I’ve been dabbling some more since last week’s big Firefall “pre-Open Beta” patch, and I’m quite enjoying myself even with a few frustrations. Above all else, one thing really stands out with Red 5’s jump into the “anyone can play and pay” phase of their game’s life: this is much more of an MMO than it originally seemed, and with the right love and care Firefall could become something pretty special. But, as the term “Open Beta” suggests, Firefall really is a game still in the process of being made. That said, as is our policy with all Open Betas that take money from their customers and don’t wipe progress, we’ll be starting our Review in Progress of Firefall next week. But enough of all that, let’s talk a bit about why I think previous Firefall players who haven’t picked up the game in a while should at least keep their eye on Red 5’s flagship title.
After lots of tries, I really think Red 5’s nailed progression. As I stated in last week’s piece on the “Miracle Patch”, you now gain experience for whatever Battleframe you’re wearing and can build them up accordingly. Like Final Fantasy XI and XIV’s Job system, this is essentially playing one character with all of the classes available to you. Firefall’s been doing this bit for a while, but with the return of enemy dropped loot and the simplification of the crafting materials system suddenly the mix of straight up experience gain and gear progression means so much more.
Prior to the OBT patch, you’d just unlock weapons and Battleframe gear with experience. This was, as you can guess, kind of anticlimactic. Now, experience essentially upgrades different parts of your frame to allow you to use more powerful gear and skills. Then when you mix in the world drops and crafting, you have an SWG-esque system to actually make your character unique and more powerful. I’m still learning the ins and outs of crafting, but believe it or not it really seems to be one of the most robust and complex systems in any MMO right now. Time and further experimentation will tell if I’m correct or just blown away by my own noobishness.
Firefall’s Dynamic Content
Let’s not beat around the bush here. Dynamic content in any MMO is rarely truly dynamic. As much as I love me some Guild Wars 2, I know perfectly well that the game’s dynamic events are more like branching choose-your-own-adventures on a massive scale. They reset like anything else, and don’t ever permanently change the world. That’s kind of what Red 5 has here with their dynamic missions. Only instead of content set on a certain stage, where you can always expect something to be happening, random events pop up all over the map and as long as you’ve uncovered the area by linking up with the local SIN tower (think radar, and you’ve got an idea) you’ll be notified when a new event is happening in the area.
Sometimes they’ll be a disabled thumper that needs repairs, maybe a crashed vehicle that needs a diagnostic scan while you defend it from encroaching bandits, or you’ll get an ARES mission to take down a group of encamped gang members and their leader. Maybe the Chosen will start to invade an outpost and you’ll be tasked to take them out before they do so. Succeeding is usually in the entire player-base’s interest too, as if the Chosen overrun an outpost none of its benefits or safe-haven can be used by the players.
There’s more than that though. Firefall’s Achievement System has been completely overhauled with daily achievements, lifetime achievements, and more. Completing any of them will net you experience and rewards, and friendly ear-whispering Aero will give you a heads-up as to what’s on deck each time you log in. And speaking of logging in, to help with crafting Red 5’s giving out daily login rewards like any good F2P game would. You’ll get more rewards for each consecutive day played up to seven in a row.
And if that wasn’t enough for you to do, the devs have finally built on to the story set forth by all those videos and all of that manga put out over the months. As you play, you’ll progress the game’s main storyline. I’ve not gotten too far with this yet, as simply exploring a much more fleshed out world and doing missions has kind of distracted me. But I’m told it culminates in unlocking the game’s first 5-man dungeon, complete with dungeon-finder for those without any friends. We’ll explore that as we progress with the review.
Not All Sunshine and Roses
There really is a lot more to do these days in Firefall than there previously was. But the game’s still in need of a good deal of polish. I’ve found myself falling through the world, I’ve lost display of the entire geometry so that I can see through walls but not move properly, and problems with lag are ongoing and need to be addressed when you’re talking about a twitchy shooter. There are also oodles of locations in the game that are seemingly void of life: both player and NPC, and you can tell that it’s “under construction” because there’s no reason for its existence other than to serve as a ghost of Firefall-Future. On top of that, the new scaling content seems to work in some cases and then not in others. Thumping is now a much more soloable affair, as are most missions. But even a low difficulty Ares mission or Chosen invasion can be a really big pain in the ass because the enemy AI seems to have homing missiles and hit like mack trucks. Even those that are marked solo-able aren't really.
And yet, for the first time since I found my way into the beta many months ago, I’m genuinely intrigued to press on. It seems to have taken Red 5 a long time to figure out just where they and their players wanted Firefall to go, but I’m finally getting the sense that they have a clear vision. All of the ingredients of a great and novel MMO experience are there, it just needs time to bake. And if there’s one thing Firefall’s already had heaping helpings of, it’s time. Like others have stated in their previews, there's a lot of spit-shine that Firefall still needs. Quests are broken for folks left and right, the UI is unresponsive sometimes and even occasionally needs a reset when you lose your hotbar/calldowns, the Battleframe Garage keeps crashing on me, and lots of other typical "beta issues" arise. It's clear there's work to be done here.
I'm also wondering how much content is there to keep me going beyond the initial craze of exploring and shooting everything that moves. I also think that crafting and gear in general deserves a deeper tutorial, though I'm having fun just experimenting for a change. Either way, the cat is finally out of Red 5's bag, and there's no going back now. They're calling it an Open Beta, but by taking player's money and not wiping progress we've got to take a look at how Firefall is now, and make our recommendation on that product, not the one we hope it will become.
Stay tuned for our review in progress of Firefall, beginning next week.
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.
Read Bill’s previous Firefall content: