The hype. The glory. The beta!
By now, most people reading this blog already know what Firefall by Red 5 Studios is. This game has seen so much hype that it’s become a ridiculous klaxon in the MMO skies as it presents itself as a weird sort of MMOTPS with RPG hybrid elements. So far so good. Thanks to the wonderful community here at GameOgre, I was able to get myself into the closed beta test early and now I’m going to bring that experience back to you.
Be sure to dial your monitor up to 11, because this blog is about to become both graphically but also technologically intense.
Firefall, to me, was sold as a PvP game and the addition of what look like RPG elements caught me by surprise. In fact, when first loading into the game you’re dropped off at Copacabana (a recently overrun little area with sort of Hawaiian sense to it near a beach surrounded by bugs) and you find yourself interacting with NPCs as well as seeing players rush about in their bulky battleframes. Of course, there’s PvP terminals but it’s not he first thing you’re thrust into. In this fashion, it reminded me of the beginning of Global Agenda–however, from what I can see, the PvE portion is going to be expansive.
Graphics and Sound: It’s very CPU expensive, better have a powerful graphics card
Firefall is a graphically intense game—and I mean this to the hilt—the game can have many of the settings turned down to almost nothing but it still looks okay but the lighting and textures go to pot when that happens. In fact, it might become impossible to see in the Copacabana night (with giant bugs coming out of absolutely darkness.) I have a fairly high end gaming rig and it still struggles at the higher settings; but that’s the good thing about Firefall so far is that it’s full of settings and they’re very easy to manipulate to a place that provides a good view as well as functional FPS.
At first glance, the textures seem almost like they’re cell-shaded, but they’re not. The matte finish that we’re used to with cell shading isn’t persistent but there’s a sort of 3D cartoon effect to them that cannot be shaken; in some ways this might be seen as a bit of a retro effect or a slur against the more photorealistic gaming experiences but I think that it gives Firefall it’s own personality.
As a third-person-shooter you’ll spend a lot of time staring at the butt of your character’s battleframe but also elements of the UI. In Firefall the UI has a strange effect in that it’s a functional Heads Up Display right down to putting UI elements onto objects in the field of view—other players have little icons above their heads identifying their battleframe type and functional objects such as thumpers (mining units) have their own HUD elements hovering in midair like 2D readouts giving their current health and capacity. I liked that a lot, it gives the game a very science fiction feel.
The game is in beta so some of these things will likely change, but right now in Copacabana, I think the biggest problem is lighting. With the night sky looming overhead and bugs scuttling everywhere, the pools of light offer the only hint of objects and often I found myself unable to see anything. This is especially problematic at lower graphics settings but gets a great deal better when they’re tuned upwards. Again, this is where I thought the numerous graphics settings came in very handy although it might take time to tweak them to where you need.
Combat and the game itself feels very colorful—and not just from the neon lights of Copacabana itself—because when fighting the bugs there’s splashes, flashes, and even death splatters. Some of the bugs even barf a green or blue slime all over the place that contrasts hugely with the rest of the landscape. Battleframes themselves, while muted in their own colors, can have colors chosen for them by players and that itself gives another addition to the rainbow that can be found standing out in the game.
From what I can tell the sound in this game is stereo and I can tell where a bug is attacking from just by listening. A correctly timed rocket jump—which also has a viscerally charged sound effect—could be the difference between being covered in green goo and my turret filling the bug full of hot depleted uranium.
Much of the game is voiced and there’s a certain amount of chatter that can be heard from NPCs and nearby players. Some of this is obviously geared towards PvP with shouts for aid or medics being part of the call outs.
It’s too early to tell how the music is going to affect the game but it seems to be there and it’s not obnoxious enough for me to take notice of it, nor was it impressive enough for me to note it.
Gameplay: Suit up, soldier, there’s a lot of bugs to stomp—and other players too
As a third-person-shooter, Firefall involves a certain amount of running and gunning and that is achived with a technology called the battleframe. Battleframes also set up the extant classes in the game: Deadnaught, Biotech, Assault, Recon, and Engineer.
Each of the battleframes perform a particular combat role that we’re already used to in other games. I played primarily an Engineer, but let’s get the low down on how they all work and what their functions are going forward.
