So here we are for what is more than likely the last chapter in the gaming emo drama known as Firefall. The franchise is sordid tale of waste, mismanagement, layoffs, buyouts and borderline player fraud, barely saving itself from the latter by proudly flying under the Buyer Beware Beta flag. When the corporate hammer finally came down at the end of 2013, however, Red5 was given six months to produce what they had failed to do over the last seven years: A release ready game.
On the surface it would seem a nigh impossible task, save for the fact that Red5 has been sitting on gigs of ready material waiting to be used, stagnanting for years thanks to broken developer priorities and epic mismanagement. That all changed with Kern’s forced retirement. R5 was given one goal and one goal only: Make it work.
…Which was easier said than done. The core of the game was a fractured mess and the player base knew it, forcing R5 to all but admit their open beta had been an open disaster. The public test servers were closed down and the game reverted to ‘delta testing’ specifically geared to proof what was to be Firefall v1.0. The rest of the player base ran down the clock on the soon to be defunct beta, enduring R5s piecemeal dissemination of news and lame transfer incentives with varying degrees of patience, or lack thereof.
Time, if not money, was running out on Firefall and everybody knew it.
Information on Firefall’s new direction was slowly released. The skill based game was taking on a distinctly generic flavor in terms of progression, featuring a leveling system and banded zones stereotypical of most vanilla MMOs. Crafting and gear was being simplified, while talks of visual customization made the rounds. In short, R5 was taking the safest route possible in the short time they had. Most of the players merely shrugged and simply hoped this iteration of the game would be better than the last.
That wait is now over- at least for the beta participants. As mentioned in the previous entry concerning Firefall’s debauchery, squeezing a release ready product into a six month time frame sounded overly optimistic, likewise the claims of ‘delta testing’. Make no mistake: Red5 is going for ‘good enough,’ so the question now becomes: Is it?
First impressions: The world environment has undergone a noticeable change and was the first thing I took notice of when stepping foot into the great outdoors for the first time at night. Gone is the perma-dusk environment that has proliferated since v.6, reverting to something darker and more realistic. In my opinion, it’s a change for the better, though some of the graphical tweaks are hit and miss. The melding curtain isn’t nearly as appealing to look at and some of the frame advancement visuals likewise fall under “what were you thinking?”. New maps were added and the existing ones modified. In fact, there's a ton less landscape clutter, so you won't be drivingg your motorcycle into a chunk of coral every 30 meters.
Most of it is for the better, though I could swear they've simplified the graphics engine to a degree. Either way it won't break your experience.
Tutorial wise, the game hand-walks you through your initial steps, pointing out things like SIN towers and how they’re necessary to the game. It even teaches you how to glide, which is somewhat central to the game. That alone is a huge improvement, though when I say huge, I mean from nothing to something. More advanced things, like research and crafting still fall to the wayside, but are approachable once you get past the fact that R5 still struggles with tooltips and what vital information they should- yet don’t –contain.
Cores now dominate your gear, on that note. Gone are frame parts, in favor of what are essentially socketed "gems" for nearly everything. Your frame is a complete piece of hardware now and your only concern therein is how you equip it and socket those equips. Even the guns and abilities have sockets, streamlining Firefall’s customization. You research the gear then build it. Cores can also be built added.
IMHO, it’s a fair compromise given the fail R5 was running before and the timeframe they had with which to develop something new. This is one complaint they heard loud and clear, and thankfully it was addressed I the right direction. Yes, it’s absolutely generic, but more than that, it’s safe and not likely to alienate too many people just for having existed. We’ll leave aside the fact that research is still just a bad idea and all too obvious time sink, but it’s evidentially not going away. Another thing the community managed to get through to R5 was that permanent gear breakage needed to go fuck itself. Amazingly, they listened. Durability still exists, but it’s repairable for a nominal fee.
On the other hand, R5 continues to prove they cannot design a UI if it walked up to them and bit them on their collective asses. Amazingly enough, it continues to get worse in spite of the simplicity they have attempted to instill. The battleframe garage, for instances, does a great job of getting out of the way of the player and letting them customize their frame. It’s a fairly intuitive, if bland setup. Unfortunately it suffers from a cramped, clunky layout that completely lacks any of the elegance of the previous versions. In fact, most GUI experiences in Firefall scream “developed by amateurs!” and that includes anything research related. Why the fuck am I zooming in and out and dragging around what looks like an XML web page?
I mean, you’ll figure it out, but damn.
The biggest change comes in the form of leveling, and by that I mean honest to God leveling for experience ala that vanilla MMO you were just playing. Tiers are gone, and in their place are level based zones and gear. The higher your level, the more powerful gear you can use and that’s it. Any stab at depth and complexity evaporated like a snowflake in hell with this change, though given R5’s track record to date on that, it’s hard to complain too much since every attempt prior to this was akin to a sucking chest wound in an otherwise decent game. It also follows the watchword this launch operated under from day one: Safety.
Few risks were taken with the launch of v1.0, because Red5 frankly couldn’t afford to screw it up again. This iteration of the game takes no chances and break as little ground as possible in order to offend the least number of eyeballs as it can possibly get away with. If I had to point to the biggest sin committed in the release of the new Firefall, it would be that… And even then, it’s hard to get worked up about it. It’s so vanilla, you just end up shrugging and thanking the powers that be that they didn’t fuck it up worse than before.
