Year of the Gun - Comparing Three Top MMOFPS Contenders
This summer is buzzing with something other than the usual flies and irritating insects. News of a series of MMO shooters currently nearing release has been circulating its way about the web. Each title is groundbreaking in its own way, which means this year promises to be a memorable one for the MMOFPS genre.
The genre-defining Planetside gave us a framework on which many of these titles are built, but in the next year several titles hope to push the envelope. Firefall hopes that fast-paced Quake-style action combined with a deep story and staged content will give it the competitive edge. CCPs new DUST 514 combines an existing space-based MMO with console FPS for an interdependent system the likes of which have only whispered of in the halls of geekdom until now. Lastly, SOE lumbers into the party with their titanic submission, Planetside 2, and hopes that their new Mission System, APIs, and mobile apps will be enough to secure the laurels of victory.
Thumping their way to the finish-line, Red 5 Studios has a pretty good chance at capturing the hearts of MMOFPS players with Firefall. Our preview of Firefall discussed some of the mechanics that make the game unique, but how do they compare to the other big games of the year? For one, the manga-supported storyline makes it quite a bit deeper than the typical shooter, even of the MMO variety. The story of Firefall was written by sci-fi author Orson Scott Card and plays a central role in the game. Firefalls PvE plays out in an ever-expanding and changing world, which relies on players to unlock additional story elements as they push back the pervasive melding.
Conversely, while the PvE and storyline of Firefall are a little more eloquent, the PvP is faster-paced and more twitch-based than the games contemporaries. The PvP in Firefall will all be instanced, unlike Planetside 2, and will feature tools and robust rankings promoting clan competition. Where other games focus on either PvE or PvP, Firefall takes the unique approach of serving up solid versions of both. One potential problem, however, is that PvP and PvE in Firefall are two completely different and fairly separated games within the bigger game. This leads them to feel a bit disjointed in that the PvE game doesnt necessarily support the PvP game and vice versa. If Red 5 Studios can find a way to create a more symbiotic relationship between the two, Firefall could stand to make a major mark in the genre.
Next, we have CCPs entry to the field, DUST 514. This game promises to blend the depth of one of the most celebrated sandbox games of all time with a console shooter for the Playstation 3. Personally, I would have loved to have been in the room when that idea got pitched. Obviously the nut-job that came up with the concept had enough clout to be heard out, and now we have one of the most innovative titles in years coming down the pike. Even better, that title is due to hit the virtual shelves later this year. Interested in proving the lunacy from which their genius stems, CCP is making DUST 514 a free-to-play game. Dont let the F2P moniker or the insanity of the idea drive you away, though. Theyve got a solid chance of pulling this title off.
Our own Sardu had a chance to try the game out at E3 this year, and his report shows solid promise for an ambitious game. Like many of the modern shooters, including Planetside 2, players will be able to run as straight-leg infantry, or climb into anyone of several vehicles to confront the opposing mercenary forces. Based on what weve seen, we can expect fast-paced gameplay somewhere between the twitch-based run-and-gun of Firefalls PvP and what will likely be the comparatively more sedate continental battles of Planetside 2.
So the game has promise, and competitive mechanics, but how does it compare to the other shooters hitting the markets this year? Well, while DUST 514 wont have quite the polished and professional story that Firefall will have, the eventual tie-in to EVE Online will inject the ever-unfolding drama of inter-corporate struggles of the larger MMO. The stroke of cunning CCP had with DUST 514, is to give the short battles in the console even more meaning by having them affect the control of resources and planets in the MMO.
Still, considering the trouble many games have had even crossing platforms, the idea of additionally crossing genres is very ambitious. Obviously CCP hasnt been completely successful yet because they intend to release the game while building the link to EVE progressively, as Sardu points out in his article. The guys at CCP are smart, so its very likely that the progressive nature of the integration is as much to avoid in-game economic damage, as it is to avoid game-breaking bugs and give themselves a bit of a burn-in.
Once fully linked with EVE however, DUST 514 will apparently feature a rich player-driven economy tied to its sister MMO, another party trick from the vault of brilliant ideas at CCP. DUST 514 may not be specifically PvE, but the effect itll have on the economy of EVE Online, and the way that economy will affect DUST 514 creates a very real PvE element to the game. In many ways, its possible that the PvE of DUST may end up being even more deep and meaningful than the PvE of Firefall, which is one of the largest compliments I can think to give. Watching DUST 514 take shape and grow post-launch as EVE has should prove to be very interesting, and the meta-game between the two promises to be a defining point in the industry. If CCP can capture the potential of combining the two distinctly different games in a way that makes sense to the player and adds to both, they will have effectively moved out from under the glacial shadows of the one-hit-wonder, and cemented their reputation as a cross-platform/cross-genre developer.
Lastly, but oh so not leastly, we have Planetside 2. SOE has had a rocky road lately with security issues and a couple MMOs that just didnt quite live up to the promise of EQ or the original Planetside, but theyre back and Smed is ready to show the world just who invented Party Rocking.
Planetside 2 brings far more strategy to the table than Firefall, though maybe not as much as DUST 514 has the potential to bring. Critical aspects of PS2 will be the new Mission System, and how it combines with their API and Mobile App support. Where DUST 514 reaches from the console into another game, Planetside 2 will be attempting to reach beyond the game totally by notifying an offline player that preferred missions will be available. This new system has the potential to revolutionize the way gamers interact with the game, and perhaps even redefine what the word gaming even means.
When compared next to the other two games, Planetside 2 wont have near the story that either Firefall or DUST 514 has. The background in the Planetside universe is perfunctory at best, but the appeal of the game isnt in the story SOE came up with, but rather the day-to-day story of outfits and players achieving feats of cunning as they battle across the huge landscape. PvE in PS2 is non-existent with no crafting or NPCs to kill, so the factional war drives the game. In a way, its really a testament to the quality of the gameplay that a game based entirely on PvP is so likely to thrive.
The real story of the Planetside franchise isnt the FPS itself, though. The real appeal is grand strategy on a global scale, played with the most realistic of units, humans. (PS2 should almost be considered an RTS for the amount of strategy that goes into playing the game well.) Every battle in Planetside 2 has a significant impact on Araxis. Outfit commanders and field commanders make decisions that have significant impact on the grand strategy of global superiority. Those choices, and the choices other players make, are what will make PS2 more than just another FPS game. For SOE to be competitive in such a dense field, theyll have to walk the tightrope of staying true to the feel of the first Planetside, while still being innovative enough not to fall prey to the curse of the sequel. Every sign thus far points at success, but well still have to wait and see.
This looks to be a pretty crazy years for the MMOFPS genre as several titles are poised to make bold moves toward raising the genre to new heights. Planetside 2 may be getting more hype and coverage, but both Firefall and DUST514 bring some pretty impressive ideas and mechanics to the table. Where PS2 will redefine what it means to be in-game and out of game, DUST514 will show how games can be combined from two completely different genres to make an even more powerful meta-game. Of course, theres Firefall which will teach the world that behind a shotgun blast to the face, theres a deep and game-enriching story being told, and that games really do deserve to be treated as art. Each in their own way, these games push the envelope of the genres definition and make big promises we really hope they keep. To borrow a bit from a certain book, to everything there is a season, and this ladies in gentlemen is the Year of the Gun.