This preview originally appeared in issue 240 of PCG UK.
Night has fallen on 22nd century Copacabana. Darkness doesn't cloak life here: it exposes it. From my position near the top of a waterfall I can read what's going on by the pulses of light below.
I watch the flickering beams of player weapons crisscrossing, bursting the buglike aliens that are Firefall's NPC threat. On my HUD, the glowing icon of the Thumper the players are protecting is a beacon, directing me to the action should I feel the need to drop in. I can see the bloom of jetpacks and the light trails left by gliders as players cross the lumpy, bowl-like terrain below.
Everywhere there is light there are humans, and everywhere there are humans there is action. I feel miles away from the rest of the server, but I could be down there in seconds if the urge struck. You're never too far away with a jetpack.
I'm up here because I could get up here. Firefall's world is made to be explored: there are few limits to where you can go. It's an MMO built for those who see distant waterfalls, shadowy peaks and crashed ships and want to know if anything's over there. Right now, in the early beta, there isn't, much, but there's enough to get an impression.
Firefall is a third- or first-person shooter, and an MMO or team-based shooter, depending on your mood (the queues are so long for the PvP that I've been unable to get into a game). You're dropped into the resort town of Copacabana to help humanity grow again. All around is a terrifying energy wall, bounding the game area and keeping the humans from expanding: this is the Melding, a physical barrier stopping players from progressing too far during the beta, and something to be pushed back when the full game arrives. The beta only has content as far as the eye can see (which is pretty far): there are areas to unlock and explore, but no missions beyond the initial opening area.
The smaller, more immediate future lies in developing a character, gathering resources and enabling the SIN Network, Earth's communication system, to grow. When you create your character, all you're really doing is naming and creating an image. There are no factions other than human, and you're not bound to a class, or 'Battleframe' as they're called: you can switch at any point. The first character you create will always spawn as Assault, and it's good introduction to the game. I flicked through the other choices: Recon (sniper), Dreadnaught (heavy), Medic, and settled on Engineer: with the action twitchy, I fancied having a turret to cause trouble, and healing powers to support others.
Engineer, it turned out, was not the best choice for a newbie. The tutorial missions, which in the beta are all you have, sent me out to the nests of nasty little Antlion-ish things called Aranhas. They leap out of the ground and swarm. I barely had time to consider where to put the turret before they were quadrapegging it my way. It did prove a valuable lesson in panicky jetpacking, though: I leapt back and switched from my repair gun to the generic rifle everyone has as a secondary weapon, and started firing. What I expected was an off-screen dice roll to tell me if I'd hit anything; what actually happened was the gun barked into life and the little bugs splattered. Firefall really is a shooter: the guns do what you tell them to, rather than function as abstract point-dispensing tubes of metal.
I floated backwards some more and considered my options: the newbie zone is a lumpy area, and the attacks were mostly ground based. I jetpacked to the top of a rock and placed my turret. It's an aggro magnet: below, the bugs were scrabbling away, trying to claw their way up. I couldn't tell you the DPS it produces, just that the aliens were slowly thinned out. I dropped to ground level and hunted for the minerals requested for the mission.
Gathering resources is a huge part of Firefall. Resources are everything: you gather them to buy blueprints, addons, weapons, and you need them as ingredients to make those things, too. Nothing is bought whole: you have to craft it. You can get the most generic mineral, Crystite, from enemies as well as the ground but the rest must be mined. That's when things get cool.