Much Better, But Still In Progress
All MMOs are a work in progress long after launch, I get that. But Firefall from Red5 Studios is a particularly special case. Years and years into development, the game has seen complete re-works on several occasions, the most recent of which came after the founder and CEO Mark Kern was removed from his position. Development went dark, and Red5 went hardcore and all-in towards making a game in which they all believed.
What kind of game is Firefall? It’s a full on MMORPG with third and first-person shooting mechanics. There are dungeons, quests, a main storyline, an open world PVP territorial conflict, complex crafting, and Red5 promises to keep the story progressing and the world revealing via the user’s own decisions. In short, Firefall is now a unique world and game experience, wrapped more closely around traditional MMO conventions. And as odd as it sounds, it’s a better game for this sort of assimilation. But it’s not quite 100% where it needs to be.
I was originally too kind in my assessment of Firefall, giving it a 7.7 rating when it hit open beta. In hindsight, I was rating the game on what it wanted to be, rather than what it was at the time. Back then, FF was more in line with the score I gave Defiance (6.6), but let’s just say I hate numbers and I still stand by the words I wrote back then. Firefall is and was a game filled with immense potential and deep systems. These days though, with the launch version, Red5’s flagship game is far more engaging, largely because the team’s worked incredibly hard to craft a narrative and add direction alongside the deep and layered crafting systems.
I won’t spend too much time explaining thumping as it’s largely unchanged, though crafting’s been reworked to be far more approachable. It’s still the best way to get the items and gear you want. Plus you can slot your weapons, skills, and so forth. These add to the power of your weapons, and your Power Rating affects your overall DPS and ability to lay waste to enemies. It’s probably the most important stat in the game, so be sure to always go for items with a higher power score. It’s kind of like a Gear Score, but you’re not going to get gated out of content because of it. You can still tweak your armor color and looks with decals, and a great many more cosmetic items have been added to make you stand out. It could still use more to make you look less like “generic human #1000” in terms of faces and hair, and I’d love to see a custom dye system to allow me to color each part of my Battleframe, but there’s enough there for now to let you make your character your own.
Like FFXI or FFXIV, one character is pretty much all you’ll need too. The world is handily divided into level-specific areas, so you’ll always know where to go. Plus they’ve drastically increased the overall landmass of Firefall, which you’ll now comb through from level 1-40 and beyond. Your classes are your “Battleframes” and you can swap them at the Battleframe Garage anytime you want to try another class. Each levels separately from the next and gear you find and make can be shared among them. There are five basic frames to start with, and the rest are unlocked either with Pilot Tokens or real money, or by converting in-game currency to Red Beans (cash shop currency) and buying them that way.
Each time you level one frame to 40, you’re given enough Pilot Tokens to unlock another Battleframe, so the patient will never have to spend a dime to unlock classes. The folks with money to spare or those looking to support Red5 can buy them with real-world cash. And since the five basic frames can do just as much damage and kill just as effectively as the others, I would not refer to this system as Pay-to-Win. You can’t buy better skill at shooters, and a less skilled person will always fall to a pro (or a hacker). Though maybe I’m lucky, I haven’t seen much hacking going on in Firefall yet. I hope it stays this way, and maybe some other players can report on their findings in the PVP zone.
The visuals of Firefall are still a mixed bag. You’ll either love the anime cel-shaded look, or you’ll hate it. Personally, it’s grown on me. I still think faces can look weird, but the vistas, monsters, effects, and overall world are absolutely gorgeous especially on higher settings. The performance is usually solid too, unless you’re having internet issues or the Red5 servers are. Then things become increasingly frustrating as since FF is an FPS, gameplay becomes impossible. Thankfully, the server issues are fewer and farther in between, and the only real lag I see most days is the lag between mission steps on the Job Board.