Feature Article

MMO Shooter Firefall is (Finally) Almost Out. Here's What to Expect

The future is (almost) now.

Why aren't there more massively multiplayer shooters? I don't mean online shooters with large player communities like Battlefield and Call of Duty. I don't even mean upcoming shooters that utilize elements of massively multiplayer games but don't fully embrace their MMOG roots, like Destiny and Tom Clancy's The Division. I mean full-fledged persistent-world shooters in which thousands of players roam the same shared spaces taking missions and shooting creatures when they aren't busy shooting each other. There are a few out there--PlanetSide 2 and Defiance leap to mind--but the persistent-world market is dominated by role-playing games that eschew real-time shooting in favor of more manageable battle systems.

The answer, of course, is quite simple: MMO shooters are incredibly difficult to make. James Macauley, Red 5 Studios' CEO, knows this all too well. I recently sat down with Macauley for a few hours to talk about the developer's massively multiplayer shooter. "It took a tremendous amount of work to build the engine, the technology, the tools to produce the content and define our art style, and also on the design side, there are just a lot of design challenges," Macauley told me. "We try to have a super skill-based game that also has character development and progression and customization, and crafting and a player economy, and all this stuff. So we are really excited to be at a point where we've solved those problems, we've built a core experience we're extremely proud of. This is the game we've dreamt of playing for years."

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These kinds of development challenges might explain why Firefall has been in the beta stage for what seems like years. Actually, it has been years: the game's first closed beta test was in 2011. But all betas must end sometime, even Firefall's perpetual testing phase--and so end it does, on July 29th, when Red 5 officially removes the beta tag and will consider the game to be in full release.

Clearly, Firefall has been a long time coming. Says Macauley, "We started off back in 2006 with a dream of taking the high-action combat and mobility and sci-fi feel from some of the shooters we've really come to love, and taking it to a massive open world with hundreds of other players, and bring social features, character progression you're used to in MMOs, more traditional ones." And based on what I saw of Firefall's release version, the game seems poised to set itself apart not just from other MMOGs by nature of being a shooter, but also from other shooters in the same space. PlanetSide 2 is all about competitive battles; Defiance is all about player-versus-environment missions and cooperation. Firefall offers a breadth of content I haven't seen in an massively multiplayer shooter, along with a colorful science fiction world that initially reminded me of Borderlands (due primarily to its cel-shaded look) but actually holds a lot more visual nuance than Gearbox's successful series.

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As with most MMOGs, you choose a class of sorts, but in Firefall, classes are represented by battleframes, which are exoskeletons to which you equip various weapons and skills. What makes battleframes distinct from typical MMOG classes is that you can equip any battleframe you want, thus changing classes without having to create alternate characters. Dreadnoughts are the heavies of this world, while engineers use turrets and shields to establish a foothold. There are five main battleframe types, and each type of frame comes in several variants. You can also further customize battleframes by leveling them up and thus earning perks that further enhance your frame--or any frame, really, since you can apply a perk to any frame you equip once you unlock it. And when you reach higher levels, you can install modules to further modify your equipment, perhaps by increasing its damage output or its clip size. At full launch, Firefall will offer around 12,000 weapon variations, so there should be plenty of room to experiment and find combinations that work for you.

I watched as Macauley played through the opening tutorial mission, as well as several other tasks, as a dreadnought. The dreadnought might be Firefall's version of a damage-soaking tank, but there's nothing slow and methodical about this battleframe. Indeed, mobility is an important aspect of Firefall no matter which frame you choose. When Macauley told me that the game's lead multiplayer designer is Scott Youngblood of Tribes fame, it immediately made sense why zippy movement was such a priority. As I watched Macauley thrust into the air using his jumppacks while hammering his enemies with a minigun, he explained that the levels put an emphasis on verticality--even indoor levels that you would suppose should limit maneuverability.

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Given all that maneuverability in large spaces crowded with other players, keeping the player experience as smooth as possible is clearly important to Red 5. The game ran exceedingly well on the laptop Macauley was using, but the test server he occupied wasn't exactly teeming with hundreds of other players. Luckily, the development team spent a good deal of time refining its technology in order to reduce online latency as much as possible. "With a high-action combat game, players do not want latency, but latency is a fact of life," says Macauley. "We spent a tremendous amount of time on our networking layer to compensate for latency. So we actually do collision detection in the past, so that what you're shooting at is what you're hitting, versus a more traditional networking model. The monster may have already moved out of the way but you might not have gotten that update in your client, so you're shooting but you're missing even though you feel like you should be hitting. So we built out some really robust technology to compensate for that, and to make sure combat and mobility is snappy."

