There are two things that made me appreciate Tribes: Ascend more than its conventional and younger brothers:
1. In the scoreboard, instead of your “deaths” we find the number of personal assists (how many times you’ve helped your team). A change that wants to eliminate the obsession for the now infamous kill-death ratio. A ratio that, from my point of view, has been plaguing competitive FPS games for far too many years. Although the number of assists partially maintains the obsession over the score, still sustaining a kind of metagame where the degree of personal enjoyment and the social value of multiplayer matches are replaced with chasing the numbers in the scoreboard, at least it moves that obsession in the realm of team-work.
2. The deathmatch mode, one which I assume we generally regard as a fixed formula unable to ever be essentially upgraded, is completely dependent on collaboration with your team-mates thanks to the introduction of a simple object: a flag that doubles the points for the team that has it. So immediately after the match has started, both teams must hurry to capture it.
Because it’s no longer enough to run around all over the map to search and eliminate your opponents. Hunting the flag-bearer of the opposite team and the constant protection of yours are just as important for those who desire victory.
While Unreal Tournament 3 was mostly like a weak fire-cracker that almost lead to the complete burial of the series’ community, and nothing official has been said about Quake 5, this Tribes reincarnation has chosen one of the most en vogue methods of existence: a free-to-play model, with very solid game mechanics, sustained by micro transactions and an engine (Unreal 3) that needs no further introduction.
Initially, the choice could seem a bit paradoxical and even doomed, seeing as Tribes comes from an era in which elements of progression and running for experience in shooters (single or multiplayer) were nonexistent and nothing was more important that your own reflexes in the face of truly dizzying speed while playing monsters like Tribes, Unreal Tournament (all of them) and Quake 3.
But Ascend already has a solid base for this setup, a very simple feature for a competitive shooter, but at the same time very effective: Capture the Flag. It’s true that we actually have four modes of play – Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Arena and Capture and Hold (the equivalent of Unreal Tournament’s Domination or Battlefield’s own Conquest) but it’s clear that the nine classes have been born out of the need (and major importance) of capturing the flag.
The structure by which they are divided is, in short, classic: we have three fast classes, the next three of medium speed and armor and, finally, three heavy-armored beasts, designed to protect the flag from enemy invaders. But this would be a fast and superficial categorization, because among them we find soldiers capable of cloaking and also the equivalent of the engineer classes, whose purpose is to upgrade and repair the equipment of its own base.
Only three are initially available, one for each category of armor/speed, and most combatants will meet the battlefield through the first two – Pathfinder and Soldier. The Soldier is, probably, the most unspectacular of all of, but only because it’s the absolute standard class. Initially equipped with a rifle and a grenade launcher, you could say about him that he’s a Jack-of-all-trades, without excelling at anything.
For those like me, who prefer the constant hunt of the flag (all my consideration for those that choose to defend the base), the Pathfinder is the standard option and the harbinger of defeat, the one for which you have to always watch the horizon, because his incredible speed makes him very dangerous, especially if the generator that powers the defensive turrets was deactivated by a cloaked Infiltrator. Surprisingly, we also have a class that should satisfy snipers, for those who dare to target far away opponents speeding at 150 km/h.
Excluding Capture the Flag and according to your preferred style of play, all the classes are more or less viable for the other three modes, but CTF demands the specialization with at least one class, because a Pathfinder that’s wasting time in his own spawn point or a Doombringer that mostly crawls towards the enemy base are not the best uses of their respective roles.
I’ve already praised Capture the Flag and Deathmatch (in Tribes’ own formula) but we have two more game modes. Arena is closer to the “classic” Deathmatch of most other shooters, because it eliminates any other element in the way of victory besides the number of frags. Two teams of five players confront each other on much smaller maps, with a score limit of 25.
The size of the Arena maps is far enough from the Tribes spirit, because there’s not enough time to effectively use the land until you meet an adversary. And you can’t really talk about a concentrated Tribes experience, because in Arena that experience is pretty incomplete.
Just like Battlefield is not Battlefield without Conquest and Rush, Tribes is not really itself without Capture the Flag, but for those who think their reflexes are at a truly superior level and had enough flag hunting, Arena can be a welcome high-level temporary diversion (that’s why you don’t have access to these matches until you reach level 8).
Capture and Hold will be immediately familiar to those that already know about Domination-type modes in other shooters (regarding the policy by which you acquire victory, not the game mechanics). Several zones are spread throughout very large maps, zones that must be controlled until you accumulate a certain number of points. After Capture the Flag, this is the second mode where defensive classes can engage their roles, because every controlled zone becomes a temporary base over which they can exert their domination.