Sunday, June 9, 2013

A Fleeting FireFall Fly-By

Last night I went futzing around in FireFall. They're having some kind of pre-Open Beta weekend where anyone can play the Closed Beta one last time, which to me sounds uncannily like an Open Beta in itself but what do I know? Anyway, due to having signed up for the closed beta long ago on an email address I rarely remember to check I'd missed every single previous invitation Red5 sent me, so what the hey...

Everything I know about FireFall comes from a series of posts at Healing The Masses. J3w3l made it sound pretty interesting if a little rough around the edges. Having spent all of two hours there last night I am in no position to offer anything other than the firstest of first impressions but I can say this much: it looks good and it feels fun.

Smile when you call me generic.
Graphically it's broad-brush. The look is serious-cartoon. There's a lot of flat matte color swash and something of that old-school hand-drawn tv animation vibe, like the way you might half-remember Johnny Quest looking until you foolishly go watch some on YouTube. Lots of unfussy detailing in the lush environments. It's a winner on visuals.

Character creation is perfunctory to say the least, something that's partially explained when you're introduced to the New You machine during the rather good Tutorial. It appears there are more options; you can change your appearance up to and including your gender at will, only it costs Red Beans and beans means dollars. FireFall's a F2P and funding has to come from somewhere.

Who doesn't like a bit of Barry?
Still, I was perfectly happy with my basic, free look. Well, happy might be going a bit far. The female character model seems to have legs about seven yards long and the at-rest stance of a New Zealand prop doing the Hakka (which is, weirdly, the /dance routine the Charr get in GW2). It was jarring at first but I'd stopped noticing it after a few minutes because the animations otherwise are fluid and satisfying.

Fluid and satisfying describes the basic gameplay; the nuts and bolts of moving, shooting and, especially Thumping. J3w3l covers Thumping extensively in the above-linked posts but in a sentence it amounts to hitting the ground with a very big hammer to locate resources then calling down an air-strike to mine them, something that understandably annoys the local wildlife, leading to large-scale brawling.

Getting ahead of myself. First there are battleframes to choose from in a Tutorial phase very similar to the one in The Secret World where you get to try out all the weapon types. Battleframes equate to classes, effectively, but you aren't locked to any particular one, just one at a time. Obviously. Try wearing two exoskeletons at once, see how far that gets you.

I can heal you. With a gun. Just come a bit closer...
There were five on offer in the Tutorial (there are a lot more to collect as you get further into the game I believe). I picked the Accord BioTech aka Healer on the grounds that it's always good to be able to heal yourself. Although as it turned out I never had the chance. I was either alive or dead with no discernible transition.

Either I must be getting used to these various reticule/mouselook systems or FireFall has a particularly straightforward one because I found the controls very comfortable and natural right from the start. Shooting things was no problem. I did have a little trouble with my Jetpack at first but I soon got the hang of it.

Having too much fun to take a decent screenshot.
Ah, the Jetpack. What a wonderful imaginary invention it is! One of my all-time favorite MMO things. I first encountered jetpacks in that long-forgotten, much missed MMOFPS progenitor Endless Ages which I played a good deal back in beta sometime around 2001-2002. And until last night I believe that was probably the last time I encountered them as well.

More jetpacks please, developers. I need the practice. Mostly I veered about wildly, crashing through the arboreal canopy before descending ignominiously to bounce off some building and land in a heap on the ground. Pro tip: never land in water. Yes it looks soft but you're in a high-tech, electronic rig-out and electricity and water do not play well together. Or at all. Instant death.

Once the novelty of the jetpack wore off (a bit) I tried Thumping. Took me a few goes to understand the UI there but like all the controls I encountered, once understood it was very easy to use. I was somewhat impressed with the UI overall. It's minimalistic, leaving the vast majority of the screen clear, while the bits you do see are elegant, attractive and comprehensible.

Doesn't it look just a little like a rabbit?
Thumping is fun. I found a good spot and called down my Thumper. (Another Pro Tip - don't stand on the spot you just marked for the Calldown gawping up at the incoming Thumper as it arrows down at you from the skies. It's a big chunk of hardware. It will hit you on the head and kill you. Like it did me). Once my Thumper was up and running, making the extremely satisfying noise which may have earned it it's name, two things happened. Various malevolent arthropods emerged from the jungle undergrowth and tried to eat both me and the Thumper and hordes of other players appeared out of the air to help me kill them.

