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

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...

couple of months ago I was fortunate enough to attend the first stop
on the href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/177"
target="_blank"> style="font-style: italic;">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.

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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
takes place. In style="font-style: italic;">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 style="font-style: italic;">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 style="font-style: italic;">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 href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/38"
target="_blank"> style="font-style: italic;">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 href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/wow" target="_blank"> style="font-style: italic;">World of Warcraft’s
talent trees, Mutations in style="font-style: italic;">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 style="font-style: italic;">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.

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continue to advance in meaningful ways at the level cap.

We also discussed what shape style="font-style: italic;">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 style="font-style: italic;">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.

Log: Fallen Earthdate 4270.9

As the demo for style="font-style: italic;">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 style="font-style: italic;">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 href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/node/66885" target="_blank">recent
look at the state of betas, it
seemed pertinent to ask what approach the style="font-style: italic;">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 style="font-style: italic;">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 style="font-style: italic;">Fallen Earth
right here in our forums, or if you prefer you can always send a
virtual carrier pigeon to href="mailto:[email protected]">my inbox!

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