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anglebender [Celluloid 02.24.10] post apocalyptic review video video game



PLATFORMS – Windows XP/Vista
DEVELOPERS – Fallen Earth LLC, Icarus Studios
PUBLISHER – Fallen Earth LLC
RELEASE – September 22, 2009
ESRB RATING – M
PRICE: $50 plus $15 per month subscription (first month is free)

Gameplay - 8
Graphics - 4
Sound - 3

OVERALL – 6

This needs to be said before anything else: this title was made by an independent developer, meaning that there were limited resources to develop this game but that doesn't mean this game is “low budget”. I'll cut them slack for being indie, but with times being on the verge of “tough”, I need to think of the potential consumer too. One of the first things I notice about any game when I first pick it up is how rough it feels around the edges. I had to wear gloves to play this. Fairly thin gloves, but gloves nonetheless. I had to remove them to type this review properly.

This is a review of the final release version of Fallen Earth. This isn't a “first impression” or a “preview” but a question that asks, “Is this game worth buying?”


When I first heard about this game several years ago my first thought was, “Yeah right. Good luck with that”. My sodden geekiness was too stoic to be allured by the idea of a post-apocalyptic massively-multiplayer online game (MMO) where not only were there no classes (no “fighter”, “thief” or “mage” archetypes after the nukes go off), but also player constructed mounts (motorcycles, dune buggies, ATVs) from which you can shoot while moving. This was an ambitious plan they were announcing and I unfortunately put zero faith in its completion. I now write this review with my foot in my mouth. I didn't participate in the public beta testing because I knew that I would eventually write this review and I wanted to write about the final release version and not the work-in-progress. From what I've read in forums on the Fallen Earth website, a few very interesting features were left out of the final version, so that tells me there's quite a bit they might re-implement in the future.

One of the advantages of public beta testing for a independent game studio is that you have a huge amount of eyes looking at the game to find bugs and glitches, which are then fixed by the production team. This can save you a lot of overhead (professional video game testers require special harnesses and exotic feeding regimens) plus public beta testing can yield quite a bit of work for the bug-fixing people. The downside is that the processing of millions of roughly-standardized bug reports from the general public must have occupied more time than it should have, but FREE video game testers is a very appealing idea to any independent video game producer. Did a few bugs get through? Sure, a few bugged quests and some latency issues but no showstoppers. I remember World of Warcraft being laggy to the point of unplayability for the first few months after launch. Fallen Earth has the same dilemma, but frequent server/client updates from its parent company have been making trips into the wastelands more like rides into Slay City rather than chores in Lagville.



The vivid backstory illustrates the world the character inhabits and most of the reasons why everything has been blown to smithereens: several hundred years previous, the Shiva virus wiped out most of humanity, then some angry people started throwing nukes at each other. At about this time several megacorporations were developing massive advancements in cloning and nanotechnology, but all that was upended by the mushroom clouds. The whole thing feels like a cyberpunk world that blew itself to heck and now struggles to survive in the post-apocalypse. In other MMOs, I usually skip past all the “lore” text for a mission, but with Fallen Earth I'm slowing down to read this whole non-linear fiction, and it's very intriguing.

GAMEPLAY - 8

The game world for Fallen Earth is freaking enormous with over 1,000 square kilometers of landscape. It's also totally open-world, free-roaming and wanderlust friendly. Although there isn't rapid transit between towns (it's the apocalypse for crying out loud), you can buy a horse at level 3 for a mere 600 chips (note: the use of poker chips as currency in the post-apocalypse is to be expected). Since the player can go anywhere they want, you can go far northward into Sector 2 or even Sector 3, but up there everything can kill a low level player with one hit, and few things are as humbling as being killed by an ant. If you have the urge to explore, stay on the road because bullets can usually outrun horses and ATVs.

Since this is a “classless” game, you don't need to pick what sort of character you'll have when you start, instead you'll build the character as you go. There are templates for “classes” in the character stats screen and can be very handy when spending loose APs. Any character can scavenge scrap or harvest berries from bushes and then make whatever they want providing the character has learned the skill to make it. Once you know how to make gunpowder, you can make bullets, and so forth. About 95% of the objects in the game can be crafted by players, and the best gear is almost always player made.



The controls are somewhat-but-not-really-weird in that there is a special aiming mode for combat (default middle mouse button or “clicking” the scroll wheel). This might put some people off but all the controls can be remapped in the options. There are several stances the character can take, like going prone to make an accurate ranged shot or crouch-walking to sneak up on a guard. There's a variety of dance moves the character can perform (“/pulpfiction” is just plain great) and emotes are available if you like that sort of thing.

