Jumping into Firefall
Firefall is a game I did not expect to like, but I have ended up playing it more than I planned or should spend on it this past week. And I do enjoy it. It is not without its flaws, but there seems to be a solid foundation.
Currently the game is in an “open beta” stage, which is sort of true – regardless of whether one consider it a real beta test or a soft launch. An iterative development/release cycle is used, which means that there is a functional game in place now, but there are improvements and addityional features and content that will be added in reasonably frequent releases. Essentially there is no fixed “launch date” – the game will be worked on and updated regularly until the company, Red 5, decides that it is good enough to remove the beta tag.
This post contains some information and notes from playing the game during the past week.
Firefall is a game I was pretty much unaware of until quite recently. I think I might have seen some trailer for a long time ago, reading the back story for the game brought back some memories of something.
The game is referred to as an MMO shooter and since my previous experiences in that space have been Planetside 2 and Global Agenda, I was not really interested – as you may suspect these games did not exactly wow me. But since I was getting fed up with Neverwinter Online and I recalled seeing a blog post by Mark Kern a while ago which I liked the spirit of what he was saying, I decided to give it a go.
What I had not expected was that playing the game soon hit something buried in me – This reminds me about Tabula Rasa!
The setting is somewhat similar to Tabula Rasa’s – a post-apocalytic Earth where one has to fight aliens called The Chosen, with outposts in a kind of post-apocalyptic wilderness. Same as in Tabula Rasa, these outpost can be invaded and taken by the enemy, which means that players lose access to them until they are taken back. In addition to The Chosen there are also bandits roaming the area, as well as wildlife that can be quite hostile. Simlar to Tabula Rasa and different to most MMORPGs, enemies can spot you from quite far distance and behave smarter than mobs-waiting-to-be-slaugthered as is so common in MMORPGs.
Coming from the annoying Neverwinter, it was refeshing to see that the game felt like a virtual world and where ecents and activities are set up so that it fits quite well with the virtual world setting. Even the in-game store is well blended into the setting and quite discrete. A big plus for that.
Most of the stuff one can buy for the real money currency (red beans) are cosmetic items, plus some time-saving items and convenience items. Some of these things can also be gained through in-game means as well, so people are not forced to spend money unless they want to. Playing crafting plays a quite big part and all of the more advanced equipment have to be crafted by someone – either the player itself, or buy it from another player in the in-game marketplace.
It seems to me, at least at this stage in the open beta, that it is only possible to have one character per account. The progression system is flexible though and a single character can play “everything”, just not at the same time – one has to switch. The user interface does have a “select character” view when logging in though, so more character slots may be added later.
The game does not have levels or classes. But there is a concept that is somewhat similar to classes in some MMORPGs and that are the battleframes. These are different kinds of exo-skeletons pretty much which the player can equip. Depending on which battleframe a character equips, different abilities and gear can be equipped and used.
There are five types of battleframes available to everyone, manufactured by the company Accord and thus called Accord battleframes:
- Accord Dreadnaught
- Accord Assault
- Accord Biotech
- Accord Engineer
- Accord Recon
If comparing to traditional MMO classes, the dreadnaught is somewhat close to a tank, in terms that it has good defensive capabilities, Assault and Recon are DPS types, with Recon being moe of long-range and sniper type of battleframe. Biotech is kind of a healer and Engineer a pet/support type battleframe.
In addition to these five battleframe there are also 10 other battleframes, called premium/advanced battleframes – 5 each from two other companies, Astrek and Omnidyne-M. These map to the five Accord types also:
- Omnidyne Mammoth (Dreadnaught)
- Omnidyne Tigerclaw (Assault)
- Omnidyne Dragonfly (Biotech)
- Omnidyne Bastion (Engineer)
- Omnidyne Nighthawk (Recon)
- Astrek Rhino (Dreadnaught)
- Astrek Firecat (Assault)
- Astrek Recluse (Biotech)
- Astrek Electron (Engineer)
- Astrek Raptor (Recon)
Each of the premium battleframes have different abilities and primary weapons. The Omnidyne and Astrek battleframes can also use abilities and equipment for the Accord battleframes of the same type, e.g. Dragonfly and Recluse battleframes can use stuff from Accord Biotech and mix and match between their own and the Accord stuff. A rough generalisation is that the Accord battleframes are a bit more hybrid/all-purpose in their nature, while the other frames seems to be a bit more specialized. Specializations can go in different directions also – the Dragonfly is pretty much a pure healer, while Recluse is more a pure damage dealer; the Biotech sits a bit in between.