The Firefall experience begins with taking missions and fighting the Chosen, a race of aliens that emerged after humanity created a disastrous energy storm when attempting faster-than-light travel. (This wasn't humanity's first major disaster in Firefall lore, mind you: the meteor shower referred to in the game's title wiped out the majority of Earth's inhabitants.) I saw both the dreadnought and a biotech frame variant called the dragonfly, which Macauley says requires a lot of skill to handle correctly. No matter which frame you choose, your primary goal when entering a new region is to uplink to a SIN (that is, Shared Intelligence Network) tower, thereby unlocking access to jobs in the area. As Macauley headed off into the great beyond toward his job's destination, we glimpsed other players engaged in their own battles, and in one case, summoning a device called a thumper, which is used for mining resources.

So we actually do collision detection in the past, so that what you're shooting at is what you're hitting.

James Macauley, Executive Producer

Red 5 isn't relying on the "shooter" part of its gameplay to stand out from other MMOGs. The team is also focusing on dynamic encounters to keep exploration fresh, as well as to make missions fun should you wish to play them again. Not a single creature spawn point is hand-placed; instead, developers designate which enemies are appropriate for which areas, and the game procedurally spawns in creatures and resources. Objective waypoints will differ and elite enemies may appear; you may even encounter otherworldly tornados that initiate large-scale group encounters and reward your success with desirable loot.

The Chosen aren't your only enemies in Firefall, however. The game will also feature large-scale player-versus-player battles focused on base capture, territory control, and resource collection. Such battles mark a noticeable about-face for Red 5, which had originally approached its competitive play as an esport. Says Macauley, "We took a step back over the last several months as we were preparing for launch. We made a conscious decision to step away from calling ourselves a competitive esports games. We went down a path we shouldn't have gone down. And so we've been really focusing on PvP that makes sense for Firefall."

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"Competitive players want pure balance," Macauley adds. "They want no variation on gear, or your damage, or your weapons. It needs to be perfectly tuned and balanced, and it created some difficult problems. It took a long time to figure out the right balance, how we approached this." Anyone will be able to jump into Firefall's PvP and contribute to the battle, but competitive play is aimed at max-level players, and Macauley plans for it to grow significantly in the months and years to come.

If you're wondering what will be different between Firefall's open beta and its launch release, Macauley tells me that the size of the world will quadruple, and that the game will offer 15 times the amount of content once updated later this month. At the same time, chapter one of the game's primary story will be introduced, making the release patch "the biggest game update we ever had," according to Macauley.

Will Firefall be a success? The odds are good. After all, the game has boasted a dedicated community for years, and it doesn't cost any money to check it out. As our meeting drew to a close, Macauley told me how people responded when hearing Firefall would be free to play. "It's funny, when we announced Firefall at PAX 2010, at that point in time, free to play was still just taking off in the West," he said "League of Legends was either still in beta or had just come out of beta. I remember doing interviews at PAX Prime, and one of the number one questions was, 'Why are you doing free to play, how are you guys going to make money?' It's so funny now to see that's the norm."

I haven't played any Firefall yet. I've been waiting for the full release, which I'm glad is now just around the corner. I am not sure yet whether I'll buy any of the game's cosmetic items, or will pay to speed up my crafting projects. But I will surely be there on launch day, ready to explore yet another new world--or in this case, an old world (Earth) as it may exist in the future. That future may not sound bright, given alien invasion and flaming meteors, but a world this colorful, and this stuffed with things to do, might just be the escape I've been hungering for.

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com


Kevin VanOrd

Kevin VanOrd has a cat named Ollie who refuses to play bass in Rock Band.


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GameSpot has a zero tolerance policy when it comes to toxic conduct in comments. Any abusive, racist, sexist, threatening, bullying, vulgar, and otherwise objectionable behavior will result in moderation and/or account termination. Please keep your discussion civil.

Avatar image for jeannabraxton

playing this right now with several girl friends of mine, were enjoying and taking it slower than guys do it, were into the open world since the environment is so pretty and well made.

