By Darren Henderson (DizzyPW), Omnidyne Biotech Lobbyist
It’s been a long time coming. We’ve been promised the moon by Red 5 Studios and sat by idly (or quite actively for some of the diehard fans) waiting for delivery of what we envisioned as a true MMOFPS/TPS delivering all the content we love in MMORPGs with the crisp visceral feel of a shooter. Yet year after year, I looked into FireFall and found the same old Thumper Simulator Online waiting for me. Go out, gather resources, build towards progression that didn’t matter as it would be deleted and reworked a few patches later in a game that showed no signs of stepping out from the eternal abyss of the melding that trapped its own game world.
And then all at once, there was nothing. Rumors of a CEO change. Radio silence on updates. If you weren’t willing to dig into their forum for side comments from a developer, you might have worried that FireFall was finally fizzling out. Yet within the cocoon, the Tribe was busy at work building out the launch ready version. To make one last and loud surprise marketing push to bet the bank on. Suddenly the invite to visit Red 5 Studios arrived in my inbox after an almost unnoticed Youtube teaser series of major updates to come. I went expecting to see what a team of disheartened tired developers would look like, and instead found enthusiasm on levels rarely seen in the MMO industry.
Does this guy seem broken and jaded to you? That’s passion in dem eyes!
So what did I see behind those closed doors? It’s time to break down the 4x world size expansion and 15x content expansion that’s set to finally push this rocket into orbit.
New Player Experience
If there’s one thing everyone in gaming today can agree on about Red 5 Studios, it’s that they have a knack for cinematic flair. Finally FireFall’s new player experience reflects that flair with a new simulation tutorial that throws you straight into the heat of a new public instance called Wages of Sin. Expect the high quality chatter of fully voice acted NPCs shouting in your ear as the signature city of FireFall, Copacabana, burns to the ground from a Chosen invasion. It’s in essence a brilliant reformation of an old dynamic public quest rescripted into an awesome and informative tutorial instance that keeps all the glory of being an MMO intact. I saw HP bars dropping fast even with the devs playing as well, so new players should be jarred into realizing that this isn’t an auto-combat MMO they just dropped into.
While it’s not technically part of the newly added new player experience, those that have touched the game in the past but haven’t in a few months or years, will notice the stark improvements in graphics. While the game still carries its distinct art style that has persisted since day 1, the textures, draw distance quality, battleframes, and explosions have all received ample amounts of love. We’ll see how optimized it is for the masses in our launch review but on the high-end machines on hand at Red 5 Studios, maximum graphics saw no slowdowns whatsoever.
Perhaps the best part of the new player experience though is the dynamic feeling of picking your first battleframe. Like meeting Professor Oak in the middle of the warzone, this time you will go in prepared with information that you didn’t need to glean off outside websites beforehand. All five base battlesets are available from the start to, so you can custom craft your tutorial experience by matching it with your chosen playstyle from the start.
Going Beyond Thumping
Once through the tutorial, you will find the Ares initiative to have grown beyond most MMO’s questing offers. No longer will you feel lost in a world of endless thumping for random resources as beginner quests with Ares will lead you to new zones and challenges, whether alone or with friends. All the RPG elements are present now from proper and simplified advancement systems that make each time you level a battleframe feel rewarding, to fleshed out reputation systems that at times may make you face the tough choices in who you really side with in the final days of humanity.
Of course these are just the rails set out before you to guide you towards action. Once you’re outside the (relative) safety of towns, you will find a constant array of randomly spawned events tickling your ADD into straying off the beaten path. But the FireFall team seems to despise the idea of scripting randomness. W + X + Y = Z seems to be a more apt description.
Say the random event is a drop pod flying out of the melding and crash landing in a zone. Suddenly monsters swarm around it and start feeding off its fuel, distorting into monstrosities that need to be dealt with. Only problem is if you want to take out the drop pod, you’ll have to deal with the Chosen patrolling the landing site trying to keep their foothold down long enough to cause some real havoc. The drop pod is W. It happens at a set interval. The location is lands is X, and terrain changes can be a serious matter in a game involving line-of-sight shooter mechanics and plenty of rocket powered jump questing. The actual monsters that spawn is Y, as the dynamic event will evaluate where said event happens, and spawn creatures (out of sight to feel realistic) to match the difficulty level and type of creatures in the area, making Z overall feel quite refreshing and not at all immersion breaking.
This method of design applies to even the Ares quests as well, as locations and order of events can change each time you play the same quest on a different battleframe. Ideally this prevents sites from offering perfect guides that let you sleep through the content, as new tweaks in the challenge will be present each time to make you think dynamically. And the game is not forgiving, so be sure to pay attention to context clues. If your superiors feel seismic activity beneath your feet, you best move if you don’t want to be part of an epic landslide. If your foes are taunting about a bomb, it’s time to go. Don’t be a standard MMORPG plebian and wait till there’s a timer ticking or you will find yourself very dead. This merging of skill-based combat, hardcore design challenges, and smart dialogue come together to provide a themepark I don’t mind buying a speed pass for.
Campaigning with Meaning
While this feels meaningful and fun as a method of progression, Red 5 Studios takes the formula and turns it up to 11 with the introduction of story driving Campaigns. In a nutshell, they’re story-driven MMORPG style epic dungeons that are there more to explain the world around you than existing to progress you to end-game. But to be clear, we’re talking about pistachios, not peanuts. From start to finish its clear that everything from the lore to the mechanics were well put together as this is a key feature meant to sell new and old time players on the launch.
