Friday, 06 April 2012 11:33
Games - Games
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Today, Red 5 Studios is lifting the NDA they’ve been keeping on the beta program for their Free-to-Play Tribes-esq MMO, Firefall. Considering how I’ve been salivating over this thing since it was announced, I’m delighted to actually be able to talk about my time with it. I’ve had only about a week of time with the game, but that was easily enough to justify the gallons of slobber I’ve been dumping on the weeds in my backyard since 2010. I...I own a lot of buckets.
Firefall’s backstory hasn’t been totally revealed just yet, but we know it takes place on a future Earth that’s been ravaged by some kind of dimensional stormfront called the Melding. The Melding has warped the surface of the planet to produce some truly strange environments, and the world is populated with both mutated animal species and alien creatures of terrible deadliness. As of this writing, the only available worldspace to play on is what used to be Brazil, but is now a kind tide-pool/jungle environment. Huge coral formations and fossilized shells jut out of the landscape, and it’s populated with vicious crab-bugs and reptile-things, giant mosquito-monsters, and small groups of alien soldiers called the Chosen. The chosen are ridiculously annoying.
To combat these threats, players make use of various classes (Recon, Medic, Dreadnought, Engineer, Assault) and venture out into the environment. As is the standard, each of the classes has a set of unique abilities and weapons that serve to fill a roll. An Engineer can drop turrets and repair stations, the Dreadnoughts carry a massive chaingun and thus have the highest DPS of any class, and so on. So far, I’ve spent more time in the game as an Engineer than anything else, as I enjoy the ability to play in both an offensive and defensive capacity. I’ve found that the other roles, while also fun, are basically just one or the other. Medics heal, Dreadnaughts slaughter, Recons snipe, and Assaults...assault. The Engineer, though! The Engineers drop powerful, upgradeable turrets to protect against errant creatures, as well as repair stations that heal players. At the same time, the Engineers’ primary weapon, while having a low-DPS, fires homing energy bolts which lock onto enemies and rarely miss. These abilities allow Engineers to serve multiple-roles. Don’t let my overzealousness regarding this player class lead you to the conclusion that the other roles are underpowered, though! They’re not. They’re each rather awesome in their own way. As with other class-based games, it all depends on you.
Firefall players have, at the moment, only two major activities available to them in the current beta, other than PvP: Slaughtering critters and mining ore deposits. Mining is a huge part of Firefall, but it’s not as intensely boring as you might suspect. In Firefall, mining consists of first locating a rich vein of one or another fantasy-mineral and then calling down a thumper, a powerful drill dropped from orbit. Once the thumper starts thumping, players must defend the drill from increasingly difficult waves of pissed-off monsters, which apparently don’t enjoy soothing thumping sounds. Thumpers will come in a variety of sizes (at the moment only two are available), and with each class of thumper comes new and more dangerous waves of enemies. The first thumper the player can access, the Tiny-class, is about as large as a man, and spawns waves of the most basic critters the game has to offer. The Light thumper on the other hand, is about twenty feet high, and spawns much more dangerous creatures, some of which explode on contact or spray corrosive acid all over the place when they die. If even one wave of the explosive buggers reach the Thumper, it will be destroyed and you’ll have to craft another, and they are increasingly expensive. Once the thumper has filled to capacity, a player must interact with it to launch it back into space, and the mining process begins again once another ore vein is discovered.
All of this mining of course leads to Firefall’s rather robust crafting system. There are a number of minerals the player gathers from the mining process, all of which,save for the game’s base currency Crystite, have various levels of refinement. Each refining process must be first purchased from a vendor (or awarded from a quest) and then researched, and as the player gains access to new equipment, more of the rare and highly-refined versions of the common minerals are required for fabrication. Considering how the refinement process can take upwards of forty minutes of real-world time, it will no doubt take quite a while to craft some of the more advanced gear. The downside to this whole process is that the gear that you craft is largely random. The more rare the equipment, the less chance of an awesome thing being fabricated. Case in point, I’ve yet to craft a single weapon or armor piece that wasn’t vendor trash.
Firefall’s RPG aspects are present, but they’re basically negligible aside from collecting XP and leveling up. This allows players to unlock new abilities and equipment, and scales the mob difficulty accordingly. Aside from that, it’s an RPG in name only. Every few levels the player gains unlocks a new tier of goodies. For the Engineer class, these include a turret, repair station and force field generator, as well as upgraded equipment which allow players to use these items and deploy them simultaneously. For other classes, like the Assault and the Dreadnaught, powerful area-effect abilities are unlocked, as well as the typical weapons and armor upgrades. On and on it goes!
Oh, right, I almost forgot. Firefall has PvP, although at the moment it’s fairly limited. Only a handful of maps and two gametypes are currently available: Team deathmatch, and that mode in which two teams switch between defensive and offensive roles...also called Onslaught. PvP in Firefall is instance-based and has so far been rather boring, mainly because it feels like the class system is unbalanced. Medics and Engineers last for about ten seconds on the battlefield, and Engineer deployables, while incredibly useful in PvE, inflict only minimal damage to other players and are destroyed very quickly, to boot. Additionally, player equipment isn’t automatically standardized when entering PvP, which means you bring in weapons and armor that you’ve got in the PvE environment. That level 5 sniper rifle might kick ass when shooting at giant crab monsters, but it’ll be basically useless against a level 9 player. Likewise, that same level 9 player will blow lower-level players to pieces with their high-powered weaponry. Basically, the PvP needs a lot of work.
One of the most intractable aspects of MMO games that I’ve noticed over the years has been that people are notoriously difficult to bring together in cooperation for anything but raids or world events. Red 5 has managed guide Firefall’s core gameplay mechanics in a way that I haven’t experienced since the original Tribes in 1998: They incentivized cooperation. As with other class-based titles, each category has their own strengths and weaknesses, and when used in conjunction they heavily complement each other and make an impossible task much easier. Unlike other games, however, which have the capacity for players engage in both solo and team-play, Firefall’s players NATURALLY flow into five-man squads, in order to successfully handle Thumper-mining and just about anything else they might run into. It’s this unique aspect of naturally-occurring cooperation that makes Firefall so special. Yes, sure, the combat mechanics are solid as hell and being an Engineer is a blast and it’s very pretty and the dev team is obviously composed of brilliant techno-wizards from the future, but it’s the innate quality of solid, ridiculously fun teamwork which brings it all together.
Firefall is still in a closed beta, but this week Red 5 switched from a playtest schedule to an “always-on” schedule. It’s a big step in the development process, and it’s only going to get more intense from here on out. Keep in mind that the game is far from finished, and a lot of what I just described could change for better or worse as the title gets closer to launch. There is a ton of content which has yet to be made available to players, like vehicles and 90% of the game world. Regardless, I’ve been extremely impressed with what I’ve played so far. I’m generally not a fan of the free-to-play model, but that’s only because so few games have done it right. While Red 5 has yet to implement its microtransaction system, if the game remains mostly as it is right now whilst being free, they’ll have definitely have made a sale...or whatever.
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Firefall Today, Red 5 Studios is lifting the NDA they’ve been keeping on the beta program for their Free-to-Play Tribes-esq MMO, Firefall. Considering how I’ve been salivating over...
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