Shazbot is a word in the Tribes universe that implies displeasure, usually if used repeatedly, at losing a match within Tribes: Ascend. I’m not sure if I’ve caused many folks to have to use the keystroke to cause their avatar to say that, but really I’ve had too much fun playing Tribes: Ascend to have it really matter. I normally chuckle when I hear it and get ready for another round win or lose.
The game is a wickedly fast-paced first-person shooter with an interesting and unique focus on team capture-the-flag gameplay in a genre that has a record of more deathmatch style gameplay. I got a chance to play it during Quake Con last year as well as recently when it was released as a free-to-play title. I’m not really the most fantastic at first-person shooter games, so the push for more team-oriented goals versus solo play really intrigued me.
The change in motivation is what struck me as distinctive and added a lot of fun even when I might’ve been bottom of the leaderboard. I’m able to feel like I’m contributing instead of continually getting stomped on by opponents with either more time on their hands to play or an immense advantage in skill. I was able to help defend the base or make a run for the flag while others who were great a sniping or dispatching could take on roles where their skills could be best utilized.
There are two game modes available in Tribes: Ascend, team deathmatch and team capture the flag. Both modes are exactly what you’re thinking, but with more explosions. Your team is either attempting to destroy the other team while at the same trying to capture their flag and return it to your base or simply destroy the other team and the flag adds to the kill count.
All the while, the other team is attempting to do the same thing to you. So, armed with a myriad of weapons, depending on your chosen class, you’ll head into battle as I did in a bid to claim righteous victory. There are several classes to choose from at the start of a match from the fast (and my favorite) Pathfinder to the heavy hitters like the Doom Bringer. Each class has specific weapons and specific functions.
Pathfinders with their swiftness and rockets normally do well at flying in to capture the flag whereas Doom Bringers can camp near the flag as barriers and blast any incoming opposition with bullets and explosions. Each class has its own feel and style, and I found exploring and tinkering with them to be awesome. There were a lot of possibilities with each one, and I found that strategies that worked great with one weren’t so good with others.
For each match you’ll gain experience points that can be used to upgrade a given class’ weapons, buffs, number of ammo, or various other stats. Given that I was the Pathfinder, I dumped all gained experience into boosting that class. But, with the number of classes, there’s a lot to upgrade and a lot of tweaks you can add or swap out. That being said, you do have the option to pay for in-game gold in order to get an XP boost or to immediately upgrade.
What I liked about this upgrade system was that it gave me extra grenades, ammo, etc. but I didn’t feel like it caused Tribes: Ascend to be unbalanced. Sure, I could throw an additional grenade or two at a given target, but if my aim was still off and I couldn’t quite get it to stick it still wouldn’t help. Thankfully, one can’t just buy their way into the top spot on the leaderboard, you still have to grab the flag, get some frags, and go toe-to-toe with enemies to get there.
Along with the experience and upgrades, a nice feature that this lends itself to is the matchmaking system. Rather than throw everyone new to the game into the pit with the pros so you get swamped, you’ll get matched up with fellow newbies where you can learn the ropes until level 10. I loved that this was in place as I didn’t have to worry so much about being totally owned right off the bat.
Sure, it was still tough to get kills and get through defenses to snag the flag and score a point, but there wasn’t a sudden and sharp learning curve directly after I’d hit the join game button. The ability to first get accustomed to Tribes then hop into the higher ranked matches wasn’t something I expected but was very glad was present.
I can’t say enough about the team aspect of the game, I simply loved it. Whether I had friends on to play with or not, I could get in a game and be in the middle of a firefight in seconds. Thanks to the swift load times, even on a less than optimal machine, I could hear the rockets and bullet fly by while I rushed through the thick of battle quickly. There’s always a game going and never a dull match to be had. Even if you’re getting pelted with bullets, there’s a fun way to try to get out of it.
That’s the “skiing” system in which with timed jumping and a jetpack — that’s right you can fire rockets and use a jetpack at the same time — you can escape or chase after foes or make a grab for the flag. This skiing system takes a bit of time to master. Knowing just when to release the jetpack to work up acceleration down a hill and leap past the next one can seem like an art at first. But, there are helpful tutorials and practice modes to help you learn it without issue.
Skiing is a ridiculously great time when you can get the speed and air you’re looking for right after a quick dash through the enemy base, bullets zipping by as you try not to get hit. It’s one of my favorite parts of Tribes: Ascend, even after having those sweet rockets for the Pathfinder. Flying through the beautiful landscapes and past the team in hopes of not death, it’s so much fun.
I absolutely think you should gear up with your jetpack, pick a class, and head on into hopeful glory and combat. Tribes: Ascend was a blast at Quake Con and months later after its launch, it still doesn’t disappoint. Whether you’re a hardcore or casual FPS player it’ll get your trigger finger itching.