Gamers First’s Fallen Earth became free-to-play this weekend. I have enjoyed a number of forays into post-apocalyptic landscapes (Fallout 3, Fallout New Vegas, Rage; even Left 4 Dead is, in some respect post-apocalyptic); so I expected to enjoy Fallen Earth. Also, having played Eve Online, I was cautious of the time-suck ability that MMO’s could become — although this latter point didn’t bear fruit in Fallen Earth’s case.
Even if it’s not immediately apparent, I play fair number of different video games; mostly of the first or third person genre. There are a few conventions to this genre. WASD (the ‘w’ key moves forward, ‘a’ and ‘s’ move left and right and ‘d’ backs up) is a core convention. What isn’t mentioned by the it’s name (WASD) is that the 2nd part of this convention is the mouse: the mouse controls where you’re looking and in that manner controls where you are running and shooting as well as the looking.
Fallen Earth breaks this fundamental contract by providing a complex modal interface where the player character moves entirely with the keyboard (using the ‘q’ and ‘e’ keys to turn) and then changes mode to “combat” mode whereby mouselook is mysteriously enabled. This interface is doubly confusing when you get stuck (as I did) in combat mode with popup windows in the way of your field of view and doubly annoying when that window is a nag screen to upgrade to the pay-per-month service. In fact the nagging never really goes away: an “upgrade” button was in my center low field of view constantly and I never found a way to be rid of it.
I also got stuck in the tutorial (and had to restart). I’m fairly used to the first-person RPG genre and one of it’s core values is rewarding exploration (“you must look at all my wonderful textures,” says the game designer). I was jumping and running around in the tutorial section even though there was supposedly some urgency of something going to happen; it was perfectly clear to me that the standard “nothing happens until you move forward in the map” was fully in effect. Anyways… I was looking on top of some ledge when I got completely stuck: I could not move in any direction.
After getting ignominiously stuck, I decided not to explore any more and finish the tutorial campaign. I realized as I made this decision that everything looked rather Doom-2-ish in graphical quality. Once I had made the decision that I wasn’t having fun exploring the environment, I started to criticize the environment in my mind. This break in the immersion is not a good thing. It was at this point that I realized that the funky control scheme was of the same era as the old-skule graphics.
Plowing on directly to the end of the tutorial section, I was introduced to the non-death mechanic (you die at the end of the tutorial and you are “reborn” because you are a clone with a clone-mind-sync-collar — not unlike the “theory” by which you are reborn in Eve Online). While saving the Hoover Dam is cool, forced sacrificed death after 10 minutes of play is a bit of a downer.
At the end of the tutorial, and this is a mild SPOILER, you sacrifice yourself after a short driving section and die. The driving is horrid. I couldn’t figure out how to look up … I spend the whole time looking down at the nearfield and luckily, there were curbs to keep me driving in the right direction. It’s considerate that the game exposes all of it’s extremely bad control schemes within the tutorial so that you know what you’re in for.
At this point, I’ll admit that I was disinterested enough to stop, but I listened to the end-of-tutorial cut scene and chose which hub I would start with. The hub choices were coupled with different fighting styles and I choose the combination of pistol and rifle. This choice immediately transported me to an area with shops, quest givers and other player characters.
Since I didn’t have any appetite for questing, I simply ventured out of the “safe zone” into the world. This was the biggest disappointment of all. I realize that, to reach the widest possible audience, MMO’s have to have graphics settings for the lowest common denominator available, but in this case, on a relatively powerful rig, the graphics were the greatest disappointment.
The draw distance was such that I could only see a few buildings around me and a chunk of broken expressway that was featured in the trailer. That chunk of broken expressway seemed to repeat quite a bit. I suppose some elevated expressway wasn’t completely out-of-place in Fallout 3 (as it’s set around Washington D.C.) and similarly in New Vegas; but carrying on to Rage’s unknown location with elevated expressways running between Buttes in a Wile E. Coyote landscape, I just can’t take it here. There are a number of elevated expressways in the U.S., but the type pictured — 4+ story high single post expressways arn’t that common… especially in the middle-of-nowhere that you spawn.
Maybe that last gripe is too much, but the draw distance and horrid graphical quality combined with the lack of a sensible control scheme just turned me off. You can add to that a plethora of special abilities that immediately granted for which only one is explained (healing someone else, not yourself) and a basic yet confusing interface.
I couldn’t play on. Maybe this game gets more compelling as you continue. I certainly played 100’s of hours of Eve Online. Eve certainly doesn’t have a reputation as a game that coddles players. I think the real show-stopper was the graphics. When I think about it, the urge to explore a world is based on what you will see. Fallen Earth left very little to see. Maybe even one moment like emerging from the vault (either Fallout or RAGE) would make it interesting to press on. Maybe I’m just not interested in pre-2000’s graphics any more. I’ll leave you with an image that shows the dreadful graphic quality and amazing lack of draw distance … and the relative complexity of the interface given to the first-time player.
I’d give this one a pass even though it’s free.