When writing about Firefall back in January the game was preparing for an open beta weekend, letting the unwashed masses of the internet loose upon it for a handful of days. Since then developers Red 5 Studios have continued beavering away behind the scenes, leading to the game’s recent launch into a full time open beta.
Given that Firefall is a free-to-play game, the promise of no more character wipes and the willingness to take player’s money for cosmetic and convenience items, it would feel disingenuous to claim this is not a properly released game, but for the raft of changes that are frequently being made.
Back in January, players would advance their abilities and equipment options by spending their experience points unlocking boxes in a battleframe’s technology tree. Each battleframe had a uniqe specialisation, such as medical skills or the added bulk necessary to carry a heavy minigun, and the abilities and equipment you unlocked could only be used for that specific frame.
Shortly before the open beta launch this was changed significantly. Each frame now has three lines of boxes to unlock – CPU, Mass and Power – which require set amounts of experience points and some crafting resources to unlock. Advancing in the CPU line, for example, installs more processors in your frame allowing more powerful versions of your abilities, alternate weaponry or just beefier jumpjets to be strapped in.
The strictures on what modules can be put in which frames were also loosened, allowing the second tier of battleframes the option of equipping abilities or weaponry from the associated first tier frame. For instance the Raptor frame, springing from the Recon base frame, can choose to equip the Recon’s base passive ability, which provides health regeneration each time the player kills something. Or you could equip the Raptor’s base passive, which is trash and you should absolutely not do that because the Recon’s is much better.
Ahem. That is, of course, subject to change. But the loosening of the restrictions also applies to things like your jumpjets and servos, meaning you can create some high quality jumpjets and use them across any or all of the frames in your garage. (Though you may not want to.)
Another of the changes brought in recently adds durability and the need to repair items after extended use. Or, more often, repair them as they take a durability hit after you die foolishly throwing yourself into a fight you can’t win. Or when you fall in a puddle and drown. Or your teleport ability clips through the floor and you’re stuck in limbo until you die to force a respawn. Or…
Fortunately, the cost of repairing items is set to zero right now, though your ability to repair an item degrades over time. If you use your gear too much or you die too often, it will eventually become impractical to use as the maximum durability decreases each time you pay for repairs. This is good for the long-term health of the crafting system, since players won’t be able to just craft or purchase perfect gear and never need anything again, but incredibly frustrating when there are still more than a few ways to die that are entirely outside a player’s control.
The crafting system has also seen a radical overhaul. Since you no longer unlock crafting schematics in your battleframe tech tree, there needed to be a new way to grant players the ability to create their own gear. This has come by way of researching specific fields at the Molecular Printer, the same place you craft the items you research.
Before you can print out a set of improved jumpjets you need to spend a hefty chunk of Crystite, the in-game currency, to get the blueprint. Insert the required currency and you’re in for a wait of anywhere between 30 minutes and more than a day, depending on the tier of the item you’re researching. Then, to actually create the item, it’s more Crystite again, some mineral resources along with some subcomponents – also crafted by the player – and another wait while it’s assembled.
It’s all quite laborious and often the result is not markedly better than the stock equipment. Unfortunately the only alternative is hoping some appropriate loot will drop, another recent addition to the game. Depending on the kindness of the random number generator is rarely rewarding or enjoyable, as any RPG player could tell you.
Of course not all the recent changes have come at the cost of enjoyment. The addition of ARES missions – generally short, open world, replayable scenarios – serve as a great lure for individuals or groups to come together for a common goal. Tasked with destroying creature hives or pushing back Chosen incursions, players must work together to succeed. And success brings rewards worth fighting for, with crystite and crafting resources by the truckload on offer.
That open world romping, with or without friends, is still what makes Firefall such a delight to play. Whether you’re stumbling across a group guarding a resource thumper and lending a hand before jetting off to the next point of interest or fighting off waves of Chosen assaulting a watchtower or just picking a fight with a brontodon, it’s rare to be short of something fun to do.
As Firefall remains in beta, any or all of the above is subject to change. The new progression and crafting systems were a shock to veteran players but should prove easier to understand for newcomers. The annoyance of maintenance and durability is just a matter of tweaking the numbers and continuing to fix bugs, not unexpected for a system only recently introduced.
Should you play Firefall? Sure, why not? It’s free and you had time to read this.