The Firefall beta is fun, beautiful, and broken
I was standing at the peak of a small mountain that jutted out of the water in the bay like a giant boulder dropped from the sky when I noticed a little metalic platform on the ground with a shining neon blue icon of two connected triangles.
I had a feeling I knew what the icon meant so I excitedly sprinted over to it, and in a flash my character was flipped up into the sky, sprouted hang glider wings and soared off the mountain and over the bay.
The Carribbean-themed town below, Copacabana, glittered in the early morning hours and I giggled a little while doing dips and dives with my hang glider. My face had a pouty frown on it when I finally hit the ground and couldn't glide any further.
That's when it hit me. This is a free game. I had completely forgotten this was a free-to-play release. Firefall has more polish and beauty than most full price games I've played recently, and it's all offered for free without pushy F2P mechanics. You can pay for cosmetic upgrades or new types of class archetypes, but there don't seem to be any zones roped off or much content-gating.
Like most people, I've long since gotten over the “it's free and it's not terrible!” amazement phase of the free-to-play gaming movement, but Firefall inspires that feeling in me once again. This is a cutting edge MMO being offered for free from from the very first day of its beta which began two weeks ago.
It's big, it's beautiful, but unfortunately, it's also still pretty broken.
Big, beautiful, and broken
Firefall is a free-to-play MMORPG shooter that's somewhat in the same vein as Defiance. It reminds me quite a bit of Guild Wars 2 as well though. It's a simplified MMO that strives to remove as much of the grind from the traditional MMO experience as possible, replacing it with a focus on first/third person (your choice) combat and PvP.
And Firefall does that very well. The shooter mechanics feel great to play around with, and the addition of a jet pack for every character class gives combat an exciting, dynamic feel as you can liftoff and fly around for a short while at-will.
The story casts you as one of the last survivors of human kind, after a new type of space freighter rips a hole in space-time and unleashes an energy force called The Melding upon Earth. The Melding mutates life-forms, and has caused some havoc on the planet, leaving only a few areas habitable. And those areas are shrinking all the time. During the game, cities can come under attack and if they aren't saved, they can become closed off to players for a time.
I wasn't clear on exactly what my long-term goal in the game was supposed to be, but I wasn't all that concerned. I was having fun doing missions, scaling mountains with my jetboots, doing PvP matches, earning some new gear, and tracking down “thumpers” which are small-scale spontaneous world events in which players have to defend a drill from enemies while it mines for ores.
I was still in the tutorial quest chain at the beginning of the game when I first realized that something had gone wrong. I'd been fiddling with a certain quest for nearly an hour, and there seemed to be nothing I could do to acquire the material I needed to finish the quest.
When something goes wrong for me in a game, I tend to immediately assume it's my own fault. So I assumed I wasn't paying enough attention to the quest dialogue or that I just couldn't figure out some sort of teaching puzzle. It was still early in the game though, so I just remade my character and started from scratch, making sure to pay closer attention to every word that was said.
When I got back to the quest that had previously given me trouble, the same problem came up: the resource I needed just wasn't in my inventory.
That's when I realized how spoiled I am.
An actual beta
The Firefall beta is something we don't see all that often anymore: it's an actual beta. More often than not these days a “beta” for a title is really just a slice of the near-finished game that exists to build hype for the final release. So when I realized this was a beta in the older sense of the word, I realized I had been spoiled over the years by free betas that were more marketing tool than unfinished game.
Firefall is a real beta with real beta problems, and it made my time with the game frustrating when it wasn't brilliant.
I found a way around the broken quest by acquiring the material through another aspect of the game, and I was finally able to advance through the quest chain. The very next quest required me to go into the Battleframe Garage, the place where you equip your weapons and upgrades onto your battle suit. Unfortunately, the Battleframe Garage was also quite broken.
Through considerable effort I figured out a way to game my way through that too. The garage would only work one time, immediately after I logged in. And once it started working, I had to mash buttons and click around the screen wildly for a few moments before I could alter my Battleframe in the way I needed to. And most of the time it wouldn't save the changes so I had to log in and out near a dozen times before I figured out how to make this work and save all the changes I needed to make.
I would have quit a lesser game long before I ever got to this point though. The fact that I was willing to stick through this broken quest chain is a testament to the amount of fun that Firefall can be at times.
A day or so after I'd made my way through all of the broken quests and vendors, I was exploring near the outside of a zone called Shanty Town. Zooming around with my jetpack boots, I accidentally landed in the middle of a group of NPC enemies. They all immediately launched explosive fireballs at me and I jetpacked my way out of the middle of that herd of enemies.
Turning back in mid-air around I launched a salvo of my own ammunition and blew up half the group, but soon after landed in the middle of another group of enemies. What followed was a several-minutes-long, pulse-pounding fire fight with dozens of enemies and explosions galore.
All I can think about after it ends is, my god this is an MMO…and I actually just genuinely enjoyed fighting a group of random enemies.
Firefall has got some problems right now, but they're solvable problems. This is definitely still very much an MMO beta in the traditional sense: there are still serious issues and you'll need to learn to deal with that if you want to get to the beating heart of the game. Otherwise, keep it on your radar, because it could be a great title when all the problems are fixed.