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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."

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."

It's a perfect indicator of the long and presumably arduous road that Firefall — Red 5's first project — has traveled to completion. The road ends July 29, when Firefall will actually release to the public, four full years after its reveal, and two years after it was supposed to "rule." When I talk to the devs, most of them are very frank. "This is the longest I've worked on a title without shipping something," is a common refrain.

What's incredible about Firefall, though, is the game still seems good, despite its meandering development path. That's more than you can say about most games that fall into development hell.

Bringing it all back home

In my notes I'd written "Looks and feels a bit like Borderlands."

I ask about the comparison. "At one point it felt even more like Borderlands," I'm told by one Red 5 developer — there were thick black outlines around everything. Now only a slightly cel-shaded art style remains to attest to that phase of the project.

It makes sense — Borderlands and its loot-driven experience adapted MMORPG systems to fit a first-person shooter, and Firefall is bringing things full-circle to create an MMOFPS. Or an MMOTPS, if you want to play it as a third-person shooter (you can swap between the two views by clicking the middle mouse button).

You've got your tiered loot system, with items color-coded by rarity. You pick up jobs from a job board. You go out into the environment and fight computer-controlled enemies to find new loot and level up your "Battleframe" — an armored exoskeleton that serves as your health, shield, and character class simultaneously. You can swap out your battleframe at any time, effectively changing classes without creating a new character. Each battleframe levels up independently, though, so be prepared to start from square one when you do.

It's all pretty standard for a massively-multiplayer online game, except Firefall is a shooter instead of another in a series of increasingly-tedious "turn-based RPGs disguised as pseudo-action games" emulating the juggernaut World of Warcraft.

Is that enough to draw in people who don't typically play MMOs? I don't know. It certainly feels different. World traversal handles like a big-budget shooter, albeit with a focus on making movement engaging — not a surprise, considering the game has some DNA from the high-flying Tribes games. Each character has jump jets that allow brief flight, plus an array of vehicular options that range from motorcycles to hang gliders.

 

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