Fallen Earth: 35th Hour Impressions

Fallen Earth Concept Art

I’ve been putting this “review” off for awhile and I’m not really sure why. Fallen Earth is a difficult game to pin down, and that’s why I admire it so much. That said, I’ll just get it out of the way and state I don’t plan to play the game any further than I have– not because of the game’s quality, but because I just don’t have the time to play everything I’d like and I’m already promised to Champions Online. Either way, you can read what my first 35 hours were like right here.

Fallen Earth is set in a post-apocalyptic world that seems two parts Fallout and one part Mad Max. The player is an escaped clone that must find his (or her) place in the wastelands surrounding the Grand Canyon. The game isn’t short on lore, and a quest that can be boiled down to “get six giant wolf paws” usually has an extensive page of text explaining why. Certainly, the game’s lore of is one of its strongest points. Icarus Studio has infused every town the player stumbles upon with its own personality and set of crazy issues that need some solvin’!

For those who played any of the Fallout series, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a wasteland that has had a bit more time to shape itself up. There are several towns and villages scattered throughout the wastes and the townsfolk have other things on their mind than just surviving. One of Fallen Earth‘s main features is its faction system, which has its roots embedded in the lore, crafting, combat, and any other form of gameplay you can think up.

Their are six factions to play for in the world of Fallen Earth. The thing to note about these factions though is that they don’t really make a difference in gameplay until you get into the second large zone of the game called Sector 2, and as of right now, the game is split into three sectors. I stuck to the first sector during my game time and it acts mostly as a introduction to the six factions. Certain towns will be under the protection of a particular faction, and you learn a lot about each faction’s philosophies by doing their quests and learning how they deal with problems that spring up.

The faction FactionRelationships4-smallsystem works much like a color wheel of violence. Take for example the Lightbearers. They are allies with the Vistas and Enforcers. Being an ally allows you to learn skills from the two factions that are nearest to you on the above wheel. Being on the opposite end of the wheel is a different story though. For the Lightbearers, the Travelers are  mortal enemies and “kill-on-sight.” This means you can’t even approach a town controlled by that faction, or… Boom! Headshot!

Icarus studios could have really just put this wheel up and let the players loose on each other. What I found to be really engaging was the thought that went into letting the players understand the motivations behind each faction.

You may not be able to join a faction  right away, but you are exposed to how each of them gets the job done very early. The tutorial does a quick run through of each, but Sector One is where things have time to fill out. The player is allowed to choose a starting town from a list sorted by what kind of gameplay they are interested in. This could be crafting or one of many combat proficiencies available in the game. Unlike some other features in the game though, this choice is not crucial. The player can get to any of the towns by just hopping on a horse and heading over.

Factions are not permanent either! If you have experience with factions in other MMO’s you’ll know that by doing quest and killing enemies of the faction you’ll get to be trusted and earn rewards. This is the basic mechanic of the factions and allows the player to move around to different factions if they decide to switch. All you have to do is kill enough of the right enemies and you’re on your way!

Fallen Earth‘s music fits well with its setting, in so much that it’s sparse and mostly forgettable. I say this because when thinking back to my time in the game, I remember most the desert’s sound effects– the wind blowing out of my speakers, and the lonely footfalls of my character stalking after his prey. It fit so well that when music did make its way to my ears it almost felt jarring or unnatural.

Graphically, the game has always rubbed me the wrong way. Running around towns has always been a treat because any building you see can be entered and explored. This comes to be very important since salvaging components for crafting has you entering builds and sifting through wreckage. It really makes you feel like you’re scrounging to survive and doesn’t take one word of lore to get you into the post-apocalyptic setting.

A vista of Fallen Earth

Once you exit the towns, though, the desert seems TOO barren. I had everything set to max but it still seemed that any terrain in the distance was a red, muddy blur. It actually just felt unfinished and stopped me from wanting to explore the world at all.

This brings up an interesting issue I have with Icarus Studios… they fix things too quickly! The above paragraph was true as of January 7th, and I’d completely made my mind up on Fallen Earth‘s environments being unsatisfactory, until Icarus released a patch that addressed the issue. Now the game feels much better when exploring the wastelands.

The game can be a bit overwhelming also. They’ve improved the way the birth of your player progresses with a new set of introductory quests.  Now the player is introduced to some of the basic mechanics of the game that help a huge amount in getting a grasp of things. This helped me a lot more with understanding the game compared to my first outing at launch. The devs have been working hard to improve the experience, to say the least.

Icarus Studios is quickly earning the reputation of working their ass of to improve and add to their game. Before the graphical update, they included social hubs for role players, and before that, they did a complete overhaul on the look of the female models of the game. Previously female models looked as if they’d had a long day at the office… of the streets.

