Thursday, August 20, 2009

Fallen Earth Beta - Initial Impressions: Part II

Follow the link below for my further thoughts and experiences in the Fallen Earth beta.

My Kingdom for a Horse

So here I was, still at Embry Crossroads. I had completed a good portion of the quests in the area, but my main focus was on crafting, and that semi-confusing, overly-complex system had taken most of my time and all of my chips (which is the currency used in Fallen Earth). But it was time to move on, and there was no way I was going to cross the barren, scarred wasteland on foot. I needed one of them horses that it seemed everyone else already owned. But the various parts needed to 'craft' a horse, as well as acquire the necessary training manual, would cost me several of the larger size chips.

Well I didn't have much cash, but I did have a ton of crafting materials in my various bank vaults. I figured that I would just see what I could make, and then sell the resulting product to an NPC vendor for a nice profit. What proceeded from there was an odd little dance I had with myself and the various merchants. I would look for items I could craft where I already had most of the ingredients, purchasing the missing parts, then selling the resulting end-product. Sometimes I netted a few chips, other times I lost some. I didn't seem to be getting anywhere closer to acquiring a horse. So I opened up my vault with all my food-type resources and took everything out. With only a few minor purchases, I soon had a good dozen items queued up for cooking. As these foodstuffs were busy percolating in my pack, I poked around to see if I could secure some other parts I needed. Luck was with me that day, for I found a rusty car outside of town that yielded no less than eight scarp fasteners (which are used often and are also relatively expensive to purchase from the NPC vendors).

While on these excursions, I was also trying to fill out some gaps in my crafting knowledge, namely ammo for my revolver! I finally located the ballistics trainer, and also figured out what skill book I needed to purchase. Aha! It turned out that actually crafting the ammo was an easy task, using fairly common materials, so I soon had enough ammo to last me for a while, especially since I had begun using a sword as my main weapon.

After much brewing, grilling and preserving, I managed to sell enough cooked goods to gather the necessary cash to purchase the horse materials. I completed the horse-training recipe, and voila, there she was! I hopped on and took her out for a spin. It was a sweet ride, one that I wish I had gotten much earlier. And even better, the horse comes with its own pack slots! My mission completed, it was time to move on. I had a couple of quests directing me to Oilville, which was just a short jaunt to the north, and so to Oilville I went!

The Bustling Metropolis of Oilville

I thought that Embry Crossroads was a happening place, but Oilville was even more active. More players, more quests, and a token system for acquiring gear. A number of quests around town gave out special 'gears' as reward. These gears could then be turned into an NPC just outside of town for various armor and weapons. I took a glance at what was offered and realized that what I already had was equivalent or slightly better than what they offered. I guess all of that time spent on crafting had paid off after all!

So I begun the great quest project, cleaning out sandworms, assaulting raider camps, and various other odd jobs around town. Not far from town I ran across a few foes on the road, so I jumped off my horse and waded into the slaughter, patting myself on the back for a job well done. But then I turned around and witnessed a horrifying sight! My horse lay dead on the ground!! I'm not sure what happened, but a CoG (one of the enemy factions) was wandering around nearby, whistling innocently. My vengeance was both swift and deadly. I took a look at my preciously acquired horse, hoping that there was some way to revive it but I quickly realized that I had no veterinary skills. Luckily, by this time, I had more than enough chips from completing quests. So I hoofed it back into town and went over to the stables area to see what my options were and to train a new horse if need be. But I noticed that the stable master had an option for 'towing' my horse. It only cost a single chip, so I gave it a shot. It seemed to work as I then had the option of removing the horse from the stable. Would it be whole and healthy? Unforunately not. Instead I was suddenly presented with the corpse of my equine companion being tossed at my feet. Hmmm... that wasn't quite what I had expected. On to the trainer, where I picked up a vet book. Sure enough, the repair skill worked and my faithful mount was soon back in action!

So I booked around the Oilville area for a while, completing numerous quests and shooting up through levels 7 and 8 very quickly. Focusing on the quests also rewarded me with lots of money as well as the experience gains. I was well on my way to level 10 when the closed beta ended, having gained 2 & 1/2 levels with only a few hours of gameplay after leaving Embry Crossroads.

At one point I had a number of fedex-type missions to a nearby town of Kingman, so I hopped on my trusty steed and rode over there, encountering a large camp of bandits who had taken over the main highway along the way, and spotting an imposing structure on a hill in the distance. As it turned out, this was the infamous Kingman Prison, and the local townspeople had plenty of killing that wanted me to take care of for them inside. Unfortunately, I didn't get to see much more beyond riding around the outside, but it is a very impressive structure that can be seen from miles away. I believe this is the first major instance/dungeon in the game and it's domination of the local skyline really drew my attention and fostered a desire to see what was inside.

