Red5's sci-fi MMO Firefall has been in beta for a very long time, recently hitting that open-beta milestone. So long, in fact, that when I started playing the closed beta in earnest last month, it had transformed into an entirely different game since my initial glimpse of it a year ago.
This substantial overhaul reflects the changes within the MMO genre itself. Static quests, classes, and progressing by leveling up and unlocking new abilities have become, dare I say it, passé. People now clamour for dynamism and more non-linear progression, and this is exactly what Firefall attempts to provide.
But I'm not here to dissect the evolution of a genre. I'm here to tell you the story of Colonel Grumbler, the moustached adventurer, avid miner, turret-obsessed engineer, and piña colada fanatic. What awaits you is a tale of flying through a Brazilian paradise, getting in fights with tornadoes, and unrepentant ravaging of the planet's mineral wealth. Excitement abound.
Developer: Red5 Studios
Publisher: Red5 Studios
It wasn't long after basic training -- which consisted of selecting the best moustache, shooting things, and listening to a disembodied female voice drone on and on -- that I found myself on a shuttle on my way to the sanctuary paradise of Copacabana, being serenaded by Rupert Holmes.
"If you like piña coladas," he began "and getting caught in the rain..." I do, Rupert, I really do. "If you're not into yoga, and you have half a brain..." It was like he was peering into my soul. "If you like making love at midnight in the dunes on the cape..." I'm not fussy about where I make love, but that does sound splendid. "Then I'm the love that you've looked for, write to me and escape." Frankly, I was ready to ditch this whole jetpack, mining nonsense and elope, but no sooner than the thought had entered my mind, the shuttle docked, and the promise of adventure took hold of me.
There's something remarkably intoxicating about being given a world to play in and very few restrictions. With open-world sandbox-like experiences becoming more common, it threatens to become mundane, but -- for me, at least -- those first few hours filled with exploring the limitations of a new open-world are incredibly exciting. Firefall teaches players the absolute basics, and then simply lets them off the leash, to do whatever they want to do. But first, I wanted to get to grips with the role system.
I'm an engineer. This is a choice I made back at basic training, but I want to emphasize that it's a choice that I'm capable of overturning at any time -- I'm not shackled to my profession. Profession is probably the wrong word actually, just as class or job are too. As a new recruit of the Accord, I'm a capable fella that can turn his hand to any number of roles, all encapsulated by the exoskeleton battleframes.
Battleframes can be switched out with a quick visit to the garage, and the basic choices cover a good range of playstyles, from the heavily-armored dreadnaught that can pummel enemies with mortar fire, to the biotech suit, a medical battleframe that can poison foes while healing allies. I bloody love turrets, however, so I stuck with the engineer most of the time.
Though I carry two weapons -- a handy grenade launcher and a submachine gun, which can be fired from both a first and third-person perspective -- it's my deployable doohickeys that bring all the boys to the yard. Grotesque insects trying to jump at your face? No problem, buddy. I'll just drop this giant blue shield in front of you and save the day, because I'm just that kind of guy. A squad of Chosen trying to break up your party? Don't worry about it. I'll just construct a huge, manned turret and blow them all to kingdom come.
Grotesque insects? Chosen? What am I talking about, I hear you ask. Well, it's the old story of asteroid meets planet, asteroid falls in love with planet, the two hook up, and humanity is nearly wiped out. Civilization as we knew it is gone, and the landscape has been completely altered. To make everything worse, a spaceship crashed to Earth, devastating yet more of the world, and somehow allowing an alien race known as the Chosen to invade.
But enough of all that doom and gloom, I've got a jetpack and it's rad. It's even radder when one has a buddy to fly around with, and so I quickly get into the spirit of the second "M" in MMO, and meet up with a chum so we can brave the world as a duo.
I don't like being told what to do, which works out rather well in Firefall, as it eschews the typical "go here and do this for XP" drag that has defined so many games in the genre. Instead, it was up to me how I wanted to progress. The first thing I wanted to do, like any hot-blooded chap, was get in on some of that sexy mining action.
Chum in tow, we hovered around the place, looking for a quiet spot to start wrecking the planet. Absent x-ray vision, we found ourselves incapable of figuring out what part of the stunning -- yet, at this time, rather small -- world would yield the best minerals, but luckily we had a hammer that could do that for us.
Striking the ground with a hammer revealed its hidden mineral wealth, causing a holographic signpost to pop up, showing the different resources that could be gathered, their rarity, and the percentage of each resource in that area. After only a few minutes, we struck gold. Well, carbon and silicate, and lots of it.
The second phase of pillaging the world's treasure trove of resources began by calling down a thumper: a large, towering device that falls from the sky, and slowly begins to pound the ground, scoffing up all of its goodies. Thump, thump, thump -- it's all very rhythmic and soothing, until the monsters arrive. They're drawn to the thumper, you see, and fling themselves at it with wild abandon. Protecting our greedy machine became our highest priority -- with me laying down turrets and shields, and my ally showering the beasties with bullets.
