Thursday, November 21, 2013

Firefall - First Impressions

Two of my regular video-gaming friends started playing Firefall by Red 5 Studios a while back, and the game is now in open beta, so I thought I'd give it a try, mostly to shut up my friends, as shooters are not really my thing these days, old-gamer reflexes being old-gamer reflexes. Here are some quick first impressions based on 15-20 hours of play.

Firefall describes itself as an open world MMO shooter. If you're like me, the first thing you think when you hear shooter in a game description is PvP. That's not the case here. There are some minor (for now) PvP elements in the game, but the vast majority of the content is PvE. There is also power armor, which is always a good thing.

The game is set on post-apocalyptic Earth, after some giant asteroid event. Players work for The Accord, there are bad guys called The Chosen, and various bugs and beasties to kill too. Story is a hair-thin veneer over the base game, and you can find out more at the game wiki. Note that the game is still beta, so everything is subject to change.

Players take on the role of mercenaries / thugs / soldiers working for The Accord, serving as security forces and resource gatherers. They wear Battleframes which provide firepower, armor, and special abilities. Right now there are five main Battleframe categories, of which I've tried out three (and a quarter). My brief notes are based on experience with the standard Accord-issue Battleframes, not the more advanced units that you can unlock through play.

  • Assault - General aggressor unit with an AoE main attack (that you can use to kill yourself!) Felt like a good balanced unit.
  • Dreadnaught - Slower, heavy armor unit with a mini-gun. More survivable but the mini-gun is slow to spin up and chews ammo like a kid eating candy.
  • Biotech - Part bio-warfare specialist, part medic, the Biotech uses chemical weapons to harm and has some healing abilities to support companions.
  • Recon - Fast and light, the Recon has evasion and range abilities. I've barely tried this frame out, so I won't comment further.
  • Engineer - Specialists that drop turrets and remote guns. I haven't tried this frame out yet, so I'll leave it at that. Seem very popular among the Thumper crowd though.
The starting area, New Eden, is a single continent with several main cities and a bunch of lesser outposts and watch towers. The cities / outposts all have SIN towers, which support the Shared Intelligence Network. This provides info on available missions and events across the continent, fed to the player by their back office agents. Each tower paints a picture of a specific area, and this is where it gets interesting. The Chosen (bad guys) send in missions to take control of the SIN towers, which knocks out SIN in that area. These Chosen incursions are a big part of the game, and major Chosen invasions can take over entire cities, locking out access for extended periods. There are several other big areas around, but I haven't ventured out of New Eden yet.

Chosen fights are one of the main activities, but there are others available, providing solo to large-group activities. The event content is a bit thin right now, but new stuff is being added all the time. Since I started this week, the dev-team has added an entire new class of activities, small non-SIN events that you have to find on your own. There are also achievements for folks who like chasing numbers, and daily quests that provide some pretty solid rewards. Of course you can also hit the edge of the Melding (weird place which results in AHHH DEATH when entered), and kill off Melding creatures, which can be a challenge in and of itself.

Another big activity is Thumping. Firefall has a pretty dense crafting system in place, and Thumping provides the raw materials. It goes something like this:
Thumper Team in Action (older screenshot from fan kit)
  • Players head out and find mineral resources to mine. They call in a Thumper, which is an automated mining unit. 
  • The Thumper goes to work, but as it does it's thing it aggravates the local critter population. The player(s) need to defend the Thumper from the swarms while it works or risk losing the device, and the payload.
  • Passersby can hop into the fight and help defend the Thumper. They'll get a reward for the assist, which doesn't affect the main payout.
  • Once the Thumper is full or in danger of being destroyed, you send it back and collect the raw materials it harvested.
Once you have raw materials (which have unique characteristics and quality), you can use a material printer to refine them into processed materials, build these into components, and then assemble components into new weapons, armor, and battleframe power ups. Basic Accord gear doesn't suffer damage, but higher level gear does, so there's a constant demand for more raw materials and goods. Oh, Thumping and refining also nets you some Crystite, which is the base currency of the game.

Speaking of currency... this is a free-to-play game, so of course there's a cash shop. It runs on Red Beans, and seems to have avoided the pay-to-win model pretty well. I've only spent a few minutes looking at the shop and the Crystite-based market for materials and equipment, so I'll say no more about that.

Minor highlights and lowlights:
  • Good: it's fun to just roam and find missions / monsters / ore nodes to deal with. Missions are dynamic a la Guild Wars 2, so there's no required grouping to participate.
  • Good: There's built in voice chat, which my friends say is pretty solid. We were using Skype when we played, but one buddy says either works well.
  • Bad: The new player experience is confusing as hell. After a brief tutorial you get dumped into a firefight (at least I did, and at night too), and the UI takes some time to get used to. Needs work.
  • Good: New Eden is a pretty place. There's a nice range of environments gritty to pretty, so you can cruise around and just look at stuff if that's your thing.
  • Neutral: Needs more mission variety. This is still beta, so I'll cut the game some slack here, especially since I've seen new stuff added in the brief time I've been playing.
  • Good: Events are dynamic. No forced grouping (though there is a grouping mechanism for team activities and communications).
  • Good: Crafting actually matters. It's not nearly as complex, but it reminds me very much of Eve Online's model, which puts player-crafted gear front and center. This is a huge plus.
  • Good: Combat is fun! Even for a rusty old FPS guy like me, the play has a good feel.
Final impression: Firefall is pretty damn fun. The initial UGH of the intro / tutorial was pretty quickly forgotten, and I was rapidly sucked in to 'hey, a new mission popped up on SIN' mode. The depth of mining and crafting are a big plus to me, and there is progression, but I was running with friends in Tech 3 advanced frames and didn't feel too gimped. I give the game a cautious 4/5 stars.

Postscript: I guess I completely glossed over progression, so... You progress in the game by leveling up your Battleframes. Higher level frames have more power, speed, and CPU, which allows you to fit higher power weapons, skills and power ups. Advance far enough with the basic Accord frames and you can buy advanced versions, which have better stats and more focused roles. Again, I've barely scratched the surface here, having divided my time among multiple frames for comparison purposes, but it feels like a well-done system.

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