Reaching for the Holy Grail: Hands-on with the FireFall Beta

FireFall

By on January 24, 2013 at 3:09 pm

Back in 2001, everyone’s favourite eccentric video game designer, Richard Garrott AKA Lord British, started putting together the title that would ultimately be known as Tabula Rasa. Over the next 6 years, truckloads of hype, delays, code overhauls and direction changes generated the perfect storm for what would ultimately release as a buggy, disappointing and unfinished mess. Although it was one of the first RPGs to blend real time shooter aspects with traditional MMO combat, Garrott’s hope to break the chain of fixed combat systems was spoiled by sticky targeting and an unwieldy ”dice roll” system that removed much of the skill generally attributed to shooter mechanics. The market eventually agreed with this consensus and NCSoft shut down the servers after a 2 year love affair, leaving Tabula Rasa‘s place in history as yet another failed experiment in a genre with a very low success rate.

But what Tabula Rasa did manage to do was light a spark and, at the very least, presented a base model for a hybrid system that combined the numerical damage, PVP and questing systems that have become the staple inclusions within MMORPGs, with active shooting mechanics and a (somewhat) step back from hotkeys and sedimentary combat.

Firefall is the latest in a long line of titles, from Star Trek Online to DC Universe, that have attempted what I consider to be the holy grail of online gaming; a successful fusion of RPG and FPS that highlights the great aspects of both genres into one beautiful bundle. I decided to dive head first into their closed beta to find out if they had managed to overcome many of the problems that have plagued its predecessors.

What I noticed straight away is that Red 5, the debut developers of Firefall with a CEO who previously worked on WoW, have taken an unusual amount of risk with this title. First off, it’s free to play, which isn’t particularly unusual anymore but creates significantly more danger for smaller studios since they aren’t able to quickly recover initial investment from a mandatory retail price. Instead, players are currently offered lucrative “founder” packs, complete with transport vehicles, game currency cosmetic improvements and XP boosts and bonuses, for a nominal once off fee. Secondly, it relies almost entirely on dynamic events, utilizing a unique “AI General” that targets areas of strategic value to players and focuses mob attacks in those areas. While a story driven campaign is planned for release within the next few months, its clear that the developers are more keen on players working together to push back a threat than creating a playground of static quests.

This particular stage of beta is the first in which PVE content has been added, which presents itself in the form of dynamic world events that crop up based on player activity and demand. If there aren’t many players in an area, the game director (known as Aero) may create challenges in order to lure players, only to then spawn an even larger challenge in form of a base invasion or elite boss. It’s an interesting change of pace, becoming the logical next step to Guild Wars 2‘s dynamic questing by allowing all areas, including major cities, to be targeted. I found that there wasn’t a lot of variety yet, nor were the events consistent in difficulty — on one occasion, I turned up at an event I had cleared quite easily moments before, only to find a standing army of about 8 elite mobs that literally chased me for miles before reigning fire down upon me. I did not make that mistake again.

Firefall‘s other change is to take a leaf out of The Secret World by replacing levels with “Tiers”, which relates to a class system of exo-skeletons known as “Battleframes” that can be upgraded and swapped depending on what the mission requires. The game is designed around each player owning multiple ‘frames, which include Assault, Engineer and Recon versions. Each one has its own set of tech trees that are unlocked using experience points gained from battle, and are the primary manner in order to unlock standard weapons, armour and special abilities. For example, the Engineer (easily my favourite Battleframe) utilizes a set of small deployable turrets and a Tesla Rifle as standard. The first set of upgrades offer an option between a deployable shield (which leads to a more powerful long range offensive weapon), improved jump jets (which leads to a shotgun) or a mine (which leads to better turrets or stronger jump jets).

What intrigues me about this system, particularly over The Secret World‘s, is that its significantly easier to change class with very little time investment. Sure, if you’ve been building an Assault character for three months it might be hard to get an Engineer up to that point easily, but if you find that you’re not enjoying a frame early on, you can simply buy a new one and drop a bunch of experience points to bring it up to scratch. Not only that, but the ease in which you can swap frames (via kiosks littered around the world) makes it simple to re-evaluate a failed attack on a contested area, or perhaps a new strategy in PVP. Additionally, you can also craft your own items and upgrades to your frames, which are added and removed via the “Garage” — which, to be frank, is a bit of a convoluted mess that relies too heavily on visual cues rather than simple drag and drop menus.

But it’s the resource and crafting system that has really surprised me. I’m not traditionally a person who enjoys crafting, nor am I an admirer of the original system of fetching ore and items — skinning dead mobs and mindlessly tapping at veins is excruciatingly boring and repetitive. Finding rare ore is more a matter of grind than skill and its traditionally an activity (a word I use very loosely when talking about crafting) that is very lonely, which is why the success of gold and resource miners to remove much of the time investment. Firefall flips the process on its head by introducing a new way of resource collecting called “Thumping”. Firstly, a player equips a “Scan Hammer” that they use to pound the ground in an area to see if any resources are nearby. The UI will quickly respond with the results and, if you’re lucky, pop up a Borderlands style overlay with the location and quantity of a mineral.

This is where the fun starts.

