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Firefall Gamescom 2012 Preview

The story of Red 5's Firefall begins when a series of meteor strikes rock the Earth and bring with them a new alien element known as crystite, soon discovered to be an energy source of almost unlimited power. In an effort to harness the power of crystite, the source of the meteors was found and ships dispatched to the area of space known as Alpha Prime. Although these ships were successful in bringing more of the element to Earth, the process was slow and so the Arclight was born.

The Arclight was a ship powered by crystite able to make the normally years-long journey in a matter of days and bring untold quantities of the super-fuel back to the planet. Initial tests were positive but on its maiden voyage a catastrophe occurred, the Arclight failed and crashed to Earth causing near-apocalyptic disaster. In the aftermath of the crash a giant energy storm engulfed the world, mutating all that it touched and rendering most of the planet uninhabitable. The only area spared from the relentless onslaught of the Melding was an area in South America around the wreckage of the Arclight itself, which somehow kept the Melding at bay.

Firefall is a team-based free-to-play hybrid of MMORPG and MMOFPS elements - a skill based combat game with detailed progression and crafting systems and a focus on resource collection and PvP competition. Action is fast paced and frantic with speed and maneuverability at the heart of gameplay, with fast and agile characters running, blasting and leaping through the air with the aid of thrust boosters.

The progression and class system is based upon the gear chosen by players, with various 'Battleframes' forming the basis of character class. The battleframes themselves are essential combat suits to which equipment is attached and each is designed with specific function, so there will be medic frames, engineer frame, assault frames and more. The player progresses through various 'tiers', spending experience points and unlocking skills and bonuses as they go. The tiers branch into various specialisations and completing one will unlock a new battlesuit of a higher level. Currently tiers range from one to five and they get more complex, with more choices to make as they go on.

Built into each battleframe is a 'constraint' system to ensure that no one player can become overpowered by equipping nothing but the best items. Each item, depending on it's power levels, bears a certain level of constraint and the frame's maximum value cannot be exceeded, forcing the player to carefully consider the equipment they take along on a mission or in a battle and manage their setup accordingly.

In a short demonstration on some of the abilities attached to each battleframe we saw the medic class use a projectile attack which healed the player when hitting an enemy, an energy ball that heals a friendly target when shot and an area-of-effect energy pulse that heals by-standers. We also saw the medic's 'poison trail' ability, which leaves a cloud of poison behind him as he moves. We also got to see the engineer's 'multi-turret' ability in which up to three remote turrets could be deployed, which handily can be stuck to any surface.

A central theme in Firefall is resource collection and players can go out solo or in groups to gather materials to use in crafting. First a player must search out areas with resource wealth and then use various tools to extract and collect these deposits. In the demo we saw a player use a sonic detonator to extract some resources by blasting them free, but the primary tool in this endeavour is the 'thumper.

Thumpers are large structures a player can have air-dropped into a resource zone that go to work in extracting wealth over time. However, they are noisy to run and so attract enemies while in operation that must be fended off before they can damage the player or destroy their equipment. Risk-versus-reward is the clear focus here as the longer a thumper is in operation the better quality yields it brings, but the larger and more aggressive creatures it attracts leaving it more open to damage.

A thumper being destroyed is a bad thing, as not only will all the resources collected during the exercise will be lost but the thumper itself must be replaced, which is an expensive undertaking even for a basic model. More advanced thumpers are available which are more efficient at resource gathering, but also make more noise and so attract more and larger enemy types.

As a final consideration in resource gathering, once an areas material wealth has been exhausted it will take some time for more to be available for mining. This means that resource rich areas will be hotly contested and players will be in constant competition with each other to be the first to hit the big payload before anyone else can get away with the wealth.

Once resources are collected they can be used in crafting and upgrading items. In order to do so the player must possess the items blueprints as well as the necessary upgrade materials. There are eight different resource types, each of which has varying properties. The rarer the resource the better quality items and upgrades can be crafted using them, but of course higher quality items have higher constraint values so again the constant balancing act comes into play.

There are nine available areas that offer differing services to players including tutorials, crafting options, solo/co-op missions and more. The primary antagonists in the game are the Chosen and they will seek to invade these areas where they are weakly defended. Should the Chosen capture a player zone nobody will be able to use that areas facilities until a counter attack has been launched and the zone recaptured.

PvP will be a central experience to Firefall and Red 5 are giving heavy consideration to the eSports scene, with specific content designed for competitive players. The game will record every single PvP match and features a robust spectator mode for both live and recorded matches. Recordings will be posted to the cloud as they happen and any player can watch through third or first-person views, fixed camera angles, free cam mode or an automatic spectator camera that focuses where the action is heaviest.

There is also a broadcast mode that allows game hosts even more freedom in presenting their recordings to players and this also features a 30-second time delay to prevent competitors cheating through spectator guidance. Slow-motion, fast-forward and rewind options are also included so replays and highlights can be created and classic moments captured in all their glory.

An integrated tournament system is planned to be introduced into the game, so there should be no reliance on external resources to plan and host eSports competition and everything can be arranged in-game. Leaderboards and player statistics will also be available, as will player 'armies'; which are Firefalls equivalent of guilds and will feature unique army-specific tech trees.

Multiplayer PvP modes include a standard 5v5 deathmatch, a 'capture-point' styled battle and 'harvester' mode, in which opposing teams compete to collect the most resources. This is just the beginning in the beta stage and much more multiplayer content can be expected as the beta stage progresses.

As a free-to-play title, Firefall is supported by microtransactions. Red 5 stressed they will not sell "power" and that the game will not devolve into a pay-to-win title. Microtransactions can buy a player slight boosts to the amount of xp and resources collected, although they still have to go out and earn them, and can be used to buy aesthetic items to customise characters. However, Firefall will not allow players to purchase resources or xp outright, nor to buy weapons or battleframes with real-world currency.

Firefall remains in beta testing and currently has no official live release date, the team commenting that they will consider Firefall officially 'released' when they are happy enough to say that the beta is over and the product is ready. Potential players interested in finding out more can visit www.firefallthegame.com to read more about the game and sign up for their chance to participate in the beta testing.

Ewok | 17th December, 2012

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