5 Promising Game Mechanics in the FireFall Open Beta

FireFall is an open-world, sandbox MMOFPS title from Red 5 Studios currently in open beta. The developers at Red 5 have openly stated that they have intentionally released a quite unfinished product to the world to rely on genuine, real-world feedback as they put on the finishing touches, so the current iteration of the game is far from feature complete. That being said, there are several systems and gameplay mechanics in the open beta version that shine with originality. For MMO players on a quest to find something truly new and innovative, here are five promising mechanics and systems from the FireFall open beta:

Instant Class Switching
All players have access to all character classes at all times, and switching between classes is convenient and instant. FireFall redefines the concept of character classes completely, never locking players into a single play style. Characters themselves have no class (no pun intended). Instead, they equip different battleframes, or armored battle suits, which have different features that can be compared with traditional MMO classes. The Dreadnought battleframe can be considered a tank, for example, while the Assault battleframe can be considered a DPS. Other battleframes can be roughly pegged to a traditional healer, rogue and ranged DPS classes.

Players can use battleframe stations to switch their “classes” at any time from virtually any of the outposts scattered throughout the world. This allows for a much more flexible style of play suited to a range of situations. For example, I’ve been preferring the Recon battleframe, a sniper class, but I can easily switch to a more hardy DPS or tank battleframe for missions that require close-quarters fighting and greater defense.

There is one caveat, however. Just as player characters don’t have classes, they also don’t gain experience points. The battleframes themselves gain xp individually, and each one requires a great deal of time to progress. Thus, players tend to choose one or two favorites to invest time in rather than using the full array.

Firefall Battleframes

A few of the Battleframes available in FireFall.

Unique Character Progression
Character progression in FireFall is customizable to an extent that I’ve never seen before, blending a consumable xp system with a rich crafting system. Battleframes do not level up the way one would expect in an MMO. Instead, xp is used as a form of character-progression currency that is spent on stat increases and gear unlocks. Players “spend” their earned xp to level up battleframes’ mass, tech power and CPU, which can be compared to the traditional fortitude, strength and intelligence attributes. Players must also spend xp to unlock slots for weapons, armor, special add-ons and abilities, all of which must be created via the crafting system or purchased on the market.

Deep Crafting System
Crafting is a central part of FireFall’s beta economy and character progression, and can be broken down into a four-step process. First, raw materials found in the world and given in quest rewards must be refined into usable forms. Next, schematics must be purchased to create items. After that, different item components must be crafted using refined materials, and finally the components can be used to create items and battleframe gear.

The array of raw materials, components and items to work with is impressive already, and is surely to be tweaked and expanded before the official launch. The idea of crafting items as a core part of character progression has not been present in many of the most popular modern MMO’s, and I’m glad to see it in action once more. The crafting system also feeds directly into exploration mechanics that MMO designers have failed to execute for many years.

Firefall Crafting

A Molecular Printer crafting station.

Genuine Exploration
One of the major parts of resource gathering in FireFall is using personal portable mining drills, called Thumpers, in random locations around the world. Players use something called a scan hammer to detect which raw materials are present at different locations in the world, and they can deploy a Thumper to harvest these resources with random rewards over a period of several minutes. Thumpers attract hostile creatures from all directions, and players can be hard-pressed to keep the enemies off of their Thumper while it completes its work.

The Thumper system accomplishes two things: first, it introduces a compelling reason to actually go out and explore the world, looking for hidden pockets of minerals that other players have not discovered. This deviates from the “follow the quest marker and don’t deviate from the path” design of modern MMO’s. Secondly, it brings back the idea of spawn camping in a fresh way, allowing players to choose where, when and for how long they will camp and grind for xp and resources.

firefall thumper

A player protects a Thumper as it harvests resources.

Random Missions and Group Play
Rather than featuring a quest-stacking, simple-errand style of quest progression, FireFall open beta features almost no story at all. This may change in the final release, but I actually find the lack of sheep-herding to be quite refreshing. Instead of class or zone-based quest lines, random missions pop all over the world at all times, and players can always choose whether or not to participate.

Random missions lead to an ingenious group-content system that flows naturally from the way people truly play together these days. When a mission pops up, anyone in the world can participate, and the missions become more challenging as more players join the fray. You could find yourself fighting alone in a mission, fighting alongside another hero or joining in with ten other players at once, depending on who heeded the call.

The ultimate blending of the random-missions and open-grouping systems occurs when huge mobs of enemy units invade one of the town areas at random, creating huge open-world events where it’s not uncommon for twenty players to fight together against wave after wave of invaders. Familiar town areas instantly become warzones, and any player who is involved in the defense is handsomely rewarded.