Hello again folks. As many of you might recall we came away from SXSW last month with previews of some hot looking upcoming games. One of those was FireFall, which bills itself as a massively multiplayer, open world, and Free to Play FPS. It’s certainly an ambitious undertaking, and Azeroth to Zork was able to secure an invitation to the closed beta and give the game a closer look.
That closed beta is edging along nicely and the attached NDA was just lifted on April 6, and so now we're able to share our impressions with you.
As mentioned during our SXSW coverage, characters control of one of several classes of powered armor called a “Battle-frame”. The inclusion of jump-jets makes them all pleasingly mobile, and PvP is especially energetic. Earned experience only counts for whatever frame you’re currently using, but you can change at any time at relatively common kiosks and your inventory is held in common across all your frames. The system seems to be designed to encourage players to swap on the fly as their situation and group makeup demands.
Each frame is very simple to pick up and start playing. You’re restricted to no more than three class specific abilities at any time (and it will take a while to unlock that many), a signature primary weapon, and a single secondary weapon with unlimited ammo. Any class can use any secondary weapon, like assault rifles and shotguns, but the primary weapons are class defining hardware like sniper-rifles or the healing beam gun.
|Whatever wrecked the Earth this time around left it looking better than ever.|
Weapons and frames can be further enhanced with upgrade modules. If you want to shoot a bit farther or faster or enjoy a larger clip you need only slot the appropriate upgrade. Modules can’t be removed once slotted though, only replaced. They offer a lot of customization, and I can see module selection and allotment being a major choice as your frame advances.
There are definitely some balance issues still being worked out. Engineers are extremely powerful in PvE. Playing one I was able to spend most of the time just standing on-top of my healing station, with my health never dropping below 90% no matter how many enemies swarmed me. The more combat oriented frames lack access to easy self-healing and need to be much more careful when solo, but dominate PvP matches.
FireFall takes place on Earth after some manner of apocalyptic event, but the “Coral Forest” zone featured in the Beta is no dusty wasteland. The scenery is lovely, filled with lush fields, soaring mesas, and humid shorelines covered in colorful sea life. The playable area is surrounded by a towering wall of malevolent energy called the “Melding”, which kills players in short order. At some point we’ll apparently gain the ability to slowly push the Melding back and uncover new areas, but for now it forms the limits of the Beta.
Thumping the Night Away
Right now there aren't a lot of quests or missions in the game. If you want to PvE, especially as a group, your main option is going to be “Thumping”. (Which isn’t nearly as dirty as it sounds.) The resources you need for crafting are inconsiderately hiding underground, so first you need to find a worthwhile deposit by hammering the ground with a “scan-hammer”. The hammer also makes a satisfying and surprisingly powerful melee weapon.
|Active Thumpers are quickly swarmed by dozens of enemies.|
Once you find a good spot you call down a “Thumper”, which is basically a flying drill that slams down from orbit, squashing any creature or player who’s not paying attention. Thumpers cause enemies to spawn in waves and try to destroy them and anyone nearby. You effectively need a squad to defend one for any length of time, especially the larger sizes. You can send the Thumper back up at any time, but the longer it thumps the more and higher tier resources you’ll get. They’re not cheap to build, so sometimes it’s better to cut your losses and send one back early rather than risk it being destroyed.
There are also a number of open world events that crop up around the map, though none quite as dramatic as the full scale invasion we saw at SXSW. FireFall invites any passing player to get involved, and anyone nearby when the mission is completed is rewarded. Most feature what appear to be the game’s primary antagonists, the "Chosen”.
|You can tell they’re evil from the spiky design and the red and black color scheme. Also the way the constantly threaten to harvest your children’s jawbones as trophies.|
When their AI is working Chosen are serious threat. They feel more like high end FPS enemies than RPG fodder. They’re tougher than players, aggressive, and if you’re not behind cover they’ll inflict significant damage. They’re clearly intended to present a credible threat to squads and chew up solo characters in short order. Right now they still periodically forget they have guns, which means you’re never quite sure if they’re going to be murderously dangerous or free EXP but hey, Beta.
If FireFall has a weakness right now it’s that there’s simply not a lot of content. Once you polish off the short introductory quest chain you can either thump for resources or hit the PvP queue. That’s pretty much it. Huge parts of the map, while beautiful, are bereft of enemies, resources, or anything at all.
Of course that’s to be expected during a beta. Core systems come first, and then add content. Developers Red5 certainly have plenty of canvas left to fill, and they’ll need to fill it with a healthy density of stuff to keep players busy.
Most Dangerous Game
I don't need a lot of PvP to be happy. I enjoy it on occasion and it can be exhilarating, but I generally find it exhausting and draining. That said Red5 is going to great lengths to include and support PvP play, and have even declared an interest in building an “E-sports” community.
Actual PvP gameplay occurs only in instanced matches so far. Gameplay resembles an even more mobile version of a TF2, although as I mentioned earlier class balance is sure to be an ongoing issue as it always is in these sorts of games. I’m not sure how viable it is yet to level and equip a frame only through PvP, but victory does award resources and considerable EXP.
|A selection of Starship Troopers-esk bugs makes up the bulk of your NPC opposition.|
There is a surprisingly shallow power curve. Characters grow slowly and advancement is entirely gear based. All leveling up affords you is the occasional free blueprint (which you still need to pay to build) and the ability to equip higher level frames, weapons, and modules. A high level battle-frame with high-end equipment will still enjoy a statistical and tactical advantage over a newly minted frame of the same class, but it’s nowhere near as pronounced a difference as in games like WoW.
It’s an interesting design decision and reinforces that FireFall is, at its core, a shooter rather than an RPG. In some ways it’s more akin to Team Fortress 2 than Borderlands, though it clearly draws some inspiration from both. Good aim and quick reflexes will help you far more than a well researched spell rotation.
Newer players are at less of a disadvantage in PvP. Anyone can simply jump right in and start having fun without necessarily needing to grind for days or weeks to get in battle-ready shape. Of course watching your character grow in power is also a huge draw, so Red5 will need to balance character growth very carefully to keep it rewarding.
Building a Better Gun
Crafting is central to advancing your character. Enemies seem to drop at least as many “nano-prints” as actual items, and merchants only sell nano-prints. A few re-useable prints allow you to refine resources to higher grades or churn out consumable items, but prints that make items or modules are expend on use. It’s not always clear exactly what item a print will create, and there appears to be at least some degree of randomization.
|An open world event in progress. The Chosen have deployed their mobile tanning booth and this simply cannot stand.|
It’s not an immediately accessible system. The game’s introductory quest chain tries to give you a hands-on tutorial for the process, but it still took me a while to get my head around. FireFall also badly needs some sort of loot drop management system for playing in groups. Right now it’s a free-for-all and there’s no way to trade between players. Not conducive to good co-operative play.
All in all FireFall is a very promising game, and I’m looking forward to seeing it develop. The beta is still closed, but I’m pleased to announce that we currently have a single free beta invite still available. As such we’ll be holding a drawing to give it away. Simply add yourself as a follower to Azeroth to Zork (via the widget over on the right) for your chance to win. Around midnight on April 14 we’ll announce the lucky winner and send them their Beta invite. Best of luck!
FireFall home page: http://firefallthegame.com/home
Articles copyright James Cousar, games and images copyright their respective owners.