Red 5 Studios made a big splash at PAX 2011 with Firefall, their upcoming persistent world FPS (first person shooter) online game. Lead designer Scott Youngblood takes us on a tour while we kill things, take their loot, and then repel a large-scale alien invasion.
Firefall is the brainchild of Mark Kern (ex-team lead from World of Warcraft) and Scott Youngblood, the lead designer for Tribes and Tribes 2. It combines many familiar elements of Tribes, various class-based FPS shooters, MMO game mechanics, and a dash of Borderlands. But far from being derivative, Firefall vastly exceeds the sum of its parts. And like Hi-Rez Studios upcoming game Smite, Firefall proved to be a terrifically fun and exciting “discovery” for me at PAX 2011.
The Story of Firefall
55 years prior to the events of the game (which takes place in 2243), the Firefall occurred—meteors rained down on the Earth bearing a new, powerful energy source called Crystite. (Yes, that’s a M.U.L.E. reference, and Scott Youngblood said I was the first person he’d spoken to that got it. That’s either great geek cred or yet another useless bit of trivia occupying my deteriorating faculties.)
The year is 2243. Using Crystite humans attempt to build an FTL (faster than light) drive, bugger it up, and open a rift that enshrouds the Earth in a strange energy. Unfortunately, this energy also brings with it a nasty, bug-like and malevolent alien race that likes humans—at least as a tasty snack. They also apparently infest and convert humans into well-armed minions called The Chosen.
The Chosen quickly over run the earth and humans occupy a remaining hold out called New Eden, located somewhere in Brazil. It’s a colorful world riddled with nasty things. Carnival must be a real hoot in powered armor thongs though.
Firefall is a persistent world, sandbox FPS (first person shooter) online game, built from the ground up by Red 5 Studios in an engine called the Offset Engine. The game world consists of 10 square miles of open world, and if you can see it you can venture there. Don’t let Firefall‘s MMO-like qualities fool you. Firefall is first and foremost an FPS game, and a good one at that.
You play as any of 4 ‘Battleframes’, which is Firefall parlance for classes. The classes are fairly common FPS archetypes: Medic, Assault, Recon, and Engineer. However, like many FPS games you can switch roles at any time, and each role levels up independently of the others. In effect, you play 4 classes simultaneously, each with their own level, gears, special abilities, and loot.
Regardless off the battleframe you play, they are all perfectly functional as solo classes. Each battleframe gets two weapons, a jetpack, and armor, and each weapon and armor has 6 slots for slotting in various enhancements i.e. loot you can craft or acquire by killing stuff. When you upgrade your gear, it’s reflected in your appearance as well (expect lots of cosmetic enhancements in the game’s micro-transaction driven store.) And finally, every battleframe can have as many as 6 ability modules (special abilities), 3 of which can be active at any given time.
The bottom line here is that there is no shortage of weapons and enhancements you can use to customize and improve each of your 4 battleframes. You are never locked into a single battleframe, so you never need worry about ‘respeccing’ or having ‘alt’ characters.
Although no vehicles were shown during my time with the game, Youngblood indicated that there would be vehicles though he didn’t elaborate much beyond that.
PvE: Is this another bug hunt sir?
Firefall features both PvE (player versus environment) and PvP (player versus player) play. It’s also worth noting that Firefall is an FPS game first and foremost. Even ‘support’ battleframes like medics and engineers can solo in PvE just fine.
In PvE play, you can acquire missions to earn experience, gear, and (more importantly) use as an excuse to do what are arguably two of the most fun things you can do in video games: kill monsters and take their stuff. In another PvE mission I was tasked with setting down a thumper—a mining device used to mine Crystite. Thumpers unfortunately make a lot of racket while harvesting and draw nasty critters to you, forcing you to defend the thumper until it has completed harvesting.
In addition to PvE type missions, Firefall features scalable, dynamic, and player-driven events. For example, during my play through at PAX 2011 a large Chosen ship appeared over the town and started launching dropships full of invaders. All hell broke loose as dozens of PAX players scrambled to repel the invasion and destroy the ship.
And it’s entirely possible for the Chosen to take over the town, which will block players from its resources—at least until they organize and take it back. (Denizens of New Eden can thank the stalwart forces of PAX Prime 2011 for saving you.)
PvP: Shoot friends and family too
As you might expect in an FPS online game, Firefall has no shortage of competitive team-based PvP play—and though it won’t be available at launch Youngblood suggested that the option to play PvP as Chosen may eventually find its way into the game. And Red 5 Studios definitely has plans for competitive leagues, tournaments, ladders, and other special events to cater to competitive players. You can also form your own clans and custom battle standards.
And it’s FREE
Firefall easily holds its own and then some against AAA FPS shooters. It’s hard to believe that Red 5 Studios plans to release Firefall as a completely free game, but Firefall will be exactly that—with a free client and an economy supported by micro-transactions.
Firefall is another game that, like Smite, was an immensely enjoyable ‘discovery’ for me. Prior to PAX 2011 I hadn’t heard of the game—but after playing it for far longer than I needed to, I can say I’m honestly excited to see the final product in December 2011 when it launches.