There are two things you should know about thumpers -- and I discovered both the hard way. The first is that the "WARNING" hologram that surrounds the mining area is not just for show. I thought it would be most amusing to stand right in the center, and just watch the thumper plummet to Earth. And, you know, it was fun. Until it landed and turned my body into a mess of broken bones and gore.
The second thing that you should know is that there are two types of thumpers, one for a single adventurer or a duo, and one for a group. The latter harvests more resources, but it also brings forth an unrelenting horde of monstrosities. Being brave and, I confess, very stupid, my comrade and I made the mistake of using the group thumper on one occasion, and spent the next few minutes desperately fighting for our lives as the whole area was swallowed up by a never-ending stream of mutated creatures. We did not survive.
Cooperation is the name of the game in Firefall, and conveniently, the structure of the dynamic missions and harvesting makes it far easier to work together, instead of PvE devolving into competition. After our thumping misadventure, my chum and I discovered several other thumper sites on the map. These had all been called down by other players, and we were able to assist them without joining a group, and still got a share of the resources.
It's not all mining and slaughtering the local wildlife, though. No siree. There's a war going on between the Chosen and the Accord, and it is one seemingly without end. We were on our way to a large port in the south. Both of us had heard tales of a shop where one could purchase a tiny tiki-man with a flaming head who would follow you around for eternity. It sounded like a hoot, so we strapped on gliders -- one of the three means of transportation, which includes jetpacking and taking the shuttle -- and sped down the coast.
We landed in a warzone. Explosions rang in our ears, bullets flew past our vulnerable heads, and all around us were squads of Chosen, pouring out of drop-pods, being summoned by alien machines, and hiding behind translucent energy fields. Outside the walls and within the city, people were fighting and dying by the truck-load.
Such events are commonplace, though this was one of the larger, rarer ones. Dotted all over the land are smaller outposts that need to be defended or recaptured, but these large city assaults are the ultimate expression of this tug of war between the Chosen and the Accord. As such, they require a substantial number of players to win, and if the defenders fall, then the players become the besiegers.
We had little time for R&R after saving the port, and by the time we had saved the day, night had fallen, and a report came in on the radio: a strange weather anomaly was moving in on our position, and sure enough, a giant purple tornado was causing quite the stir. It wasn't a normal tornado, of course, and not just because tornadoes aren't normally this pretty. It was artificial in nature, with a mechanical core and floating escorts.
Destroying the twister necessitated destroying its mechanical source, which is easier said that done. Wildlife poured out of the rainforest, teaming up with the anomaly, and getting close to the tornado flung me up into the air, depositing me far from the battle and off a cliff. When I finally returned, my new friends had almost defeated the core, but this would only be the beginning of the evening's action.
Next to where the tornado had been defeated, a portal appeared. Because nothing bad ever comes from stepping through an unexplored tear into a new reality, we all leaped in, eager to investigate a new realm. What a terrible mistake. A Lovecraftian nightmare greeted us, an arena at the heart of some fever dream, with chunks of alien crystal erupting out of the ground, and a veritable army of eldrich horrors sprinting towards us.
A fight is not how I would describe it. Struggling to survive in a reality that shouldn't exist is more apropos. The last thing I saw was a blinding light, and then nothing. I was dead, eventually resurrected far away in the safe confines of the Accord base at Sanctuary.
From the stunning coastal vistas and verdant jungles of Brazil, to an alien hellscape -- I had traveled far, and collected a fair amount of resources and experience. Upgrading my battleframe is anything but simple, but the payoff is that it's considerably more engaging than selecting a new ability upon leveling up.
I wandered over to the crafting station, and before I could build anything, I had to refine all of my resources. Any work done here takes time, so it's often worth doing this when you're about to log off or go on yet another misadventure. Resources refined, I finally set about putting together new weapons, improved jetpacks, and some upgraded turrets. Where crafting can often be ignored -- though it's rarely advised -- in most MMOs, it's pretty much essential in Firefall.
The list of possible components and upgrades is absurdly large -- and at this point it's a bit hard to navigate -- and begs to be experimented with. Building a weapon isn't as simple as merely selecting the gun and clicking "manufacture." I collected and refined the basic resources, built separate, essential components, and then added extra non-essential parts which would further increase the item's capabilities.
Before attaching these new weapons and components to my suit, I had to upgrade the internal workings of the battleframe itself. New weapons and augmentations require more energy, more cores, and increase the mass of the frame, and this is where XP comes into play. Experience points can be spent on adding more cores and making the suit more energy efficient.
Firefall is one of the few MMOs where developing a "build" actually involves construction, and the work that I put in to upgrading my suit added greater meaning to the incremental increase in my damage output and survivability. These aren't just numbers and stats, they are the culmination of actual mechanical tinkering and time spent gathering and manufacturing resources and components. In this sense, every player is an engineer, regardless of what battleframe they favor.
With new weapons, an improved suit, and my little tiki-man friend, it was time to test my metal in a battle arena. No more fighting Chosen, insects, and bad weather -- other players would be my prey.
You can check out my PVP impressions soon. I have to get back to combing my magnificent moustache.