Fallen Earth: A Front Row Seat to the Apocalypse Pt. 2

At the core of MMO gameplay there needs to be a compelling central conflict to ultimately drive the notion of a living, breathing virtual world forward. Let’s face it, were conflict not...

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At the core of MMO gameplay there needs to be a compelling central conflict to ultimately drive the notion of a living, breathing virtual world forward. Let’s face it, were conflict not a key component to the continual growth of the industry we’d all be playing World of Fluffy Bunnies: Age of Redundancy. In many cases the central conflict will simply boil down to a means of generating an atmosphere of competition; in others conflict serves as a backdrop in which grand stories can be told both by developers and players alike.

Weaving those two concepts together can be a difficult task. A good example is the continuing trend in which console shooters draw a distinct line between story (single-player campaigns) and competition (multiplayer modes) even in an age when online connectivity is the norm. Some of the most successful MMOs to date have even taken a similar approach, though there still remains a near deafening roar from the keyboards of forum posters who emphatically “request” a content rich MMO that offers a robust, meaningful PvP system that takes place within a compelling PvE framework. While attempts have been made along those lines, the tendency is for one aspect of gameplay (PvP or PvE) to take center stage.

These were some of the concepts I had swirling around in my (cybernetically enhanced) brain a few weeks ago that remained with me as I made my way to Cary, N.C., to pay a visit to the Fallen Earth development team at Icarus Studios late last month. Throughout the gameplay demo and studio tour, we discussed numerous aspects of the game that will no doubt set it apart from an ever growing sci-fi market. Last week I touched upon various aspects of character advancement, including a brief look at the mutation system, but I was perhaps most interested in learning more about PvP and how large a role the 6 factions in Fallen Earth will play in the title’s central conflict.

Speaking with Project Manager Colin Dwan as his demo character sped around the desert landscapes of Grand Canyon Province on an impressively agile motorcycle, I posed the following Ten Ton Question: Could Fallen Earth be described as a PvE MMO with a compelling PvP system, or is it a PvP game set within an interesting PvE framework? The answer Colin provided was excellent in its simplicity; “Both.”

In Fallen Earth, it’s entirely possible for players to continue their advancement without ever being forced to participate in the PvP aspects of the game. In other words, while PvP is certainly a major aspect of gameplay and players will be encouraged to participate, there’s a massive amount of PvE content for players to explore. The goal here seems to be crafting an MMO in which both aspects are woven together in such a way that the lines begin to blur, the central conflict ultimately revolving around both NPC and PC forces in equal measure, resulting in an epic struggle that’s not mutually exclusive.

The tie that binds the two gameplay elements together is the faction wheel, which represents the varying degrees of animosity between the game’s six distinct factions and their numerous sub-factions. Throughout the course of gameplay, players will be introduced to each of the main factions gradually at first, but by the time you reach the zones in Sector 2 you should have a pretty clear understanding of what makes each one tick. Lead Game Designer Lee Hammock also pointed out that while players will be able to remain neutral it’s typically in their best interest to ally themselves with one of the six core factions. Neutrality in the face of the major conflict between opposing factions will be somewhat difficult to manage, thanks in part to the way faction is tracked based on which content you choose to pursue. Do a favor for the Techs and you’re bound to piss off the Vistas and their allies in other words.

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Siding with a given faction will ultimately open up content unique to that specific faction, such as storyline quests that will also provide a fairly high degree of replay value, as following different paths on separate characters will culminate in two distinct experiences with the higher level quests in the game. Faction selection can also give players access to skills and crafting recipes that can’t be obtained in any other way, but the system will truly begin to shine once PvP comes into play.

A main focal point for PvP in Fallen Earth will be the Conflict Towns. These towns will begin as neutral areas complete with shops, quests and trainers, with faction-specific camps set up outside the towns themselves where players can pick up missions to help destabilize the town, eventually taking it over for their faction. Lee Hammock explained that there will be some Conflict Towns that will take perhaps an hour for a given faction to take over, with others designed to be a much larger challenge that might take a few hours to take over depending on how large of an opposition you face once the process begins.

Killing other players (which nets you points for your chosen faction) is only one way of gaining control over an area, as each will have a series of objectives you’ll be tasked with completing that will tally points for your side. Once a certain threshold is met, the town will be under your faction’s control so long as there are players on your side who actively work to maintain control. In the meantime, controlling a Conflict Town will open up new content options for whichever faction is in control. This can take the form of new missions, equipment, abilities, mutations, resources or crafting books unique to that specific town.

Providing this type of framework for PvP while still keeping it linked to the much broader overall PvE aspects of the game could very well be an elegant solution to the many design challenges developers face when tasked with creating an MMO that can appeal to a broader spectrum of players. While I wasn’t able to witness any large-scale PvP in the Conflict Towns during my time at Icarus Studios, the core concepts behind Fallen Earth’s gameplay in these areas certainly left me itching to experience the game first hand.

From what I was able to gather, Fallen Earth is in a “content complete” state, with the current emphasis of the closed beta on bug squashing and adding a solid amount of polish rather than attempting to squeeze in too many more major gameplay elements. Hopefully we’ll be hearing an announcement about the timeframe for open beta and launch soon, but in the meantime Fallen Earth is certainly one sci-fi MMO that will remain locked on my radar.

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