Behind the Curve: Firefall

So a couple years ago I played the third person, open world, MMO shooter, Firefall beta by Red 5 Studios.  It was fun, but suffered from a number of issues (including lack of content and multiple concept redesigns). It was fun, but not particularly noteworthy. When I was looking for a summer game to play (and as we all know, free is better), Firefall cropped up on my Steam feed. To be frank, I had forgotten about Firefall and so I took the dive again to see what had changed from the beta to the release and I’m (mostly) happily surprised.

Jetpacks – Probably the number 1 reason Firefall is at all successful. Having a jetpack constantly in a shooter is such a freeing experience. I will sometimes stubbornly climb a mountain with my jetpack instead of going around it simply because I can! Combat with jetpacks is absolutely intense with projectiles and powers flying every which way. I still sometimes forget I have a jetpack and amazingly that doesn’t ruin the game. Red 5 made a solid shooter and then added jetpacks to it.

Content – There’s Content! Probably one of the biggest issues with the beta (and understandably so) was lack of content. Firefall is a game where there is always something to do (which makes it a good game to play with friends). Around the world random events are constantly spawning (scaled to server population statistics so there’s never a “too many players, not enough events” effect). There are also static “job boards” that have a selection of missions to run in addition to instanced missions and raids. There’s also a zone purely dedicated to the Players vs Chosen experience that was the overwhelming theme in the beta (that game play centers around capturing, controlling and defending key buildings).

Group vs Solo – I’ve done both in Firefall and I have to say that it’s definitely a game that gets better with more people. Events dynamically scale to the number of players present and classes have their own roles to play on a team. That’s not to say that a player can’t solo and have a good time (I did that for a while), but the group experience is a good one!

Crafting – I love crafting in games, especially when it enables a player to tinker and make exactly the gear they need and Firefall does a respectable job of letting me tinker some without reaching the “I glued all the prefixes and suffixes onto the best gun, lol”-point. It does require quite a bit of gameplay and time to get to the point of making what you want (but it it does feel good) and endgame gear can come from crafting OR drops (which I think is an overall good thing).

Now for the not so happy parts of an open-world, jetpacking, MMO shooter.

Lag (of the connection and MEH FPS kind) – I have a reasonable computer that can run most everything and I normally bottom out graphics (for a couple reasons, the most interesting is that lower resolution textures generally results in higher contrast making it easier to see and react to things). Firefall manages to have comedic graphical lag when things get busy and points to Red 5 for making things busy. In larger scale events with bosses, particle effects and tons of players the game lags, it happens. The game also lags if anything else is trying to access the hard drive, anything downloads, or you sneeze. I played some last night with a full group (including a Red 5 dev, they actually hang out with players, its amazing!) where two of the players couldn’t really play due to lag (one was a shoddy connection, the other had Nvidia driver issues). Firefall is comically sensitive to bad connections and being an action shooter, even a little lag can kill you.

Progression – The current progression in this game is rough. When a player starts, they have access to 5 “accord” battleframes that are supposed to represent the 5 core classes (medic, heavy, recon, engineer and assault). When you reach level 40 with a frame, you can unlock any advanced frame that is supposed to represent a more specialized role of the core frames. For example, the engineer advanced frames are the Bastion (who specializes in deployable turrets) and the Electron (which specializes in bubble shields). The kick in the teeth is that each of those two frames have a few unique abilities AND are able to equip all of the basic frame’s abilities and weapons (each frame has a unique primary weapon and a selection of special powers that define the class). The problem I have with this is that when I group with a new friend, I run around in my low level advanced frame spamming all of the cool basic abilities and replacing the lame ones with my frame’s unique powers (for example, my buddy started on the accord engineer frame, I was playing the bastion. I could deploy the heavy turret he could AND three mini-turrets) just because I was a beta player and had those frames unlocked already (whoo! beta powah!).

Anyways, I would recommend giving Firefall a spin. Due to its rather trouble development history, it did launch rather quietly, but it is FREE (and not pay2win) with all content accessible to player for FREE (which is something special I feel).

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