Firefall, the free-to-play MMO shooter, is now available. As per PC Gamer's reviews policy , MMOs aren't scored until our reviewer has spent time with the public release. This, then, is part two of a review-in-progress, charting Phil's initial impressions with the game. You'll find part one here.
Things get off to an interesting start. I log in and head towards a new area, and the new campaign mission I've unlocked. As I make my way toward the mission flag, I'm alerted to some "seismic activity". The warning is coming from a resource node. Sensing it would be a bad idea, I blow it up anyway. Yes, it was a bad idea. An insectoid creature emerges from the ground, much higher than my current level. It's takes a few swipes from my health, but, with plenty of jetpack strafing, I manage to bring it down.
That's seemingly how Firefall's combat functions, at least at these relatively early levels. My class doesn't appear to be that tough, but the jetpack enables them to evade the attacks of melee enemies. That upward thrust doesn't last forever, though, so fights become a sort of mid-air see-saw of jukes and dodges. I stand by my criticisms of the combat's feel, but I do like this particular aspect of each fight.
That done, I continue towards the mission. This time, I'm distracted by a Wounded Bandit. He asks me to grab a nearby medkit, clearly setting me up for a trap. I do it anyway, and, fully expecting him to spring a trap, I dutifully heal him. He springs a trap. It comes in the form of a second, grenade firing bandit, calling for more strafing and, eventually, more killing. At the end of my last post, I asked for more variety. So far, Firefall has responded admirably.
I've also been reassessing the graphics—mostly by rubbing my face against some walls.
I'm coming to the conclusion that they're inconsistent. At times the game looks really good, especially when you're looking out at a vista...
...But there are definite lows when it comes to texture quality—in particular, large surfaces of rock and terrain. Part of the problem is the way textures are streamed in. I've noticed textures visibly 'pop' into their higher quality version, as the the game catches up with what I'm looking at. All that said, the aesthetic remains strong as I work through New Eden, and that's definitely a point in the game's favour.
Okay, finally it's time for that mission. 'Oilspill', a pretty shady character from the campaign's first quest, asks me to grab an auxiliary engine from a scapyard. First, I must pick meat off the corpse of a nearby animal, so as to distract the yard's patrolling dogs. Only, I don't really need to distract the dogs—the junk stacks are so high that they can't reach me as I jet between them. I find the item, kill the robot that tries to steal it, and make my way outta there. After all the build up, it's a bit of an anti-climax.
Maybe I'll get more out of the ARES mission now showing on my map. These are a type of dynamic world event—designed to be a bit more involved than crashed LGVs or Thumpers. Here, I'm asked to recover some tchotchke from a cave filled with Chosen. It's a fetch quest, then, but one versus an encamped army equipped with specialised weapons. It's an enjoyable fight, and satisfying to complete. These higher level Chosen provide a more interesting (and life threatening) challenge. More importantly, they're humanoid. Much of the game has, up until now, been based around fighting small, annoying bugs. Hopefully, from this point on, I'll be fighting more not-small, not-annoying not-bugs.
As I return to the nearest mission hub, I stumble across another Wounded Bandit. So maybe not that varied after all.
Let's talk about the free-to-play stuff. There are three main currencies in Firefall: Crystite, Credits and Red Bean. Crystite is earned out in the game's world. It drops from enemies and is awarded for mission completion. It's used to purchase items from many of the worlds merchants, and can also be cashed in for Credits. These are the currency of the trading market. Here, you can buy almost anything from other players—from items and equipment, to advanced battleframes.
Finally, there's Red Bean, which is acquired either with real money or through the trading of Credits. The Red Bean store favours customisation and time-limited VIP boosts, most of which are also available on the trading market. My worry is that certain systems—for instance, crafting—seem designed to favour those willing to spend. It's never a hard necessity, but Red Bean makes life in Firefall easier. And while it can be acquired without spending real money, the necessary exchange of Crystite to Credits to Red Bean is a potentially grind-heavy process. You'll need a decent chunk of Crystite to get a single Red Bean. The question will be how easy is it to collect at the game's higher levels, and how much will the market prices fluctuate?
Crafting, then. There are three possible actions: researching, refining and manufacturing. Researching uses the science points earned by salvaging items to unlock the blueprints for better equipment. Refining turns raw resources into craftable materials, and occasionally spits out a rarer bonus. Finally, there's manufacturing: spending your materials to create the desired item. So far, so standard. There's no complexity to these interactions—you just pick and click—but each process takes time. You have two activity spots initially, with two more available to buy at an extremely cheap Crystite price. Choose an activity, and it will fill one of those spaces for a set time—anything from seconds to hours. Of course, you can skip the wait by spending Red Bean.
For some, that will be fine, but it really depends on how you approach MMO crafting. Traditionally, I craft in spurts—dedicating a single day to building my skill, then forgetting about it for weeks after. Here, there's no mastery—just a constant need to engage with a system that I don't find engaging. The result is that I'm instead planning to get gear via loot drops and trading.
My last few hours with Firefall have been somewhat better than the first. Really, though, the thing that I keep coming back to is how arbitrary this week's launch feels. From what I've seen so far, Firefall certainly doesn't feel finished—more like a placeholder for what's to come. There's potential, sure, but I don't think this release version comes close to achieving it.