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Hands-on preview: 8 years in the making, Firefall plays like an MMO Borderlands

Hayden Dingman | July 17, 2014
There's a framed print-out on the wall at Red 5 Studios-- a magazine clipping from a late-2011 PC Gamer article entitled "50 Reasons Firefall Will Rule 2012."

Improved movement directly improves combat. We seem to be in a movement Renaissance for shooters, what with Titanfall and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and now Firefall eschewing realism and resurrecting the complex movement systems used by twitch shooters in the 1990s (Quake, Unreal Tournament, et cetera). Developers are finally taking advantage of the Z-axis after years of neglect, and it makes for a higher skill-ceiling and more interesting tactical options.

It also opens up the world immensely, allowing for more verticality in level design but also making it fun to explore the environment. I spent most of my time with the game just jumping up cliffs and trying to reach areas that seemed inaccessible.

Instead of finding empty vistas awaiting me, Firefall does a good job of filling in content wherever it makes sense. The game uses a dynamic spawn system to randomly generate points of interest for players to explore — maybe a side battle or a mini-boss or something of that sort. Even some of the actual missions are randomized in terms of locations, allowing players to re-run content without literally running the same parts of the map repeatedly.

There's also a separate player versus player zone called Broken Peninsula that's opt-in — if you don't ever want to fight another player, you don't have to. We didn't demo this PvP zone personally, though it sounds like it works similarly to fellow MMO shooter Planetside 2 — there's a persistent online world in constant flux, and it's up to you and your teammates to capture and hold bases.

I still have some questions that can't be answered until release day, primarily concerning performance. Latency is the death of a shooter. While Red 5 claims it models shots "in the past," thus ensuring that you hit whatever you aimed at by compensating for the latency, I wonder how it will work when there are hundreds of people running around on a server. That's something we can't know from a small playtest at the studio, and always a concern with an MMO.

The shooting itself is also lacking oomph. While the game has a lot of guns, it could do with making those guns feel different/important, especially when it comes to legendary weapons. Every gun within a given group plays similarly, and it makes the loot progression feel less interesting than it should.

But all in all, it's enough to make me take a second look at Firefall on release. I'm not big on MMOs, but Firefall feels less like what I associate with the MMO label and more like an expansive shooter. And hey, it's free. Red 5 only plans to sell cosmetic items and other superfluous things — at one point my character had a snowman head — and even those are purchasable with in-game currency if you put in the time.

 

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