attack.
The Base War
Both teams have structures around their base that must be repaired and upgraded if they are to operate at full efficiency. In Tribes: Ascend these are:
- Automated Turrets
- Base sensors (Shows you an icon over the head of any enemies in range)
- Generators (Gives power to your base; VERY IMPORTANT)
In addition, several classes have deployable base defenses (such as smaller automated turrets and forcefields). These, like your static base defenses, are reliant on your generator being up and operational.
If you see that a base-structure has been destroyed, it's as simple as going to a "repair gun" station (marked by a cross on your HUD), switching out one of your weapons for a repair tool, and holding down the mouse button on the destroyed object. It's a nice way to get a few points, and it helps your team. Any class can do it!
While the base turrets are of limited functionality in the beta (seriously, they can't hit a thing), you shouldn't disregard the advantage of having an operational generator. There's one map in particular where having a destroyed generator opens up TWO MORE angles for enemy runners to grab your flag from.
As you play in a match, you get "credits". They're like points, except you can spend them to upgrade your base structures to give them more health and more effectiveness. DO THIS. It's a great help to your team and it's not like those credits are going anywhere (unless you want to spend them on some of the mostly useless vehicles and orbital strikes).
I want to play! How do I get in?
Tribes: Ascend is currently in closed beta. However, it is probably the most "open" closed beta I've ever participated in. Every single person who gets a key to the beta gets a new key to send out. If a player buys any single thing from the ingame store, he gets three more beta keys to give out every few days or so. So, it shouldn't be hard at all to get into. I currently have 4 keys in my account, which I will be handing out here on Giantbomb shortly. Just remember to pass on the love! This is certainly one of the most fun experiences I've had with an online shooter this year. It's one of the fastest games I've ever played. I hope you'll enjoy it as much as I do.
Edit: Got some keys up here! Grab em while they're hot!