Firefall Preview: Combining Shooters, MMOs and eSports

Some people like to play shooters, some people like to play MMOs. Never the twain shall meet, right? Well, not always right. If you got the lead developer of Tribes 1 and 2 (Scott Youngblood) and stuck him in a room with the ex-Team Lead for World of Warcraft (Mark Kern), what would you expect to get? Well, Red 5 Studios did exactly that, and they got Firefall.

If you weren’t paying attention back when Firefall was announced, here are a few basics for you:

  • Sci-fi Open World Shooter
  • Class-based combat
  • Free-to-play
  • 10 square miles of open world terrain to explore

Firefall tells the story of an Earth 200 years in the future. Just as we’ve discovered a new clean energy source, the remaining survivors on Earth come under attack by an alien force known as The Melding, and its warriors, The Chosen. As this conflict continues, players will unlock new chapters in the story by accomplishing key objectives in the game. Firefall’s story, which was created with the assistance of Orson Scott Card, is slated to continue over several years.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk gameplay. The first time you see Firefall, you’ll immediately think of Tribes. Armored warriors flying around using jump jets, shooting plasma guns and piloting vehicles? You’d easily be forgiven for calling the classic from Dynamix to mind. But Firefall is much more than just a shooter, so don’t pigeonhole it just yet. Questing and PvE play is co-op focused. Since there are no factions, everyone will be working together to combat the threat presented by The Chosen.

There are five basic classes in Firefall: Medic, Assault, Recon, Engineer and Dreadnaught. Each of those is fairly self-explanatory, but what differentiates Firefall from many MMOs is that you can play any of these whenever you want without changing characters. Instead, you’ll just head to an in-game loadout station and change you battleframe. OK, so now you want to know what a battleframe is, eh? Well, it’s a mechanized suit of armor. Every Firefall player wears one, and each battleframe can be customized with addons. You can equip modules to let you have more jump jet power, run faster and more. The game’s crafting system will allow you to learn schematics and craft these modules as you go, giving you the power to customize to your play style.

Firefall will also include support for armies. Armies are a cross between MMO guilds and FPS clans. An Army will be able to design its own standard, unlock unique skills, and choose their own kickass name. Obviously, with unlock trees based on the entire army contributing, armies that specialize in narrow areas will likely be able to become quite potent in their chosen field. I asked about armies perhaps being able to build their own bases and defend them against attackers. I didn’t get an answer either way on that, just a comment that went something like, “Wouldn’t that be awesome?” We’ll have to keep our fingers crossed on that one.

Fancy a little PvP? Well, you’re in luck. Firefall is being built from the ground up with esports in mind, so you can imagine what that means for fans of competitive gaming. Through instanced multiplayer matches, Firefall will give each army the chance to prove they are the best on the battlefield.While Red 5 wasn’t giving us any specifics on these matches, the enthusiasm of the developers ofr them leads me to believe that they may indeed be worth the wait.

Obviously, Firefall is still in beta, and quite a ways from release. Because of that, there are a lot of things that aren’t being talked about yet. There are also a ton of things that could change between now and release. Red 5 was adamant that this beta is a true test of the game in every sense of the word. I asked specifically about the trend of players using betas as extended demos, and was quickly told that this beta is for finding bugs and gameplay issues, and that players have been immensely helpful so far.

Judging from the hands-on time we got, and the number of people lining to play the game multiple times at PAX East, I’d say that Red 5 has a chance to hit this one right out of the park. As long as they can make the game profitable without allowing it to tip over into pay-to-win territory, Firefall could become the next big free-to-play success story. We won’t call it either way – We’ll just wait and see.

If you want to check out Firefall for yourself, you can head over to the game’s beta page and sign up. Meanwhile, here’s the intro cinematic.

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