Hands On: Firefall Beta

Yep, it's that kind of pretty throughout.
Red 5 are keen to stress that the current beta for Firefall – their free-to-play jetpackin’ shooter – is not one of those betas which is essentially a demo for the game you will be soon be playing, but is instead still very much a work in progress. That means my impressions should be regarded as commentary on an unfinished thing that is subject to change. That said, I’ve got a feeling this game could end up being quite significant, and – despite its clearly unfinished and underpopulated beta state – I’ve found it to be rather interesting. Read on for vital thoughts.

At this point in the proceedings, the most immediate and striking thing about Firefall is the world that Red 5 have built. While it remains to be properly furnished with a variety of PvE content, what is already in place suggests enormous potential, as well as demonstrating astonishing beauty and virtuoso visual design. The world which you and a small army of jet-packing chums will be exploring is huge and enormously detailed. Currently there are two hub areas, a sort of Apple-designed military base, and a tropical beach resort. Outside of these bubbles of comparative safety (which are nonetheless riddled with dangerous aliens and enemies) there is a devastated world that sprawls off in every direction, quests and events littering the landscape for you to find.

Right now the game drafts you in through a few tutorial missions – the sort of quests that you’d be familiar with from any MMO. Except it rapidly becomes apparently that this isn’t like any other MMO, because you are immediately throw into fast-paced combat with enemies analogous to the bugs in Starship Troopers. They’re erupting from the ground, your weapons are blazing, and you’re jet-packing up into the air to avoid snapping claws. There are whiffs of Tribes, and of Borderlands, but also numerous other multiplayer games. This is clearly a melting pot of both design and art ideas.

Nor is it just the pace of the game, or the fact that it is a third-person shooter with iron-sights, that sets it apart from the homogenous bulk of F2P worlds. The heart of Firefall is actually not the shooting so much as, well, the crafting. You’re constantly gathering resources, whatever else you’re actually doing in the world. In fact one of the main activities for you is surveying for places to call in a “thumper”. This is beautifully conceived, and by far the best basic resource gathering process in an MMO.

To start with you belt the ground with a giant hammer, which sends a rippling shockwave across the ground. This allows you to discover resource deposits, which can then be gathered by calling down the thumper itself (presumably from orbit). This thing smashes into the ground at the point you’ve selected, and begins thumping away as it extracts the resources for you. The seismic activity then causes the insectile enemies aliens to emerge and attack. You – and by this point probably your squad of friends – need to fight off the attackers until the machine is done, and it blasts off into the sky. This process will become routine, of course, but it’s peculiarly dramatic, and a great idea for the most fundamental grind mechanic in this kind of game.

While these resource events are PvE activities that are kicked off by the players, there are also other things to deal with as you roam about the map, so called “World Events”. These seem pretty limited at the moment, the most common of them being a crashed thumper which you can loot for parts, and also encounters with patrols by “The Chosen”. These encounters are altogether much weirder than anything else in the game, not least thanks to the chosen “speaking” to you as you fight. These conspicuously evil humanoid baddies taunt and bait you as if whispering in your ear. The first time it happened it was pretty disconcerting, and I assumed the game had gone haywire. But not so. In fact it’s not at all currently clear what is going on there.

The Chosen will, presumably, tie into the game’s wider story, but right now they’re the most significant NPC combatant available to us in the beta: you get clusters of them appearing across the map, either in small patrols or much larger incursions with big energy-fortress things from which they spawn. These require a group to take down and, in all instances, will earn you big rewards from the dudes who are backing your faction.

Rewards that, again, include resources. As I mentioned previously, it’s the crafting that Firefall’s process keep coming back to. While a small amount of loot gets dropped by Chosen as you play, most of the stuff you actually want and need has to be crafted at the base terminals. As you level up – and you can level up across all the different classes – you will be able to build both different weapons, different special abilities and different “battleframes” (the armour type). This means getting the plans for the thing you want to build, and the right resource, and then crafting it. At the low level stuff I’m making this takes just a few seconds, but I can see that more impressive builds are going to require me to spend a lot more time in manufacturing and resource gathering. This is going to be the heart of the game, and will probably end up requiring some dedication.

All this work, of course, feeds back into your loadout – which consists in a primary weapon, a backup infinite-ammo rifle, and some special abilities. I’ve yet to see a fraction of these – and there’s clearly plenty that are not yet available in the beta – but it looks like there’s going to be a spread across things you can bolt into your class-specifc battleframe, things you can deploy (the engineer has a turret by default) and general consumables that get a single use. I’d expect to see all of these, in different ways, in the game’s shop. It’s “free” to play, of course, so it’s going to make its money on some aspect of the kit that players end up using.