To my surprise, version 1.0 is packing a full 8 part campaign that will take players straight into the melding to discover the dark side of not only the Chosen, but of people in a post-apocalyptic world. If you love settings like Walking Dead more for the human interaction than the gore, this game is going to appeal to you. And of course if you just want to show you’re the hottest shooter west of the melding curtain, you’ll have your chance as campaigns are going to push you to the limits. Well maybe not as hard as the upcoming raid content will, but it’s certainly a training ground for the horrors to come at end-game.
Though the key difference here versus the raids I’ll get to in a moment is the choices offered. Even in this scripted world, you will have a few challenges available to you to impact the outcome of levels. If you’re pugging on Mission 6: Power Grab for instance, you might just rush straight into the enemy’s base as quickly as possible. But if you have a coordinated group that can handle a 50/50 split, you can showcase your small group skills to disable some of the enemy’s defensive technology, to ensure an easier final fight. And when you see Chronus at the end of Mission 8, you’ll be glad to have pushed your limits as that monster won’t be going down easy.
Raiding - It's not done right if you're not sweating
Now lately I have been a little bored with so-called raiding. Why? Well in a word, WildStar introduced the challenge and complexity that raids should be. So imagine my surprise when Red 5 Studios brought us six members of the press into a room on the fifth floor to team up with the developers on a 20 man raid, and half an hour later my heart was pounding out of my chest like it hasn't in months! The giant lava worm Kanaloa is no joke, and it will take some skill and well-crafted gear to bring the beast down.
So what’s the deal? Well you’re in a volcano with a floor made of lava. No the lava doesn’t instantly kill you, but it’s certainly something you don’t want to spend more than six seconds in. The surrounding walls of the arena are filled with jagged, sloped, and otherwise inconvenient rock sculptures put together by a designer huddled in a dark room somewhere that enjoys the taste of tears. Oh and as if it wasn’t hard enough to stay on solid ground as things are, the lava rises as the fight progresses.
Too simple you say? Ok how about playing a team-based game of Asteroids while you hop and skip out of range of the ever rising lava? Yup Kanaloa spits giant lava rocks all over the place. Now shooting them can slightly change their direction, but eventually they explode into more rocks just like in Asteroids. And if any of those rocks manages to strike the side wall of the room, they go off like a bob-omb in Smash Bros, decimating your health and likely sending you into a tricky momentum filled struggle as you burn every last ounce of your energy trying to rocket back to solid ground.
Final piece of the puzzle to singe your hair is of course Kanaloa’s fire spray. See you need distractors to take agro on this beast, but if the worm faces you it means you have roughly five seconds to jet away before he sprays a solid stream of fire across roughly 1/6th of the room. I enjoyed watching a quarter of our raid group go down in flames in the first thirty seconds of both attempts against Kanaloa from this attack alone. Granted agro will constantly flip around as his only weak spots are on his back, so expect to play a hot and heavy game of musical rock sculptures the whole way through the fight.
Broken Peninsula – The PvP Realm
Now perhaps the most controversial, but in my opinion most awesome, piece of version 1.0 is the PvP realm known as Broken Peninsula. Although we didn’t get a chance to personally test it, the concept is simple enough that it has to work as intended. Players simply hop on a drop ship and get assigned to a major faction fighting in the area. From there it’s only a matter of spotting a nice material deposit, gliding out of the drop pod, and thumping up some of the best resources in the game to make your crafter friends grin.
The difference is you won’t only be defending yourself from the dynamic horrors of FireFall such as melding tornadoes and Chosen assaults, but from rival corporations as well. If another group happens upon your thumping operation, you’re fair game to kill and rob. Players will not only have to carry their loot back to their team’s base of operations for storage, but will have to ensure the resources are intact for a period of fifteen minutes when cargo evacs arrive to finally take your precious resources to safety. At this point, resources are split between all members of that team, meaning supporting your fellow group members earns big dividends.
This tug of war consists of three sanctioned teams, but as server population and demand to enter rises, FireFall may smartly create additional teams to keep Broken Peninsula manageable. Also small groups wanting to go full rogue can queue together as a group and wreak havoc where they please, perhaps even taking over an enemy base if they are a legit enough force.
Bases themselves have quite a bit of interesting choices within them for each team to decide to spend resources on. These benefits are distributed by key buildings that (as makes sense) are lost when said buildings are destroyed by attacking forces. Barracks can be constructed to supply NPC guards to bolster defenses and give you a bit more leeway to send soldiers out to gather new resources. The Power Station offers shields to protect you from ranged fire as well as power to keep your other buildings operational. The Armory allows you to repair damaged pieces of your base. And finally the Command Center is a base’s heart, and whoever occupies the center controls all functions of the base.
If a rival group manages to infiltrate the Command Center, a hacking minigame begins. Those familiar with Goldeneye 007 will appreciate the thrill of defending your hacker while the streams of enemy soldiers flood into the Command Center attempting to prevent this hostile takeover. A single team can own and operate multiple bases, meaning if your forces can handle fighting on multiple fronts, your band of mercenaries can make a pretty penny fighting long battles in the Peninsula. I can’t wait to see how this all plays out on the live servers soon!
This is not the FireFall I knew. The FireFall I had written off as a dead franchise. Somehow Red 5 Studios got their act together and have finally produced the game they always wanted to. All the months of balancing changes and reworks to progression are now showing fruit. My only disclaimer is I haven’t had enough time to test everything for myself to confirm just how real this fruit is.
But now we won’t have to wait long. Version 1.0 hits beta servers tomorrow and fully launches to the world on July 29th. If this is real life, no one will have to wait long to confirm it. JamesBl0nde will be in-game in the coming weeks to see for himself and share his experience, so be sure to subscribe to our sister site, MMOHuts, youtube channel for an upcoming Refresher on the launch state of the game.