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Choose My Adventure: Firefall as it stands


As I noted in the first week of this month's truncated Choose My Adventure, Firefall is finally an honest to goodness real-life video game. The extended extended beta is over, the launch trailer has released, and the game has been cut loose into the world. One might argue that Red 5 is now officially out of excuses; if something isn't satisfactory in Firefall, it must be unsatisfactory by design. We have stepped beyond the point where "it's a beta" is a fair explanation of the game's rougher edges.

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.

Most importantly, there is a clarity of vision in this particular iteration of Firefall that has been lacking in all previous iterations. It would seem that Mark Kern really was the destructive force rumors indicated him to be. As a player who jumped into Firefall several times over the course of its beta life, I can almost sense Kern's absence from the new content's development pipeline. Now more than ever, Firefall feels like the work of a cohesive team with a shared idea for what it wants to create, and that alone makes the game worth picking up for at least a few hours. Heck, I could recommend the game simply because the upgrade/loadout UI is finally not an unintelligible mess of numbers and text.

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.

Small bugs and curious design choices remain, despite the game's extended beta period. Campaign missions, which unlock at specific levels, regularly end with your being stranded in a higher-level area, possibly so much higher that you are unable to access the jobs board. Some textures are remarkably bad. Switching your main weapon for an upgraded version of that weapon has almost no discernable effect; the models and visual effects are identical even if the damage output improves (this may change at higher levels). And more than a few animations seem almost like placeholders (see the first week's stream for a good example of this in action).

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.

I did enjoy my time as an engineer, more than I enjoyed my time as an assault in the last Firefall CMA. I love the utility of the turret and the shield, especially when I'm working a job or campaign mission with a party member or a completely random player. However, I'm not certain I would select the engineer battleframe as a solo adventurer. The weak primary weapon combined with the low overall DPS of the turret makes it easy to get overrun in tougher missions; I feel as if I spent more time reloading than shooting. I suspect turret upgrades and other advanced items might make this less an issue for higher level players, but if you're looking to start Firefall fresh and you're going to be playing alone, I doubt you'll find much satisfaction in the engineer's loadout. Assault, recon, or deadnaught might give you more bang for your buck.

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.

Overall, Firefall is in a good place. I suspect that it will only get better as time goes on. If you've been on the fence, now's the time to check it out. If you abandoned it in beta, now's the time to give it a second chance. And if you're a longtime fan who's been through changes big and small, now's probably the time you have been waiting for all along. This is the closest to finished the game has ever felt.

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.

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