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Falling Back Down - A Second Look at Fallen Earth

Posted Thu, Dec 31, 2009 by Medawky

Entire communities abandoned, rampant crime and chaos, skyrocketing death rates from global pandemics…in a warped version of life imitating art, some aspects of Fallen Earth mirrored the real world in 2009.  Although post-apocalyptic themes are quickly replacing zombies as the flavor of the year, the game has yet to find its footing and become a major player. With the world in the midst of a major recession all subscription-based games are finding it harder and harder to compete for a player’s hard earned cash

It was an impulse buy of the post-apocalyptic console FPS, Borderlands, and a multiplayer session with Ten Ton Hammer’s Executive Editor, Benjamin J. de la Durantaye, that piqued my curiosity and caused me to go back and take another look at Fallen Earth. After reading through the copious patch notes, which mainly consisted of bug fixes (pages and pages of bug fixes), I fired the game back up and started a new character in order to experience it with fresh eyes.

For those unfamiliar with Fallen Earth and its premise, allow me to set the stage for you before I dive into the current state of affairs. Taking place in the not-so-distant future, Fallen Earth tells the tale of a world that was besieged by a deadly virus which triggered a nuclear holocaust and a global breakdown of civilization. Players are members of a rag tag society that exists in the southwest area of the former United States, in and around the Grand Canyon to be more exact. Besides being among a small percentage of the population that survived, players are made even more unique by the fact they are not quite human, but high tech clones (think Bladerunner replicants that can’t be killed and you’re on the right track).  

The intro quest line is a guided narrative which familiarizes you with the controls and mechanics of the game and sets the stage for the main plot line. The post-patch version I played was far and away smoother than the one I slogged through at launch, giving me hope that many of the issues which made me pull the plug months ago may have been resolved. While I would love to report this to be the case, there is still much work for the bug zappers to do. Rather than focusing solely on the negative, let’s first take a look at what Fallen Earth is doing well.

Hits


Crafting Fallen Earth is a crafter’s paradise, with a robust system that is reminiscent of Star Wars Galaxies. The game uses a system that allows players to create almost any imaginable and useful item in the game world without restrictions as to where you can craft (although there are certain crafting stations to help speed the process up.) This flexibility makes crafting in Fallen Earth become less of a niche for those who don’t mind spending time in crafting halls and more of a gameplay mainstay. Some items are created in real time and others can take several days to complete but, like EVE Online skills, the lengthier combines will persist even after you log out and, once started, take no further player interaction. The only downside here is that your eyes may get bigger than your backpack. Storage space is at a premium here, so players must make sure to prioritize well and gather based on current needs. Impulse gathering can leave you with a glut of valuable but burdening resources.

Classes - One of the most compelling facets of the game is the lack of defined player classes. Open ended character development allows you to use the game’s advancement points to custom build your toon to suit your needs. There are templates available for guidance, but they don’t lock you into any particular path.

Exploration - The game world, while beset by a bleak landscape, is amazing to explore. The area of Grand Canyon Province is currently the only playable space in the game, but it is massive in terms of area. Once you play through the intro quest line you reawaken to a transport hub that allows you to choose among a sizeable list of starting cities. These cities set the stage for the quest hubs and launching points that you will encounter throughout the game. The world is non-instanced so you’re free to set out to explore as you like. This is a post-apocalyptic wasteland though…so use caution.
 
Quests – The quest writing and layout of Fallen Earth easily rivals that of any other game on the market today. While the bulk of the quest objectives aren’t groundbreaking--it’s the typical errand boy fodder that you find elsewhere--the dialogue and interactions are. Immersion comes from paying attention to quest details and the interpersonal relationships that unfold throughout them. Fallen Earth has six factions with which you can ally and the intrigue and interplay between them is fascinating and well written. Take it slow; read each quest description and complete as many quests as you can to anchor yourself to this complex and fascinating world.
 

Misses


No game is perfect and most that fall below the success threshold do so for a reason, or reasons. While Fallen Earth has made some serious efforts at improvements, it still falls short in several areas.

Combat – There is a good reason most successful MMOGs stick to swords, boards and magic spells – the implementation of them is simple and time-tested. If making FPS combat work well in this genre was easy then one would conclude that at least one of the top three MMOG titles would be a shooter. Unfortunately, it obviously isn’t a simple mechanic to make work well. Fallen Earth is certainly ambitious in combat designs and one day may dial them in to a completely smooth and intuitive package, but that day has yet to come. Aiming mechanics for ranged weaponry are clunky and lack any sort of fluidity or consistency; some fights go rather smoothly and others leave you scratching your head wondering how they went so wrong. Even melee combat is awkward and probably a victim of other necessary mechanics that factor into the ranged side of the equation. Ultimately, combat here seems to be a victim of an overly ambitious undertaking, but not so much so that it becomes unplayable. Perhaps someday the wrinkles will be completely ironed out and the combat engine will rank up there with the hits instead of the misses.

Community – In anticipation of the flaming I may receive from diehard fans of the game, let me state this up front: there are some wonderful and helpful people playing Fallen Earth and this isn’t a bash fest on the individuals. With that out of the way, let me say that playing any pay-to-play title that hasn’t lived up to expectations, and therefore has a smaller community as a result, is always an exercise in patience.  While the overall friendliness level and maturity level may be high, any low population game will suffer many similar problems, and a game as ambitious as this one will have a lot of bugs and quirks to exacerbate those issues. A division occurs between the haves and have-nots, the “get its” and the “what does this button do” crowds, which can often make in-game chatter hard to bear. This dynamic is on full display in Fallen Earth, an unfortunate side effect of the aforementioned factors. Sadly, the only thing to help remedy this problem is a fresh infusion of more players which is rare in today’s current gaming climate.

Overall Fallen Earth is a game brimming with potential, with a solid foundation that could support a robust community. The team of developers working on the game are continuously rooting out bugs and fixing them, but it still ultimately feels like a beta test more than a live game. Perhaps in the near future this title will have the same epiphany that Dungeons & Dragons Online had, changing its subscription model to some type of limited free-to-play setup to allow for a much needed rebirth. If the bugs have been sufficiently squashed, and the improvements continue to roll out, this grim vision of the future could someday take its place among the top games on the market.

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