Saturday, August 7, 2010

Fallen Earth (warning: High Jargon Content)

Fallen Earth is an MMORPG that flew under my radar until it was on sale on Steam. I grabbed it, since it was less than $20 for the game, and a free month of gameplay. MMOs are traditionally hard to review, since there's a butt-ton of content, and many places to visit, etc. etc., but Fallen Earth is actually really easy. It's Fallout 3 blended with Everquest II. If you like MMOs and post apocalyptic settings, this is the game for you. There's a few things to keep in mind, though, if you do decide to play (note, I'm only level 18, and the current cap is 50).
Bad news first. This MMO's been out for less than a year, and it shows. Fallen Earth, still has a significant number of recurring bugs. Little things like quest MOBs spawning slowly or not at all where they should, mounts not interacting properly (disappearing, throwing the player, that kind of thing), instances reset on their own, and a few other things happen semi-regularly. I've yet to run across any crashes or complete gamebreakers, and most bugs can quickly be fixed by logging out to the character selection screen and back in, a process that takes less than 60 seconds. Those that aren't fixed that way are usually quickly helped by the GMs, and that leads to the start of our good news portion. Devs are still working on bug fixes and content as well, despite a huge reduction in work force, so the game is still on an upward climb.

The community in this game is managed really well. There is almost always a GM online, and they take an active interest in what's going on, and interact with the community, down to regularly answering questions in the help chat. There's even the "HazMat" team, a group of player volunteers helping answer questions. Trolls are few and far between, and usually slapped down pretty hard. There's no global chat, unfortunately, so depending on what area you're in, it can feel rather lonely. Grouping isn't necessary for the large majority of things, and as far as I've played, if you just get a couple levels past a group mission, you'll be able to complete them. Grouping *can* be pretty fun, though.

The game is technically classless. Any level 1 character can grow up to have any skillset you want. That said, it falls in to some fairly classic divides, just giving you some extra wiggle room in the standard divides. You get 20 ability points per level, 2 awarded at each tenth of a level, and certain quests give AP as a reward. AP can be used to raise either your stats or skills. Each skill is governed by two stats, determining its minimum and maximum level. Stats start out at 11, and go up by one each full level, and you can spend 5 AP to raise a stat one point. The skills available are Armour Use, Athletics, Dodge, First Aid, Group Tactics, Melee, Pistol, Rifle, and Social. It's supposed to take 90 points to max a skill, and 150 to max a stat, you can earn just short of 1300 AP total, and there's 8 stats in addition to the 9 skills.

Any character can craft, but it takes a fair bit of dedication to make higher level equipment, with things like vehicles taking hours to make individual components. The upside is that crafting continues while you're logged off or adventuring, and there's tradeskill areas that increase speed for their respective kind (science areas increase science recipes' speed, ballistics labs increase ballistics crafting, etc.) as long as you're in there -- you keep the bonus if you log out, but not if you wander off. There's a number of different trades, with probably in the triple digits of recipes for each trade. Rather bizarrely, you can craft books to teach yourself the higher-level recipes, though the materials requirements get rather steep, again going back to vehicle crafting as an example, improved books taking 2 or more of the base level item as ingredients, and so taking hours just for the materials involved, and then another hour or more for the actual crafting of the book. So, while anyone can craft, as long as you keep your stats up to keep your skill cap up, it takes a lot of dedication to harvest the materials, and planning to make efficient use of time, since you can queue up a lot of recipes, but anything that's actually started being made has already used the materials, so there's no pausing/stopping to switch to something else.

I've yet to do any PvP, since I tend to suck at that, and in MMOs it generally requires your build to be the flavour of the month in order to be competitive. PvE is pretty solid, with rifles actually being able to snipe from a goodly distance out if they have a scope, pistols having good damage output at the cost of shorter range, and melee laying the smackdown on some jabronis. Monster variety is pretty good, too. Some MOBs like Creepers will show u in different varieties all over, some are less omnipresent, like the sandworms. Keep your equipment up to date, and you'll be fine. If you go with a ballistic weapon, make sure to keep a heavy supply of ammo around, you'll go through it quicker than you think.

Missions are a bit more varied than the standard "Go kill X of Y." There's also item fetch quests, courier quests, escort quests, "track and kill quests" where you need to go to a series of waypoints to track down an NPC before finally finding and killing it, use item in specific area/on specific MOB, obtain through purchase, crafting, or harvesting of certain materials or items, timed quests, and others. It's pretty good.

So, I've covered most of the game mechanics, so a quick overview of sound and graphics. I guess the graphics had gotten an overhaul not long ago, and the game looks pretty good. Textures load quickly (there was one area where a wall texture refused to load, but that's the only time), the game transitions... fairly smoothly from outside to in, and wandering around outside you're not going to be hit by area transition/loading lag. Different armour looks different, you can get different colours, and there's a pretty good variety of equipment to pick from at each tier, so you can craft a distinct look if you so desire. The world is large. Really large. The "newbie" zone, Sector 1, would probably take you an hour to cross on foot at the widest point. Towns are  fairly distinct (as distinct as post-apocalyptic towns can be), and the wide open wastelands are nicely contoured, and dotted with random debris and detritus. There's not a lot of voice acting, but it is pretty solid when it shows up, surround sound works pretty well, and the foley's quite appropriate. There's nothing to complain about. Bullets whiz past your ear, monsters grunt menacingly, and raiders shout.

Yeah, if you like MMOs, and you like the post-apocalypse setting, you'll probably get a fair bit of enjoyment out of the game, at least enough to make the free month well used. If you don't like MMOs, depending on why, you still might like this game, since you can basically treat it like a single-player RPG with a built-in chat client if you want. If bugs annoy you though, stay away, and if the game's still around in a year or so, give it a try then.

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