What’s not actually clear at this stage is precisely what the game’s shop is going to give us, and I hope Red 5 choose wisely. Presumably it’s going to be the designs for things that you want to build. At least in the PvE part of the game any “pay to win” aspect is going to be less sensitive, but I guess we’ll see.

So that’s Firefall. Familiar in some ways, but still an enigma in others. The key to understanding Firefall seems like it could be in understanding who is making it. The company CEO is Mark Kern, who was formerly Blizzard’s team leader for World Of Warcraft. And yet that’s not a good signpost for what is going on here. Firefall is not World Of Warcraft with jetpacks and guns, and in fact it feels very much like it’s own game, speeding away from over-used MMO tropes. Even the Tribes and Borderlands references don’t really seem to stand up to too much scrutiny. If anything, it feels like that other attempt to do a sci-fi shooter MMO, Tabula Rasa. Only it feels like Firefall will hook far more players. It’s just got a certain solidity to it.

That said, I am not sure what the long term appeal of the PvE will be. There’s certainly a real sense of potential for dynamism in the world, both in the sense that you can roam about the landscape, getting into scrapes with random events, helping out other players in the wild as they battle to defend their thumpers and so on. But also in the wider sense that the players will be battling against enemies, pushing them back, fighting off incursions and so on. I suspect this will only really be sustainable for players to play long-term if it is supplemented by constant and regularly content additions to the world, which is a tough ask for any studio.

(Earlier gameplay footage not from the beta.)

There’s PvP, of course, but that’s sort of closed off from the main world. I am not entirely sure that works, either. I wonder if a PvP world where players were struggling to fight each other for resource, but banding together to fight the NPCs, would actually have been more interesting. We shall see.

And whatever Firefall ends up doing, I suspect it’s going to be significant. This is probably the most important experiment going on in F2P games right now, and I genuinely hope it works.


  1. ran93r says:

    It’s been mused upon that perhaps the different SIN towers will represent conquest like capture points that you can hold and defend in PvE, I don’t know if that will actually happen but it is a spiffing idea that could inject some life into the world beyond arena PvP.

    I have been playing quite a lot more of this since the servers went up 24/7 and although I’m a little tired of the PvE content available, it’s still a very fun game to play around with. Considering how little content there is at the moment, that’s a bloody good sign as far as I’m concerned.

    One curiosity I just picked up on having re-read your description:
    I didn’t play it third person at all, I only ever see that view when sprinting. Happy to play this in first person.

    • cassus says:

      What’s your take on the general feel of this game? I’m thinking of movement and the feel of the weapons and so fort. And maybe even more so, the jetpack. Do they feel MMO-laggy-janky or really solid singleplayer goodness?

  2. Echo says:

    I’ve been in the beta for a while, which I can say now that the NDA is dropped.

    They said they “considered themselves launched in December” – that was either a huge PR mishap or some incredible optimism.

    Firefall has lots of tantalizing promise, but right now the PVE content is done in an hour and then there’s nothing else to do but grind materials to afford a bigger thumper so you can grind more materials.

    That said – I like their ideas, and I’m very interested in seeing what they’ll be adding for the PVE stuff.

  3. MadTinkerer says:

    “This is beautifully conceived, and by far the best basic resource gathering process in an MMO.”

    My favorite part of Bioshock 2 was defending the Little Sisters as they gathered: choosing the location, setting up my traps, and all hell breaking loose a bit differently each time. It sounds like the resource gathering here is going to be similar, and if so I may finally play a F2P MMO for more than an hour.

  4. Echo says:

    As it stands right now, classes need lots of tuning. There’s no real reason to ever bring a medic for thumping missions, when you can bring an engineer instead that can drop a repair station that heals you, a turret that zaps bugs, and the engineer zapping bugs himself instead of running around superglued to someone’s ass healing them.

    Also, a random tip the game doesn’t mention at all: press F to spot enemies. Especially if you’re an enginer – turrets only fire on things that are in the SIN network, meaning someone has to fire on them first before the turret “spots” them.

    My turret just sat there feeling largely useless until I discovered this.

    • CMaster says:

      I’d hazard a guess that it’s the other way around in PvP mind, with the need for Engineers to set up making them rather less useful compared to the power of a “buttplug” healer.

