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Tribes 3 – Where we’re at, what we like, and what scares us.

Tribes 3 is officially entering the Early Access phase on March 12th, which is less than two weeks away as of writing. It’s a bit bizarre to realize we’ve only been playing the game for roughly three months, but I guess that’s because a fair bit has changed along the way compared to the first playtest in late November of last year. If you compared gameplay videos from the first playtest and the latest, it might be hard to see any noticeable changes. But a fair bit has indeed changed since the playtests kicked off, some for the better, some not.

Overall one of the biggest and most impactful changes throughout these playtests has been the physics. From jet power, world gravity, and player mass, all of these values have been tweaked throughout the past three months. And we’re so close to having a system that makes everyone happy, but it’s still not quite there yet. A bit more gravity and jet pack power to compensate for it could be the key to settling the physics debate for good. Most are generally okay with how the game feels, and if the game went live with the current physics, people would likely be a little irked but generally accept it.

Another huge change has been how the projectiles work, from both their speed and hitboxes. When the playtests initially started, projectile weapons like the classic disc launcher and mortar had what you would consider ‘normal’ projectile speeds and hitboxes. Midairs were hard to hit, as they should be. However the first playtest of 2024 made a rather dramatic change by significantly increasing projectile speeds and hitboxes, making midairs commonplace. This change was likely done to appease newer players not familiar with the concept of leading their shots, and while there was a bit of initial debate, the majority of players have since adapted to and accepted this change.

The loadout system has also gone through a few different changes, with the latest one likely being the best yet. Again, it isn’t perfect and could definitely see some improvements, but it’s certainly serviceable. One feature that had been present in every prior Tribes game was the ability to save a specific loadout, making it easier to select at either an inventory station or menu. Strangely this feature is still missing from Tribes 3, and I hope it makes a return at some point.

Maps & Visual Identity

Skiing around maps is fun, but only if the maps and movement mechanics compliment one another. So far, the map pool has been a bit of a rollercoaster (pun absolutely intended). The maps we initially played on were geared more towards a 5v5 style of gameplay and significantly weaker jetpacks, so the size of the hills and overall play area worked well enough. However, the community clamored for bigger teams and bigger maps. Matchmaking queues grew to 7v7, 12v12, 14v14, and eventually 16v16. Bigger maps were made to compensate for the larger teams, such as Torment and Hollow.

Overall, both of these maps were met with positive reactions. Torment is considered one of the better maps, at least in the competitive scene. The hills are much more varied compared to earlier maps, and the environment is interesting. Hollow is Prophecy’s version of Tartarus from Tribes: Ascend and relatively new, so we’ll see how popular it is in the long-run. While I haven’t heard anything inherently negative about it, I haven’t seen any high praise for it either.

The newest map to hit Tribes 3 is Raindance, a staple of every Tribes game since 1998. While I personally have some very fun memories of playing this map in Starsiege: Tribes, I’m not convinced it’s a map that needs to be brought back for Tribes 3. The series has changed so much over the past quarter century that trying to shoe-horn in a classic map sometimes just doesn’t work. The terrain really doesn’t work very well in Tribes 3, and doesn’t match the movement mechanics. It’s the flattest map yet and feels pretty boring to traverse. There’s still a lot going on with 32 players on the map, but going fast isn’t one of them. And maybe that’s okay? We’ll see. But so far I’d say Raindance is at the bottom of the new maps list, and could do with a terrain rework.

The maps in general don’t really have a unique identity, and neither does the overall art style of Tribes 3. It has a mostly generic Unreal Engine first-person shooter feeling, which works, but there is definitely a lack of visual appeal when you compare the art style to Tribes: Ascend from 2012.

The Scary Part

The game modes in Tribes 3 are where thing start to take and weird and dark turn. While it obviously has capture the flag and is the most popular game mode, Prophecy has toyed with a few others along the way. One of the game modes, Hunters, isn’t new to the Tribes series. You essentially kill other players, who then drop a flag. You collect these flags and return them to a center ‘nexus’ and gain points for each flag you return. You can collect however many flags you want and return them whenever you want, either one or one hundred at a time, it’s up to you. The scoring system for this game mode wasn’t well received, and it only survived one public playtest as a game mode to choose from (it’s still there in custom lobbies, however).

Another game mode was Team Death match, which also isn’t new to Tribes. It was limited to just 4v4, on maps that were built specifically for these smaller sizes. It actually played relatively well, though I think most would have liked to see larger teams and maps, or maybe even just a full-blown deathmatch for even more action. It too had a short lifespan after not getting amazing feedback, and isn’t in the game at all at the moment.

Lastly, Prophecy made a game mode called Honor Ball. It was similar to Team Rabbit from previous Tribes title – there was one ‘bomb’ that spawned in the middle, and teams had to throw it into the enemies goal.

Honor Ball saw a bit of popularity within the community, with a few competitive matches played and planned for the future. Capture the Flag was still the dominant game mode, but Honor Ball had a small but dedicated scene for a bit.

Not long after Honor Ball saw a bit of traction, Prophecy Games decided it would be a good idea to remove it from Tribes entirely and make it into its own separate game. As of writing, they are apparently planning on doing external testing in about two months. How many developers from Tribes will be pulled to work on Honor Ball is unknown. At the moment there are roughly 40 developers at Prophecy Games – obviously not all 40 are developers, it’s surely made up of marketers, artists, programmers, etc. Erez Goren. the man in charge of Prophecy Games, has stated that right now Tribes 3 only has one dedicated map-maker.

Goren has been pretty vocal within the official Discord on how the game has been and will be developed in the future. While the point of Early Access is to let players help fund the development of a game and provide feedback along the way, Goren has stated that the roadmap for the game is essentially what the game is right now, with only a few more maps and weapons coming later on.

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This doesn’t quite match what was stated earlier to a few gaming sites such as IGN and PC Gamer:

Prophecy Games said Tribes 3 is currently a 5v5 game, but it is considering other game mode sizes depending on feedback. There are also plans to support other game modes, such as time trials. Vehicles will be available in the future, but not in the early stages of testing. Tribes 3 will support custom matches, custom game modes, and user generated content in a phased approach.

IGN

Playtests have thus far been restricted to a 5v5 format, but the plan is to support 64-player matches in both casual and ranked play in the full game, along with custom matches and modes, and support for user-generated content. Vehicles are not currently supported but are expected to be added at some point in the future, and a singleplayer campaign is not planned, which is undoubtedly disappointing for fans of Tribes: Vengeance (yes, we exist), but Prophecy said its goal “is to release enough tools for the community to create a campaign of their own one day.”

PC Gamer

From the sounds of things, the idea of larger teams, user-generated content, and vehicles are no longer to be expected. With their focus now shifting towards a different game (Honor Ball), the future of Tribes 3 is a bit uncertain. They’ve apparently received 70k Wish Lists through Steam, which is a pretty decent number, but also pales in comparison to Tribes: Ascend’s 600k total players.

While I’m excited for the Early Access launch and what it could mean for the game’s future, Prophecy Games seems to be treating Tribes the same as they have with their previous projects – develop game A for three months, start work on new game B, ditch game A, repeat. As with everything, time will tell if Tribes can survive the year or suffer the same fate as Starsiege Raiders and Deadzone.

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