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FireFall Hands-on [PAX Prime 2012]

If you haven’t heard of Red 5’s FireFall at this point… well it basically means that you’re not a convention goer. They’ve consistently had the largest booth at every consumer show I’ve been to in the last couple of years. After a little investigative digging I was able to find that it’s because their benefactor is none other than The9, which, previously, owned the exclusive rights to World of Warcraft in Japan. So the company has plenty of money to throw into the production of FireFall, which is make the fans (and staff) curious at what can be done with a new franchise MMO and near infinite money.

Aside from the fact that they have an opportunity to advertise like no-one’s business, Red 5 also has an unparalleled ability for game development is simply a joy to talk with the game designers about. Speaking with one of the Lead Developers on the showfloor at this year’s PAX Prime it was very clear that these guys are being given the longest length of rope with which to hang themselves. Concepts that they’ve only dreamed about with previous titles are being implemented, and then tweaked until perfection.

It’s a concept that’s really shining through with the upgrades that the game has being getting throughout the beta test.

If you’re not currently in the beta, let’s just say that it is a constantly evolving platform of a game. While the core concepts of character progression have only undergone minor progression so far, the core of the class system has been built and re-built from the ground up again and again as the fanbase provides input on how the game’s balance and play feels.

Two major changes that were being showcased, and explained, during the show were in the medic and the engineer class.

Previously the engineer class offered a machine gun-type weapon with homing ammunition. For obvious reasons this was changed in the most recent patch. The core concept of the game is in skill-based combat, and therefor reward. Where the engineer previously had a homing attack as its primary, it’s now offered a void-ray style laser that increases its damage over time by being consistently locked onto a target via the reticle.

Improvements have also been made to the class to compensate for removing their god-tier weaponry. A main-stay of the engineer class was the turrets that it could drop; previous of Team Fortress style in that they could be deployed and then maintained/upgraded. Now the turrets can be thrown out, projectile style, and adhere to any surface. This offers increased strategy for the class as it becomes less about god-moding weaponry in homing-ammunition format, and more about properly positioning your turrets so that you can keep yourself alive during those mining runs for minerals.

 With the medic class, both the healing abilities and its secondary attack were modified. Previously the medic had options for utilizing a healing beam (again, in the vein of Team Fortress) with a secondary function that opted as a radial heal, healing both the medic itself and everyone around him/her in a 360 degree arch. The medic is no longer the game’s cockroach in that it cannot heal itself. The 360 degree healing wave now is a more conical ability, and lastly the beam has been replaced by a ball. The most interesting change to the healing functionality is the ball though, as it can be fired outwards, in a straight line, and then detonated during flight for a radial healing effect. Even more interesting is that the healing ball is not invincible. It can be intercepted mid-flight by enemy fire.

Lastly the medic class gained a new ‘poison cloud’ effect. When activated a noxious green cloud trails behind the player, leaving a trail of destruction, best utilized in the demo I got to watch by being used as a defensive weapon around the circumference of the thumper (a mining tool used to collect minerals, which has the side-effect of attracting mass amounts of enemies).

If you haven’t had an opportunity to check out FireFall yet, it’s definitely one of those games on my PC watch list. I’ve been enjoying it in an off and on again relationship during the beta due to the fact that in offers progression and character modification in an entirely new way for MMOs. Instead of levels, there’s basically one big pool of XP that acts as a currency to purchase abilities for your character. Instead of picking one class from 1 to 80, you also have ‘battle frames’ which allow you to build different loadouts of your character which you can switch between at stations laid about the game’s safe zones.

The other big news from PAX was the founder packages. To get the ball rolling on the ‘free to play’ marketplace model, players currently in the beta have an option of buying one of three tiers of founder packages that offer a variety of goodies including in-game items, apparel, and even a ‘mount’ at the highest ranking.

As an added little bonus, to all gamers and readers alike, Red 5 recently release a series of videos, on YouTube, giving a little bit of a back-stage peek behind their presence at PAX this year. Check it out.

 

Last, but certainly not least is the game’s built-in features that focus around e-sports.

If you’re not yet a fan, likely it’ll be becoming into your life shortly. Professional gaming is something that’s been around for years, and broadcast online for just as long. While the past might have been in Starcraft and Street Fighter matches, the future offers pretty much any flavor of gaming you might have a taste for. Red 5 has seen that future and is providing the tools to make interesting live-streaming as easy as possible.

All gamers can check out any replay of any match, provided via their cloud-storage system, with full replay tools, multiple camera options (including free-look camera) and a bevy of stats options. Even better than that there’s the ability to watch live matches in the game’s PVP mode (with a 30 second delay to prevent team-style cheating).

For fans it means an unparalleled ability to review professional gaming within the world. For broadcasters it means easy-mode live broadcasting (media outlets can apply for a broadcasting account to rid themselves of the delay penalty) and Red 5 is also making sure that the pro-level gamers will be coming out for their tournament by offering up a sizeable one MILLION dollar pot for their first tournament.

So fan, broadcaster, or pro-gamer wanna-be, FireFall is going to be a game that sets the bar, moving forwards, on what e-sports gaming is all about for MMO fanatics.