Avatar image for patpatrevilla

<< LINK REMOVED >> PM'd you! hope to see you in game! :)

Avatar image for michalescwahrz

justice review is here! thank you Kevin Van Ord for the honest review " Will Firefall be a success? The odds are good. After all, the game has boasted a dedicated community for years, and it doesn't cost any money to check it out." best ever

Avatar image for enokibigfoot

Not hearing enough buzz and coverage about this game, everyone seems to be just relegating it onto a "discount MMO Borderlands" or something. It's really not. It's got great visuals for an F2P game, a veteran devteam, and best of all, great pitched fights against hordes of aliens converging on your location or one really big alien whom you converge on. It's an underrated gem to come out in a time where a lot of the games're are subpar triple-A moneydumps.

Avatar image for GSyyromaguilarmelyyGS

<< LINK REMOVED >> the "free" tag got me, to be honest, I don't like paying for my MMO's as long as I can help it.

Avatar image for GSyyjefflim902yyGS

<< LINK REMOVED >> f2p ftw!

Avatar image for jeannabraxton


it is always fun to play if its free, SUBS sucks

Avatar image for GSyyreygatdula11yyGS

helps a lot that this game is free on Steam, downloading as I type and can't wait to try it out since I've been reading a lot of positive comments.

Avatar image for GSyyromaguilarmelyyGS

<< LINK REMOVED >> currently downloading as well, hope it's good enough to hook me in!

Avatar image for eskeengulag

I love the graphics style on FireFall, especially on the jungle settings - the colors are lush and alive.

The game itself is wickedly fun :)

Avatar image for reylawler


can you say environment woosah? c'mon say it .. TREESSSS!

Avatar image for jesslee099

<< LINK REMOVED >> so is this worth the download? New here. I'd love to hear more from a newbie as well.

Avatar image for lindzzamora

<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> Worth the download! First of all, it's free. Second, me and my boyfriend are huge sci fi geeks. Third, its super fun! so easy to pick up and learn to play. :)

Avatar image for lionheart051

I use to be one of those people that thought firefall was an awesome game but stopped playing because there was simply nothing to do besides thumping and ares missions. But man there's so much stuff to do now. You will never run out of quests/missions now with the zone mission board system. You still have all old dynamic stuff AND now there is open world pvp. You have a proper easy to understand leveling system and a revamped crafting system. Plus don't forget perks and instances etc. Im surprised how much the game has changed. Its so polished now, its amazing how big a difference firing one clueless CEO can have. Devs can thrive when they don't have retarded publishers and those of their ilk breathing down there throats and berating them. Getting rid of that clown did the game well.

Avatar image for katrjavi

<< LINK REMOVED >> great change of heart, just goes to show how one can do a total 180 with some good management

Avatar image for lalapaseo

<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> It took time, mind you, but in the end at least it paid off for us loyal customers. I really am thankful to myself and my friends that we stuck it out til launch, and to Red5 for coming through and not letting a waiting populace down. They still have a lot of work ahead of them though.

Avatar image for GSyycmayuga13yyGS

<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> hope things can only get better from here!

Avatar image for GSyymdrilon222yyGS

<< LINK REMOVED >> good thing for us the game is turning out pretty well!

Avatar image for michalescwahrz


yeah great game, turning out excellent..better than expected

Avatar image for lalapaseo

<< LINK REMOVED >> Devs can also thrive when they don't allow themselves to be bullied (so much) by a community which of course has varied requests about a fledgling game. Agree that it's definitely changed for the better. Got me a Mammoth and never looked back.

Avatar image for hehe101


Avatar image for blackothh

I keep going back to this game every few months to see if anything has changed. The game has potential but I dont last for more then a few play sessions before I get bored. There is very little to do in the game besides thump and shoot. The game world looks nice and when you get a battle with 10+ people it can get fun and chaotic, but in the end its an extremely shallow game. MAYBE something has changed since my last attempt to play but I doubt it.

Avatar image for lionheart051

<< LINK REMOVED >> I use to feel the same way but the game has changed and beta testers get early access. Man there's so much stuff to do now. You will never run out of quests/missions. You still have all old dynamic stuff AND now there is open world pvp. You have a proper easy to understand leveling system and a revamped crafting system. Plus don't forget perks. Im surprised how much the game has changed. Its so polished now, its amazing how big a difference firing one clueless CEO can have. Devs can thrive when they don't have retarded publishers and those of their ilk breathing down there throats and berating them. Getting rid of that clown did the game well.