    • Redford says:

      Medics do a lot of things a healstation can’t. A medic heals you faster then a heal station, anywhere you can stand. Medic abilities are super-powerful. Heal wave is pretty dang good, but when you get up to Supercharge, you gain the ability to give a person infinite energy, ammo, and double fire rates.

      The mechanic for Firefall seems to be based around not getting hit rather then tanking damage. For low level content medics don’t seem to be very important, but as more dangerous enemy types start showing up, I think their purpose will become much clearer.

      Generally speaking, the assault and engineer are really good at level 1, but fall off a bit. At higher levels when you start modding your guns and getting abilities, the other classes start to become much more impressive.

  5. CMaster says:

    Reading things like this always reminds me how far ahead of it’s time Neocron is/was. Sure, the game is flawed to hell and back in countless ways. But the vast majority of “innovations” I hear other MMOs spouting, especially in the Action MMO space, Neocron already did. With one of the most sophisticated and customizable skill/levelling systems ever seen as well.

  6. Kinch says:

    Love the Borderland-ish cel-shaded graphics and general art design. Watched Yogscast play it and have to admit Firefall looks interesting. Hope it lives up to the expectations.

  7. Tei says:

    I fear that the pvp will have to sustain the game for a very long time until enough content its created. The game feels now somewhat like that dlc arena for borderlands, without the cool music or the mutators. Just now firefall its less than a game.

  8. Jools says:

    The actual game that’s here is pretty great. The resource gathering mechanic is innovative and actually fun, the combat feels reasonably good, and the world is pretty. The problem is that it’s really hard to judge anything from that because there’s literally no content at the moment. The grind is still enjoyable for a day or two, which is a pretty good sign in my eyes, but hopefully they have solid plans for either a lot of high quality static content or a lot more procedural mission types.

  9. Clash says:

    You described it as “a third-person shooter with iron-sights” however the middle mouse button puts you in first person mode. I don’t suggest using it because the FOV slider isn’t fully implemented yet, but I just thought that was important to note.

    Also the devs have been talking about their eventual plans for the Chosen and it sounds impressive. Those drop pods are going to be scouts and phase 1 of the invasion. There will essentially be a moving battle front players have to deal with culminating in the attack of and possible occupation of major hub areas by the Chosen.

    Finally, they’ve stressed the shop will be convenience and cosmetic items only, much like League of Legends. They want to avoid selling power or gameplay.

  10. caliwyrm says:

    Looks like it combines the best aspects of 3 of my favorite things (Tribes, Starship Troopers and Borderlands). I spotted this a little bit ago but nice to see it pop back up. (Now to get into the beta, lol)

  11. Skabooga says:

    That thumper mechanic alone has me interested. If PvP were allowed in all areas, that would make it most interesting indeed. Although there would definitely be some griefing potential as well, but I suppose that’s part and parcel of PvP itself.

  12. porps says:

    this is the upcoming game that i am most looking forward to playing. I just hope the pvp is good, i have no interest whatsoever in pve.
    Pretty dissapointed to hear that the pvp is instanced :(

    • SoulOfOrigin says:

      The devs have already said that open world PVP will be added post-release. It’ll be a planetside-style open world PVP ;) (which will exist beside the instanced pvp maps).

  13. RavenGlenn says:

    Not exactly sure how the third-person thing sets it apart from other F2P games out there. Global Agenda has been around for quite some time. It’s got third-person shooting, jetpacks, crafting, loot, skilltrees, etc.

    • Clash says:

      Firefall has first person shooting, an open world, and dynamic events.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Yeah, GA is the closest. I’d forgotten that had gone F2P actually. It was subbed last time I looked at it.

      GA’s PvE is pretty unimpressive next to Firefall though, I think.

  14. Turbobutts says:

    I played this for some hours earlier this week and my overall impression was solid. The world is very beautifully crafted and the combat feels balanced and engaging. The thing that was missing was some content, because all that was left after a few tutorial mission was mining for minerals and fending assault patrols (apparently the major antagonist faction) off.

  15. nootron says:

    My unsolicited beta impressions:

    The good:

    The environments are really beautiful. Huge, lush and colorful areas to explore. Its absolutely massive and has a great deal of vertical space to it as well and not just flat landscapes.

    The controls are pretty tight. Guns feel good to shoot and even though there has been a good deal of lag while playing, I still got the sense that I was playing an action game.

    Jetpacks. What can I say? Everyone loves jet packs! Oh and there are glider stations around that let you essentially fast travel to places on the map. But they are not on rails. You hit the station and then zoom into the air where you are free to glide wherever you want while gradually losing altitude.