A key to any MMO is leveling. In Fallen Earth, if you spend all your time picking fights with enemies (i.e. “grinding”, killing MOBs, etc.) like you do in other MMOs, you will hate this game with a passion. The key to leveling in Fallen Earth is in completing missions. Doing missions or “quests” in any MMO will yield gear and money, but you do them in Fallen Earth mainly it seems for XP. Occasionally you'll have to kill something, deliver something, or talk to someone but your character will generally get more experience by completing the mission the activity is associated with. If you have ever played the MMO “Star Wars Galaxies”, this gameflow (and the crafting too) might be familiar. As you accrue experience from killing enemies, you'll get APs, or Advancement Points. You can spend APs on either skills (rifleman, medical, etc.) or stats (strength, intelligence, etc.). This way, you can sculpt the character as they grow (like a real RPG), but you need to have a goal in mind.

If you spend your AP unwisely, you will end up with a weaker “gimped” character and will be wasting your time playing any further with that character. Gimping your character is a very real danger in Fallen Earth because you cannot later “respec” or reassign your APs. I'm not sure why the designers did this. How are else you going to experiment with how AP is spent? Spend your APs wrong? Too bad, redo your character from scratch. Luckily, there's a few free character planner apps out there on the intarnetwebs to experiment with how accurate AP spending can make a strong character before you even play. Here's one: www.globaltechplanner.info



Low frame rates in towns for now are common, usually 8-12 frames per second. Out in the unpopulated wastes I usually get 60-120 FPS, but ultra-mild lag will sometimes ensue once combat begins. This is not a big deal for other MMOs because combat usually involves selecting a target and clicking the “attack” button along with various buffs and other types of attacks. Fallen Earth however is entirely a first or third-person shooter, where hitting a target (with headshots even!) is entirely up to the player's skill not the character they play. The character has skills that help determine a hit or miss, but the player is always the one aiming. This is a promising idea for an MMO, but the afore mentioned lag can make this frustrating sometimes. This is something that will only get better with time and server updates.

The User Interface is one of the better setups I've seen in a video game. Any display or window can be dragged and re-sized plus the transparency can be modified for each. Windows can be minimized if they get in your way. There isn't any support for 3rd party mods but the UI seems fairly well equipped if a little bit crowded.

There are several PvP (player versus player) zones marked on your map, so avoid wandering into those areas unless you have plenty of first aid kits and can move quickly, otherwise have a good gun. If you get killed by a player, you never leave a lootable corpse so you'll never have to worry about losing anything to other players. Being successful at PvP in Fallen Earth garners more than just bragging rights- certain merchants will open up their “special” cabinets for the player with a high Death Toll ranking.

Once your character is high enough level (level 13-17) you should go northward into Sector 2, because up there you have six factions fighting for control of the towns and players are the ones making it all happen. The dynamics of how towns change hands between competing factions is complicated, but let it suffice to say that the dynamics make sense. You gain a faction's trust by performing missions for it, but you also anger the opposing faction. There's a special window that displays all your ratings with each faction. A character's allegiance to a particular faction can fluctuate depending on what missions they complete and for whom. The game was fairly fun in the newbie zone of Sector 1, but in Sector 2 only a jaded gamer wouldn't have a blast.

GRAPHICS – 4

In the starting levels at least, the player has to often travel across vast deserts between towns. This is when most people might notice how distant desert scrub suddenly appears from nowhere. This sudden and close graphic “draw-in” was a huge downer for me when it also happened when I approched trees and buildings. I felt like I was in 2003 all of a sudden and playing “Shadowbane”. The mountains look great except for strange “flickering” graphic bug, and being able to travel all the way there is something I look for in video games. The trip to the horizon can be a little bit depressing, though: why don't distant objects fade in or use fog? Those things have been in games for a long time, why aren't they in this? Maybe they'll patch it.



Combat is completely bloodless making Fallen Earth the most gore-free M-rated game I have ever played. Dead enemies ragdoll to the ground instead of running a death animation, which I like because seeing the same death animation six billion times can be trying on one's desire to continue playing. Critical hits on enemies will knock them many yards away, sometimes straight up. Is that a bug, just latency or is it designed that way? No matter what it is, when it happens it's sheer comedy.

The character models, the building textures, all of it looks great but it also appears to be very sparse. There isn't enough chaos in the level design for my subconsciousness to buy the experience as real (i.e. it “looks” boring). Don't get me wrong, the game itself isn't boring at all, it just looks like it's missing something. I understand that you need to limit polygon count to speed the frame rate, but there's lots of little things that add up to one big thing- there isn't enough variety of plants; all the telephone poles are perfectly straight (except in Sector 3); no footprints in sand; no dust effects (I saw a giant mutant prairie chicken kicking up dust when I was level 1, but not since), and no weather effects aside from the sun rising and setting. Most the graphic effects I've taken for granted in video games for the last several years are missing, strange that it doesn't irk me as much as it should. Fallen Earth seems to be more about the gameplay and not the window dressing, which is fine (and common) for a game from an independent developer.