Avatar image for blackothh


Good to know, I have not played it in a few months, but its sounding like it worth another look!

Avatar image for GSyybastibastimauyyGS

<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> worth it sir, I'd probably not have given it a chance based on reviews and stuff but I'm glad I gave it a spin. :)

Avatar image for spartanx169x

<< LINK REMOVED >> Do you ever do the melding tornados or the ARES missions to go fight the Chosen? Also the game now has a campaign.

Avatar image for blackothh

<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> Even with the ARES missions the game felt shallow, its like giving someone 1 grape from a bundle, and saying mmmmm isnt that good? Yes it was tasty but now I want more. But if you say there is a campaign now, I should take a look at it again. I like the crafting system, and I like Looking for the resources to thump, but more variety is always good. Even exploring the new maps they released was fun until I realized nobody else was on those maps.

Avatar image for kachungb00

<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> Heard that the campaign system actually fits in a nice progression with all the regular quest-hub mission jumping. Fitting in a story with Chosen invasions all over the map seems nice and tense.

Avatar image for X-tract

Here's what you can expect in one sentence:

"A boring grindfest, with lackluster shooting mechanics."

There, saved you a lot of webspace

Avatar image for kalgert

<< LINK REMOVED >> That doesn't tell me anything, only that you don't seem to like the game

Avatar image for X-tract

<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> It tells you that you have to grind a lot, and that its shooting mechanics feel boring... I mean, if you still cant understand it, thats your problem I suppose, but I cant get any more specific.

Avatar image for kalgert

<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> Oh no, I understood perfectly what you meant.

Just the description is very poor and it is clear that you just find it boring and whatever else

Avatar image for dosvalencia

<< LINK REMOVED >><< LINK REMOVED >> why're all the trailers so old? I been hearing that it's a lot better now?

Avatar image for Jaxith

Every time I try to play this game, I immediately get bored and quite because I can't find/think of anything interesting to do in it. ...Is that just me? Or what? I just can't seem to have fun with it.

Avatar image for spartanx169x

<< LINK REMOVED >> Well the game is not for you then. as you can tell by my other comments, I like the game. I like being able to jump in a play for 15 or 20 minutes and have fun shooting creatures for people that are thumping. But I like shooters. To each their own.

Avatar image for spartanx169x

Oh Also for people that like to use controllers on PC this game does have controller support. Want to use a 360 controller? You can. I do and it works great without having to assign buttons or anything.

Avatar image for hoyholyhoy

had it when it first came out, was so awful I felt ashamed, but I hope the new version is good! It had a very cool concept.

Avatar image for jupsto

"persistant shooter mmos hard to make"

Yet 2009s' Darkfall completely ignored by mainstream media.

Avatar image for pnova

this looks better than halo, also planetside 2 looks better than halo

Avatar image for yellowsanchez

played the beta from time to time and i find it boring. not much to do in the world. just shoot and loot.

Avatar image for s0ldier69

played the beta for about 10 min, got bored, never went back.

Avatar image for jesslee099

<< LINK REMOVED >> really? even with all the changes they said? I thought of downloading this today.

Avatar image for virtualskill

Looks pretty fun! news to me.

Avatar image for Jd1680a

As of right now, I never heard of Firefall. Will there be a live stream extravaganza for this game?

Avatar image for lorider25

I love Planetside 2, so I'll give this a try.

I haven't heard much about it. So hopefully it won't be a desert on the servers.

Avatar image for billzihang

Last time I played it it was like an empty open world of jumping about repeating the few group quest. So in release it's going to get some kind of quest/progression system and some new zones?

Avatar image for hitomo

this game is a solid online shooter with some neat systems and unique ideas

this game is in full fledged commercial mode since 2 years now

now that nobody of the cahcows is paying anymore for hats and beards, they finally release the Content everyone is waiting for since OB ... ist all already long there ... but ist bait and switch Business

for the release now every unique element of the game got erased and replaced by standart dumped down Systems

ist still installed and I will keep it,

and dont pay, actually paying those F2P games is a way to completly stale development or what ever content they are holding back

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