Back in December, the free-to-play FPS Tribes: Ascend was updated for the first time in two years, shortly after which developer Hi-Rez Studios talked to us about how it had screwed up the game, and more importantly, what it was doing to try to bring it back. The December patch was a small step forward “for the hardcore guys that stuck around,” but Creative Director Sean McBride said that more was on the way. Apparently, he wasn't kidding.
The Tribes: Ascend 1.3 patch adds the new Hellfire map for CTF and Blitz modes, increases the “votekick” percentage from 35 to 45 percent, changes ammo pickup heals to 400 hp across all armor types, and, “by community request,” removes the Blueshift map from rotations, although it will still be available to play on custom servers.
Changes have also been made to equipment and vehicles, some of them quite dramatic: All automatic weapons have had RNG-based spread removed in favor of skill-based precision—you hit what you aim at, in other words, and miss what you don't—and Thrown Disk damage has been nearly halved, from 600 points to 350; the direct hit multiplier has been increased, however, from 1.5 to 2. Naturally, the update also includes some bug fixes and network optimizations designed to improve the game's performance.
It's not a huge patch but it's fairly extensive for a four-year-old game. What makes it interesting, though, is the fact that it exists at all. Tribes: Ascend doesn't have the worst Steam player numbers I've ever seen, but it's still in pretty dire shape. It enjoyed a nice bump in December thanks to the release of the patch, but quickly settled back into a sub-150 average player count. (Update: As a couple of folks have pointed out, Tribes: Ascend is available outside of Steam using its own launcher, so that's not the total user count. Even so, I think it's a fair reflection of the game's relatively tiny audience.) Those are numbers a studio might understandably be tempted to walk away from (especially when compared to Hi Rez's other game, Smite, which drew nearly 11,000 average players over the past 30 days), and so the fact that it's hanging in there is actually kind of impressive. I hope it works out.