Dreadnaught is the classic tank of the game. This battleframe is bulky, slow, and carries a very big gun. Aside from the giant gun, it has some defensive support abilities such as shields and defense walls that can keep enemies out (or lock them in.) It’s heavily armored, has a high amount of critical health, and will probably be seen holding the line against oncoming attackers.
Biotech is another name for healer and it performs that role nicely. This battleframe is one of the more lithe types with a few glowing bits on the back, its primary function is to heal friendly units by shooting them with exploding canisters… (That’s actually somewhat amusing.) They’re also capable of emitting healing pulses that heal nearby friendly units. However, even as a healer, Biotechs are not entirely without weapons they can deploy poisonous gas that paralyzes nearby enemies in its wake.
Assault imagines itself the standard DPS unit with medium armor, a fairly fast firing gun, and a lot of movement capability. This battleframe is all about air superiority with a weapon that fires exploding plasma rounds and good speed on their jump jets to put them into position quickly; the medium armor also keeps them alive in the middle of a group. Also, if surrounded, they can deploy an ability that slams the ground, the blast wave damages and staggers nearby enemies.
Recon would be somewhat close to a hunter or sniper classification. Recon wear an extremely light battleframe and carry a long gun—the X300 Gauss rifle to be exact—with the ‘frame’s massive amount of jump jet speed they’re capable of getting out of the way quickly and firing from high perches. They are essentially ranged artillery and sniping support capable of loading lots of interesting auxiliary ordinance into their gun to kill, slow, and incapacitate enemies.
The Engineer feels a lot like a hybrid pet class, but they don’t exactly have mobile pets—they have turrets. The Engineer is another light battleframe with almost no armor, a fair jump jet, but produces a great deal of energy meaning that they can deploy a lot more devices than other battleframes. Their primary weapon is a plasma beam that can scythe trough enemies or repair deployed devices. The devices that Engineers on hand include turrets (devastating at range), mines, shield rechargers, and other weapons of cunning and wit. They’re primarily an area denial class and would provide flank support.
Much of the beginning game you’ll spend learning the ropes. How to navigate using the HUD, how to speak with NPCs. You’ll even roam the countryside being ambushed by bugs… A lot of the game is all about learning how to operate the battleframe, how much jump jet it takes to reach certain spots, where to stand, how to switch weapons, how to shoot.
The key bindings feel a little odd at first. It’s the standard WASD with mouse-aim, number keys for particular deployables and skills; but then there’s also a few keys for rapid deploy and Q switches weapons.
It might take some getting used to as the character feels a little bit too sensitive at times and—in the case of the Engineer—it’s often hard to choose exactly where to deploy the turret.
Freemium: Firefall is in beta so it’s difficult to say how they’ll monetize it
Right now, it looks like Firefall will have a cash shop and probably a subscription for committed players. Since the game is still in beta it’s difficult to say where or how this will go. Red 5 Studios is new to the free-to-play MMO gaming market so we don’t have previous game from their or their publisher to look at to see how they run their deployment.
What we do know is that they fully intend to escape from anything that would even put them within throwing distance of pay-to-play. The cash shop will be relegated totally to aesthetics, giving players an edge on the meta-game of looking good and strutting their stuff, and perhaps items that don’t have any effect on the mechanics of gameplay aside from letting players earn their way into PvE and PvP content faster without giving them a competitive edge against other players.
We will revisit this in the future if they have a novel approach but likelihood is we can expect more of the same from them as others.
Conclusion: So far, so good!
The very beginning in Copacabana seems really short right now, but this is the beta. It’s unknown to me what other regions will open up after that; but it’s obvious that that it’s focused heavily towards the PvP aspects. I really enjoyed that there seems to be real pressure towards crafting and developing the RPG elements of the game as well, but I didn’t have as much time to look into that.
From what it looks like you’re able to make extra battleframes for your character—effectively permitting you to change classes on whim; but you could also use that to make different loadouts for the same class.
The game itself is very pretty, but since it’s in beta right now it’s a bit sparsely populated and the help isn’t all that friendly. I expect this to be smoothed out as the closed beta rolls on and localization and final brush strokes to the UI and player experience are fleshed out.
Red 5 Stuidos appears to have a nicely built almost triple-A level free-to-play game here and GameOgre will be revisiting it.