A modest melding of FPS and MMO elements
Firefall is a game that has seemed to get a lot of press over the past few years, often for the wrong reasons. Whether it's word of troubled staff, protests, or delays, most Firefall news isn't good news.
But alas, as we all know, the true test of a game's strength is how it plays on its own merits, when it's fully released. After testing it out for a few weeks I can safely say that Firefall hasn't blown me away, but it has laid a decent foundation to build upon in the future.
First things first, Firefall is a shooter (both with optional first- or third-person camera-work). So how does it handle? Quite well, actually. Movement is fast and fluid, and aiming feels incredibly smooth within the confines of the visual style. It feels more Unreal-like than a lot of games on the current market, which is easily a good thing as arena shooters are few and far between when it comes to major releases like this.
In addition to having a rather fast sprint (imagine that), you can also enact jump jets, which can be throttled and canceled at will to suit your needs. Because of the vertical design of most of the world and the solid design work of the jet mechanic, you can go almost wherever you can see -- which naturally makes the game more enjoyable.
Since Firefall is part MMO, it adopts the class system to allow you to fulfill a certain role as you see fit. In terms of classes we have Assault (balanced), Dreadnaught (tank), Recon (DPS), Biotech (healer), and Engineer (support). Because the game is still a shooter at heart and everyone is capable of doling out damage, the role structure isn't quite as rigid as other games and there's no true "trinity" that requires groups to hand-pick different roles. Having a well balanced group will make things easier though of course.
Within all of these classes is a sub-selection of more battleframes -- modifications of each role with different stats, weapons, and abilities. To earn these frames you'll have to buy them by way of the in-game marketplace (more on that later), or earn enough in-game currency to purchase them yourself. I had a chance to test a lot of these subsets out and found that they don't make or break the game, they just add more options.
Out of all of the classes I tested, I personally enjoyed the Dreadnaught the most. Although it is on the bulky side, it still has a ton of movement capabilities, and the default battleframe allows you to clear out plenty of enemies with a minigun and opt for defensive maneuvers with a pull-out energy shield. All of the classes are fun in their own way though.
But while Firefall is a well-oiled machine as a shooter, where it starts to fall flat is its quest system, particularly early on. The instanced intro mission is a perfect crash-course on how not to do tutorials, with constant "you can't go here" barriers and a very ho-hum scripted mission. Although it gets infinitely better once you head to your first hub town and start doing story missions, the actual world isn't interesting enough to really make you feel like you need to explore it.
For me, the real reason why I keep playing Firefall is the solid gameplay and sheer fun factor of flying around blowing stuff up, and earning experience points along the way. But having to do typical fetch quests or kill quests really dampens the mood, which is especially tiresome when coupled with the lackluster voice acting and "Humans vs. Monsters" storyline.
Firefall takes place in the future, where "Chosen" -- humans transformed by a catastrophic event called the "Melding" -- are hunted down by mercenary corps, which is where you come in. It's a neat way to set up a shooter, but ultimately as you are meant to slog through missions with backstory, its premise wears thin eventually. The "Thumping" events (a mixture of gathering and horde mode) and world events look promising down the line though.
To its credit, Firefall does look great, especially on a high-end machine. It isn't going to dazzle anyone who's used to AAA budgets, but it's a very clean art style that is far more vibrant than most shooters today. I particularly like the mixture of cartoony and realistic visuals, as I think the chosen style does meld together well. Said art direction definitely helps quell the boredom of some early missions.
The game is free-to-play, but thankfully the marketplace has undergone a massive overhaul since beta, to the point where you can actually back up the "play" part. You can enjoy the game as much as you want, but certain battleframes will be locked away until you earn enough scratch for them -- lest you shell out some cash and buy them outright.
It will take you a decent amount of time to get each frame, but since the base game is playable without them and it is technically possible, it doesn't bother me as much as other "F2P" titles. A lot of other things are for sale, like XP boosts, aesthetic changes (warframe paint schemes), pets, vehicle skins, and decals. The prices aren't ideal, but again, like the advanced warframes, they don't feel imperative.
Because the scale is so massive, I'm going to stick with Firefall for a while to see how it plays out beyond the initial portions. Because the game is free it's naturally worth a try for any shooter fan, as you'll likely enjoy the core gameplay for quite a while. I just hope that Red 5 Studios can start to mix things up a bit mission-wise.