Just How Much Has Changed for Launch? A Lot.
If your first reaction to reading the title of this article was, “Wait, Firefall hasn’t been released yet?” I don’t think anyone would blame you. Originally announced way back in 2010, this MMO shooter has been struggling for the past few years to finally grasp hold of its original vision. From the overly convoluted original progression system, to a hampered PvP mode, nearly all facets of the game have undergone extreme renovations in the past couple years.
With its Open Beta period originally starting just over a year ago, it would be no exaggeration to say that the game on the verge of releasing to the public is a much different game than what it once was. In the past year alone, the entire foundation of the game has been changed, brand new questing systems have been implemented, the company’s CEO has changed, and just about everything else you could imagine has struck Red 5 Studios in some way, shape, or form – but that isn’t stopping them.
Getting to Know Firefall All Over Again
This past week I, along with a handful of other journalists from various other sites, were invited to Red 5’s studio in Laguna Hills, CA. We were welcomed with the information that this was in fact the first in-studio event that they had ever held, so excitement was definitely in the air surrounding the game’s impending launch status. After introductions and other requisite formalities, I settled down on a couch in front of a large screen with my notepad in preparation for the presentation.
James Macauley, Red 5’s current acting CEO, strode out in front of us and plopped down near the screen at a computer. As he booted up the launch build of the game, he walked us through the origin of the world just like it was a brand new game.
Firefall, the game, takes place 100-some-odd years into the future, roughly 50-60 years after a catastrophic meteor shower known as the, you guessed it, Firefall. This shower killed most living creatures on Earth, but led to a unifying effect that brought all of humanity together. Once faster than light space travel was developed, the ship known as the Arclight attempted the feat and failed, crashing back down to earth. In the failure though, a huge energy rift occurred that led to what is known as the “melding” and an outpouring of the alien species called the “chosen”. You begin the game as an ARES Initiative Battleframe Pilot – that’s the setup.
The back-story isn’t really any different this time around, but the mere fact that James spent a good chunk of time establishing the lore was a great sign. This is a constant theme I noticed throughout the presentation – every quest and activity is accompanied with well-voiced narration and details.
Tripling the PvE Content
The most striking thing about the game’s launch build for PvE is that the land mass is literally tripling. On launch, two brand new continents, one for mid-level and for end-game, will be available. Sertao is the mid-level desert continent with tons of brand new things to do and see. While I did not spend any time here during my hands-on time with the game later, James showed a handful of areas in the new zone during his presentation.
The best thing on display here, something that will exist throughout the entire game, is the newfound focus on dynamic content. While traveling across sand dunes, monsters would spawn out of the ground and start attacking, small villages could be overrun, thumpers could be called down for enemies to start mining for materials, and a whole host of other things.
In addition to those variables, the jobs you get on the new ARES job board are dynamic as well. You could take the same job three times and each time the game will push you towards new regions and areas to complete those objectives. In this way, the system works similarly to Skyrim’s radiant questing system.
Fast forward to my hands-on time later that day, and I was able to check out the end-game continent of Firefall, which is Devil’s Tusk. This entire region is overrun with lava and volcanic activity and just venturing a few moments outside of a safe area will immediately throw you into combat or an event. While exploring and fighting the challenging enemies with my level-capped character (level 40) I was reminded of Guild Wars 2’s Orr.
Since all 16 battleframes are leveled individually and can be accessed without paying a single penny, the dynamic content and ARES job board systems are absolutely crucial. It’s impossible to tell based on my couple of hours with the game whether or not they will work as intended, but the game is showing great promise overall. I fear that, despite the “dynamic” nature of the content, it will start to grow old once you get a few of your battleframes to their max level. If you’re just not into PvP, it could be easy to quickly clear all of the content that appeals to you.
If you ever tried playing Firefall in the past, then there’s no doubt that you were treated to a confusing garage of options. You had to min/max each individual piece of your battleframe and it often felt more complicated that opening the hood of your car. Rather than scrap the system entirely, Red 5 decided to redesign this system to add layers of complexity as the game went on, rather than bombarding you with it all at the start.
Now, once again echoing ideas from Guild Wars 2’s trait system and other forms of alternate advancement in games, Firefall has introduced perks. As you level up, complete achievements, and finish content, you will unlock different augmentations known as perks. Every perk has a certain perk point cost attributed to it, as your character also has a perk point cap as well.
For example, let’s say you had 10 perks unlocked, 5 of which cost 2 points, 3 cost 4 points, and 2 cost 5 points. You would then have to mix and match your perks without going over your 10 point limit until you got the right kind of build that you wanted. Different perks are geared towards different battleframes, but all perks are available for ever frame as well. The system adds a lot of personalization with dozens to choose from.
Despite the issues that the game has faced in the past, Red 5 has always been great about listening to their community. As a result of that, the game will release with a ton of modability in terms of features and the overall user interface. Armies (guilds) have a huge 500 member cap and Firefall will even include built-in voice chat for parties.
Red 5 has gone great lengths to ensure that the server technology is top-notch and limits the amount of latency. In order to achieve this, the game has a dynamic cloud server system that puts up and takes down server clusters as needed and actually calculates player inputs by relaying them “in the past” to reduce lag. According to their tests it works great, but we won’t really know how it fares until thousands of people around the globe are all playing simultaneously. They also seem to be very focused on ensuring that the game is not associated with a “pay-to-win” mentality by offering only convenience and cosmetic items, not anything that could grant increased power.