Red 5 Studios has been working on its free-to-play sci-fi MMOFPS, Firefall, for quite some time now and the studio has employed a unique approach to beta testing the game modeled after Google’s Gmail invite system. Basically, Red 5 Studios considers Firefall ‘launched’ in a sense, but only to those they (or other testers) invite to the game. Red 5 adds new content and features to the game in layers and has players test it out until they’re satisfied. Then, invites are given out to existing testers who can then send them out to their friends. It’s a simple and controlled process that organically expands the tester base in accordance with the developer’s needs.
Recently, Red 5 deployed what it’s calling the Firefall ‘Summer Milestone’, a very significant update to the game that overhauls a number of the game’s Battleframes (classes) in response to player feedback and is aimed at addressing the game’s difficulty curve and skill cap. In short, players (and the developers) considered Firefall to be “easy to learn, easy to master” and this latest update is primarily meant to address that issue. I’m not going to get into the intricate details of the updates to the game’s various Battleframes, but suffice it to say, at least while playing my Recon, things have been vastly different (go here if you do want all the details!).
I’ve been in the beta test since PAX East 2012 and I can say the first thing I noticed is that the character creation was both significantly improved in quality but equally reduced in available options. At this time, there are only two heads available per gender, however, the quality of the character models, faces, and hair options have improved by leaps and bounds. Curious about this, I browsed around the beta forums and found out this was a deliberate decisions on Red 5’s part. In order to recoup costs for the game, the team is going to focus primarily on monetizing Firefall through customization options. The game appears to be otherwise completely free. If you want to look like a special snowflake while cranking out headshots, you’ll be able to purchase customization options with the “NewYou”, an upcoming expansion to the recently added Battleframe Garage feature.
The Battleframe Garage is a new terminal found within most cities in Firefall that allows players to switch out and equip various pieces of equipment and abilities to their character’s available Battleframes. It’s basically a super stylish way of equipping your gear. The Garage does everything to display your character as a total badass, with appropriately awesome music to go along with it. Clicking on different body parts of your character will zoom in and allow you to pick from available options. The catch is that each Battleframe has certain limitations (think weight limits) and each piece you add or switch out will have to fit within those constraints. It’s kind of like tricking out a Mech in MechWarrior. You’ll have to make some important decisions as far as what you equip in order to balance out your Battleframe.
Character progression has been significantly altered in Firefall, as well. Levels (and dropped item loot) have been completely removed from the game. Instead, each Battleframe features a tech tree with five tiers and multiple sub-frames players can choose from as they progress through the tiers. As players earn experience while equipped in a particular Battleframe, they can spend the experience to progress down the Battleframe’s tech tree and unlock a number of bonuses and equipment. It’s important to note that each tier is completely separate from the last, and this includes all the bonuses and equipment unlocked. For example, experience earned while in a tier 1 frame will not apply for use in a tier 2 frame and tier 1 equipment cannot be equipped to a tier 2 frame. In tier 1, the equipment is granted to you automatically, but in tier 2 and beyond players are given blueprints and must craft these upgrades, and this is where removal of traditional dropped loot becomes important.
Firefall has always focused heavily on crafting and resource gathering, and the new tech tree puts even more emphasis on this than before. Instead of dropping items, monsters drop resources of varying quality, and these resources can be used to create powerful versions of the blueprints you unlock through your progress tree. This allows players more direction and control with how they want to develop their Battleframes while also allowing them to create their own powerful items from base recipes. As a side note, players who loved crafting in Star Wars Galaxies may find themselves particularly excited about Firefall’s own crafting. Each resource features a number of properties that determine the strength of bonuses while crafting items. Even the names of some of the attributes appear to be a direct nod to SWG, such as conductivity, malleability, resistance, etc.
Out in the game world proper, things are similar when compared to the last time I played the beta, but there are a couple of noteworthy additions. New events have been added to the game, including Melding tornadoes and city invasions. Melding tornadoes can be seen far into the distance and consist of a massive central tornado with several floating Melding shards floating around it and a ridiculous amount of monsters for players to fight off. The goal is to destroy the shards and then destroy the tornado’s core. All the while players gain tons of experience and a fair amount of resources in the process of killing all the creatures attracted to and produced by the event. City invasions are exactly what they sound like. NPCs, typically Chosen, will assault a particular city and players will have to defeat them.
There is also a new set of quests available at Firefall’s TransHub region. I was only able to complete a couple of these quests before being gated by a bug, but supposedly this quest line features a vehicle section where players can ride a motorcycle. I can’t speak to this myself, but a bit of motorcycle gameplay can be seen in the latest Firefall development video. It certainly looks cool to me. I’d love to see vehicles in Firefall, even though there are already quick ways to get around the map, including your own jump jets and gliders found throughout the game world.
PvP in Firefall is a completely different affair now compared to previous iterations of the game. While promising, Firefall’s previous PvP gameplay was a lot slower, more MMO-like, and well, a bit clunky! PvP in Firefall is now a constantly moving (think Tribes) dynamic where twitch skills and spatial awareness are paramount. There are three gameplay modes (Team Deathmatch, Sabotage, and Harvester) with five maps split across them, including an awesome new night map that I particularly enjoyed. Players have access to flashlights to illuminate the battlefield, but they’ll have to balance giving away their position in order to spot foes easier. The same goes for jump jets, which allow players additional mobility, but similarly illuminate the map. It’s a small, but important consideration, and adds a nice little layer to your standard PvP match.
Before we wrap things up here, I do have to take a moment and talk about Firefall’s visuals. I’m not sure the overall visual quality has really changed since the deployment of the summer milestone, but if you do have the chance to play Firefall at some point soon, you’re really in for a visual treat. Firefall’s currently available land mass isn’t gigantic, but there is an unrivaled sense of verticality found in the game and the environments are truly lush and littered with awesome sights to behold. Firefall also features a full day and night cycle, and let me tell you, night is definitely dark enough to warrant use of the aforementioned flashlight. However, it’s the game’s absolute insane view distance that really blows me away every time I boot up the game. There’s nothing like standing atop a tall mountain and really taking in the game world Red 5 has created.
There’s a lot of work left to be done on Firefall, but what’s now available is extremely solid and we’ll be looking forward to seeing how the game develops over the coming months.