If gaming has taught me anything it's that a catastrophic, apocalyptic event will result in a sepia-toned world, and a few more Mohawk haircuts than usual. Steeped in the afterbirth of Fallout 3 and films such as Mad Max, Fallen Earth is pastiche to all things dystopia, as well as sandbox. Ultima Online has been and gone; Star Wars Galaxies closing its shop for good; the earthbound one-stop site for free form, non-linear gaming is to be found right here. It's brown, it's not exactly a looker, but it's free, and damn if it isn't enjoyable.
In case you missed my excellent opening gambit, Fallen Earth is a game largely composed of one palette: brown. Nothing screams "scorched earth" like a dustbowl environment, and an overarching colour chart of "dirt". This indie MMO follows the artistic trends of likewise games, this time transplanting its setting in and around the locales of the Grand Canyon. Mountainous ranges illuminate the distance, faltering settlements depress the landscape, and you and your trusty steed wander amongst it all carving a path of murder and craft.
Fallen Earth's visuals will strike anyone with indecision. On the one hand, the draw distance, scope, and ambition is impressive. The world feels huge, desolate, and as a foreboding as a cataclysmic atmosphere would, but it also lacks in several departments.
The game feels decisively "indie" in that while there is care and attention, there lacks a certain veneer to the graphics. Everything is serviceable, rather than attractive. Animations are stilted, textures passable, and characters workable. A lot of the game's charm is spoilt when fighting monsters that suffer from the "G.I Joe Syndrome" mentioned in our earlier review. Fallen Earth is what it is, and developed on a shoe-string budget in comparison to its online peers, you get from the title what you may expect: a halfway house between service and a whimpering attempt at beauty.
Where this game will certainly grab attention, is in its gameplay. Fallen Earth is a Sandbox MMORPG in the grand tradition of Ultima Online. Aside from a brief tutorial, the choice to develop your character, explore the map, and head in whatever direction is entirely your decision. There are no classes within the game, and so the freedom to grow a completely idiosyncratic avatar is yours. The extensive set of skills is selectable from an in-game menu, and attributes can be purchased by using Action Points, which are earned alongside traditional experience.
For anyone not familiar with the complex, and time consuming nature, of "old school" MMO-ing, Fallen Earth may come as something as a system shock. Precious little is explained to the budding newcomer, and while this may send many of you rubbing your hands with glee, anyone fresh out of anything traditional such as World of Warcraft will feel slightly lost.
But with this said, Fallen Earth is an excellent recreation of a player-driven, sandbox experience. The crafting system is expansive, with almost all items being man-made from the lowest bandage to the grandest vehicle. Like Eve Online, this is one game in which social interaction and teamwork pays off. Asking another human being for help is essential to the ensemble, and echoes the older sentiments of the genre.
Of course one aspect of Fallen Earth, which in the 2 years of its release continues to divide, comes in the form of combat. For those nostalgic players, this title delivers almost everything you need, including a lacklustre shooting mechanic. By shifting into an aggressive stance, you will ping-ping enemies in the head with weapons, only for them to run robotically towards you, swiping whatever firearm or melee item they might have. Everything feels so underpowered that combat becomes a stickler in what is an immensely satisfying experience.
With a little more attention and development, Fallen Earth could boast some of the best time-filtering entertainment around, but even 2 years later, shooting things still, for lack of a better word, sucks.
Fallen Earth is the best example of cross pollinating the Sandbox aspects of the genre, with the Theme Park style. The free form class/skill system allows for masses of creative freedom, while there are also the more traditional safety nets for those not used to such an open ended experience. Questing is here, albeit in its more "kill X of Y and head to Z" form, and in a way this helps round-out the experience to a wider audience above the core of sandboxers.
The inclusion of first-day mounts is also well-received. You are given a trusty horse to ride very early on in the game, and getting around the world facilitates the necessity of mounts. To add to this however, is the need to feed your animal or later vehicle with fuel, whether this is gas or food. It adds immersion to the game, whilst also being useful.
Fallen Earth builds upon a theme, expanding upon the extensive crafting systems of other likewise titles, bringing in the familiar, as well as adding to this with open world PvP events, and other such objectives. The innovation is more refinement than evolution, but it works, and creating a player-run market is never easy, and the developers have managed to pull off this tight balancing act.
Most of Fallen Earth's various systems and gaming nuances work very well, but there is a lack of dazzle and the desire to really impress within the game. Throughout, the game from the visuals to the UI, there is never anything more than workable, which is fine, but you can't help but wish the developers would go that extra mile aesthetically. The compromise here is an impressively vast and engrossing game, which is a pretty good deal, but tabs such as "repairing" a horse just seem a little ridiculous, as well as enemies that stand around in bulk just waiting to be killed. Polished to the point of function, but not much else.
Post apocalyptic settings are usually brimming with content, and Fallen Earth is no different. From a fairly lengthy process of skill building, masses of crafting, endgame, and PvP, there is a lot to keep you occupied with.
A lot of players will bee-line towards the player versus player content, and this is where the game shines. Factional warfare is available, as well as Conflict Towns in which teams fight for control of certain settlements. By allying yourself to a certain faction within the game, your experience will differ depending on the goals set, but open-PvP can also be attempted in certain areas where it is a free-for-all blood bath. Whether you're into player combat, or just want to craft and skill the night away, there are plenty of reasons to stick around in Fallen Earth.
It is always nice to find communities within MMORPGs, and Fallen Earth boasts a helpful and active population. The "Help" chat channel is always buzzing with Q&A, and veteran players will, in my experience, stop and give a helping hand to those in need. The addition of the F2P has also brought with it a bounty of new players, each as confused as the other, so fumbling through those opening stages will never be lonely. With an active YouTube fan base, as well as a number of guides, the community of Fallen Earth is if nothing else, productive, helpful, and engaging.
Trying to understand the various loop holes and advantages of free-to-play is always hard. In a nutshell, Fallen Earth's subscription model is fairly comprehensive in its approach. There is no gated content, no segregation between the "haves" and "have-nots", but there are cosmetic unlockables and micro transactions. To many this will be a red rag to a bull, but aside from a slower rate of action point/experience gain I found this system to be fairer than most. You get what you expect; free content to an extent with limitations, and a pay-for option which encompasses the core experience; and Fallen Earth is truly a great experience.
Fallen Earth is an impressive, enjoyable, and engrossing trip through online, post-apocalypse settings. While the game has some fairly glaring downfalls, it is also an entirely recommendable experience. With a few nudges in development towards combat, questing, and a visual lick of paint, this could easily be one of the best MMORPG titles out there; just a few unfortunate things are holding it back. The best post-apocalyptic MMO around, and one of the front-runners for the Sandbox crown, an easily recommendable title.