The next step is to call for a “Thumper”: an automated mining machine that literally drops out of the sky, drills into the soil and noticeably thumps under the ground to release and suck up those precious mats. Unfortunately for you, this process tends to piss off the natives, to the point where they will progressively swarm you (and your group) while it operates. Protect it and you’ll get the whole precious bounty. Lose it, and you’ll not only lose the mats that were collected but also the Thumper itself, that needs to be crafted. More powerful thumpers and hammers can be researched and crafted, but in many cases these require whole groups of players for protection against some of the nastier creatures that inhabit the planet. Once you’ve got a nice cache of mats, you can utilize the “Molecular Printer” in town to create almost anything, from ammo and health packs to upgrades for your frame.

Firefall is easily one of the most ambitious attempts to break the status quo since, well, Tabula Rasa, and this article barely brushes the surface. Almost all the conventions are attempting to be broken; every frame has a jetpack, and the world is designed around them. Feel like taking on the enemy from above? Go for it. PVP is almost a separate game in itself, with three map modes and a host of spectating and shoutcasting features baked in. But being a beta, much of the potential is still slowly and surely being added and refined. Quests are extraordinarily buggy and broken. Mob difficulty ranges from the insane to the impossible. World PvP doesn’t exist and many of the dynamic events are thin on the ground, leading most players to simply wander around or queuing for the seemingly limited slots in PVP. Red 5 talked a lot of talk on the lead up to beta, and it looks like they have build a solid base to deliver.

Stay tuned for our review shortly after the retail launch later this year.

FireFall is having an open beta weekend this weekend. Head over to the official site for more details.

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12 comments (Leave your own)

This looks very very interesting. I’m really looking forward to giving this a crack when the game comes out in full. I might avoid it until then though, I hate being reset back to nil if I move from Beta to a retail release…

 

Ane thing any Australian will suffer with servers based outside our area is of course lag. I dearly want a shooter MMO, but until our infrastructure is upgraded to a point where our ping is reasonable, it’d just make life unplayable. Darkfall being a perfect example of frustrating gameplay.

If Firefall ends up opening an Aussie server, I’m there with bells on. Until then .. it’d just be an exercise in frustration.

 

Wow those pictures are old, Engi blue bolts I miss you much.

As a heads up for wipes, at this stage Red5 have said all EXP accredited to frames will stay through wipes, even if the trees and upgrades themselves get wiped. If actually happens is yet to been seen.

PS Argh *blub blub* drowning in beta keys.

Edit: Also hit rego lag in the PvE situation is almost non-existant. Can snipe easily from max distance.

 

aeolusc,

Edit: Also hit rego lag in the PvE situation is almost non-existant. Can snipe easily from max distance.

Thats good to know. Might try it out this weekend and see how bad I suck at it :P

 

Is the client hosted in the files section up to date for the beta weekend? It’s over a month old and I wouldn’t be surprised if they updated from the current closed build this weekend.

I’ve chewed up my quota pretty thoroughly this month but I would love to give this a look.

 

phylum,

From 1503 you are looking at at least 3GB of patching, plus the game is rather heavy handed on texture streaming (can be disabled) also streamed inventory UIs etc

 

kinkykel:
Ane thing any Australian will suffer with servers based outside our area is of course lag. I dearly want a shooter MMO, but until our infrastructure is upgraded to a point where our ping is reasonable, it’d just make life unplayable. Darkfall being a perfect example of frustrating gameplay.

If Firefall ends up opening an Aussie server, I’m there with bells on. Until then .. it’d just be an exercise in frustration.

short of having a direct fiber pipeline to the server this will never happen information can only travel at light speed which is why you have latency on foreign servers, aussie server mmos won’t become common untill we have a larger gaming population and it is worth it for developers to host a server here

 

This is a really fun game. I’ve been playing on and off for the passed few months and am really enjoying it. Lag doesn’t really effect PvE and it’s mildly noticeable in PvP.

I’m super invested into Planetside at the moment, but when this hits retail I think I’ll be putting a lot more time into it.

For those that haven’t been following the development and Red5 in general, they are super keen to move this towards esports. They have their own studio setup and do the occasional weekend stream event. Jump over to twitch.tv and check them out!

 

I probably have some keys somewhere if i can be bothered logging in to find them, I was looking forward to Firefall for a long time and when i finally got in to beta and took 10 steps only for it to lag me all over the place.

Game just isn’t playable from Cairns.

 

I’ve also played this hard out. Bought the Ensign founders, then upgraded to Lieutenant, then upgraded to Commander for the motorcycle mount :P. Not unhappy with my purchase.

Updates have been a little thin over the Christmas period and I got a little bit bored with just thumping and chasing Chosen(the bad guys).

Will jump back in next decent patch, definitely a game worth watching as it has huge potential.

Crafting really interests me, the interface is clunky and they haven’t quite figured out what they want players to achieve with crafted gear *BUT* with a little work it will easily be one of the better crafting systems around.

I have beta keys, send me a PM if you want one. Big beta weekend on this weekend, whoever logs in gets a free decal for their battleframes.

 

Does anyone heres got grammar?

 

This game is boring as hell…Awsome gameplay but no quest stories. Run to a point and hang around for enemy kill them and wait for point to neutralize etc…Running around like lost chooks…zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

 
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