SOUND – 3

If the music from Fallen Earth were to be published as a CD or on iTunes, I'd buy it. It has a few instruments I haven't heard very often in video game compositions such as acoustic guitar on one track and piano on another. All the music fits in well with the environment it accompanies, but there are a few tracks that are way too over-the-top to be background music, more like the end credits for a film. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, there's a bug that makes the music (if enabled) play random tracks at random times. Maybe this isn't a “bug” but a feature. The music itself is good enough to increase the “sound” rating for this review three whole points.



The game is otherwise mostly silent. If you want to hear more sound, move around and your footsteps will make sound corresponding to the surface you're walking on. However, enemies approaching behind you will be like ninjas until they strike. I have the “ambient” slider in Fallen Earth's sound options on 100% and all I hear is amp hiss from my speakers. I had better success with headphones though, but everything still sounds too unobtrusive and not “ferocious” enough. I'm not sure how you can quantify ferocity into footsteps, but that's what audio engineers go to school for.

Overall, the game sounds like it looks: sparse.

FINAL THOUGHTS

The ultimate question for a gamer is “should I purchase this?” At this point, I'd say any money expended on this title should be thought of as an investment. The lag is slowly dissipating and server/client updates are pretty frequent. I think there will be many interesting things in store for subscribers in the future, but there are many fairly minor glitches that need to be fixed before the consumer can get their full money's worth. This game requires a fairly good system to run (Intel dual core 1.8 GHz or Athlon 2.4 GHz, 2 GB motherboard RAM, 256 MB graphics card) so make sure your system meets the minimum requirements before you purchase. But the real question is “is it fun?”. Yes it is, but the standard MMO grind can start to be felt just before entering Sector 2, at which time the gameplay changes drastically for the better. Fallen Earth is dynamic enough that any player can always find something to do and is rarely bored.

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Kevin (8 years ago) Reply

I tried this one out for a while. I think if you want a post-apocalyptic MMO you're still better off playing Anarchy Online or even Neocron. Other than that, I'd stick with Fallout 3 and S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Call of Pripyat until a good MMO developer takes the genre seriously again.

I don't give any added leeway just because the company is independent considering they charge the same price per month as MMORPGs that cost 20-50x more to develop.

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bad dog (8 years ago) Reply

No way will I pay an ongoing monthly fee after shelling out $50 for a game: In this case, if I play the game for say two years, the total cost of purchase is $395 + tax. Uh, no thanks. Instead I could buy L4D for $30, L4D2 for $50--jeez, you can get Killing Floor for just $10, Rainbow 6 Las Vegas 2 for $10 and get many hours of gameplay that is just as good or better for a fraction of the cost. What am I missing?

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uncleB (8 years ago) Reply

I have to agree with the above post. You can get so much more for your money. The game does look promising though and the concept seems prety good. I still think something like Fallout 3 would probably be a better purchase. Also it seems like alot of douche bags frequent these MMO's.

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Anonymous (8 years ago) Reply

gameplay sucks, it's a shooter disguised as an RPG. don't fall for it, it's a trap!

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trogen (8 years ago) Reply

its my opinion that anyone who plays pay monthly games has given up on 'real' life and has turned to a pretend one behind a monitor... lol@u

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wolfeyes (8 years ago) Reply

Great review, anglebender! Thanks, I was wondering about this one.

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Zederok (8 years ago) Reply

LoL at scrubs who think paying $15.00 a month for a sub is stupid. What you morons fail to realize is that when you play a MMO subscription you are more then likely putting all your free gaming time into ONE GAME. Releasing you of the desire to pay $50.00 or more a month on single player games since the replayablity factor of those suck. MMO's are money saving time investments that pay off over the long haul.

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uncleB (8 years ago) Reply

like i said look at the above

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bad dog (8 years ago) Reply

LMAO @ Zederok. Um, no. You don't pay $50 per month on single-player games. At least I don't. I paid $10 on Killing Floor and got tons of play out of it, and it's multiplayer, and you play with the same guys via the Steam community that you play L4D with (and got for $40), and so on. And no ripoff $15/month required. But if you want to pay $180 per year on ongoing charges for a single game, knock yourself out. Just don't sell it as a great use of money.

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Anonymous (7 years ago) Reply

Don't trash it. But if you want to comment say something about the game. I happen to enjoy this game. It's awesome.

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(6 years ago) Reply

I played this game for a bit when it first came out, at the time it was buggy as all hell and had the most terrible lag. Now a few years later, I noticed it being F2P and decided I'd give it another go. Here's to hoping the second time around is better then the first.


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