The marriage of sandbox and themepark
"Sandbox" and "themepark" are two terms we use an awful lot of around Massively, and it sometimes feels like everyone has to either be in one camp or the other. I myself generally prefer the more structured environments of themepark MMOs, but I certainly appreciate the freedom and player empowerment that comes with sandboxes as well. With themepark MMOs overplayed and sandbox titles far too niche to hit mainstream, I truly believe that so-called "sandparks" are where the future lies.
Again, Fallen Earth
is my Exhibit A in this regard. It's a tough game to categorize, since it exudes qualities of both types of games. There are certainly quest hubs, storylines, and enough dev-created content to choke a crafted horse, but there's also a huge amount of freedom to progress the way you want and even make your mark on the world. It might not be a perfect sandpark, but it's done an admirable job being an ambassador between the two genres.
For a gamer who's never gotten into sandbox MMOs (even though I've tried many of them), Fallen Earth
proved to be a good compromise between the familiar and the unknown. I had the training wheels of kill 10 rats quests and the like, but while I did those, I started to become exposed to the notion that I didn't have to stay on the developers' rails at all. I could jump off, go explore, go craft, go build a shelter, and go set my own goals. Having that choice felt heady, and I've always enjoyed it here.
The same yet different world
Because Fallen Earth
takes place in a semi-alternate universe several years from now, there's an interesting mixture of familiar elements with bizarro post-apocalyptic accoutrements. I had never played an MMO in a contemporary setting before, and seeing all of these objects from my every day life -- a computer monitor here, a payphone there -- instantly made it felt more real to me.
I'm not exactly sick of fantasy settings, but I am weary of them to the point that an MMO set in current times or in the future is a major draw. Fallen Earth
isn't a world of fantasy glitz and glamor; it's a run-down place with urinals, blue screens of death, slot machines, and drug dens. It's a place where people have fallen to the brink of extinction and are clawing their way back by any means possible. And it's absolutely fascinating to explore.
I'd actually go so far as to say that Fallen Earth
has one of the most exploration-rich worlds in MMOs. Weird and fascinating vistas and locations are everywhere, often telling stories without words. I remember going across a bridge at one point and seeing hand-painted signs warning me to go back. The fourth sign was only half-finished, as its painter was lying on the ground with a bullet wound in his head. It actually made me pause -- did I want to keep on exploring or go back?
What makes exploration more tantalizing is a lack of safety net. Die in an underground complex and you won't be able to rez on the spot (unless you have a very good friend nearby). Instead, you'll have to head back to a cloning facility while your mount will stay where you left it last -- requiring you to jog all the way back to it. The world feels dangerous and unpredictable, and that's certainly part of its allure.
Pride of crafting
I don't have a super-strong opinion on which MMO has the best crafting system, but as for me and my house, we certainly have enjoyed Fallen Earth's
the most. As I said previously, you can craft a huge amount of the game's wearable and usable items, and there's something awesome about knowing that you're decked out in gear that you yourself made from scratch. Some of the more complicated items -- guns, vehicles -- have multi-stage processes that can take quite some time to complete, making the final result that much more satisfying. It's also economical, as purchasing similar gear and ammo from vendors can be quite expensive.
But the biggest draw for me is the queuing system. Your character can have crafting projects going on independent to what he's doing in-game -- or even if he's logged out -- and each project requires a certain amount of time (from mere seconds to days) to complete. The best part is that you can queue up to 20 projects at once, which is so satisfying to do each and every time.
All the little things
is a game that's made me laugh on more than one occasion, made me jump out of my chair in fright a few times, and even made me tear up in a manly fashion (I'll never forget that teddy bear propped against a gravestone). It's a game where it seems like the laws that govern most MMOs are thrown out of the window and replaced with an "anything goes" mantra.
The game's six factions are all insane in their own charming ways, and the soundbytes that NPCs spit your way are bitingly funny as a result. There's a charm to the inhabitants' ignorance of the world-that-was, as nobody remembers what civilization was before the apocalypse hit. And I'm pretty sure this is one of the only MMOs that pits you in gang warfare surrounding a production of a half-baked Shakespeare performance.
I love it because prairie chickens have mutated into these godawful balls of weirdness. I love it because I genuinely fear a swarm of ants more than any single armed mutant. I love it because there's always a rush when a cluster of harvestable nodes is found and nobody but you is there to collect the rewards. I love it because when I unload my shotgun into the face of a crazed cultist, I can see how far I can make him fly back. I love that the game makes me work for my progress instead of handing it to me on a platter.
It's not a perfect game, I'll admit. The combat? It's pretty simplistic and actually very quick compared to the more involved systems in other MMOs. The desert of the early game gets boring to look at after spending hours there. It's not always that easy to hook up with friends. And since you can do 100% of the gathering and crafting, the economy is not as strong as it could've been.
But there's something else to Fallen Earth
that makes me root for it even so. This is a game that I want to see succeed in the long run because I want interesting ideas and novel approaches to be rewarded. I play it because there really isn't anything else out there like it, and I'm glad I found it.
There's an MMO born every day, and every game is someone's favorite. Why I Play is a column in which the Massively staff members kick back and reminisce about all their favorite MMOs. Whether it's the new hotness or an old fan favorite loaded with nostalgia, each title we cover here tugs at our heartstrings and keeps us coming back for more.