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Fallen Earth: A Front Row Seat to the Apocalypse Pt. 1

By Reuben Waters -
A couple of months ago I was fortunate enough to attend the first stop on the Fallen Earth development team’s grassroots tour at a swank little club in downtown Raleigh, NC. Between the informative presentation and getting a chance to see the upcoming post-apocalyptic MMO in action, I walked away from the event impressed and hungry for a more in-depth look. The opportunity arose to do exactly that this past week when I paid a visit to Icarus Studios.

Icarus Studios, home to the Fallen Earth dev team.

The sun marched lazily across the Cary, NC skies when I arrived at the studio, a slight breeze stirring on an otherwise calm April day. The entire scene struck me as an interesting contrast to the setting in which Fallen Earth takes place. In Fallen Earth, the world as we know it has all but come to a grinding halt thanks to a combination of the Shiva Virus’ devastating effects on humanity and the fallout from multiple nuclear detonations. The sun may shine high in the desert skies of the Grand Canyon Province, but there’s certainly an underlying darkness that permeates a setting in which players will be fighting tooth and nail against their environment and one another in a struggle for survival.

Having seen an earlier build of Fallen Earth at the IDGA event in February I already had a feel for the game’s visual elements, but the demo I was shown during my studio visit showcased a game world where even the ruins of civilization can pack an impressive visual punch. Speaking with Lead Game Designer Lee Hammock it was revealed that the team has been hard at work tweaking many of the environments, adding in numerous looming structures that help set areas apart from the desert landscapes such as the crumbling remains of a massive monorail system that cut through the high level area being shown in the demo like an ancient concrete snake on stilts.

PvP zones in particular have been getting some extra attention as Lee stressed the importance of keeping the maps balanced enough to insure that no one particular combat specialty could dominate the others too easily. Those of you who prefer the idea smacking some kneecaps with a baseball bat or cracking some skulls with the butt of your rifle can rest assured; even though Fallen Earth’s combat is heavily influenced by the FPS genre, players will always have a place on the PvP battlefield whether they opt for the intimacy of melee or the longer range of pistols and rifles. Though there were no PvP battles raging during the demo, the attention to details for getting the flow of these areas just right was certainly apparent.

We also discussed some of the ways in which character advancement will work, as I was particularly interested in hearing more about Mutations and their effect on gameplay. While we didn’t discuss any of the finer details, Project Manager Colin Dwan gave me a “30,000 foot bird’s eye view” of what makes Mutations tick. One way to look at Mutations is to think of them as a distant cousin of EverQuest’s Alternate Advancement system, a key difference being that unlike recent MMOs that have iterated on the concept by presenting players with a clear path to follow ala World of Warcraft’s talent trees, Mutations in Fallen Earth will typically contain an element of discovery. For example, one way of altering your character might occur by ingesting some toxic water, which sounds much cooler than simply obsessing over an illustrated graph for hours on end.

While it’s inevitable that complex charts, graphs and cardboard dioramas will be built by players to illustrate the specifics on Mutations, Colin stressed that the developers are keenly interested in keeping an air of mystery surrounding what is or isn’t possible with the system. So while normal combat skills and abilities will be presented in such a way that players can plot their advancement early on in the game, Mutations are somewhat of a wild card thrown into the mix, made all the more intriguing thanks to some of them being linked to the 6 distinct factions players will ultimately ally themselves with by the time they hit some of the mid-level zones of Sector 2.

Looking at the larger picture of character advancement, I couldn’t help but ask Colin what players can expect once they reach the level cap, considering that Fallen Earth has a classless advancement system, allows players to craft 95 percent of the items in the game and incorporates the various character modifications available through Mutations. Colin estimated that it will take roughly 160 hours for players to advance to the level cap, and that’s only if they ignore the lion’s share of content and focus purely on getting to the “end game” as quickly as possible. For players who prefer to experience more of what the title has to offer in terms of both PvE and PvP content (neither aspect of the game is expected to take a leading role, but rather will act in a somewhat symbiotic manner) it could easily take “a few hundred” hours before hitting the cap.

Characters continue to advance in meaningful ways at the level cap.

We also discussed what shape Fallen Earth’s ‘end game’ will take, and I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the game was designed to allow players to continue advancing their characters beyond a simple loot grind once they reach the highest levels. Skills, stats and even the Mutations can be continually tweaked, allowing players to alter their characters in meaningful ways, all while avoiding a scenario similar to World of Warcraft where the leveling experience and reaching the level cap is “like playing two completely different games.”  

This concept extends to all areas of advancement, so even hardcore crafters will still be able to learn new things – for example they might earn a book from one of their faction’s NPCs that starts them on the path to learning how to make new variations of weapons. The book itself will serve as a jumping point, but ultimately opens up new doors for advancement in their given trade. Call it what you will, but that sounds much cooler than the typical MMO where you hit the level cap, purchase your last set of skills or recipes and then adapt to an entirely new way of playing Game X for the sole purpose of obtaining giant shoulder armor and little else.

Captain’s Log: Fallen Earthdate 4270.9

As the demo for Fallen Earth concluded, Colin, Associate Project Manager David Haydysch and Product Manager Jessica Orr took me on a quick tour of Icarus Studios, providing a quick glimpse at some of the other projects being worked on at Icarus along the way. Being the audio-obsessed type that I am, I had to resist the urge to spend too much time lingering in their in-house recording studio where I got the chance to hear some in-progress audio for an upcoming trailer for Fallen Earth (which I expect will knock some sci-fi socks off once it’s completed). We also made our way across the street to take a look at the studio’s motion capture facilities where I learned that the tech allows the developer to stream custom animations into live game settings in real time. While there currently aren’t any plans to use this for live events in Fallen Earth, the potential is certainly there.

Given our recent look at the state of betas, it seemed pertinent to ask what approach the Fallen Earth devs will take once the game is ready for open beta. Colin informed me that players can expect a shorter open beta period, as any testing beyond getting a feel for server loads should be worked through during the closed beta phases rather than after the floodgates have been opened to the general public (a philosophy I happen to agree with).  While no firm dates for open beta or release were revealed, I was encouraged to watch for an announcement coming Soon ™.

Be sure to check back next week for part two of my report from the front lines of Fallen Earth’s MMO apocalypse where I’ll touch on various aspects of PvP, factions and how the two ultimately fit together. In the meantime be sure to share your thoughts on Fallen Earth right here in our forums, or if you prefer you can always send a virtual carrier pigeon to my inbox!
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