Firefall is a bit of a running gag for the Co-Opticrew. Not because the game is bad or anything, but because we can always count on Red 5 Studios to have a giant Firefall booth at whatever gaming convention we’re covering. Seriously, they’re show floor landmarks. It’s been awhile since the game was announced. We’ve seen it at just about every show since Spring of 2011 and Firefall is always in one of the biggest booths. But what is it? And better yet, how does Firefall play?
Firefall is a free to play (F2P) third or first-person shooter set on Earth after an asteroid alters our planet forever. Humanity discovers a new power source called crystite and much of the game and story revolves around this mineral and its value/power. In fact the core of the game is all about mining and collecting minerals and raw resources to craft, build, and better your characters.
The characters and classes are called Battleframes, and there are five to initially choose from and can be switched to at anytime at battleframe stations. The five classes are Assault, Dreadnaught, Engineer, Biotech, and Recon. Basically balance, tank, defense, medic, and sniper. Each frame has its own set of upgrades, abilities, and levels of equipment. As there is no overall character level in Firefall, your battleframes are essentially your character levels.
What’s interesting is how Red 5 handles experience. Every action in the game will earn you experience. Complete quests, mine for minerals, participate in dynamic events - you’ll be rewarded for each of these with experience and items. But if there’s no leveling system, what good is it? Experience it technically a currency in Firefall, so you can spend it to unlock slots in your battleframe to equip skills or upgrade its capacity to equip better items.What would you say...you do here?
Compared to a lot of other of the F2P games we’ve covered, Firefall is primarily an MMO. That’s impressive in its own right, because that means it needs server infrastructure and more on a massive scale to support large PvE and PvP environments. Its in the former area that most of the game’s co-op action takes place. Lets look at the things we can do.
Since resource collection is a big part of Firefall, one of the missions you can create for yourself is called a Thumper Mission. During these you’ll access your call down menu and bring in a thumper from space. A thumper is this gigantic mining hammer that pulls resources out of the ground, but in doing so, it creates a thumping sound that attracts creatures turning it into a protect/survival mission. Fail to protect your thumper, you fail to gather the resources.
Once you plug into the different areas around Firefall you’ll start to see dynamic missions pop up on your map. Perhaps you’ll be asked to defuse a bomb or kill a raiding party. These missions can be done with a squad of up to five other players or just with other players that happen to be completing the mission at the same time in the game world. While some missions actually recommend you to have a number of people in your squad to even attempt them, most can be done solo or with random folks in the world.
Perhaps the most interesting cooperative element to Firefall is the game world itself, which is constantly under attack from a group called The Chosen. These humanoid like folk attack outposts and SIN towers throughout the area and can take it over from the player’s control. You’ll need to work with other players to retake these areas or defend these areas from the incoming enemy combatants. These battles are hectic and if players don’t work together, the enemy can keep spawning in a lot of reinforcements.
Similar to these incursions are random world events. One is something called a melding tornado which spawns strange creatures in front of an impressive dark, fiery wind tunnel. Completing these missions not only earn you a ton of experience, but open a portal to another area which acts as a bonus round filled with valuable minerals to mine.
All of these dynamic co-op scenarios simply require a player to enter the area in which they are occurring and take part. Finding one is as simple as opening up your map, setting a waypoint, and heading out.
Alright, how much is it going to cost me?
So you’ve run through the world, completed a ton of missions with your buddies, and now you want to upgrade your battleframe. This is a F2P game though, so what are you going to have to buy to do that? Luckily, nothing. In fact while other F2P games allow you to purchase resources with real world cash, Firefall doesn’t. The game’s main resource, crystite, isn’t actually purchasable in that manner.
Instead red beans (which is perhaps the best virtual currency name I’ve ever seen) are used for cosmetic purchases, of which, there are a lot. Hats, glasses, colors, paint jobs, icons, and more are all available to customize your battleframes and if you join an army, your army. You can also purchase exclusive versions of vehicles, pets, and other gimmicky items.
All that being said, you can actually purchase battleframes. I know, I know, I said you have access to all five classes - which is true. But what you don’t have access to are specialize versions of each class. For instance the Assault class has a variation called Omnidyne-M Tigerclaw which is lighter, but more defensively oriented battleframe. You don’t HAVE to spend cash to get these, and in fact, you unlock these using pilot tokens which are earned from advancing your battleframe, but these tokens come with the real world transactions.
In terms of costs, Firefall seems pretty fair. For $20 you can get 20 Pilot Tokens (to purchase two custom battleframes), 40 Red Beans (varies depending on items, but enough to customize your frames), a permanent 5% XP boost and 3 usable 1 hour XP boosts. There are other tiers but that’s the basic entry level cost and seems more than fair. If you’re adventurous you can spend $100 to unlock all frames, get 250 red beans, 10% XP boost and some other goodies.What’s Left?
One thing that sets Firefall apart from other MMOs is its trying to be a shooter first and an RPG second. Usually it’s the other way around. It’s because of this there’s a strong PvP element. For me personally, I have little interest in this, but if you are/were a fan of the Tribes series of games, you should feel at home here.
It’s clear that Firefall is still in beta form, I hit numerous bugs during my playtime with the game. There’s also some weird co-op quirks - like the inability to trade items between players. At times I felt a bit lost within the game world, and while everything feels very “living and breathing,” the central narrative feels pretty weak.
That’s not to say there aren’t some good concepts here. I really like the interface which is completely customizable, and the quick access to dozens of menus via the NavWheel is incredibly slick. The combat and shooting feels great, the graphics are mostly impressive, and the music - oh man the music - I hope they release a soundtrack.
Free to Play games are changing the industry in a lot of ways. Firefall is a good example of what a top tier shooter could do if it was F2P. Not only are F2P games changing where we spend our time gaming, but as a reviewer, it changes how and why we “review” something. These games are incredibly dynamic with large life spans and content that changes daily. If you’re reading these impressions three months from now they may be out of date already.
For the most part I think Red 5 Studios has a solid PvE base in their game with some really fun things to do with friends. You’ll definitely need to work together to progress and the fact that there’s no “buy in” other than a few hours of your time makes it a no brainer for trying. Firefall may be and have been in some form of “beta” for 2 years now, but someday they’ll drop that flag. Until then, does it really matter if you’re having fun?