Review: Fallen Earth

30 August 2009
9:26 am

fallenearth

In the wide-world that represents present day MMOG flora, post-apocalyptic games (and sci-fi games in general) are sadly lacking in representation. One such upcoming release seeking to change that is Fallen Earth, set in after-the-world-ends 2156, a hundred years after a genetically engineered supervirus has decimated 99% of the human population. Putting your character in the middle of a power struggle between a number of factions, it's up to you to figure out how to survive in a war-ravaged landscape occupied by human scavengers and mutated creatures.

Open beta started earlier in the week, free keys available on that bastion of downloads, FilePlanet. Despite looking forward to this release, I knew in about ten minutes that I was going to be disappointed with Fallen Earth. Crucial to my first impression was the fact that I crashed three times before the game even managed to load for the first time (never a good sign.) When character creation finally did begin, a really bizarre texture-flickering problem was plaguing my screen, resulting in strobe-lights of malfunction that would have induced a seizure in anyone with mild epilepsy. After a foray into the support forums I discovered my video card had a driver released about two days ago; this rarely ever helps but in this case I lucked out– updating got rid of the flicker. Sadly it didn't improve the look of the game in the process. The graphics look like they were developed at about the same time as 2002's Morrowind and then rejected for being too ugly. Open beta crashes and bugs are forgivable (the game isn't released after all), but for a game to look so outdated before it's even taking subscriptions is a bit harder to swallow. Especially given the rather beefy recommended requirements, the appearance of the game really didn't justify the spec demands.

Nevertheless I tried to keep my mind open and slug through the tutorial area. The game starts you off at level 40, emerging from a cloning chamber with a warning that you have to get out as soon as you can before "they" kill you. About fifteen minutes of movement explains most of the various skills you'll need once you finish the tutorial, and that's that. You're ejected out into the real world after a plot point that "resets" you back to scratch. While starting areas like this are a good move for immersion, I find them problematic in as far as roleplaying is supposed to go; every character is "born" the same way (Aion has the same problem, you start out as some superhero who had amnesia and has to recover their powers along the way– so, everyone has the same "origin" as far as the game's concerned). I mean it's bad enough that you're going to be doing the same quests as everyone else, but at least WoW and the like don't really force you into a backstory before you've even started questing. This is, however, a personal stylistic opinion. The tutorial area was interesting, but would've been better served in a single-player game.

My problems with the graphics were magnified once I left the indoor tutorial area (the starting zone was designed worlds better than the exterior areas, or other buildings once you leave). Despite setting graphics to max, the draw-distance was pathetic looking around and outside. They certainly pulled heavily from Fallout 3's grunge and brown muck color pallet, but the character models don't make up for the melancholy of everything. I was initially going to give it a point for at least not letting the world end due to nuclear war (unlike so many other games), until I learned that oh, no, that happened too.

Graphics and appearance are at least subjective. Sadly for Fallen Earth, as far as I was concerned, they weren't even the extreme end of problems. The interface was glitchy and extremely unintuitive– unlike every other MMOG, you control the camera with the right mouse button instead of the left. The A and D keys strafe you left and right instead of turning your character around, and they had a maddeningly way of putting you into combat which requires switching between a normal and 'targeting' mode. There was really no aspect of the UI that I liked or thought hadn't been done better by other games before today. In that respect Fallen Earth was extremely derivative, but where it broke away from its inspirations, it did so in a really badly implemented manner. The game also is heavily into weaponry, be they melee axes or ranged pistols. A gameplay mechanic focused on "mutations" serving various purposes like psychic powers or healing is possible, but these abilities are meant to be strictly secondary– a player could not create a character focusing solely on their mutations, the skills simply are not powerful enough for it. That aspect itself is a bit of a turn off for me; I play games like this for the supernatural aspect, whether magic or mentalism, and being forced into a third or first person shooter didn't really excite me. The game is also extremely crafting-dependent. It looked like the majority of items out in the game were created by other players, from bandages to bullets. Creating items happen in real-time, so my level one bandages took a minute of real-time before I was able to take them into inventory. The website says complicated items like a car take "several weeks." One player remarked in open chat that he doesn't leave to finish quests until he's crafted at least a thousand bullets at a time– I frankly would lose my mind. It's like they took the idea of a player-driven crafting economy from EVE but thought of the most excruciating and painful way to put it into production.

I didn't play too much further than the tutorial area simply because by then the open beta in-game "party" was starting so I teleported over to the rest of the players; it's certainly possible that the game redeems itself further down the road, but I think that honestly the several hours I spent with it would be representative of the amount of time a random player would look. One interesting concept is that you can choose allegiance to one of six competing factions; they favor various roles, equipment and behavior more than others, giving the game a sense of friction and struggle. I was unable to find any details on what the endgame is meant to be, however, or PvP implementation– however it's also equally as likely that I simply missed where it was explained.

Fallen Earth is not looking like the game for me. My harshness aside, however, I'm sure it's going to fill a niche for some people. The issues with the bugs and UI quirks will undoubtedly be fixed over time– hopefully soon, since the game launches in little over two weeks, though I don't have high hopes for graphical improvements. Still, there's a desperate need for games outside the sword-and-sorcery niche popularized by WoW and for that reason I wish this game success even if I won't be playing it past the open beta. The only way other development companies will get the courage to step outside the fantasy box is if other gambles are successful, so that's the only way real innovation will start to happen again.

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