Firefall plays similar to most MMORPGs, but you won’t find any auto-attack, instead you will switch from first to third-person and shoot bugs and The Chosen for hours on end. The Chosen have come from the melding, the mystical bluish storm that surrounds the different areas. Unlike World of Warcraft and other MMOs, your character doesn’t gain experience; instead your stats are tied to your Battleframe. Battleframes can be swapped in and out at specific locations in the town areas in each of the zones. For this reason, you are limited to a single character slot, although with the amount of character customization, they only thing permanent will be your character name.
As my usual character name had already been taken, assumedly from something in the beta, I decided to hit random a couple dozen times until I settled on “HopeNight”. The name was fitting, as I was mostly going to mess around with the BioTech, a support class, Battleframe. Armed with my wimpy bio needler, and a secondary assault rifle, I ventured forth into the colorful and stylized world. After the instanced tutorial mission, you are plopped into the first low level safe zone, getting you caught up to speed on everything the game offers.
Using the Job Board, you’ll receive a handful of different missions from various citizens and soldiers scattered about the town. You’ll find the typically “kill x amount” of creatures, and “go talk to this person” style fetch quests that have plagued RPGs since the dawn of time. The rewards are worthwhile, as the lower level missions yield a randomized item and a special bonus token to use in vending machines to earn additional resources or cosmetic items. At one point, I was on the same mission as another player, who happened to refuse to group together. For the next ten minutes we both competed for the same group of enemy mobs.
The level of your Battleframe gates the campaign missions; I completed the first one solo at level four, but the second mission was locked until I reached level ten. Reaching level ten doesn’t take that long, but instead of relying on the Job Board fetch quests, I found myself enjoying the game the most when “thumping” groups formed outside of the towns. Opening the world map, you’ll see random events appear, as well as any Thumpers that were placed by other players. Thumping involves a way to mine resources out of the ground, a method that the local wildlife does not seem to be too fond of. While deployed, the Thumpers are vulnerable until they reach capacity or are manually returned by the player that dropped it. A single player can defend smaller Personal Thumpers easily, but the real challenge comes in the form of the Squad Thumpers that require a full group of players to defend.
Although the combat in the game has been enjoyable, there has been something gnawing at the back of my mind with each encounter. With other first-person shooters that focused on RPG elements, such as Borderlands, enemies won’t go down with a couple well-placed shots. Instead, you’ll be watching health bars and unloading dozens of shots on a single enemy. Without the health bar, it is almost a chore to figure out if damage is even being done. The best way to describe the combat so far would be a severe lack of impact. As these are early impressions of the game, I’ve spent most of the time killing bugs, The Chosen, and the occasional armed bandit group. I will hold off my final judgment until experiencing the end-game content for Firefall, where hopefully the Titan bosses require a tactical approach.
There are three pillars tied to the crafting system in the game: refining, manufacturing and research. Instead of limiting yourself to a single crafting tree, you are free to dabble in all three. Resources can be refined into something useful, while researching new “blueprints” allow you to manufacture more items. The free-to-play format in Firefall rears it’s ugly head during crafting, as you can use Red Bean credits to instantly complete any crafting job, instead of waiting for the timer to expire. The credits can be purchased with real currency or converted by using large amounts of in-game currency. There is even an entire store dedicated to the Red Bean currency, with everything from cosmetic items, instant access to new Battleframes, experience boosts and more.
The core of Firefall has been solid, and except for a couple of times during the launch day, I haven’t had any connection issues. Trying out new Battleframes will keep the lower level regions populated, but I’m not feeling the game as a solo experience. The most fun I’ve had in the game came from random invites to Thumping groups. The base game is free and currently on Steam, so it may be worth a look if you have a couple friends that want to join in on something familiar, but with a new twist.