Clubbing. It has two meanings.
Calling down a Thumper in FireFall seems to have about the same effect as whipping out your BeatBox in Free Realms, only with more machine-gun fire and less break dancing. As a game mechanic it really has a lot going for it. I could see plenty of other MMOs borrowing this one.

I filled my first Thumper with nothing but dirt, which earned me a sarcastic comment from the guy in my headset who seems to act as some kind of remote commentator/advisor. (It's worth noting that the voiceovers and dialog that I heard and read were above average throughout. We're not talking TSW here but definitely a cut above basic MMO ham acting and scribbles). On my second attempt I took the trouble to pay attention to the read-outs from my Prospecting hammer, found a better spot and filled my Thumper with some kind of gas. That was unexpectedly satisfying.

And that's where I called it a day. I will be back for Open Beta, time permitting, when maybe I will find out what the game is actually about. If nothing else it seems like a very interesting structure for an MMO, knitting Gathering, Dynamic Events and PvP together in a way that I can't recall seeing before. And it looks gorgeous. Definitely deserves further investigation.


  1. Yea, also been playing this weekend for the first time. It's definitely not what i expected, i was thinking a version of Defiance or even Global Agenda. Instead it's kinda a mix between Rift's Zone Invasions , Fallen Earth Vibe (sandboxy crafting) and GW2's dynamic quests (i.e. no quest givers, you look for stuff happening on the map) and of course alot of Planetside 2 in there (especially the progression with battleframes is similar), imagine PS2 as PvE. The combat reminds me alot of Global Agenda (jetpacks/gliders etc).

    Definitely a rather unique combination of things , which is fascinating.

    Looks like you played right up to the point where most people go "ok , what now?", since there's no story or quest chain or real levels even. I think the dev's have alot of work ahead for them, as it's very unclear for newcomers what exactly goes on. Think EVE, without any tutorial. While Firefall got a tutorial, it's the combat basics (which seems to be easy part), not the finer details of what you can do in the game (and how to do it).

    Anyway, i put down a $20 so i can keep playing past this weekend, seems like good deal compared to how much Marvel Heroes and Neverwinter is demanding for a few slots of inventory space.

    1. I think if I hadn't read J3w3l's series of posts on it I'd have been completely lost. Even so I was also expecting something more along the lines of Defiance (not that I've played that either).

      On the other hand I found the basic mechanics exceptionally easy to pick up, much more so than many recent MMOs and I was having fun literally within seconds of logging in. I'm looking forward to digging deeper. The only thing that makes me unsure if I'll play it much is where I'll find the time but I plan on fitting it in somehow.

    2. Defiance is pretty much on rails for the most part. Plus the maps are rather uninspiring. Firefall in contrast has really beautiful sites i must say, it gives me that feeling i got when i played Farcry. The whole tropical/forest scene. Coming to think of it, Farcry also had the gliding...

      As for the time, unlike Defiance which have a set of objectives and you just continue completing them and move on to the next hub, in Firefall i expect it will pretty much be an EVE like situation. You will log in and decide to gather some ore via thumping, maybe see an invasion and go do that, maybe form a group and go do an ARES mission . You'll have to set you own goals, or just roam around and get totally distracted (like myself).

  2. Glad to see your finally trying it out. I really enjoy my time there and it's a great mmo for a little fun and pew pew now and then.

    Content lacking in certain ways but the idea behind it all is fantastic. They haven't realised that idea yet though and I don't think they will for about another year yet. There are some special extra credits videos about it if your interested

    Also, if your wanting a guide for a quick play one weekend give me a message, I'm am no where near as far along as some, and haven't played in a few weeks but I think I know enough.

    1. Thanks, I might take you up on that although your various posts on it were pretty much a tutorial in themselves! Not sure how much time I'll be able to give Firefall but I'd like to fit it in somewhere because it just had a good feel to it from the start. So many MMOs, so little time...


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