I had some spare time this week, so I went on the Fallen Earth public test server to check out some of the new stuff. Progress towns have made their debut, and so has a slew of new skills and abilities. Actually, saying that there are new skills and abilities is kind of an understatement. There is an entirely new skills-and-abilities system in place on the PTS. It is barely recognizable compared to what we have now. Yes, it's that different. Is this a good thing, or is it bad?
With Sector 4 looming on Fallen Earth's horizon, we are looking down the barrel of the gun of change. There are a lot of new things coming our way soon, most of which are closely guarded secrets. I did have an opportunity to see some of the new stuff we'll be seeing in the next patch, but I didn't get to peer behind the giant wall that keeps our prying clone eyes out of the next sector. If any of this stuff interests you, click past the cut and I'll go into a little more detail about it.
When you first log into the PTS, you will notice that your build will be quite unrecognizable and your hotbar will be very empty. Fret not. The PTS offers unlimited and free full respecs. You can roll with what you've got, but since there are entirely new skill lines and plenty of changed abilities, I suggest you respec first. Your stats are unchanged, and they still cost 5 AP to raise them a point. What has changed about the stats is how the skills and mutations' maximums are derived.
Notice I didn't say minimums. That is one of the game's major changes: Stats no longer raise your skill or mutation minimums. What does this mean? For starters, it means you won't automatically get better at everything as you level up. In our current system, your minimum skills and mutations would increase without any AP expenditure. This would bring even completely neglected skill lines into the realm of useful. This results in characters that are pretty good at everything, which is a good thing for the lone-wolf types who want to solo everything, but it's a bad thing for those who prefer more specialized characters. The change was met, on the forums at least, with mixed emotions.
Since you'll need a much larger chunk of AP to build a viable character, each level gained will award you with 30 AP -- you will receive three per bubble on the XP meter, in other words. There is still an AP cap that amounts to 5 bonus AP per level (35 total) to be spent, with 70 at level 1. This makes the level 50 AP cap 1785. It sounds like a lot of AP, but since your skill lines all start at 1, you'll need to invest 179 points to max one out. The points go away fast. And any skill lines you don't invest points into will grant you no abilities. The random AP frequency has been increased as well to keep pace with the larger AP volume.
The new skill lines include Dirty Tricks, Escape Artist, Heavy Weapons, Power, and Precision. The Heavy Weapons line isn't available until level 40, and aside from the rocket launcher, I didn't see any weapons that require it yet. At any rate, that line should be interesting once it's fleshed out with some heavy firepower. Athletics is gone, and I'm not quite sure whether Dirty Tricks or Escape Artist will determine your stealth values. Power and Precision are two skill lines that affect weapon damage. They add a small amount of passive damage and have skills that increase damage considerably. Telepathy is now called Illumination, and all of the mutations are completely different. There are also no more capstones to theme your builds around, so you'll have to get creative.
All weapon abilities can be used for all weapon types. For example, the Agonizing Wound snare ability you get with the Rifle skill can be used with melee weapons and pistols. It sounds weird, but in practice it's actually pretty cool. Dual-speccing in weapons is actually viable now (in my opinion). Trying to use a weapon in which you have no skill will result in laughable damage or even a miss. Yes, there will be misses in PvP, but only if you are very unskilled in the weapon's use. All in all, weapon damage has increased, and with abilities that add directly to that damage (as opposed to ineffectual debuffs), you can bring people down very quickly.
Players are a bit less resilient as well, which makes combat flow all the faster. There are far fewer powerful buffs available, and most of the self-heals are now targeted heals. Even Patch can be accidentally cast on an enemy if you aren't careful. The heals will take some getting used to by those who rely on self-heals to stay in the fight, but most people won't be affected much. I found myself only using Medigrafts during fights and using Patch during lulls in the action. Health regeneration and stamina regeneration are both very low. The stamina-heavy skill sets and the heavier weapon damage quickly outpace both and add even more decisiveness to combat.
Do I like the feel of the new combat system? Yes, I do. It is definitely simpler to learn and use than our current system. But it is new and relatively untested. The system we have right now on the live server (aside from a few small balancing issues like Knockdown) is nearly perfect. Although I can see what is going on here, it's such a shame to scrap a system that is working so well for something new and unproven. At any rate, I'm already pretty good with the new system -- I got right up to speed with it. It's quite intuitive and far less convoluted than our current system. But I damn sure will miss the current system. I've spent over a year mastering it, and I'll hate to see it go.
Progress towns are a step in the right direction, certainly. The ability for players to build structures in the world is a stepping stone toward great things. The system is very rudimentary, but it is a good basis from which to start. Essentially, the players build some buildings, which spawn resources, merchants and missions. NPCs attack the town every so often, and the players (regardless of faction) are called to arms to protect their little piece of the apocalypse from raiders or zombies. Are progress towns the be-all-end-all of awesomeness? No, but they are definitely a step in the right direction.
My strongest suggestion to you is to check this stuff out for yourself. Log onto the PTS and mess around with some builds. Duel your friends in the streets of Trader's Flat. Capture a progress town and build some bunkers. You might even find some bugs and help the dev team roll this stuff out even more quickly. It's there for testing purposes, but nobody will stop you from logging in just to get a sneak-peek of what's to come. So go ahead. Maybe I'll be there, and we can slug it out in the streets with our new builds. If not, I'll see you here next week.
Ed Marshall has been playing Fallen Earth since beta and leads the KAOS clan. Wasteland Diaries is his weekly column that covers all aspects of Fallen Earth: PvE, RP and PvP. To contact Ed, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, find him on the official forums as Casey Royer, or hunt him down in the wastelands as Nufan, Original, Death Incarnate, and Knuckles Mcsquee.