Can Tribes: Ascend return from the grave?

I am a cloaked sniper. That doesn't seem right.

I am a cloaked sniper. That doesn't seem right.

Tribes: Ascend is still a lot of voice command spamming, people accusing each other of being scrubs for using automatic weapons, and big Reddit debates about balance. Those things won't change, but Tribes is changing—finally. Hi-Rez has barely touched Tribes over the past couple years, and the upcoming patch is called 'Out of the Blue' because no one expected it. I did an actual double take when I saw the announcement, glancing away before realizing what I'd just read. Tribes? Update? What?

The patch isn't implemented yet, but it is available to play on Tribes' new public test server (it's a separate download, so don't go reinstalling Tribes from the main launcher). The community is more energized than it's been in a long time. The debates about which weapons should go and which loadouts are 'honorable' never really went away, but now there's some hope that Hi-Rez is actually going to act on them.

The update on the current test server changes a few things, but it most importantly overhauls the way loadouts are configured. Previously, there were classes like Pathfinder and Juggernaut, each with two weapon slots, a belt item, a pack, and two perks. Now, there are simply light, medium, and heavy builds, each with much more liberal rules, and the number of potential loadout combos is huge. And that's going to break stuff, hence the test server. I'm not sure anyone is fond of my spinfusor, sniper, stealth build.

Experimenting with a loadout on the PTS.

Experimenting with loadouts on the PTS.

The UI is still clunky as hell, which Hi-Rez admits, and right now the patch is essentially a reorganization of what was already there. It allows for different combos, but there are still plenty of ideas about what Hi-Rez ought to do—aside from bug fixes, which are a given. Some say chainguns should be nerfed across the board—specifically the hitboxes—or that nearly all damage should be nerfed, or that shotguns were overnerfed (actually it seems everyone agrees on this). Some say that snipers should be required to use an Energy Pack, like in Tribes 2, or that lights should be allowed three weapons. There's talk of removing the Quick Draw perk and giving everyone a faster weapon switch speed, or giving only light armor a faster weapon switch speed. There are a hell of a lot of decisions to make—reams of community feedback to weigh and prioritize—as Tribes finds a route to redemption.

And the surprise patch announcement hasn't earned Hi-Rez instant praise from Tribes players. There's still a lot of anger that it left Tribes behind, and skepticism that anything will really change, or that anything will ever convince players to return. But there's also been a lot of constructive discussion, and creative director Sean McBride, who was previously Ascend's art director, has been talking fairly openly about the state Tribes was left in, and his plans to build it back up again. "We are very excited about bringing Tribes support back, and look forward to hearing what everyone thinks," he wrote in an introduction. "Thanks everyone, I'm sorry it's been so long."

When I joined the PTS last week (the first time I'd played Tribes: Ascend in a long time) I started by skiing around a bit, looking for good routes on the new map. There were only a few other players in the server. One was complaining about his mouse, insisting that he could beat us with a spinfusor—but he was using an auto. Another was just making flag runs and occasionally dueling in the midfield. Someone was destroying our generator. I was spamming [VGW].

A shot of the new map, Terminus.

A shot of the new map, Terminus.

It felt like visiting an old apartment—somewhere I lived for a couple years in a transitory stage of life—and noticing the unchanged light fixtures and the chipped bit of the kitchen counter. Even as a cloaking sniper, Tribes: Ascend feels the same. I'm not sure what it has to become to renew my 2012 dedication, but doing something is a start.

I'd suggest first that Hi-Rez fix the longstanding bugs, as I expect that's the best way to start winning over the players. After that, I hope it performs extreme experiments on the PTS. Mess with the chainguns, give lights a grenade launcher, pare down the weapon selection, take drastic steps to figure out what will make Tribes more fun. For me, the fun is in going fast (of course) and, outside of sniping sometimes, landing difficult shots with slow-moving projectiles. I don't know exactly what changes will encourage that kind of play and make it more fun for me, but as I said, there are a ton of suggestions to test. And McBride has been talking about testing them, saying that nerfs and weapon adjustments are coming in the next public test server. I'll happily be a guinea pig, because it might be a tad optimistic, but I could really go for a Tribes renaissance.

Tyler Wilde
Executive Editor

Tyler grew up in Silicon Valley during the '80s and '90s, playing games like Zork and Arkanoid on early PCs. He was later captivated by Myst, SimCity, Civilization, Command & Conquer, all the shooters they call "boomer shooters" now, and PS1 classic Bushido Blade (that's right: he had Bleem!). Tyler joined PC Gamer in 2011, and today he's focused on the site's news coverage. His hobbies include amateur boxing and adding to his 1,200-plus hours in Rocket League.