MMO gaming has been stagnant for quite some years, thanks to Blizzard’s seemingly domination from MMORPG to ARPG. Every time a new MMO game is announced, there is this hope that someone somewhere just may innovate and do something different. I have joined beta launches from Guild Wars 2 to Marvel Heroes, Neverwinter to now Firefall. The free-to-play (F2P) model looks to mature into a viable one. I am a reasonable player. If the game is fun and I spend considerable amount of time with it (like 40+ hours), I am happy to contribute to the development cost. Firefall is an interesting find. It has the potential even at this early stage of beta. I am finding it insanely addictive. Can the ex-team leader of World of Warcraft now the founder of Red5 Studio recreate the magic once again?
What Is Firefall?
It is a F2P shooter MMO set in a sci-fi backdrop. The music and some of the elements remind me of Mass Effect. You can toggle between first person shoot and third person shoot. Shortly after you have started the game, the first thing you notice is that the entire map is like a war zone. Hubs (or bases) are constantly being invaded by the Chosen. Tornados appear from nowhere ripping everything apart. I seem to be fighting the Chosen all the time but for what? I have no idea. Random events appear all around me. I feel obliged to help driving away the enemies and to donate my resonators for the hub upgrade. I travel afar to link up SIN Towers (really begin to sounds like Ingress). The land area I can venture into is constantly shifting depends on the outcome of the conflict. Something sinister is at work, if only I know what true evil is.
Wait, What Is Happening?
Even as a MMO veteran, when you first join Firefall, it is likely that you have no clue on what you are doing, where you are heading to. It doesn’t frustrate though because once you pay attention to the right information, learn the rope through exploration, making mistakes, or simply ask around, you shall get the hang of it in no time. Dropping into water could be fatal. Letting a thumper – a tool to gather resources in the open area – destroyed by the mobs and you would have to build a brand new one again. You see drop ships flying around and guess that there must be a better way to go from one Hub to another. Die too many times and your gears may be beyond repair. Your team fail to halt the incursion and all of a suddenly, everyone perishes as the melding floods over the hub. It is this level of exploration and learning by observation that I found refreshing in Firefall.
Oh Man, That’s Hard!
You know how it is like when you play recent MMO games whereby your characters just don’t die often, if at all. Everything seems too easy. While I am not an expert in shooter games, I have much experienced in Mass Effect 3 Multiplayer. I play Saint Rows 3 too. Firefall is much harder than most F2P MMO games. You may be able to solo some of the missions. However, it is much better when you are grouped or simply follow the crowd. Even so, on any given day, however much I have invested into gear upgrade or learned the maps by heart, my character would die due to all sort of bizarre circumstances such as someone kills a mob that explodes onto my face, someone has made a mistake in diffusing the energy bomb and killed everyone in proximity, or someone has detonate an objective literally behind my back. Or most of the time, I was overwhelmed by the enemies.
As you upgrade your gears, you would find that some gears are not repairable. Others have a constraint on how many times they can be repaired. Because crafting can be expensive, there is a price to pay every time you are defeated.
Has Someone Called A Thumper?
In most MMO games, resource gathering and crafting is one of the core experiences. Firefall is no difference. I usually dislike these mini-games. However, there is something special about how these activities are implemented in Firefall. There are three groups of resources in this game: material, gas, and organic. Within each type of resource, say material, there are a multitude of resource types such as copper, iron, and etc. These resources are dynamically spawned underground all over the map. You may use a scanner to measure the composition, the quality (with a score of 0 to 1000) and quantity (from 0% to 100%). Once you have found the right spot, you can begin the extraction by calling down a thumper. During the 5 minutes long extraction, you have to defend your thumper from attack. You may send the thumper back at any time. However, upon completion, there is a double bonus. Depending on how many times the local area is thumped, the resource may become exhausted. New one may spawn.
Once you collect the resources – which are also available as mission reward, loots, or crates – you may refine them. Crafting items require at minimum refined resources. Because the resources may have different quality as well as attributes (for example copper is high in conductivity while aluminum is high in malleability) and because crafted items have different attribute requirements, crafting in Firefall is an art. You have total control on the overall item quality (again, with a score of 0 to 1000) and the attributes that deem important to you. You may ask, why not craft the most powerful gear you can? Due to the fact that powerful gears have a high loading requirement, there may be tradeoffs to be made.
Before you can craft an item, you have to spend time and resource to research for it in-game. Because there is a constraint on how much you can do at the workbench, you have to balance your time between research and development.
How Does Leveling Work In Firefall?
As you complete missions and kill mobs, you gain experience point (XP). Unlike traditional MMO games, there is no such thing as character leveling. You have access to five battleframes (or more commonly known as classes). You are free to try out which suits you the best. Ultimately, you may wish to invest your time on one battleframe.
For a start, XP that you have earned for each battleframe can be spent to unlock that battleframe’s ability and gear slots. Once all the slots are unlocked, you may then use the XP as well as other resources to increase the battleframe’s attributes: mass, power, and CPU as per your gear requirement and personal preference. Each battleframe attribute has a total of 10 levels. As you level up the attributes, you gain another in-game currency called Pilot Points. These points can be used to unlock any of the 10 advanced battleframes (each battleframe has two advanced variations).
You can upgrade your gears through loot drop or crafting. There are in total 4 item levels. Each level costs more to research and build than the previous tiers. Gears do break eventually (yet another constraint). You may need to balance between play style aggressiveness versus how fast you can acquire resources in order to replenish the gears.
Let’s Talk About What to Do In New Eden
While the lore seems enticing, in this stage 1 of beta, there are no main story related missions. The map of New Eden is filled with dynamic events. Some missions can be soloed. Others need a group. If you have played other shooter games, you may be familiar with some of the objectives. Besides these open world solo and group missions, there are raid missions such as Chosen incursion and tornado attack. As long as you manage to kill one target or are within proximity, you earn the reward. During my adventure in New Eden, I often start out solo and very soon, squads are formed with random players. Because this game is hard, everyone seems to yearn for grouping.
