Field Journal: Picking up the pieces of Fallen Earth

Today. At the edge of the Grand Canyon, after the end of civilization, we have chosen not only to read old manuals, but to write new ones. Today there is not a clone here that shall scavenge alone. Not today. Today we face the prairie chickens that are at our door and roast them. Today, we are crafting the post-apocalypse!

I was introduced to Fallen Earth way back in the mists of time, around when I first started reading Massively. It was one of the earliest Choose My Adventures, and I was so impressed that I made my own account and joined in on the fun part of the way through. My character even made a few cameos in the column later on.

I have a lot of fond memories of the game, and a significant part of that is due to the crafting system. There are some really good ideas in there, even if the execution has always been a bit flawed. Despite those flaws, I wouldn't trade my early days with the game for anything. Well, other than a better version of the same game.

Build me up, Buttercup

It's impossible to explain how crafting in Fallen Earth works without first explaining how character builds work. FE rejects classes, instead having the player spend points directly on his or her character traits. Combat skills and mutations (essentially magic) require direct purchase to improve, as well as the increase of base stats to expand their limits. For crafters, tradeskills require points spent to increase the base stats of Intelligence and Perception. The skills themselves are increased through use.

All this means there are essentially two types of builds for crafters. One takes advantage of the need for Perception to specialize in either Rifle or Pistol skill, which also derive from it. This frees you up enough points to pursue the Social skill and Charisma stat, allowing you to buy and sell to vendors at more favorable prices. It also leaves you free to equip skill-boosting tools rather than more damaging melee weapons. The other build focuses on Melee, which means buying up Strength and carrying less ammo. This is perfect for gathering, allowing you to hold many more materials before you need to unload them to your vault.

Of course, you still have some stats that you don't spend points improving. In fact, every time you gain a level they all slightly improve. As such, you'll be able to, and should, craft no matter what your focus. The difference is between being great at every kind of craft, being mediocre at every kind of craft if you have a build that includes Perception, and barely scraping by in every craft for a build with baseline crafting limits.

Wow! Everything is in 3D!

This leads me to one of my big complaints about crafting in Fallen Earth: Whatever your build, you have equal potential in every tradeskill. Some are easier than others to level up, but they all have the same limits. I think the devs really missed a big opportunity in the system design; if any single character had differing limits for various tradeskills, there would be more reason to trade.

The solution to this isn't just simple; it's literally taking a leaf out of the developers' own book, specifically the mutation skills. Every mutation skill has its limits defined partially by the Willpower stat, but most of it comes from one of the various other stats. If tradeskills had been designed this way, substituting Intelligence in place of Willpower, no one character could master them all. Even so, a dedicated crafter could reach the heights of a few trades and at least be better than the minimum skill in the rest. Meanwhile, those less focused on crafting will still be able to reach highly competent levels in a few things.

Make sure there's some good overlap between the stats of trade and combat skills and you have a strong recipe for self-sufficiency that fits the survival angle of the game without eliminating the need to trade with others who've mastered other crafts. As it is, crafters just feel like a character class unto themselves.

We can do it!

There is of course much more to the crafting systems of Fallen Earth than a character build. Like crafting in many themepark MMOs, FE crafting is mostly a matter of finding the materials you need, then clicking a button to start a timer that counts down until the item is ready. Unlike most themepark MMOs, FE implements both of these ideas in gratifying ways.

One clone's trash is another's crafting supplies.

Gathering is fairly simple. Walk up to a resource node in the wilderness, right click on it, wait for a short timer, and click to take your items. The difference is that instead of being sparsely sprinkled around under the noses of hostile mobs, FE has resource rich areas nearly carpeted with nodes. It's very easy to hop from one pile of scrap to another, scavenging a variety of resources, or to run around a vegetable patch taking as much as you please while they rapidly respawn. Common materials are never hard to find in as large a quantity as you'd like.

Even with a Strength build, you will need to go back to a town to stow your materials before too long. It all adds up, and you'll hit your weight limit or fill up all your inventory slots sooner or later. Fortunately, there's no weight limit in a vault, but it does come with a large number of slots combined with a generous stack limit. Being able to purchase extra slots for real cash is one of the areas the free-to-play model works well.

As for crafting, no one likes standing around waiting for a bar to fill until you get your item. Good thing FE doesn't require you to stand around. You're free to keep running around, gathering more materials, questing, PvPing, even logging out. The tradeoff is that the timers are much longer, with some things like vehicles taking days to complete when the assembly of each part is factored in. There is a queue for crafting, but as a player who has spent money on the game in the past, I still only had three slots in that queue. Subscribed players have a 20-slot queue, and while F2P players can purchase an increase of 15 slots, it ludicrously lasts only an hour.

I even built me a horse.

Alternatively, you could purchase crafting boosters. On the one hand, you get your finished product sooner, but on the other hand, you just paid real money for a measly 10% increase for a total of five hours. It both cheapens the survivalist experience and isn't remotely worthwhile. Fallen Earth has never really been a true sandbox, but the crafting did give it some of that feeling.

On one more positive note, I heartily approve of the method of learning new recipes. The majority of recipes are learned through manuals. These books are consumable items, and once used, most of them teach you how to make several items in a similar category. Additionally, they will generally give you the knowledge to write another copy of the manual and to conduct research to write manuals for more advanced crafting.

At this point, I think Fallen Earth doesn't have much left to offer in entertainment. It's more interesting as an example of good ideas and poor execution. The way I feel about it now is that it's something everyone should try, but not something anyone should play longer than he or she feels happy with.

So what next? Well, I am on a bit of a crafting kick. I'm tempted to look into RIFT's new Dream Weaving, but there's something else that's tugging at my attention as well. We'll see next week.

There are so many weird and wonderful destinations to visit within the MMOscape, and Massively's Matthew Gollschewski hopes to chronicle them all for you every Thursday in his trusty Field Journal. Grab your camera and your adventurin' hat and join in on his next expedition, or just mail him some notes of your own.