A player can unlock the premium/advance battleframes using either pilot tokens (earned through progression of battleframes) or by using the red beans. Unlocking a battleframe costs 10 pilot tokens or 100 red beans (about 10 USD/Euro).
XP earned in the game is associated with a specific battleframe and cannot be transferred between battleframes. The XP is then used to unlock abilities and gear slots (in the beginning) and then improvement of the battleframe itself. There are three types of battleframe gear stats:
For each stat there are 10 tech levels and XP is used to enable these different levels. This is probably as close as one gets to leveling in some other MMOs. Getting to tech level 10 in these three areas will take a long time, as the requirements for XP and other things for each level increases significantly, e.g. enabling tech 1 costs 4000 XP, while tech 10 costs 1.25 million XP. There are other things besides XP needed for these levels also.
Initially I started playing a bit with the Accord battleframes, but then decided to unlock some advanced battleframes by buying the $20 starter pack that Red 5 offers. The starter pack includes 20 pilot tokens, enough to unlock two advanced/premium battleframes. The packs include a number of other things as well, including some red beans. So it is a better deal than just buying red beans to unlock, at least if one intends to unlock more than one battleframe.
As an altoholic – of course I want to play more than one…
Since it is an MMO shooter, the primary activities in the game involves shooting stuff. There is a dynamic event system which can trigger a number of different events at any time all over the map. This can include invasion forces and strike teams from The Chosen, sabotage or recovery missions of different types with different variations and enemies. Some a small/quick simple and can be soloed, other care tougher and may require a team. Markings on the map indicate the difficulty level (relates to gear levels) and if a team is required or not.
It should be noted that some of the dynamic events that is indicated as group not required still can be very tough for a single player, depending on which battleframe is used. Everyone that participates in an event gets rewarded though, so the more the merrier for the most part. Rewards includes XP, money (called crystanite) as well as resources and various tokens, depending on the type of event.
One type of dymic event can be triggered by players at a location of choice, that is thumping – one type of resource gathering that is done in the game. But more on that one in the crafting & resource gathering section below.
Some events can be quite rewarding and a lot of XP and other things can be gained at a good pace, in particular if multiple players participate. Formal teaming is not required, but can be helpful with coordinated activities.
There is also a PvP system, with separate games played on instanced maps – there is no PvP in the open world, except if people duel with each other. The PvP matches can give a good amount of XP as well. In PvP one does not play with ones own battleframe – instead one can pick among all unlocked battleframes where each one have a fixed setup – so everyone is pretty much on equal terms regardless of what has been done in PvE. PvP matches can be queued from anywhere, but also from specific PvP terminals.
When entering a PvP game it is possible for the team to change the battleframes they have chosen before the game starts, in order to make a suitable combination. For the standard games I think team selection is based on some matchmaking system. It is also possible to set up custom private games, for pre-selected teams for fight against each other.
There is also a game called Jetball as part of this; I have not tried this so I am not sure what that is all about.
With the exception of some starter/stock and low level gear and the occasional loot drop, all equipment in the game is crafted by players. The crafting system is pretty intricate and reminds a bit about the Star Wars Galaxies crafting system. Different types of resources are used to provide different properties to what is crafted and each resource has a quality level. Items may require only a general type of resources (e.g. gas) or a more specific one (e.g. gas of type Radine). More complex and higher level equipment consists of a number of sub-components.
Crafting an item of some kind takes time – very simple things just a few seconds. More complex items will take, minutes, hours or days to craft. Of course it is not necessary to watch this happening, one can simply start a job and do other things in the meantime, including logging off. Two jobs can be executed at the same time – not sue if there is a way to extend it to more parallel jobs.