Miscellaneous Thoughts

Horses are great! I like that they have a 'fuel' meter that needs to be replenished. But it seems to be a large enough pool that it wont be a constant maintenance chore. Their extra pack space is a nice addition, and the fact that they can be killed adds another point for realism (though it's absurdly easy to 'tow' and revive them afterwords). One side effect of the fuel meter for horses, is that players tend to park them in town rather than riding them everywhere, including inside buildings. This little touch of seeing several horses lined up outside of various buildings really helps to give Fallen Earth that feeling that it is something special. But of course, once the teeming masses hit the game, I suspect that people will be more than happy to ride their horses up and down the stairs rather than leaving them outside.

I am a little worried about buffs. It seems that there are quite a lot. Even with my newbie self I can eat, drink and take painkillers, all of which provide a 30-60 minute buff, and then on top of that, I have two mutation powers that provide more temporary buffs. I've heard that following a mutation path in character development will open up even more buff options. One player on the forums said that he generally has 17 buffs going at the same time! This is a bad trend for several reasons. 1) Reapplying multiple buffs is a pain, 2) When you start stacking buffs on buffs, at some point they become required in order to compete with other players, 3) its just confusing and hard to keep track of when you have a dozen little buff icons with various effects.

I've also heard rumor (though it should be taken with a grain of salt as I haven't experienced the clan or faction systems yet), that player clans have no faction restrictions. If true, this is a huge blow to the PvP potential of the game and kind of destroys the point of even having factions in the first place, especially if players can teach the faction-specific recipes to other players.

The game does have an auction house, but there was almost nothing for sale. But that's pretty typical for test/beta servers, so I not worried about the lack of auction activity. But given the crafting-oriented nature of the game it will be interesting to see how the economy develops once it goes live.

I never had a chance to experience any PvP in my time in the Fallen Earth world. At one point during my wanderings, I did have a message flash on my screen that I was entering a PvP area, but there was noone else around, and I wasn't even sure what it was that made this a PvP area, as there didn't seem to be anything interesting or useful in sight. But, from what I understand, there is no open PvP in the game. There are 'conflict' towns, but apparently not a whole lot of PvP actually happens there, though that might be due to the beta mentality. It sounds like this part of the game hasn't really been fleshed out. Hopefully that is something the devs will work on in the near future.


And that's pretty much it for my gametime in beta. Though I found the game difficult to get involved in initially, once I passed that first invisible hurdle, I began to enjoy it a lot more. I'm still undecided as to whether or not I'll make the purchase for launch. I have several other games awaiting my attention, including a Blood Bowl league and guild leadership in Warhammer Online.

I suspect that this is one of those games that will have a rocky launch and a lot of mediocre reviews, but given the chance, it has enough potential to develop into an engaging MMO with a unique niche. There does seem to be plenty to do in the starting zone, but those who prefer racing to the endgame will probably end up bitter and disappointed.

So, if you enjoy crafting and are willing to deal with various UI issues and a semi-clutzy combat system, then this is probably a game that you will enjoy. If you're a PvE-raider type, or someone looking for fun, meaningful PvP, then you probably won't find enough entertainment in Fallen Earth. If you're just looking for something different from the saturated fantasy market, then I recommend giving the beta a whirl to see if the game catches your attention, though I do suggest that you give it enough time to get out of the starter towns and into the wider world before passing judgment.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Fallen Earth Beta - Initial Impressions: Part I

I have been in the Fallen Earth beta for about a month. Unfortunately, due to other distractions, my time in game was relatively limited. However, I have written up my initial impressions about the game, which you can find below. This is Part I, which covers levels 1-7. I'll have a 2nd post about my time after that (levels 7 - almost 10), as well as a general summary that will go up within a day or so.

Click the link to see my commentary and thoughts.

I decided to approach this game as a complete newbie (aside from my 10 years of general MMO experience). I knew it was a sci-fi post-apocalyptic setting. I knew that it was supposed to have factions that affected gameplay as well as an extensive crafting system. Other than that, it was a blank slate for me. I hadn't read any forums or guides or previews. I had been playing Fallout 3, however, so I figured I was in the right mood for this sort of fare. Commentary and direct recountings of my experiences from levels 1 to 7 are below.

Initial Experience

Right off the bat I ran into lots of issues with logging in and the weird, confusing NDA acceptance scheme (which has hopefully been fixed. Finally, I was able to create a character and enter the world, but alas, my first experiences in-game were not positive ones.

