Firefall Preview

This battleframe feels nice. I’ll take one and that massive sniper rifle over there.

If you asked me a month ago which game I would like to beta test more than any other, I would have said Firefall without hesitation, and you can’t really blame me. The game is being made by Red 5 Studios, a development team full of high-profile former Blizzard Entertainment employees. In addition, it is going to be completely free-to-play with no buy-in, and includes a heavy dose of PvE and PvP elements for MMO nuts like me. What else can you ask for?

At its core, Firefall is a twitch-based shooter. No matter how your character is specialized and equipped, you’ll have access to a jetpack that takes your high vertical leap and doubles it by allowing you to glide mid-air. What this does more than anything is add another dimension (z-axis) of positioning, a theme that is exceptionally important in online shooters and extremely rewarding when mastered. Coupled with the high speed of play, quick target acquisition and a groomed trigger finger will go a long way toward keeping you alive against challenging foes that would like nothing other than for you to meet your maker.

In Firefall, classes are handled in a very friendly way. Your class is determined by which battleframe you have equipped—think of it as an armor type—and the best part is you can switch between them at certain locations in the game world. Battleframes include the long-ranged expert Recon, the soldier-esque Assault, the supportive Biotech, the cunning Engineer, or the intimidating Dreadnaught. This is one of the few MMOs out there that lets you play as any of the classes so you don’t have to reroll an alt in order to enjoy the other styles of gameplay.

The most important value of the game is its cohesive shooting mechanics. There is a large arsenal of weapons to equip and collect, and they’re as satisfying and precise as you’d want them to be during your ongoing effort to blow up enemy bugs into a cloud of insect smoke or show an online opponent that you have better aim. You’ll also employ abilities and "calldowns" to give yourself some additional utility. Abilities are battleframe-centric and each one you unlock adds additional complexity and enjoyment to the game experience. On the other hand, calldowns are the equivalent of ultimate abilities and have lengthy cooldowns but if used properly have a dramatic effect on the battlefield.

You can customize your character in several different ways with three skill trees offered for each battleframe. Upgrades farther into the trees are valuable with substantial effects and even new battleframe armor with bonuses and flashier skins. Given that there are five classes and you can play as each, heading into the skill tree menu and deciding on what to put your points into next is fun in and of itself.

What the game offers to those who like to become deeply invested in their online games is a seamless MMO world and a PvP component. The world in particular has some great geometry which plays into the hands of the vertical-style gameplay, and the enemies are varied and unpredictable enough to reward you for learning the ins-and-outs of gameplay. Additionally, the game world features some dramatic moments of scenery, although the cel-shaded design—Red 5 calls it manga shaded—keeps it from being a showpiece.

The PvP environment is what will likely garner most of your attention. Red 5 is aiming for Firefall to be a commonplace eSport game, which is a feat that many have tried and failed at. What Firefall has going for it is a team of developers that have been successful in the past, a gameplay style that offers a high skill cap, and spectator tools ready to go for launch. Although shooters have disappeared from the high-end tournament scene with the advent of League of Legends and DotA 2, this one has a great shot at becoming a popular choice.

Given Firefall’s conservative visuals, there are few excuses that will keep you from trying it when your friends keep bringing it up. It has the potential to be a killer on livestreams and a massive time sink for RPG players. Look out for it when it releases sometime next year.