Fallen Earth‘s crafting also works to get the player into the mind of a post apocalyptic citizen. Icarus Studios says that 95% percent of their items have to be crafted by the players. There IS a place for people who don’t enjoy crafting, but it’s almost impossible not to interact with crafting at some point in the game.

Fresh out of the cloning chamber!

The crafting process overall works the same as in most MMOs. It succeeds in committing to crafting a  lot more than recent games have ever tried though. Fallen Earth doesn’t allow you to just press “Craft Motorcyle” and be on your way. You’ll have to learn how to craft pieces of the whole finished product and then spend time actually creating the item itself.

Fallen Earth does take away one of the most annoying parts of crafting by allowing a player to queue up items that are being created. The player is allowed to run around shooting the crap out of things while his pair of gloves or snazzy new club is being crafted. This actually all happens in real time and continues to progress while the character is logged out. Small things like gloves or bullets take a few minutes, but the total time for building a vehicle can be measured in literal, out of game, days! I think it’s fantastic because it immediately makes everything you craft mean that much more. Where Fallen Earth‘s crafting still hasn’t changed much is in resource grinding.

You better get some knee pads cause you’ll be kneeling to gather resources a lot. I don’t particularly think it’s a bad thing since people who love to craft are already used to this sort of thing and will probably get right back in the groove pretty quick. Yet the sheer volume of different components can be pretty daunting at first. This game wants you to interact! The Help chat channel is bustling with requests for advice on quests and crafting, and the community is helpful and surprisingly positive despite the setting. I found that no matter how many doohickey’s I needed to craft, I could always count on the community to help with info.

Besides crafting, the other most important part of Fallen Earth, and most MMO’s, is combat. Combat and character development in Fallen Earth seems to be where some of the game’s weaknesses surface. Some of this is because Icarus Studios is doing nothing but being faithful to the setting, and others are things they’ve been working to improve since before launch.

The game’s combat system has a great amount of complexity. Advantages and disadvantages are added to each weapon to keep PvP encounters interesting, and a great example of this is the rifle. It does great ranged damage from afar but places a nasty melee defense debuff on your character. If any anyone gets in melee range, you will be taking a good bit of damage. This is an important aspect that pushes the combat closer to an RPG than a first person shooter.

First Person Apocalypse

That’s one point I didn’t mention. When in first person view, the game can be played much like an FPS. The game has some great reload animations! However, jumping into first person view also accentuates the lag present in combat. I never felt comfortable aiming for the head, and I think playing a game like Borderlands before this made me really want a tighter, more accurate combat system. I eventually decided on a melee character and enjoyed that considerably more.

One thing I did notice when panning out to a third person view was the lackluster character animations in combat. Strafing is a bit awkward and a melee weapon being swung really doesn’t ever feel like it’s connecting. The strategy is there though, and as you build up your repertoire you’ll collect an interesting selection of buffs, debuffs, and attack skills. The spell effects for them come off as pretty underwhelming, but I attribute this to the setting. I’ve heard that skills become a bit flashier as you level and get some of the more interesting abilities.

Rolling into town

One hilarious physics-related issue comes into play after you’ve defeated a humanoid enemy. If an NPC falls a certain way while dying, s/he will end up spontaneously bouncing twenty feet up in the air for no reason. The first time it happens it’s pretty hilarious, but goes to show there are still a few things to be worked out.

The most stressful time in the game seems to be in relation to character development. Fallen Earth does not have specific classes. As you progress through the game, you earn skill points to add to your mastery of specific types of weapons, armors, and skills. Any person can invest points to become a better crafter or combat-oriented player.

Because this system is tied to crafting so intimately, Icarus Studios does not allow for respecs at the moment. Giving a person the ability to switch back and forth to any crafting profession that they choose would just break the economy of the game. I spent a lot of time poring over stats and trying to figure out what I actually wanted to play as, because once you invest points you can never get them back. Thankfully, they allow the player to overlay a template to guide their stats. These are usually based on the different factions in the game, but choosing one as a first time player will still take some research beforehand.

A dark place...

During my 35 hours of play I really didn’t get too far. I decided to play the game like I usually would play one– nice and slow with a purpose to appreciate the world and explore the game. In doing that I was lucky enough to find that the game seems to be meant for that play style. The levels come slow in Fallen Earth, and exploring the world shifts to the forefront a bit more than hurriedly rushing through levels.

Fallen Earth very much feels like the game that Icarus Studios wanted to make instead of the game they thought consumers would buy. If you’re interested in the setting or want an MMO that doesn’t hold your hand I think Fallen Earth is worth a try. I would suggest you make sure you have time to really delve into it though. Playing it for a few hours really doesn’t give you a good feel of what the game is really trying to get across.

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