Firefall Hands-on PAX 2012 Preview -- BioTech and eSports Tools UnveiledBy Leah Jackson - Posted Sep 05, 2012
Firefall is a game that we've had our eyes on for quite a while now. The free-to-play shooter from Red 5 Studios has gone through countless iterations and has been shown at PAX more years in a row than any other game we can remember (we’re not complaining either; they always have the comfiest carpet). Nevertheless, at PAX Prime 2012 we took another look at the game, again, and checked out the features from the recently overhauled version, which looks better than ever.
The two biggest changes to Firefall are the removal of the Medic Battleframe in favor of the BioTech Battleframe, and the addition of a tech tree instead of levels. Red 5's also added a brand new TransHub region which offers a variety of new quests and the game's first vehicle mission. But my favorite new addition has to be the absolutely fantastic eSports tools that Red 5 has implemented into Firefall.
More on that in a bit.
Red 5 decided to remove the Medic Battleframe recently, because they found that pro players were often using the Medic Battleframe more than any other Battleframe, often bringing three into a 5v5 match at once. Battleframes are basically your class, and determine the role you'll play in combat. The team with more medics, or better medics, generally had an advantage, and it wasn't all that fun for spectators to watch. Since Firefall is trying so hard to be an eSport, they needed a more captivating Battleframe, and thus the BioTech was born.
The Biotech Battleframe merges the ideas of chemical and biological warfare with combat medicine. The frame is quick and has all sorts of abilities that support the team based on the situation they're in. If their allies need help, a Biotech can use their Healing Wave ability to shoot a blast of smart-gels that rapidly heals anyone it touches.
Once everyone's all healed up, Biotechs can unleash their Poison Trail behind them, which paralyzes anyone who walks through it. A great strategy if a player has fallen is to create a barrier around them with a poison trail and then use the Biotech's Triage ability, which allows them to revive downed allies faster than normal.
You may think that the Biotech still sounds like a Medic (minus Poison Trail), and it's true; at its base level the two frames are pretty similar. However, thanks to Firefall's new tech trees you can now level up your Battleframes and customize each of them to exactly how you want to play. The tech trees completely replace Firefall's old leveling system and add a ton of variety to the game.
Each tech tree is five tiers, and as players earn experience, they can use it to unlock all sorts of bonuses and equipment. In the first tier, you automatically get the items, but in tiers two and beyond, players have to craft the items with blueprints. Additionally, if a player sticks to a certain path in a tree, they can even unlock new Battleframes.
For example, if a Biotech only upgrades the abilities that focus on their healing, they'll unlock a new Battleframe called the Dragonfly, which increases their healing abilities. Conversely, they could choose to only level their poison skills and unlock the Recluse frame. With enough experience, players can unlock every skill in every tier, but it would take a very long time.
PvP in Firefall has changed up a bit since we last saw it too, and there are now three different gameplay modes: Team Deathmatch, Sabotage, and Harvester.
Team Deathmatch is a 5v5 free-for-all bloodbath where the first team to reach 25 kills wins. Sabotage is a 10v10 attack and defend mode where players on one team have to capture three different points in a row while the other team defends them. At the end of 10 minutes, the teams swap sides and the attackers become the defenders and vice versa. The team that captures all the points fastest wins. Harvester is a 15v15 control point mode where players have to capture and hold up to three Harvesters that accumulate points while they're active for a certain team. The first team to rack up 600 points wins.
Undoubtedly the most impressive thing about our entire Firefall demo was the new eSports tools, which essentially add an extremely robust spectator mode to the game. As someone who's watched and covered a ton of eSports, let me tell you that what Firefall's doing with its spectating tools are currently beyond compare.
Most eSports shout casters will agree that casting shooters can be more difficult than say, casting a real time strategy game or a fighting game, since it can be frustrating to follow the action of an entire team rather than one player. In a lot of shooters, the spectating mode only swaps between each individual player, sometimes making it hard to see where the action is happening and causing viewers to miss exciting moments.
With Firefall's eSports tool, professional casters will never have these types of problems again. The spectator tool has everything a caster could want: the ability to record, fast forward, and rewind things as they happen in real time, which is not only great to go back and catch exciting moments, but perfect for teams that want to go back and view their matches for practice purposes. There's also an overhead camera that automatically focuses on big action moments so you're sure to never miss a kill. But the one thing that truly allows Firefall to pull ahead of the competition is their new dual monitor integration.
With this new feature, casters with two computer monitors can feel like a real director from the comfort of their computer chair. On one monitor they can have the standard spectating tools mentioned above, but on the other they can have a view of each player's perspective, and can choose specific cameras to broadcast to viewers based on big moments.
I think that for a shooter this is the perfect way to always have your eye on the big moments, and it's pretty much how a sports director chooses what's on screen too. Additionally, Red 5's partnering with streaming websites like Twitch.tv to allow players and casters to automatically upload their recordings and games to their channels.
While we've seen Firefall a few times now at PAX, we always come away interested in the innovations that Red 5 is putting into the vivid open-world shooter, and can't wait to see what they come up with next. If you want to get in on all of Firefall's latest additions from this recent overhaul, check out the Firefall Founders Program. The Founders Programs grants priority access to Firefall's beta along with XP boosts, real-world items, in-game currency, and more based on the tier you purchase.