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Ready, aim, Firefall: Impressions of the closed beta


Last year at PAX Prime, I had the opportunity to get my hands on an early version of Red 5 Studios' upcoming MMOFPS, Firefall. The game's come a long way since then, having gone into closed beta shortly after PAX Prime.

As of Friday, the game's NDA has finally dropped, and I can finally tell you fine folks all about my experiences with the game's beta. For those of you somehow not in the know, Firefall is essentially two games in one. On the one hand, you have the title's open-world PvE content that sees players exploring the lands of New Eden in an attempt to find a way to fight back the destructive alien force known as the Melding. On the other, there's the competitive e-sports-esque PvP, which lets players test their skills against each another to see who's the best shot in New Eden. So how much has Firefall changed between PAX Prime '11 and PAX East '12?

Screenshot -- Firefall
Well, not much, but that's actually a good thing. If you read my impressions of the title at PAX Prime 2011, you'll remember that I thought it was fantastic. That opinion has not changed. If anything, the game has certainly gotten better in regard to polish, though the content is still about what you'd expect. Run around, shoot things, and get better gear to shoot more things. It may not sound like much, but believe me, it's a blast.

Let's start with the PvE. Right now, the PvE content in the Firefall beta is limited but still a load of fun. When you create a character, you're dropped into the lovely, paradisiacal locale of Copacabana, New Eden, in what was once Brazil. From there, you're tasked with traversing the picturesque beaches and fields of the area and murdering the ever-loving daylights out of anything that so much as looks at you funny, and damn is it a blast.

For starters, the game just looks wonderful. The animations are smooth, and I simply adore the art style. It's comicky and stylish without being overly cartoonish, and the battleframe designs are, in my opinion, stellar. Oh, and holy wow, Copacabana is gorgeous! Every time I log in, I feel like I'm on vacation, except that the vacation also happens to include obliterating the local wildlife.

But how's the gameplay itself? Well, like I said, PvE at the moment is limited. You have access to a few introductory missions, but after that, it trails off. The missions that are in the game are pretty standard stuff: Go here, shoot this, explore that, etc. There's nothing particularly revolutionary in that regard, but the missions accomplish what they need to, and that's giving you an excuse to get trigger-happy.

Screenshot -- Firefall
And of course, that's where the fun starts. There is a wide variety of battleframes to choose from, so whether you're a high-twitch player who prefers the sniper-rifle-wielding Recon or just someone who wants to perforate everything in sight with the Dreadnaught's minigun, there's something for you. Each class can be outfitted with a variety of weapons and abilities to customize its playstyle to your liking. Aggressively offensive Medic sound like fun to you? With the right modules and abilities, you can play just that. I went for the Recon battleframe outfitted with a high-speed sniper rifle, an ability that turned my bullets into explosives for a short time, and a long-range landmine that I could use to turn enemies into a fine crimson mist. And let me tell you something: If you've never pumped a charging giant arachnid thing full of resonating bolts and watched it explode into a zillion bitty pieces, you haven't lived, man.

"And let me tell you something: If you've never pumped a charging giant arachnid thing full of resonating bolts and watched it explode into a zillion bitty pieces, you haven't lived, man."

Another key feature of PvE is the concept of resource gathering. We're all familiar with the idea, but this is the future, so your high-tech supersoldier won't be running up to rocks with a mining pick to gather minerals. No, you'll use a handy gadget known as a thumper. This beastly mining device drops in from orbit to pound the ground beneath it in order to extract resources from the earth, but there's only one minor issue: It's hella loud, and that means it's hella attractive to surrounding wildlife that would like nothing more than to destroy your thumper and nom your face, so resource-gathering becomes a test of combat as players must defend their thumpers from attacking creatures long enough to finish gathering materials. Once successfully gathered, these materials can be used to craft a number of useful gadgets such as new weapons, battleframes, abilities, and more.

I'm sure the competitive among you are screaming, "Well what about the PvP?" So far I've dabbled in two different PvP gametypes: team deathmatch and sabotage. TDM is exactly what it says. I don't think I really need to go into detail on that one. Sabotage is an attack-defend gametype in which one team is on the offensive and the other on the defensive. The attackers have to hack into a series of three different control points in order to win the round, while the defenders, obviously, must keep them from doing so at all costs.

Screenshot -- Firefall
Now, let me make one thing perfectly clear: While I love me some competitive manshoots, I am by no means an expert or a pro, so my insight into balance and the sort is probably not the greatest. That being said, I never noticed any one class dominating the battlefield, and from what I've played, it seems like every battleframe brings something valuable to the team. Assault and Recon tend to be useful for cleaning out the enemy, while Dreadnaughts are useful for defending points due to their heavy armor. If you'd rather play more of a support role in PvP, just hop in as a Medic or an Engineer and heal your teammates, set up turrets, and generally just help the rest of your teammates do their jobs better.

Overall, I think the competitive players who want a balanced, e-sports-style PvP experience will find themselves rather pleased. Player skill and teamwork is rewarded, and higher-level weapons/armor don't necessarily provide more power, just more playstyle options. For example, my initial sniper rifle was a powerful bolt-action piece with a small clip and a long delay between shots. My newer one is considerably less powerful, but it has an extended clip and a higher rate of fire, which allows me to compensate for missed shots much more easily. My one complaint is this: While the weapons and such are generally sidegrades, players who haven't reached a high-enough level to unlock their abilities are at a distinct disadvantage because obviously three different abilities make your character much more powerful (and versatile) than just one, and considering the rate at which I was gaining new abilities (read: somewhat slowly), I wish the game would provide players with their choice of abilities in competitive PvP for the sake of balance.

Ultimately, I'm quite a fan of Firefall. Not only is it tackling a genre that's sorely underrepresented in the industry, but it's doing so with panache. PvE-focused players who want to explore a rich, vibrant world and play cooperatively with friends will find plenty to like, but the pugilists who want to be the very best (like no one ever was) will definitely be thrilled with the game's competitive PvP. Both facets of the game seem to be shaping up nicely, so we can only hope that this progression continues well into launch... whenever that is.

Massively's not big on scored reviews -- what use are those to ever-changing MMOs? That's why we bring you first impressions, previews, hands-on experiences, and even follow-up impressions for nearly every game we stumble across. First impressions count for a lot, but games evolve, so why shouldn't our opinions?

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