It Is What It Is

You know when you put your name in a hat for something and nearly a year later you get a call about it?  That feeling of “huh, I guess I was interested then“.  FireFall and Wildstar both piqued my interest about this time last year, when my SWTOR beta blues were hitting hard.  This week I got a pre-beta (what the heck is that if not an alpha?) for FireFall and decided to load it up.

Primer first.  FireFall is an FPS with PvE and PvP elements.  The RPG elements are skill unlocks and player customization.  The more skills you have, the better your loadouts.  You can also craft, but most of that is off-limits in the beta, as are the top-tier loadouts.  A few common classes, medic, engineer, tank, assault and sniper.  You can swap between them for little cost and the typical advantages/disadvantages apply.

Other than the actual beta-type issues (supremely interesting bugs), the core mechanics seem solid enough.  Shooting things to shoot more things makes sense.  The aiming portion feels solid.  The damage portion does not, but I think that’s a numbers game that beta will solve.  Skills make sense, cooldowns are long enough to provide meaning.  Movement is fluid, quests are indicated by checkpoint flags.  There’s plenty of random stuff happening on the map too, so there’s always something to do.

The hiccups for are as follows:

  • The game is based on group play.  Beta currently has few people.  This isn’t player driven content (like Planetside 2) but you still need players.
  • The variance between classes is significant.  Assaults/heavies deal much more damage than other types, way more than snipers.  Balance in any PvP game in terms of basic numbers is important.
  • Parallel to that, skill should play a larger factor.  I play most FPS games on the hardest level and get by well enough.  Standing and shooting has the same impact as moving and shooting, for the most part.  AI aiming/damage seems like it’s perpetually cheating.
  • I really don’t get how the game is monetized other than cosmetics.  Again, it’s beta, so a lot of stuff is going to change.  Still, I hope that cosmetics/convenience are the only things for sale.
  • Tutorials.  The game throws everything at you on the first mission.  All you unlock later on is more skills on the bar but 90% of the game is right there to start and they practically expect you to know it all.  I don’t mean combat, I mean crafting, loadouts, changing skills, using skills and all the town related items.  It took me 20 minutes to figure out how to load a 2nd skill.  My 2 year old was pressing random buttons and found the menu.
  • Self-healing.  There needs to be some type of self heal available at lower levels.  Being at 5% health with no healing options (or nearby players) is a drag.

The pluses!

  • Sound is great.  Sound is a stupid important part of an FPS.
  • The art style is cohesive and entertaining.  It reminds me a LOT of Borderlands, without the black outline.  Not only stylish but lowers the video card requirements
  • Integrated systems.  Everything seems linked in some fashion.  Spawns can trigger other spawns, some skills work best when combined with another one.
  • The skill progression is interesting, if somewhat confusing.  I like talent trees.  I like that your talent tree changes drastically when you change loadouts (classes) or armatures (sub-classes).
  • I like a challenge.  FireFall is a challenge.  The wall for skill for any player is high, very high.  I died about 20 times in the first hour.  I expect that to be slightly worse for the average player.
  • 3D matters.  If your enemy cannot shoot, then get to higher ground.  If they can, then use line of sight to your advantage.  This is smart.

There’s quite a lot of potential here.  Beta should be going on for another 6 months or more, but with no EXP resets, what you play/buy now will be there forever.  I think this will become the norm for F2P games, where the perpetual beta/slow rollout means that the server loads make sense.  No more day zeros of loading 100 servers then 2 months out, no one is left.

Sign up, give it a shot.

Edit: I wanted to point out that I found a bug on the main quest chain after you get your first upgrade that essentially stopped you from any progress whatsoever story-wise.  You can still level and explore, but the main quest is unavailable.  Hopefully it’s fixed by the time anyone tries it out.