Let me begin this series of articles by stating the obvious: yes, we know that Firefall is still referring to itself as in the Open Beta Phase. Despite our admitting this, we’re sure there are plenty of people who won’t understand why we’re reviewing the game now. But here’s the long and short of it: Red 5’s freshman entry into the MMO space is both taking money, and no longer wiping progress for its players. For all intents and purposes: it’s live. We’ve talked to Red 5’s PR, and they understand why we’re going forward with the review despite their own internal use of the Open Beta term. Face it folks, this one’s a released product, and we owe it to you and to ourselves to treat it as such.
Now then... where to begin? Let me put it this way: Firefall’s the kind of game that doesn’t hold your hand, and it requires a good bit of self-experimentation. Red 5’s crafted some tutorial videos, and there’s a decent very basic introduction to the game and how it works after you create your character, but by and large you’ll only get as much out of Firefall as you put into the game. For some, this will be a glorious callback to the days of MMOs' youth. For others this little facet will likely drive them away. But if you put forth the effort to research crafting, how the Battleframe progression works, how events and Chosen invasions affect the world, you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised by what you find in this futuristic version of Brazil.
This week we’ll take a look at basic battleframes and their differences, playing the random content, and traversing the world. We’ll save crafting and Battleframe progression for next week, and then later of course we’ll talk about the long quest for unlocking the game’s newly added Melding Pockets and one and only (for now) 5-man instance, and finally the match-made PVP, which has taken a curious backseat as of late... likely because the open world is so much more entertaining. With open world PVP on the way “soon”, in a lot of ways Firefall reminds me of an FPS version of EVE. If only Dust played more like this (and was available on the PC), I’d be playing CCP's game too.
There are five basic types of Battleframes (classes), and any player has access to any of the five basic versions just by visiting the Battleframe Garage in any player hub. It’s like FFXI’s job system in that you can level up one frame, and then switch and level up another at any time. There are no character levels, and you won’t be watching an XP bar in Firefall, but each frame earns XP by completing tasks and fighting mobs like any other game. Then you can kit it out by spending XP and crafting resources, along with crafting new weapons and gear for each. There’s really an unprecedented amount of customization for each frame, and even two weeks into the Open Beta I’m still learning about the system and marvelling at just how deep it goes.
The five basic frames are as follows:
I’ve toyed around mostly with the Assault and the Dreadnaught, settling into the Astrek Firecat (a higher tier assault frame) to really focus on for now. I’ve seen Engineers do some amazing things though with turrets, especially when defending a captured point or thumping for materials (more on that next week). The Astrek Firecat (along with any frame beyond the five base “Accord” frames) can be bought by either spending Red 5 Beans (the real-money currency) or by saving up Pilot Points earned from leveling up existing frames. I splurged using my Commander Pack beans and bought the Firecat. I’m really glad I did, to be honest.
The Firecat has insane abilities for the pyro in us all. One heats up the air around you and sets fire to anything that steps too close, another blazes a trail behind you setting fire to the ground. The latter is great for escaping while burninating anything that dares follow. There’s also an explosive “Thermal Wave” skill that sets fire to anything in its path, passing through targets on its way. It’s great when enemies are lined up. Every frame has a passive skill too, and the Firecat’s Incinerator is pretty handy: placing a DOT on anything my main weapon or abilities hit. And speaking of my main weapon, the Firecat uses a version of the Assault's Plasma Cannon. The Thermal Cannon “fires a super-heated plasma projectile which bursts into flame on impact, covering a wide area with fire. The alternate fire option for the Thermal Cannon is a three-round Triple Shot, which fire in a straight trajectory and ignite the target in flame for a brief period.”
In short, I burn things. I burn lots of things. I burn all of the things. My only complaint is that visually, there's not a lot of actual fire with these abilities. They're visually kind of bland.
