Firefall was first shown to the public way back in 2010, but nearly four years later, it still hasn't officially released. The free-to-play MMO shooter has been in open beta for the past year—almost to the day—which in many cases is the same as being 'released' in all but name, but not in this case, according to Red 5 Studios CEO James Macauley. This month's launch won't just pull down the 'open beta' label, it's also Firefall's "biggest update ever."
On July 29th, Firefall will leave beta and introduce "four times the world space" and "15-times the amount of content" as in the beta, including 75-80 new creatures and NPCs, 20-player Titan boss fights, the first story missions, and open world PvP.
Macauley showed me some release content when he visited PC Gamer a couple weeks ago, and I'm pretty sure Firefall contains a piece of every shooter and MMO ever made. It looks a bit like Borderlands (not quite as good), its class archetypes are a mix of MMO and Team Fortress 2-like staples (the engineer who calls in turrets, the tank who soaks up bullets), it has Tribes-like jetpacks and vehicles (no doubt a contribution from Firefall's lead multiplayer designer, Scott Youngblood, who was also lead designer of Starsiege: Tribes), it has resource collection and crafting, it has 5-player story missions, 20-player boss fights, and dynamically spawned encounters—and most important to me, the launch adds PvP.
There's no PvP in Firefall's open beta, but there used to be: Red 5 removed 5v5 arena combat last year. "We have gone through several [PvP] iterations, and for some time, pursued the controversial e-Sports route," wrote former Red 5 CEO Mark Kern to explain the decision. "As many of you know, it's not working very well."
Red 5 suspended PvP development with plans to "rethink it and relaunch it." A little under a year later—and under new leadership—it has developed the beginning of Scott Youngblood's "first" vision for Firefall PvP: a massive open-world resource and base capture war.
I didn't get to play it, but it sounds like the right move to me—why try to compete with Counter-Strike and Team Fortress 2 as an MMO designed for thousands of players? Instead of small arena matches, the opt-in PvP continent hosts several competing teams, and players can join on their own or in 'armies' of up to 100 players. The conflict is fueled by resource collection: in PvE zones, mining magically divides resources fairly and whisks them off to the bank, but in PvP, resources must be returned to a base and then picked up by an automated dropship. The dropship timer, Macauley tells me, is a catalyst for battles—overtake a base just before it arrives, and claim the resources for your team.
Another multiplayer shooter with PlanetSide 2's scale is at the top of my wishlist, so I'm pleased that Red 5 ditched the e-sports angle. My main concern is the balance between player skill and character skill—too much focus on gear and stats will turn me off—but I'll absolutely give it a try. Massive-scale base capture with jetpacks from the designer of Tribes is hard to turn down.
Firefall is out on the 29th, and the open beta is now closed. Purchasing a starter pack at $30 or $100 gets you in early on the 15th, but it'll be free to check out two weeks later, so I'd suggest waiting unless you're a beta player who's already invested. We'll investigate all this new content, and especially the new PvP, as soon as we're in.