Because what we're dealing with is theoretically intended to be a full retail product, it's not useful to talk about what Firefall used to be, nor is it useful to speculate on what Firefall might become. The only honest evaluation of the game, if evaluation is the goal, must center on the current iteration of the product, the one that Red 5 considered complete enough to release as the finished version of its vision. Is Firefall, in its current state, worth playing? Does it offer enough content to keep players engaged? Is it finally delivering on the promise we have glimpsed in its systems?
For the first time since my initial encounter with the game in early 2013, I'd say the answer is yes.
Linking it together
Firefall's new story-focused campaign threads together everything that's happening on the ground and makes the world feel meaningful. My biggest complaint about Firefall has always been that the dynamic events you encounter in the world don't seem all that resonant or important; the campaign marks a huge effort on Red 5's part to put some weight behind your character's actions. Each new campaign mission reveals just a little bit of the greater narrative at play, inspiring you to keep progressing so that you can unlock the next chapter and carry your story forward. The campaign is exactly the dose of motivational material Firefall players needed; without it, the world remains a collection of repetitive and unrelated side missions.
Firefall isn't perfect. Far from it. You'll still nick yourself on the shrapnel of exploded ideas here and there. The dynamically generated ARES jobs that I experienced were composed mostly of bottom-of-the-barrel repetitive errand-running. The voice acting is cheesy. The radio, which is the only way the game interacts with your character, almost never stops spewing forgettable, hackneyed dialogue from characters with about as much depth as a sheet of paper. And at the end of the day, nearly every task in Firefall, campaign or otherwise, boils down to traveling to point A, shooting enemy B, looting item C, and heading back to point D.
But the core mechanics of Firefall, the shooting and the rocket booting, are as solid as they've ever been. The ARES jobs (though shallow), campaign (though level locked), and dynamic events (though repetitive), are all perfectly suited for the run-and-gun nature of Firefall's gameplay. What I am beginning to see in Firefall is a game that has found a way to marry its strengths to its weaknesses. Firefall knows its writing isn't great, and it knows players are fed up with fixing thumpers, but it also knows that at the end of the day people still love flying around and shooting stuff, even if that stuff isn't all that innovative or awe-inspiring.
Firefall isn't afraid to bet on the assumption that shooting, not storytelling, is what you showed up for.
On the subject of CMAs
Choose My Adventure is a column about exploring the community's curiosity more than issuing some sort of verdict from on high. I would be remiss if I did not touch on some of the community's requests in this final Firefall post. For one, there is the subject of what it's like to adventure through New Eden wearing an engineer battleframe. Engineers are known mostly for their handy deployables, such as a turret that mows down enemies, a shield that protects from incoming fire, and a portable health and ammunition station. Firefall doesn't necessarily denote any battleframes as "support," but if it did, the engineer frame would likely fit in this category alongside the biotech.
The one message that rang loud and clear through all of our polls is that the community really wants to see Firefall's campaign in action. I've played as much of it as possible given that it's level locked and mission based, and what I can tell you is that it's sort of a mixed bag. Some of the missions were instanced, requiring survival through tough firefights and constantly shifting objectives. Others were five-minute fetch quests indistinguishable from any other Firefall content. The fourth mission is literally standing still for a few minutes while an NPC talks. Experienced players tuning in for streams have informed me the campaign really takes off at higher levels; I'm willing to take their word for it but have to wonder why Red 5 didn't place more of an emphasis on making the early missions equally engaging.
As for CMA, I'll catch you next week. The community has asked that we look to sci-fi for our next adventure, and I have just the game in mind.
Mike Foster is putting you in the driving seat of Choose My Adventure, the Massively column in which you make the rules, call the shots, and take the blame when things go horribly awry. Stop by every Wednesday to help Mike as he explores the ins and outs of games big and small and to see what happens when one man tries to take on a world of online games armed only with a solar keyboard and the power of spellcheck.