Getting back to leveling, Firefall played it too safe. The game still lacks direction and this is made even worse by centralizing most of the mission content into a job board. Don’t get me wrong—A game as bland as Firefall desperately needed some ‘Kill X of Y’ or ‘Deliver A to B’ missions to round out the dynamic ARES content, but the world is painfully static, with little to no interactions with the NPC populace unless you grabbed it from a job board first. Worse yet, they’re badly constructed missions with multi stage objectives several hundreds of meters apart all the while our handler is talking to the client via radio. Why did I need to meet with them in person, again? You’re on the goddamn Radio! Patch me in! Hell, why don’t I just use that fancy SIN network to grab the jobs directly off the clearly electronic job board?
Yes, R5 will continue to iron out the inconsistencies, but this is the offical launch. Wait. The Pre-launch launch. It doesn't really matter anymore, frankly.
To be fair, some of the content is more dynamic than before. For example, I watched somebody drop a large thumper and the Chosen dropped pods on them in what looked like a resource denial op. The mobs are a bit livelier and less predictable than before, which is a bonus, and new ones are making their rounds. This is good stuff, to be honest, but not enough to keep my interest. Hand walking the player through the game is a lost art, as is telling them what they should be doing next and where. This has been a constant stumbling block for the franchise and while a tutorial is finally there, players are kind of left to their own devices. Take this simple question, for example: What am I doing here?
Well, you’re fighting the chosen invasion! Saving humanity from extinction!
Sweet! How do I do that?
Well, ah… These job boards! Yeah, stop those poachers or something!
Okay, back to the extinction thing…?
You can thump, and do random ARES missions. And that damn wounded bandit needs saving again.
But how do I progress toward my goal of saving humanity from annihilation?
And that's where Firefall bleeds out in my opinion: You simply wander around. That’s the majority of the game. You wander around, hoping that you stumble across something interesting. There is no focus. And don’t even claim sandbox because this game doesn’t match that definition. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s fun to wander and explore, but without definite focus, it gets old. Go here. Do this. Your ultimate goal is this. And while you’re at it, explore a little. That’s a good formula that even the plainest MMORPGs tend to follow but Firefall just doesn’t- nor has ever –gotten. part of that problem lies in the past: Firefall has never had enough material to define that progression. Unfortunately, it still plagues the franchise in the here and now, and I promise you there is not nearly enough content to last you 40 levels without serious rehash.
On that note, New Eden has become a waste land of activity. Not that it lacks bugs and critters to shoot, but level banding has ensured you cater to the lowest common denominator: Level 1; which means new players will stay bored for a good long time before seeing what the veterans know is out there from experience. That experience isn’t killing a lobster here and there. It is fighting the chosen, watching drop pods fall from the sky, retaking towers and the like. The higher level maps are better in that regard, but the question is how many players R5 will lose just getting through that boredom.
Oh, and good news! That financial wizard- read ‘ass’ –that R5 supposedly employs has seen fit to create an intermediary currency between game money and Bean money for use at the auction house. And you can only convert 5000 a day at 250:1 as of my last glance at it.
What. The. Fuck.
Yeah, go figure that one out. Another goddamn currency. I can only imagine this to be some inane attempt to stabilize the market since you can now use this secondary currency to buy beans, but seriously? I’m beating my head against the desk.
Moving on, there are balance issues and the like, but they aren’t worth mentioning since every game has their share. What is worth mentioning is that this game is still rife full of bugs. They can call it a launch all they want, but it’s still beta in every sense of the word. Sure it’s a step in the right direction after so many wrong ones, but R5 should have been here years ago working the issues out of something like this, not rushing to slap shit together because the executioner was giving them the evil eye, and certainly not trying to convince their player base that this milestone is something it’s not. Again.
That may be enough for some people, but I can’t help but to remember how others have spent hundreds of dollars at the cash shop on this game, helping the studio test broken version after broken version of their product, only to receive the “sorry, all sales are final” finger upon launch. With all the corporate shenanigans, I would have liked to have seen them take the high road with partial or full bean refund. No such luck. Did I mention that New You still hasn’t seen any love? All those slot machine visuals are still locked up behind the random chance wall, while New You remains stagnant with the same crap it has had since 2013.
It comes down to this: Firefall is a game stuck in perma-Beta and I would be remiss in my job here to recommend you even download it. Its developers- well intentioned as they may be –have proven time and again that they cannot grasp the basics of how to make an MMO, judge player psychology or how to implement micro transactional business model. Worse yet, the basic moral foundations of the company have been called into question when dealing with their player base, and if it’s happened before, it’ll probably happen again.
Firefall has become a bland game that tries too hard to be safe, and in the process loses much of its original charm. Is it playable? Yes. But it is also an amazingly vanilla game full of bugs that claims to be launch ready, but once again really isn't. What is truly sad is it is the game nobody wanted. The developers even asked: What do you dislike about vertical progression? Reading through this thread is an amazingly depressing experience because it is here you realize that nearly everything players despised about vertical progression made it into the game anyway.... And then the thread was locked with a big 'fuck you'.
If you're looking at this game with unfiltered optimism, it will probably hold your interest for about a couple weeks before you realize just how one-dimentional the game really is and that you would rather be playing Team Fortress, Loadout, Wastelands, or any other shooter with vastly more coherent advancement experience that rewards skill instead of cutting it off at the knees.
I give it a year, year and a half before its US and European servers fold.