How I Play Firefall
This is one of the contentious parts for people who have tried the newly Open Beta’d Firefall. Some say there’s a ton to do, while others say there’s nothing to do. I think both parties are right, in a way. Firefall’s not a typical theme-park MMO where you log in and go about questing or dungeoning your way through a stream of content on your way to a level cap. There is no real “goal” or “endgame” to Firefall. When you log in, it’s up to you to find something to do. There are daily achievements to work towards, over a dozen Battleframes to improve individually, an incredibly deep crafting system to explore (which we’ll touch on next week), resources to thump for, instanced PVP, a constant stream of randomly generated events, ARES missions, Melding Tornadoes, and Chosen Invasions. If you log into Firefall and are unclear what it is you’re supposed to be doing, you’ve likely got to wipe your mind clean of the quest hub mentality, and just set out to explore the world and see what you find.
There are problems with this system of play, however. There really are a limited number of random world events. You’ll spend most of your time either repairing crashed Thumpers, driving aways Chosen or Bandits from some facility, or fighting off the much more impressive Melding Tornadoes. The Melding is the mysterious substance that’s engulfed the surrounding area of the game’s main map and must be pushed back over time by the players. There are pockets that are open for exploration in other locales than Brazil (like Diamondhead Hawai’i or Antarctica) but we’ll get to those in another article. The world itself may seem really small too when you look at the map, but as you find yourself trying to get to an event before it ends you’ll realize that a combination of varying elevations and terrain make travel in Firefall complicated.
I’ve got the Commander’s LGV (motorcycle), but even that has trouble navigating the wilds of Brazil in this post-apocalyptic paradise. And while you can craft glider launching pads (they are exactly as they sound), or even flat out buy a reusable one, it’s not constant flight and only speeds up your movement through a limited space. You can craft a bike of your own, and I’d recommend figuring this part of the system out first if you don’t have a Commander pack version, because they do come in handy. There are transport ships that you can catch which act much like airships or boats in WoW, but honestly it’s more fun to just travel around yourself. Movement in Firefall is really quite awesome and favors the explorer, I just wish there were more fast-travel options between player-hubs to make getting to and from events easier. Sometimes the nearest event is 1,000 meters away, and it’s not as easy as you think to get there before said event ends.
But this is my really long-winded way of saying there’s plenty of stuff to do in Firefall, so long as you’re ready to take ownership of your own adventure, and not wait for someone to put up an exclamation point and tell you how many rats to kill. My only real worry is how long it’ll be before I’m sick of doing these events, or when I've progressed all the Battleframes I care about. Then what will I do? Hopefully by then the world PVP between Armies (guilds) will be in, or maybe we’ll be pushing the Melding back more. And then there’s always the Blackwater Anomaly instance, but come on... we’ll need more than one 5-man dungeon to keep players of that sort of content busy. Blackwater, and the complex process to unlock it, is something we’ll talk about later as I’m still working that out myself.
This one’s run on longer than I expected, so we’ll end here for this week. I went into Firefall’s open beta worried. I was worried that Red 5 wouldn’t have enough on its plate to keep me entertained. I was wrong, at least for now. I’ve joined a small Army of enthusiastic players, I’ve found a Battleframe I really want to explore and expand on, and I’m anxious to work my way through the game’s admittedly sparse narrative to the Blackwater Anomaly dungeon. I have fun every time I log into Firefall, and sometimes I log in for a quick jaunt and wind up playing for hours. That’s a good sign.
There was a patch earlier this week that fixed a lot of annoying bugs (my calldown items are staying put, yay!), but there’s still a lot of polish needed in the UI and making it responsive. Additionally, I know I’m crazy to want to spend money, but I want to see Red 5 give me more reason to do so beyond my initial Commander purchase. I’d buy access to more “Melding Pockets” or more Frames in a heartbeat. In a lot of ways it feels like the hard part for the Firefall team was figuring out just what direction this game should go. Now that they have, there’s an even harder part ahead: giving players more.
Have you been playing Firefall? Let us know your thoughts on the game so far in the comments.
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.