The crafting station in this game is called a Molecular Printer and there are three types of activities that can be done there:
Research is what one does to obtain recipes/blueprints to build stuff from. This simply cost money (crystite) and time to acquire. Refine is the process of taking raw resources that has been gathered or obtained in some fashion and making them usable to crafting. This can also be executed as a job and simple takes time. Researching more advanced refinement options increase the amount of resources types that can be refined at the same time in a single job.
Finally there is Build, which is the crafting process of items itself. This requires the necessary ingrediants and some money and a certain amount of time to execute.
The resulting items will have a quality level and certain properties attached to it, based on the material used to build the item.
Fortunately there is no XP leveling process associated with the crafting, only the Research, Refine and Build activities. So one can focus on making only the stuff one wants to create, pretty much – no crafting grind.
All items have a certain about of durability (higher quality generally means better durability) and if that goes to 0 the item is destroyed. Crafted items can be repaired though, looted items cannot be repaired. There is a limit currently also to the amount of repairs that can be made for some items as I recall. Repairing items cost money, although for the lower level items it is quite cheap (zero).
The resource gathering part also has some similarities with games like Star Wars Galaxies and Perpetuum. The different types of resources to collect are typically underground and one has to scan an area to find out what resources are available in that area. This is done by using a Scan Hammer. This is essentially a big hammer that is smashed into the ground and as a result a survey result of the immediate area in from of the character is shown.
When and what resources are available where varies over time – an initial report in which areas certain types of resources can be found can be seen on the overview map – at least those parts of the map that has been unlocked. Based on this information one can use the Scan Hammer to find a suitable spot to gather resources from.
Once a suitable spot is found, the resource gathering itself starts. And since this is a shooter game, the gathering process involves shooting stuff. In order to collect resources, a Thumper is placed into the ground (rather rammed into the ground from high altitude…). If Thumper gives associations with Dune (the book or the movie), then that is absolutely correct. The sound is pretty much the same as in the movie and the effect on wildlife similar as well. The local fauna will rush towards the thumper, aggroed by its presence and will try to destroy it – wave after wave after wave. So one has to start kill attacking animals in order to keep the thumper from being destroyed before it has completed its gathering.
If the thumper “health” goes down to 0% the thumper is destroyed and gone. It is possible to stop gathering and send off the thumper at any time, but only if it is run to completion (100% gathered) will the completion XP bonus be given.
Thumper come in personal and squad types – personal ones are intended for 1-2 characters to defend, while squad thumpers for 4-5 characters. There are also different levels of thumpers for both personal and squad. Higher level thumpers have more capacity, but will also spawn tougher mobs that attack it.
Running one or multiple thumpers with a bunch of people can create some pretty intense shooting sessions and can be quite fun, I think.
If one does not like to thump there are some other options for resource gathering:
- Dynamic event rewards – this typically includes some amount of resources also
- Using sonic detonators on resource nodes – there are resource nodes above ground as well. These can be blown up with a sonic detonator (can be crafted) to gain resources with.
- Buy the resources from other players in the market.
Personally I do thumping as well as the first two options. Thumping is the most reliable one if you want a specific type of resources. Completion bonus does not give as much XP as most other dynamic events, but it is a pretty reliable option – one thumping session takes about 5 minutes.
I really enjoy the resource gathering and crafting part – not to the point that I would only do that, but it is a nice thing to mix in with the other activities. The process of exploring to find a good resource spot is also fun I think.
At this stage it seems to be only one map (New Eden), at least I do not know how to get to any other maps yet. Beta tester veterans seems to mention three other maps, The map areas is not huge in terms of actual area, but it takes a bit of time to move around – typical movement is through running and/or jumping with jetpacks. The terrain is not exactly flat and jumping or moving around mountains/hills to get somewhere is quite common.
It is also possible to craft some bikes (or buy from game store) to move around a bit faster. There are also gliders at various spots at high ground, which allows one to sail through the air for a while – some care is needed to control these properly.