    The bad:

    Inventory, crafting and upgrades: These are sort of all packed into one. You will have a found blueprint alongside of a constructed item alongside ore, etc. There are tabs on the left to filter these items but I found using the inventory clunky and unrewarding. Having a place to stash items for other battleframes would be nice; being able to have a permanent place for learned blueprints (you can actually destroy a blueprint and then not be able to make the item anymore).

    Jetpacks: Really awesome. the main issue is that they don’t have enough fuel to really have an impact. Jetpacks are more like a really big jump. You can’t use them to travel fast; you can’t use them to leap over mountains. If the fuel lasted for even 3 more seconds, that would make a huge difference in the “feel” of them.

    That’s it for now. Its feels like the game is very much a work in progress at this point. I don’t see it getting released for another year to be honest. But its FUN. once they add actual content, and tweak the finer bits, im sure it will be a hit.

  16. Jupiah says:

    How big is the griefing potential in this game? Can you attack other players, or their thumpers? Kill steal or ninja loot? I noticed that the player in that video picked up a armor drop from one of the big bugs that had sat there for awhile being ignored by other players, were his buddies just nice about it or was the item somehow bound to him or only visible to him?

    I like the idea of this game, I could never get into a traditional mmorpg but I loved Borderlands and I think I might be able to enjoy this also, but having some griefer harass me just instantly breaks any sense of immersion I might have built up and ruins the fun for me. I don’t play a lot of online multiplayer games, obviously.

    • DarkByke says:

      Items only drop to your current squad. Nobody outside that squad can see them. So playing with friends and you’ll divide item drops accordingly… if its public yeah I think anybody could take it, but generally you’re right there when the enemy dies so you can grab it.

    • Ganj says:

      Loot drops aren’t handled all that well at the moment. Some of the nanoprints, (read crafting patterns) that drop don’t require any interaction to pick up, so it’s at times hard to divvy the drops to the appropriate person, especially in the heat of combat – since there’s no trading between players at the moment either, it’s a little annoying. Actual items that drop however – guns, armour, mod and the like – require interaction to collect.

      As for griefing, that’s not too much of an issue. The PvE environment doesn’t, (currently?) allow for PvP, so the only way to be griefed would be while thumping. During the defence of the thumper, you get waves of bugs attacking. The smaller ones attach themselves to the thumper and start nibbling away at it. Some of those smaller bugs explode in a large and painful AoE when killed – with the potential to chain others of the same type. If you have a half a dozen or so going up at the same time on and around a thumper it’s almost certain to be destroyed.

      If left to your own devices, they’ll often detach themselves after a short while and you can safely kill them away from the thumper, but if someone else wanders by and decides to “help” in passing…

      Thankfully, it’s really not been an issue thus far, in over 100 thumpers, I’ve lost maybe one or two to that situation and in all honesty those didn’t seem to be from any malicious intent as opposed to a desire to help in passing and just not realising the dangers of the “explodey ones.”

  17. Spacecraft says:

    The game seems interesting, but my time in the beta was awful. Support for AMD cards is non-existent, the enemy AI was hilariously bad, and the tutorial was garbage. I heard the “Beta” was just a stress test, and that the game was more or less staying as it is right now. I sure hope that is incorrect.

  18. bleeding_gums says:

    I like the idea of teaming up to defeat the PvE enemies but then reverting to a PvP fight between factions over who gets the resources from a thumper. It brings in questions like should I shoot them now while still fighting NPCs? Should I wait and let the other faction waste their ammo? Are they going to turn on me before all the NPCs are dead? Would make for pretty tense encounter I reckon.

  19. Bungle says:

    Everything I hear about this game sounds awesome. The problem is that a recent developer gameplay video I watched made it look like regular old arena deathmatch. The game I watched had the player spawn, run forward, shoot someone, then die and repeat the same process over and over. Spawning from the same spot and running forward over and over again. Just like the worst shooters out there.

  20. RegisteredUser says:

    My biggest question would be what can I expect to “do” in the long term playing non-PVP. I.e. do I ever “win”, clean the planet of the “enemy” or whatever it is that is going on, is there some kind of endgoal besides being maxed out on specs.

    If the aim of the game is to keep playing the game then the ending would be just to stop, and thats not a very satisfying prospect for an outcome I guess..
    But then again maybe I’m asking something from a game that it shouldn’t be able to provide in the first place in that genre?

  21. pruchel says:

    71/71 secrets. Also noticed our paintjob in the appartment could be better.