Review: Firefall – Rough Landing
It’s weird to think that Firefall is actually out after what feels like an eternity of development and closed betas. This massive free-to-play MMO is hoping to set itself apart in the crowded F2P market with large sweeping vistas, jetpacks and lots of bugs to shoot.
You’re an ARES Operative, a mercenary in a bitchin’ Battleframe powersuit, whose job it is to help to help the good people of Earth fight off the freaks and monsters that come through a dimensional rift call The Melding. What caused this rift? Well, that’s a long story involving a giant meteor, a nine-year winter and humans tearing a hole in the universe. The Melding is spreading across the planet and we have to stop them because alien armies are jerks.
Firefall at its core is an MMO shooter with a primary focus on player versus environment. You’ll group up with other like-minded Operatives and grind out quests you’ll receive from various job boards sprinkled around the world. Thankfully your handy Battleframe will make surviving the harsh landscapes a little bit easier. Battleframes are high powerful exo-suits equipped with jump jets and unique abilities. The different Battleframes act as your typical MMO classes with Dreadnaughts/Assault frame being tanks, Engineers are your support classes, Biotechs playing the healer roles and Recon using their sniper rifle for some great DPS damage.
Most of the missions involve heading from point A to B, kill a bunch of things at point B and sometimes bring an item back to Point A. However, what I did enjoy out of this was some of the events that will call nearby players in the an area to band together and either tackle big baddies or defend these resource gathering towers called Thumpers. These world events are a nice touch and break up some of the monotony of the combat.
The guns feel good and handle really well when firing from first or third-person view (which you can cycle through on the fly). What doesn’t work through is that the enemies themselves don’t react at all to being shot. This really pulls you out of any sense of immersion when you’re filling a Chosen with bullets and they keep charging you at you unflinchingly. The lack of feedback on your shots do a real disservice in that they make the a lot of the high-powered weapons like snipers rifles feel like they don’t really pack a punch.
The enemy A.I doesn’t provide much of a challenge since their approach to fighting you and your allies is what I consider suicidal. The world’s beasts will charge at you with zero disregard for their own well being while humanoid enemies will fire at you, standing there to be shot. The jumps jets create an easy space between you and everything trying to kill you, which makes the grinding portion of Firefall feel like a enormous unrewarding chore. Worse than that you never truly get a sense of moving things along. If what you’re shooting at isn’t fun to shoot then you have a big problem on your hands.
I’m glad that the game actaully looks really nice (boost to the top of the mountain and really soaking the expansive scenery). Red5 went with this stylized look, that resembles a blend of cel-shaded and regular 3D, for the player models which is a nice contrast to very lush mountain jungle setting you’ll be in most of the game. The monsters all look great too — my personal favorite is the Titan Kanaloa, a big lava worm you fight inside a volcano. I’m a sucker for the sleek sci-fi look that somehow fits well in an imposing jungle setting.
My biggest concern is that most players won’t stick around long enough to enjoy some of the better content Firefall has to offer. Slogging through a menial job board is the cross you have to bear in order to dig into the insanely fun Titan battles and Player Vs. Player. Titan battles put you and your party against towering monsters that require every bullet and skill you have at your disposal. Biotechs and Engineers become lifesavers with timely heals and support turrets so you should invest some time into those Battleframes.
My go-to battleframes were the huge Mammoth and the support-heavy Engineer. The Mammoth was great for soaking up tons of damage and returning it with a sick plasma gun. It’s a great frame for running through a lot of the early game solo. Also, the idea of hovering above foes with a minigun put a smile on my face. Each frame can be leveled to 20 with about a dozen total Battleframes you could unlock. There’s no penalty for trying out new classes which I found to be a welcome change for an MMO. At any given moment you can waltz up to a Battleframe Station and switch frames to something that more suits your tastes.
For instance, if the giant minigun of a Dreadnaught class isn’t doing it for you, you can switch to a Biotech Battleframe and pop some heals or an Engineer that could deploy turrets. The Assault and Recon focus more on high maneuverability and high damage.The trick is to fine something you’ll enjoy endless hours of grinding and boy, will you grind.
In some ways I wish Firefall wasn’t an MMO and more a competitive team-based shooter. The PvP is where I felt like I was truly having a good time. Defending a territory from other players who can essentially float over your head made each battle feel like a shooting frenzy. I didn’t want to give up any ground, I wanted to run fools over in my awesome car.
If you don’t plan on spending money, you’ll start with five basic battleframes that should hold you over before you hit anything that feels like a pay wall. My review kit included a starter package (which retails for $4.99) which includes the four player all-terrain ranger mount, XP boosts and some in-game currency. It also granted me some VIP time which unlocks all the Battleframes and I found that having this kind of access early was a great way to test out some of the more advanced frames and figure out my role a little better.
Red beans are the hilariously named in-game currency that you can purchase using real money. Expect things like cosmetics, mounts, XP boosts and other unlockables. I of course bought some sick pairs of shades and a very manly green beard.
So after a few weeks of riding around in a sick car and mowing down countless giant spider-things I felt like had enough of what this game had to offer. At the end of the day Firefall is a very competent MMO: It has a nice looking easy-to-use interface, questing with other players is painless and there is always something to keep you occupied. Honestly the title simply suffers from just being a poor shooter. Each encounter outside of PvP and Titan battles feel like busy work. At no point did I ever really feel overly engaged in the fight, which is a big sin when you’re theoretically wanting the player to spends dozens if not, hundreds of hours in your game world shooting things.
What Firefall brings to the table is a gorgeous and unique sci-fi MMO that’s unfortunately dragged down by rote mission design and dreadful combat. The silver lining is that MMOs (especially free to play ones) are an ever changing and evolving product — what you play at launch will be completely different from what is played a year from now, thanks to updates. Here’s hoping it eventually becomes that game.