When I prefer a more relaxing moment, I would do thumping and gather resources. Thumping can be soloed. However, as the group size increases, there are options to increase the difficulty level in order to reap better rewards.
Besides these dynamic events, resource gathering and exploration activities, R&D work at the Hub, there are three random daily missions a day. You don’t have to do them if dailies are not your cup of tea. Having said that, most of the time, I find that as I play the missions, I get to complete some of these dailies without consciously doing them.
And of course, there are PvP actions for those who are into competitive sport. I have not tried them yet.
Sounds Good But What’s The Catch?
Red5 Studio promises that Firefall is not a pay-to-win game. So far, from what I have seen, I tend to agree. Their in-game store sells cosmetic and convenience items. I like their game so I bought a bike and a rechargeable glider. I do get to places faster at times. But due to the fact that the terrain can be pretty hilly, especially where the missions are, having a bike is totally optional because traveling on foot with the jumpjet can be more efficient.
Progressing through the battleframe takes time. Real money can speed up the manufacturing process. But the cost is high. I doubt many would do that. Majority of time I still need to be out there gathering resources and earning Accord Merit Points (another form of in-game currency) in order to upgrade my battleframe. It is something money cannot buy.
What money can buy though is the unlocking of advance battleframes. You can earn them in-game by upgrading the basic ones to near-max level (that may take hundreds of hours). Or if you have lost faith in your current battleframe or patience, you may opt to unlock new ones with money. Unlike other F2P games I have played, the basic battleframes are pretty good and sufficient. The advance ones may enhance the experience. But they are often harder to play. In short, I am happy investing my time with the basic battleframes.
What About Shortcomings?
Perhaps it is too early to criticize Firefall as it is still a game on stage 1 of beta. Having said that, I would love to see improvements on certain areas.
- An overarching main story. Firefall reminds me of vanilla World of Warcraft. There are conflicts around the world we are in. Everything is evolving. However, for World of Warcraft back then, there was an ultimate villain, living and breathing inside Molten Core. While there is plenty of lore written in Firefall website, what we do in New Eden seems to only scratching the surface as far as the story goes.
- Late comers for missions. As a squad leader, this is what I do. I check the map for the closest mission. Set the squad waypoint and direct my squad to the location. I do the same thing when I solo too. At times, once we reach the rendezvous point, the mission has been completed by the previous group. We head out to the next one and it is completed too. Imagine our disappointment. By and large, Firefall seems to be smart enough to spawn new missions nearby. Or large scale raid mission to suck up all the players in the region. Maybe the game needs to fine tune in some ways to split the players up with various new activities in the region.
- Ability cool-down and health regeneration is too long. Like Mass Effect, besides shooting with your weapons, you can augment the experience with battleframe specific abilities. This makes Mass Effect insanely fun, mixing things up a bit. Firefall allows us to use four abilities but the cool-down is long (like half a minute for the battleframe I am playing). Health regeneration is long too when outside battle. Just too much unnecessary downtime.
- There is no synergy between abilities and players from different battleframes. In other MMO games, very often, different abilities from different classes synergize with one another in order to create spectacular results. There is no such thing in Firefall. The strategy then becomes rather one-dimensional. That is, shoot anything that moves with the same set of abilities while trying to stay alive.
- The entire action interface needs an overhaul. I think this game is designed with console gaming in mind. I haven’t tried it yet but I reckon you can play it with a gamepad. In order to say use a health pack during life and death moment, I have to hit the C key for call down support. Then scroll down to the packs category and click select. After which, scroll down a long list (according to what I have in my inventory) to find the health pack and click select. This health pack is then bound to the key 5. I then have to press 5, locate a clear spot on the ground and click so as to call down a health pack. Next, wait for the animation to complete and walk into it in order to replenish my health slightly. I end up not using it. This is just one example. Calling a bike to ride, inviting squad members, leaving squad, opening daily reward crates and etc., I have to go through the same routine.
- Squad looting needs to be looked into. Firefall is the only MMO game I know of that group looting is free-for-all and free-for-all only. There should be some fair way of loot distribution, especially when we cannot trade items between us.
- Gear durability may need to be looked into. Currently, I am slowly upgrading my gears to level 2. However, my existing level 2 items are also going to break soon. My challenge is that as a Dreadnaught, at least three abilities and gear items require the same specific DNA that is hard to come by. In short, I may lose my level 2 items faster than I can build them and hence, forced to revert to level 1 items. Regression is a hard pill to swallow.
- More mission variety would be good. So far, we seem to do the same set of mission day in day out. I can’t wait to see more content.
Despites some of the shortfalls at this early stage of beta, Firefall is a refreshing game much needed in the current MMO scene. It is a free-to-play shooter with a sci-fi background created by the ex-team lead of World of Warcraft. Firefall has an innovative crafting system with much depth in it. Time investment is expected to be heavy. To fully level a single battleframe (out of 15 available ones) – extrapolate from my current data and play pattern – may take 240 hours. That does not take into consideration of the item upgrade.
From what I have seen, Firefall is not a pay-to-win game. The basic battleframes suffice and do the job well. The advanced battleframes can be unlocked by in-game currency earned while upgrading the basic battleframes (or can be unlocked using real money). So far, the in-game store only sells cosmetic or convenience items.
Do not expect a linear storyline to handhold you through the game telling you to go from A to B. The entire map is a war zone with dynamic events of various scales spawning every moment. The most common thing that new players say in general chat is: I have no idea what to do. My advice is, take your gun, open your map, and start shooting!