Blending together MMORPG and FPS elements is always a tricky thing. That's why Firefall is so important to the MMOFPS industry!
Check out ZAM's other Top Five Most Important MMOs of 2012:
If 2011 was the year of blockbuster RPGs and FPSs, then 2012 will certainly be the year of MMORPGs and online games. With almost a dozen highly anticipated titles confirmed to launch in 2012, there can be no doubt that this year will be a revolutionary one for MMO gaming. That being said, not all of you will have the time to check out all of these big releases, so ZAM has compiled a list of what we consider to be the Top Five Important MMOs of 2012. In this top five series, we'll be looking at some of the most innovative titles of 2012 and why you should keep a close eye on them. Today ZAM Editor-in-Chief Chris "Pwyff" Tom will talk about.... Firefall!
Before I delve into the details, I'd like to note just how difficult it is to make a good MMOFPS. It's not that it's hard to imagine the concept - combining the action of first-person shooters with MMORPG elements - but it's that the two genres are so antithetical to each other that trying to combine them into a franken-game usually doesn't turn out so well. If a development team has enough foresight to recognize that they can't be blended in equal parts, the resulting product usually ends up being a lopsided concoction, with more FPS or MMORPG, respectively, added to the mix. Thus, through the past few years we've ended up with FPS-MMOs like Global Agenda and APB Reloaded, or MMO-FPSs like Fallen Earth. As for games that wanted everything, well, check out Hellgate: London and you'll understand.
The big problem lies in creating a game that's responsive and fast enough to qualify as a solid first-person shooter while still having all the good things that define an MMORPG: an expansive world, a large community interacting with each other, and a deep system of character customization. MMORPGs rely heavily on level and gear progression in order to dictate a chain of superiority. If your character is level 10, then you are automatically considered inferior to a level 50. This institutionalized sense of progression might not be related to your overall "skill" within the game, but it serves to give a strong foundation of progression for players, regardless of their actual abilities. In first-person shooters, however, where skill and reflex matter above all, players want to know that their natural abilities can carry them to victory, regardless of how much time they've sunk into the game. Developers who want to successfully fuse MMORPGs to FPSs, therefore, need to find a way to make a game that favors skill (for the FPS crowd) while still rewarding players for their time played and giving them a sense of real character progression. That's a tall order, and any studio with enough chutzpah to tackle this genre head-on is going to find itself rather high on my watch list.
Enter Red 5 Studios and Firefall.
Lead by former Blizzard Team Lead, Mark Kern, Red 5 Studios is planning to make some big moves with Firefall, and their first goal is to make an MMOFPS that delivers in every sense of the word. Ask anyone who managed to try out Firefall at PAX East 2011, including ZAM's Director of Content, Cody Bye, and they'll tell you that Firefall delivers in gameplay. Whether it be stomping baddies via jetpack jumps or turning yourself into a human turret, Firefall promises to be a top-notch first-person shooter; a feat that many dedicated first-person shooters have failed to achieve.
In terms of adding that "MMORPG" depth to the game, Firefall will have a few "battleframes" for players to choose from, with each battleframe acting as a basic class. Currently, the Assault, Recon, Medic, Engineer, and Dreadnaught battleframes have been announced, although it seems that more are on the way. Each battleframe can then be customized through modules, with various levels of customization, ranging from increasing your rate of fire or jetpack speed, all the way to directly modifying the behavior of your weapon's alternate fire. Given Red 5 Studios' clear intention to focus on providing a strong competitive platform, I genuinely believe that Firefall will have an incredible meta-game for top-tier players who want to specialize within their specific roles.
What also makes Firefall unique is the fact that Red 5 Studios is delivering this polished product for free. By employing a robust microtransaction store that CEO Mark Kern is stressing will sell opportunity and aesthetic options, as opposed to straight power, Firefall is going to hook a lot of players out the gate with the word "free." Until about two or three years ago, the concept of a first-person shooter with a microtransaction store was reserved mostly for shoddy ports of Asian developed games, like War Rock or GunZ, both of which suffer from horrendously laggy peer-to-peer net hosting and incredibly powerful cash-shop items. In the past few years, however, games like Global Agenda and Team Fortress 2 have really paved the way for high-quality first-person shooters that employ the microtransaction model, and Firefall seems to be set to take the stage as the culmination of the genre.
Of course, this does mean that Firefall will be approaching "launch" in a very different way than traditional first-person shooters. Red 5 Studios isn't actually planning to open the floodgates for the millions of eager players; instead, they'll be handing out beta invites (keep your eyes on ZAM!) that escalate exponentially as they can support the numbers. Eventually, Firefall will have so many beta invites floating around that the game will be able to transition seamlessly into launch, and that's when things will really get interesting.
Ultimately, Firefall is Important - with a capital I - because it's a perfect example of how a forward thinking developer adapts to our current industry. With a free-to-play revenue model that has been embraced from the very beginning, all piled on top of a deep and robust gameplay engine, I think that Firefall will be the first game to truly meld MMOs with FPSs. Let's hope they get it right.
Christopher "Pwyff" Tom, Editor-in-Chief.