PAX 2011: Hands-on with Firefall

Screenshot -- Firefall
It's no secret that I like my games with more of a skill-based flavor. I enjoy games that reward player skill above superior gear or higher levels. In light of that, I was quite excited to get some hands-on time with Firefall, the new massively multiplayer shooter coming from Red 5 Studios.

There has been much talk about the upcoming title, with its status as one of the few forays into the MMO shooter space since PlanetSide and Global Agenda. There's also the small detail that the studio is headed up by former World of Warcraft Team Lead Mark Kern alongside a number of former Tribes series devs. So how is the game shaping up in preparation for its December launch? Jetpack your way past the cut to find out.

For my hands-on demonstration, I was allowed to create a new character (though character creation, I was informed, had been simplified for the sake of expedience) and jump into the game's world. Firefall takes place on Earth, but not the Earth that we know. After a cataclysmic event known as the Firefall, only a small portion of civilization remains. I was dropped into the city of Copacabana, New Eden (formerly Brazil). But all is not well in New Eden; a threat known as The Melding is slowly moving across the world, wreaking havoc upon everything in its path. As if this weren't enough, out of The Melding has come a hostile race known as The Chosen, who seem to be working in tandem with The Melding.

The introductory quests were fairly standard and involved my following a series of waypoints and fighting off a number of enemies in my quest to find a lost robot. As I went about the questing, I found myself squaring off with a massive dinosaur-esque creature that would periodically charge me, sending me flying back if I didn't dodge in time. The lack of an active dodge/roll system was a bit of a pain in PvE, but I understand that it could be detrimental to PvP. I still feel like it would make a good addition to the game, if only for the sake of PvE. Jetpacking is all well and good, but your energy is limited, and it's not exactly the speediest way to get out of the path of a charging dinosaur.

Screenshot -- Firefall
That aside, however, the combat was fast-paced and frenetic, and it definitely required me to use all of my (admittedly somewhat meager) twitch skills to place my shots on some rather small and rapidly moving targets. Using the Assault battleframe, I also had two skills at my disposal. These skills were activated by pressing the number keys. The first was a jet boost, which allowed me to quickly charge in a direction. The second, appropriately called Crater, allowed me to divebomb from the air in order to deal massive damage upon landing.

The controls were simple and exactly what one would expect from an FPS. WASD controlled your movement, while left click and right click loosed your weapon's primary and secondary fire, respectively. Space bar jumps and activates your jetpack, and scrolling the mouse wheel cycles your weapons. You're also able to switch freely between first- and third-person view by clicking the mouse wheel, which can be useful depending on the situation you find yourself in. One thing I did find interesting is the increasingly uncommon inclusion of primary and secondary fire modes for each weapon. More interesting than that, however, was the notification that players would actually be able to customize their weapons' alternate fire mode to their liking, bringing a whole new level of personalization to the game.

After I finished my introductory missions, I was surprised by the announcement of a dynamic event. A Chosen spaceship had uncloaked above the town of Copacabana and was preparing to launch an assault. Embracing the opportunity to shoot up some nasty creeps, I hastily switched my Battleframe from Assault to Recon, which gave me a big honkin' sniper rifle. I couldn't have been more pleased. I jetpacked my way to the top of a building to establish a sniper's perch, and then all hell broke loose. Drop pods rained from the sky and Chosen began streaming out.

Screenshot -- Firefall
My Recon's skills included the ability to imbue my bullets with explosive properties and the ability to toss a proximity mine absurd distances. Making the most of these abilities, I had a (pardon the pun) blast fighting off the waves of enemies. Headshots do much more damage than regular hits, so a skilled Recon can drop enemies in a matter of seconds. I, however, was not a particularly skilled Recon, and therefore I ended up on the receiving end of just one too many Chosen bullets.

Not long after that, my time with Firefall was disappointingly at an end. I didn't get the opportunity to play in any of the competitive PvP matches, which is a shame, considering the fact that for many shooter fans -- including me -- competitive play is one of the big draws of a game. Regardless, the game seems to be shaping up well in preparation for its December launch date, and it appears to be bringing something different than we're used to to the MMO space. Any players looking for a little more action in their MMOs would do well to keep an eye on Firefall in the coming months.

Pros:
  • Action-based combat rewards player skill above all else
  • Variety of modules and abilities for each Battleframe encourages customization
  • Graphics are crisp and unique, very comic book-esque
  • Controls are tight and responsive
  • Variety of combat roles mean there's a place for players of all skill levels
Cons:
  • An active dodge ability would be really nice
  • Dynamic events don't seem to scale based on participation, which can result in players being overwhelmed if people leave the area
  • Quests/missions seem to be more of the same -- run here, kill this, deliver this, etc.; it's not necessarily a con, but seeing something new would be nice
This article was originally published on Massively.