This week, we’ll talk a bit about why my playtime in Firefall has slowed down as of late. Quite simply, despite how much fun I wind up having when I log in, there’s not a lot to Red 5’s freshman offering that hooks me and tells me I need to come back. I often log in at odd times in the morning, which is actually kind of nice. The world is always in one of two states: either completely overrun by the Chosen (the invading NPC force that captures POIs on the map) or completely void of events leaving me little to do. In either case, I go exploring. There’s something oddly cathartic about seeing Copacabana a little empty, when it’s often bustling with people during the later primetime hours. But there’s the catch: if the world is overrun by Chosen in the middle of the night, there aren’t likely enough players around to make a dent in their defenses. And if it’s the opposite, and I login to find no Chosen but also no events, then my impetus to rove about the world and find something to do is cut off.
The key to any game is giving players a reason to keep coming back for more, and that’s truest of our MMOs. Firefall’s current Open Beta status aside, it’s clear that this game needs more work. Yes I know, Red 5’s made it very clear in all of its very forward facing interactions with the community that Firefall is indeed still in beta. But it’s taking players’ money all the same, and as much as I appreciate their candid nature, I can’t help my mixed emotions when it comes to their game. I love the action, I love the ideas behind it, I adore the progression and crafting, but Firefall still has a ways to go in terms of polish and content before it’s something I want to dive into completely with reckless abandon for my free time. I’d heartily recommend it to all of you still, because it’s absolutely free and you won’t find yourself needing to spend a dime for any of the game’s features or content. And yet, despite my misgivings about its work-in-progress status, I’d still boot up Firefall over Defiance or Dust, or even Planetside 2 when it comes to MMO shooters because I believe it’s more fun than all of its brethren. But there are good number of features that are half-baked as of yet.
Socially, Firefall is a mixed bag. There are guilds or “Armies”, and you’ll occasionally see these folks out and about playing together. You can even look through a list of existing Armies, apply for one that strikes your fancy, and so forth. The problem is, even with Armies having a current maximum size of 20 people, there are only a few Armies that I can see which have more than 4 or 5 players. What this means is that, unless you find that perfect group of people for you, you’ll likely wind up online with an Army of one or two people at your side for activities. And as poetic as that is for US Military recruiting videos, I’m pretty sure that an Army should consist of more people and actually feel like an Army.
Perhaps it’s a limitation of the UI (it’s still sluggish and difficult to navigate), but Firefall feels like the kind of game where you’d be far better off just randomly shouting in chat to look for someone to group up with than to actually organize. Because chances are it’ll be easier. I often see players just using zone chat to direct each other to a location, invasion, or find groups. And despite a somewhat small overall map size, I can say that I’ve rarely seen more than a dozen or so people in any place at any time. Firefall doesn’t have traditional servers, but I know people are playing because my friend’s list is often lit up. But that’s the trouble with a game that uses the “instances” method of housing everyone on a shared server. You wind up with friends in one instance, friends in another, and you all have to join a group and /joinleader to meet up. It’s clunky, and defeats the purpose of these games feeling like a world.
In terms of difficulty, I just want to rant a little bit about the current state of event scaling in Firefall. To put it bluntly, it doesn’t work… yet. This has been noted by the developers, and they’ll be the first ones to tell you it’s high on their priority list to address during the open beta. But in a game that’s all about dynamic events, it’s more than a little frustrating to log in, see something wicked (Chosen) taking down a SIN tower and not be able to do anything about it because the event doesn’t scale down to the amount of people in an area. Right now, Firefall’s events and invasions are pretty much all “throw large amounts of enemies at a location” and then pray there are enough players nearby to fight them back. This works wonderfully when there are a lot of players around, but absolutely horrendously when there are only a few.
I don’t want this week’s article to seem negative about Firefall. I’ve had more fun in Red 5’s game than I have in most any other recent shooter MMO to hit the market. But since I’ve spent the past three weeks essentially praising its systems and unique design, I thought it might be a good idea to shine a light on some weaker points. The above-mentioned chinks in the armor, the sluggish nature of the UI’s response time, plus the lack of a solid fast-travel system to navigate the world quickly are what are really holding Firefall back. Word is that the team’s goal is to release a brand new Battleframe every month in the long run, which is probably the best thing ever because it’s the Battleframe progression and tweaking that makes Firefall so fun as it is now. But I hope that there’s a lot more content to explore with all those new gadgets too.
Stay tuned for next week’s final review. For now, how about you? Are you playing Firefall? Did you watch this past week’s ESL PVP tournament? Let us know 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.