First off, the User Interface is very clunky. I had hoped that we were past the days of static, graphic-fluff heavy UIs that take up lots of screenspace. But apparently not. It's nice that the inventory and crafting windows are movable, but oddly, some of the basic UI elements are not only stuck in place, but also can't be resized. *sigh* Please don't rely on third-party mods to make your UI malleable.

Moving past that, I then found the opening tutorial to be extremely uninteresting. So much so, that I basically had to force myself to play the game. I can't really pinpoint what it was about the tutorial that left me with such a feeling of ennui, but I suggest that the devs take a long hard look at revamping it, because if its the first thing that players encounter, you will likely lose a lot before they even taste what this game is about. Of course, this was several months ago. I don't know if the newbie tutorial experience has been changed at all since I went through it, but this is a vital part of the game experience. Especially if you want to attract more than a niche, experienced MMO veteran crowd.

So I let my beta account languish for a couple of weeks, and the next time I logged in, my character was gone. I assumed that there had been a server wipe and I quickly threw together a new character, opting out of the tuorial this time around. Instead I went straight to the starter town of Mumford. I was going to try my hand at crafting! So I wandered into town and found a few quests waiting for me, including a crafting quest! But I ran into a roadblock as I was trying to make the two Ragged Black T-shirts to fulfill the job requirements. I didn't have enough cotton! (at the time, I wasn't aware that there were fields of it scattered around the countryside). So I spent a lot of time scavenging through garbage, hoping to find that random bit of fabric that would help me craft the shirt.

Scavenging is an interesting skill. You can get almost any item from scavenging. And there seems to be all sorts of rubbish lying around just waiting for me to come along and comb through it. I even dug through the pockets of an unburied corpse in the much too tiny graveyard right outside of town. Noone seemed to mind.

Finally, as I was searching through yet another rubbish pile, what did I see? It was a Ragged Black t-shirt! Sure it may have had a few soup stains on it, but it was still usable. Glancing around to make sure no one saw me, I quickly dusted it off and placed it in my pack. Hopefully they wouldn't be able to tell that I had just picked this one up from the garbage rather than making it myself? Sure enough, they didn't.

While that was a fun adventure, the thrill of collecting wore off and I wasn't really learning much in the ways of crafting. And then one day, I ran up against a quest that I just couldn't seem to complete. A fellow on a rooftop wanted me to deliver a bottle of booze to someone. After I spent 10 minutes running around (several different times), unable to find the person in question (and yes, I did have quest tracking turned on for this quest), I just said screw it, and left the starter town to head out for parts unknown, figuring I could at least see some scenery before I put this game down for good. I wandered the countryside, gathering resources and avoiding mobs until I stumbled across the town of Embry Crossroads. Suddenly, the entire game changed for me. There were lots of quests, crafting trainers and suppliers of all kinds, abundant resources around the town, a bank, an auction house and other players! NOW, I feel like I'm in an MMO. This was the turning point for me. I suddenly became interested and enamored of the game. If I hadn't forced myself to play to this point, and then made a sudden decision to wander away from the starter town without prompting, I probably would have put this game away and never looked at it again.


Anyway, finally out into the world, and feeling rejuvenated and more interested in the game overall, it was time for some serious work. I had wanted to focus on the crafting system first, and so I did. I made many trips around the outskirts of town, gathering anything and everything I could find. I picked up a couple of crafting quests from the locals, the first couple focusing on food preparation. I ended up learning the intricacies of grilling, stewing, preserving, as well as how to make butter and jars of grease. Armed with cheap booze and grilled chicken (prarie chicken that is), I set off for further adventures, finishing up a couple of nearby kill quests while pursuing scrap metals and fasteners (and I heard many a folk cursing about the lack of fasteners in global chat) so that I could make armor, knives, and eventually, my own zip gun.

I really like the detailed and complex crafting system, though it would definitely be nice to clean it up a bit. For one, why do we even have extra sections for additional tiers (IE Shoes 1, Shoes 2, Shoes 3). Can't we just put them all under one category: 'Shoes'? And then within the sections, the order that items are listed in makes little sense. Having the skill books clog up my Shoe list also detracts from the crafting experience.

I would suggest moving ALL the skill books into their own tab. That way if I want to create a skill book, I can go to the book section. If I want to craft an item, I can go to the appropriate section and not have it cluttered with books. It would also be nice to have subcategories of the same type merge together. So instead of having separate sections for Shoes 1, Shoes 2, Shoes 3, etc section, there would simply be Shoes, and as I learned more Shoe recipes, they would all fall under that same section, ordered by skill level (though a couple of different sort options would also be helpful). Makes for a much more streamlined, intuitive and easy-to-use system.

