It's been a looong time coming but the the sequel to the fun first person shooter, Tribes 2 (yes, I'm ignoring Tribes: Vengance for good reason), is finally here in the form of free-to-play, Tribes: Ascend.
If you've never played a Tribes game, you may find the movement a little... different. Sure, you can run around shooting at people like you would in any other FPS, but why would you when you can use a short-burst jet pack to fling yourself into the air and then 'ski' around the map at break-neck speed? Skiing is one of key features of any Tribes game, and while it might sound like a bit of a gimmick, once you've used it you'll wonder how you could go back to simply running from point to point. Tribes: Ascend has nailed this particular feature perfectly and, while it's difficult to master, it is easy and fun to get to grips with.
Created using the Unreal Engine 3 means that Tribes looks top notch, with some stunning views and varying environments. When you first start playing, you'll probably wonder how they can make it free-to-play... which is a valid question.
You start the game with just three of the nine classes unlocked; one each of the three 'light' classes, three 'medium' classes and three 'heavy' classes. Each of these classes, and their respective weapons and upgrades, can be unlocked using XP built up while playing... or by spending a little gold that can be purchased with real money. While some of the XP costs seem a little high, nothing appears to be unreachable and in my opinion, they've got the free-to-play formula just right. That said, there are some genuine benefits to spending a little cash on this great little game. For example, any purchase immediately marks your account as a VIP giving you an XP bonus from every match. There are also, of course, the usual XP booster packs that can be bought.
While there are a number of different game modes, Capture the Flag is definitely the best mode to be playing. With numerous side objectives (generators and base defences to destroy/protect) there are roles for all types of players and different classes. Team Deathmatch, while reasonably popular, just seems to be a little too hectic with the higher ranking (and better armed) players getting a distinct advantage over the new players resulting in a sometimes unpleasant experience (although this isn't that different from other online shooters).
There is still work to be done to improve some areas of the game; vehicles, for example, appear to be rarely used as there seems little advantage to giving up your agility. There also seems to be a few overpowered class/ability combinations, such as (what appears to be) the stealth raider... flying around almost invisible with the over powered plasma rifle. Although HiRez Studios have already started making changes to combat some of these issues so hopefully they will get resolved.
Overall, Tribes: Ascend is a fun, fast multiplayer shooter with great graphics and a well thought-out free-to-play system. Head over to http://www.TribesAscend.com and give it a try.
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