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Bugs, minerals, and jet boots: Hands-on with Firefall's PvE


As any fan of my streams can tell you, I am not awesome at video games. So when Massively asked me to take a look at Firefall, a twitch-heavy, free-to-play shooter developed by Red 5 Studios, it was only with trepidation that I accepted. Could I really find happiness in a world that relied on reflexes and skill more than clever spell rotations? Or would my incompetence make the game so frustrating that I would end up smashing my keyboard with my face?

After procrastinating for days and hoping that the project would vanish into the night (beta goblins or something), I finally sat down to check the game out. What I discovered is that Firefall is much more than a shooter; it is a vibrant universe packed with fun things to do, intriguing content to explore, and enough character customization to please even the most ardent of tweakers.

Gallery: Firefall battleframe design | 8 Photos

A beautiful world to explore

Firefall is pretty. I can say without qualification that it is one of the best-looking MMOs I have ever played. And that's just running at medium settings; the game is a bit too much for my old rig to handle. It's not all about the graphics or the game engine, though; Firefall has detailed and colorful art design that immediately roped me into its world. It feels like a real place more than a collection of random interest points. The starting town, Copacabana, is situated in the middle of a lush tropical paradise complete with waving palms and bright sandy beaches, and it's easy to imagine people hanging out here between missions for a rum-based drink. From its opening moments, it is clear that Firefall isn't just another dark, dingy shooter.

Firefall Beach
Also cool: Firefall, from what I can tell, takes place on one massive continent. It's a vast, open world that you are free to move around as you please. You do this mostly on foot, though vehicles are set to be implemented soon and the game does offer a quirky but cool glider system for gently floating from one locale to the next. Every place you go has enemies to fight (usually of the bug variety), objectives to capture or defend, and random dynamic events designed to help you earn experience and keep having fun. There's also a main storyline quest that takes you from naïve rookie to elite soldier; it begins with a set of tutorials that walk you through the game's basic functions.

Firefall World
At least, I assume that is what the main storyline does. During my playtime, those quests were experiencing something of a hiccup, so I was never able to get past the second tutorial mission. It should be noted here, however, that customer support at Red 5 was super helpful, explaining the problem and linking me to useful info within just a few seconds of my opening a ticket. Betas often have problems, but responsiveness counts when courting a new playerbase. In the meantime, I was content to take/defend towers, gather resources, salvage wrecked equipment, and explore the world before me.

Class-based combat

The basic gist of combat in Firefall is simple: Pick a class, then use that class's abilities to deal with the dangerous mercenaries, invaders, and wildlife found in the game. However, the class system is backed by a deep set of customizable skill trees that allow you to fine-tune your chosen class to better suit your playstyle. Your experience points go directly into tiered unlocks, and you have to make tough choices along the way as to how exactly you want to conduct the business of killing. It's a bit overwhelming at first, especially without whatever tutorial I'm sure I should have received, but once you learn to read in the game's language, it becomes very clear that there's a lot of room for growth and customization.

Firefall Battleframe
The other big factor in your character's performance is his or her Battleframe. Battleframes are mechanized suits that enhance your abilities and stats. Much to my delight, Battleframes can be customized in terms of color palette and decorations, and even same-tier Battleframes look different based on the class. Better Battleframes make for stronger characters, and Battleframes can also be modified with different weapon loadouts, better ammunition and stronger jumpjets (which allow you to fly higher and longer).

"Firefall is a game best enjoyed with friends."

The real core of any shooter experience is the combat, and Firefall's is fast and furious. Enemies spawn in droves pretty much everywhere you go, and every mission is a mini endurance run in staying alive while dishing out pain to your foes. I do have to admit that I felt some frustration here, as several of the missions and activities involve fighting in a very tight space around the mission objective. As a Recon player, I felt sort of lame to be forced into sub-machine-gunning everything down because there was no way to get at range for my sniper rifle. However, more open objectives (like defending or capturing bases) allow for more freedom, and Recon players can have a bit more fun hiding in the bushes and camping out on hills.

Firefall Shooting
It's worth noting that teamwork is highly encouraged in these quests. Some are nearly impossible to pull off when running around solo. Firefall, like PlanetSide 2, is a game best enjoyed with friends.

Resources, resources, resources

The main thrust of every activity in Firefall is gathering resources, which you can then use to craft increasingly powerful items through the game's exquisitely interesting crafting system. There are several ways to go about finding the things you need: You can complete missions, participate in dynamic events, or grind out mobs. You can also harvest minerals with explosive devices or through the use of a Thumper, which comes crashing out of the sky and begins harvesting minerals from the earth. This, naturally, upsets the local wildlife, so you'll have to make short work of them if you want to reap the delicious and valuable rewards.

Firefall Thumper
The resource and inventory system in Firefall is quite deep and will be a challenge for newer players. There are several different resource types that can be used to create a wide array of items, the appropriate use of which isn't very clearly outlined by the game. The Battleframe interface, tech menu, and Battleframe upgrade screen are also tough to understand at first. There is also very little direction in terms of what to actually do or why to do it, though this may have more to do with my personal beta problems than the actual game. Red 5 does have plans to soften the new player experience, so it's possible that new tutorials are forthcoming.

Firefall Night
Overall, at least based on the PvE component (the focus of this hands-on -- yes, of course, there is PvP in this MMOFPS, but we wanted to tackle PvE this time around), Firefall seems as if it's going to be very, very good. There are kinks that need working out, for sure, but the main experience is a slick, attractive sci-fi shooter that will rope new players in and keep them playing for months. Nice graphics, jetboots and cool characters are fun elements, but it's the solid shooting mechanics and rewarding customization and progression systems that will ensure the game lives on past its launch date.

I'm not sure what sort of genre-bending alchemy Red 5 has resorted to in creating a game this cool, but I'm definitely a fan.

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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