In addition to these options there are also dropships that transport people beteen the different outposts – one can hitch a ride with a dropship to get transported to a different outpost. These travel options are more old school travel options – there is no instant travel, going by dropship will take some time. There are some limited instant travel options available and planned, but these will be difficult/expensive to get and there will be no universal instant travel option.
I quite like this approach, it does encourage some exploration of the world. it is possible find a few interesting areas and tidbits this way also, plus also obtain various achievements.
There is also a day & night cycle and when it is night-time it can get pretty dark! All characters have a flashlight they can turn on – in some cases that is quite necessary to see where one is going.
There is a guild feature; in this game a guild is called an army. Currently the max limit for members is quite low (20), although it is indicated that this will be increased later – although not any details if this requires player activities to do so. I have not joined an army yet, so I do not have anything to say more about this yet.
This game has the ability to use player-created add-ons to improve/change various aspects of the user interface and experience. I have started to use some add-ons myself, one for improved information for resource gathering (DITTO), one for enchanced keymapping functionality (Calldown Hotkeys) and a dropship timetable add-on (Airii). Also an add-on resource manager (Melder) is among what I have started to use also.
If one dies, one has the option to respawn at the nearest outpost. Any player can also revive another player that is down. It is also possible to enter a view mode while being down, which in effect lets one see the nearby action through another characters view, essentially.
Death will also cause a durability hit on all equipped items.
I am pretty impressed with the state of the game and I had not expected to like it as much as I do at this point. It is certainly not finished and there has been a number of bugs and issues encountered encountered. There has been a couple of updates done during the past week and there are improvements with these updates.
A few things that I do not like and/or are a bit annoyed with are:
- Keymapping issues
There are a substantial number of items that are mapped to a single hotkey – key 5. Which item is used through this key is selected through a navigation wheel interface in multiple levels. Scrolling through this wheel depends on using a mouse scroll wheel. For me that uses a Marble Mouse trackball there is no mouse scroll wheel – there is software emulation for it, but Firefall bypasses any such features. It is possible to use the arrow keys also, but this gets quite cumbersome and also forces the character to move at the same time. Not something for quick selections. This interface seems to have been done with comtrollers in midn and not mouse/keyboard users so much. Red 5 are supposedly doing a revamp of the user interface here. But in the meantime the “Calldown Hotkeys” add-on is quite useful for me here.
- Prices in the in-game store are rather high in my opinion.
Also buying the real money currency (Read Beans) seem to suffer from a miserable conversion rate for Europeans, since we get charged in Euro for red beans – it seems for the same amount of Euro as the corresponding price in US dollars for Americans. So that is about 30% more expensive in practice, for things that are not so cheap to begin with.
The general price level is at a point where I am hesitant to buy stuff. I will do that eventually, simply to support the company. But the price level makes me think twice before buying anything.
- Occasional “lag” spikes.
Hopefully these are fixed eventually, it essentially freezes the game for a couple of seconds from time to time.
- Deep water.
If you go into deep water, you drown and die quickly. Too often have I managed to get above deep water without enough jumpjet power to get me out of trouble. Not a fault with the game, but it annoys me everytime it happens to me…
Both in-game chat and the general community forum conversations at the Firefall web site are at a better level than I expected and feels quite nice and helpful for the most part.
Since the amount of XP to reach higher tech levels increases substantially I am a bit worried that the game might end up a bit grindy. But hopefully the amount of XP in later maps after New Eden provides higher XP rewards.
The XP gain can be quite uneven also I think – there can be long time periods with small XP gains and then other time periods with big jumps in XP. Coordinated team play might be better for a steady XP gain. Part of the issue with limited XP gain is the time to travel to and between events and the number of people participating in an event. That can be a tough balance for the game company to find a suitable mix to keep it fun for people.
To end this post – I am quite positive about this game, even though it might not be a game for quick & short sessions, except for PvP – just travelling around may take a bit of time. I have only played for about a week so far, so there might still come a backlash later. If I still like the game 3-5 weeks from now it is quite likely something I will stick around for.