The “Miracle Patch” is a thing of legend. But like all things Red 5 has done in its formative years, the studio behind Firefall believes it can make a legend reality. The final big Milestone Update before next week’s Open Beta promises a lot of overall polish, improvements, and a more well-rounded new user experience. But is it enough to take a great idea, and turn it into a great game? If my early experience is anything to go by, I’d say that Red5 is certainly on the right track even if they’re not quite there yet.
The New User Experience
One of Firefall’s biggest hurdles is that, despite being a traditionally-controlled shooter, everything else about this MMO is different from other games in its chosen genre. Everything from progression to the crafting, the mission system to unlocking regions of the map... it’s all done a bit different than anyone is used to. And throughout the several years I’ve been participating in Firefall’s beta, I’ve watched its tutorial go from one end of the spectrum to the other. Finally, just a couple of weeks before its big “launch”, the team’s nailed the art of easing players into the game. I’d highly suggest starting anew if you’ve been away for awhile, because so much has changed in recent months.
Firstly, there are now actually two videos that lay down the story for the game and how you came to be a soldier in Brazil. I won’t go into too much detail, but it’s pretty good stuff. The manga that Red 5 has been working on with Orson Scott Card are actually a fantastic primer, and worth viewing. The tutorial itself walks you through the basic controls, how to use your jumpjets, and also lets you toy around with each of the game’s five main Battleframes (classes). Any one character can play with any of the battleframes and level them all up, but this is a nice way to pick your favorite from the start in a confined “training” environment. Plus, you get to test out various weapons and skills before unlocking them as you progress later.
Once into New Eden proper, there are actually a whole new series of missions to undertake that further (and much more effectively than before) explain core game systems like the SiN uplink, thumping for resources, and crafting. And let’s not forget progression itself. The whole system for how you advance each of your battleframes has been completely overhauled several times, but how R5 has it situated now is definitely my favorite. XP is earned through missions, killing, random events, and all of the usual activities. But you can spend it any way you like on whatever you like. Each Battleframe has its own pool though, so to level up the Recon you’ll have to actually spend time with said frame. You can’t just farm XP with your Dreadnaught and then dump it all into a different frame.
Loot and Activities
When the open world of New Eden was first introduced to the closed beta so many months ago... there wasn’t a whole lot to do. You could thump for resources, sure, and explore the vast spaces and vertical reaches, but that was kind of it. Over time, Red 5 has been adding more and more “public quest” like activities, and there are even more popping throughout the world with the latest patch. But beyond that, there are actually directed objectives for your character, a new storyline of missions to follow, daily achievements to track down... it’s finally starting to look like an MMO in terms of content. Heck, there’s even the game’s first group-focused dungeon to look into. Now, this is a sort of “first look” at this latest patch, and I’m not quite ready to say that Firefall has oodles of content waiting for the veteran MMO-er. But at the very least, there’s a lot more to do these days that there was in New Eden just a few months back.
On top of this, which some would say was Firefall’s biggest problem (what’s an MMO without stuff to do?), loot is finally dropping in the open world again. Way back when, weapons and frame upgrades used to drop off of mobs. But for some reason or another, Red 5 cut that out. After its long hiatus, world drops are back. The thrill of the loot is a welcome thing to have back in Firefall make no mistake.
Open Beta Cometh
Next week, Firefall officially goes into open beta. That’s the same kind of Open Beta that we reviewed Neverwinter during, and Dragon’s Prophet. It means they’re letting anyone and everyone in, not wiping characters, and taking money from customers. As such we’ll be starting our series of Review in Progress articles shortly after. Red 5’s flagship title has seen its share of ups and downs over its incredibly long beta period, but this latest milestone update speaks to the team’s commitment to make their game something that can truly stand on its own as more than just a bunch of great ideas. It’s really starting to come together, but is it ready for prime time? We’ll find out in the coming weeks.
Bill Murphy / Bill Murphy is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.