Normally I use this soapbox to whine and bitch about how free to play is a bane to gamers everywhere. Normally they screw up in some way and can no longer ask for cash up front or are looking to rape your wallet on the backside. Normally I have low expectations from anything from the F2P cesspool, fully expecting this all to take place in some way, shape or form.
Firefall by Red 5, however, has had my attention for a while and it's been looking damn good. The rise of the true FPSMMOs is underway, so I have to ask if Firefall is the herald to that mantle? Before we answer that question, lets make a few things painfully clear: An MMO isn't 32 to 64 people fighting it out within a closed loop map. We had that shit as far back as 1998. It's not new and it's not an MMO, so it can go STFU as far as this reviewer is concerned.
Firefall, on the other, is an MMOFPS with Role Playing underpinnings. The quick desriptive would be to imagine the expansive free range environment of World of Warcraft, sprinkle in some of the sandbox tactical classing from the Tribes series and stir vigerously with Halo. Now make it look sexy. What comes out of that mix is an actual world full of aliens and bugs waiting to be explored and recounquered by you and other players. Key to this conquest is the use of Battle Frames-- Powered armor constructs revolving around specific classes that can be customized to the pilot's preference. As of this moment in Beta, five Battle Frames exist: Recon (Sniper), Bio (Medic), Assault (offensive DPS), Engineer (Deployables) and Dreadnaut (Tank).
Normally this is where I would go into progression and leveling, but the game is still very much in Beta and this area is in flux. Still, the long and short of it is you can pretty much customize the weapons and armor of your chosen frame to match your needs, while progression determines your skill set. Mostly. Right now a tier system is in place where you aquire skills through XP that will eventially unlock you next Battle Frame, though that sounds like its slated to change. Honestly, the current iteration is not the most elegant system I've seen implimented and I'll be happy to see this version go.
Such is beta.
Still, Firefall is quite serviceable as a game and imminently enjoyable regardless of its build status. Unlike Mechwarrior Online, the centerpiece of Firefall is the world battlefield and Red 5 chose to impliment it at an early stage. It was a damn good move IMO, as it gives early adopters a good idea of just how ambitious the developers expectations are for this game. To sum it up, it has pwnage written all over it.
The open world of Firewall is truely that: Open. You can go anywhere and scale to any height with a minimum of artifical restrictions across gorgeous terrain. Red 5 has invested heavily here and is shows from the top down. Alien wildlife inhabits the countryside and while you're relatively safe by day (stupidity not withstanding), nightime travel becomes a tense adventure in and of itself with only your flashlight and a handfull of flares to light the way. Earth is likewise under siege, not just via the spacial disaster that befell it, but an alien force from the void known as the Chosen. While you're exploring, they're invading; whether it be minor scouting missions or full up assaults designed to take over nodes that represent tangiable world progression. It's kill or be killed and nodes can be won or lost. It's also entirely possible to lose an entire server to the Chosen invasion if all the nodes are taken, which is epic in and of itself.
And hey, there's PVP too, but it frankly pales in comparison to what Red 5 is trying to accomplish in the persistent world. In this reviewers opinion it's fine that PVP it exists, but you can go to any game for FPS PvP combat. It's the world that makes this game special with PVP there when youn eed a change of pace.
I wish I could detail a bit more on the classes themselves, but as I mentioned, they're still being tweaked. Most of the Battle Frames are still trying to find that sensible balance in gaming as is the progression tree they rest upon, but that's hardly something I can hold against a game still in the throes of a true Beta...Unlike that advertising beta crap you see regularly. In a rare lapse of sanity, I went in for one of the Founders packs just as a show of support and confidence. This game may be free to play, but Red 5 is apparently looking to go about it fairly. The game is creative and ambitious.
I like to reward that in a commerce model generally steeped in apathy and fail.