I do appreciate that part of the reason for all the crafting complexity is to force people to specialize. In my time focused on crafting I learned the arts of harvesting copper, plants, animals and mutants, crafting melee weapons (knives, tools, etc), ballistics (including guns, gun parts and ammo), armor (shoes, shirts, pants, hats, boots, jackets and more!), scientific items (acids, dyes and gunpowder), medical supplies (bandages and anti-venoms), food and drink, and finally, horse-taming. And within each of those categories, are six+ sub-categories (that I've learned. No telling how many more there are overall), each with 3-10 items. It's enough to make anyone's head spin! And I quickly discovered that it is nearly impossible to try and focus on that many crafting skills all alone (perhaps with a guild pooling their resources), so I haven't followed the Medical or Mutation paths, and have given up on cooking as well, except to make use of all the various food components I find as loot.

I like the fact that your crafting times can be decreased by standing in an appropriate workshop, and I love that you are still considered to be actively crafting while offline. Combine the two for easy crafting while you sleep! But you can also just go wander around and do whatever else you want in the game, and your crafting counter will still be ticking away.

Everytime I login I see someone complaining about having to wait in real-time for crafting to complete. But please ignore these folks. The real-time aspect is an important part of a functioning economy, and the fact that your crafting timer is ALWAYS counting down, even while you're adventuring, standing around or offline more than makes up for the inconvenience experienced when you feel that you need that new item RIGHT NOW (which has the added bonus of forcing players to think ahead!) The components for an item will sometimes be made by a different specialty, which helps to keep the economic system flowing while making it useful (though not required) for crafters to work together.

My main disappointment with crafting in Fallen Earth is that it's recipe-based rather than component based. So FE crafting falls a bit short of what I would consider the ultimate MMO crafting system. However, there are a plethora of different items, many of which seem to have functionally similar stats, leaving it up to the player to decide which one they want based on personal preferences or item appearance, which is simply wonderful.

I find it very awkward that I can't tell what I will learn from purchasing or creating a new skill book. This has led to some guesswork and a few wrong choices, which can be expensive. If I'm writing a book for myself to learn new patterns, you would think I would know what those patterns are ahead of time!


Coming straight off of playing Fallout 3, I was hoping for a similar sort of combat experience (without the VATS system of course), though I wasn't sure how well it would work in an MMO. It mostly works, but combat does feel a little clunky. Especially going in and out of combat mode. Sometimes I'll hit tab, and see my guy hunker down as if he's ready for combat, but I wont have a targeting reticule.

I also find it very difficult to hit a moving mob, particularly in 3rd person mode, which forces me to 1st person mode when shooting (though this can still be difficult due to mobs tendency to make sudden, jerky movements). This would be fine and dandy except that I have lots of issues trying to engage in melee combat while in 1st person (my secondary swing attack just doesnt seem to work at all in 1st person mode). So, combat becomes the following multi-step dance. Move within range of my target, switch to 1st person, switch to attack mode, pull out my gun, make sure its reloaded, fire 2-4 shots at my target who rushes at me with the first hit, pull out a melee weapon, switch back to 3rd person mode, swing until my target is dead. Whew! And then, I have to tab out of combat so I can loot my kill. Rinse and repeat for the next victim!

This has resulted in a switch in focus to melee weapons. Perhaps things will change at later levels, but at the moment, I mainly have a sidearm just for show (and also because I made it myself). I've gotten better at the weapon-switching dance, but it's still a pain in the butt and kind of awkward. I find it much easier to just wade in with the sword and chop my opponents up. I don't really have any suggestions here, but having your combat feel fluid is an important design element.

Miscellaneous Thoughts

I like that items tell you in their mouseover text when they're used for tradeskills, but I don't understand why we still have 'useless' items around. Why on earth is the ballistics merchant buying gooey chitinous legs from me?! Can't we just remove this crap from the game entirely?

We can sit! And crouch! And lay down! This may seem like a very minor feature for many players, but for roleplayers and those who enjoy being immersed into the game world, this sort of 'fluff' is invaluable!

A better explanation of combat skills and mutations is definitely needed early on. These seem to be the standard attacks, buff and debuff type skills that you find in any other MMO, but it feels a little strange in Fallen Earth since the combat aspect is quite different from the standard WoW model. I still haven't really looked into these skills yet.


Overall, I've found Fallen Earth to be different and interesting enough to keep my attention so far, though it came VERY close to losing me entirely in the beginning. Perhaps my expectations were set too high after playing Fallout 3 right before being accepted into the beta?

This post ends with my character at level 7. I have a sword and a set of clothes that I created myself. I have a revolver with no ammo and two vaults full of various resources of all kinds. It's time to see some more of the world, so I plan to gather enough chips to buy a horse and head out on the open range!