Posted by: Eddie | September 13, 2009

Fallen Earth: A fun new “sandbox” mmo

Fallen Earth is a new MMO that is currently open for “Early Access” before it’s official launch on September 22nd. It has a post-apocalyptic setting reminiscent of the Fallout games, Wasteland, and others. The most common comparisons I’ve seen fans of the game make on its forums are to Eve and to Star Wars Galaxies before the much-reviled CU/NGE changes.

It’s also commonly described as a “sandbox” MMO because it has a looser, more free-form approach to progression in the game. In other words you don’t have strictly defined classes or skill trees that funnel you down a certain path as you advance your character. Instead, you receive “Advancement Points” (AP) that you can spend as you wish in any of a large number of skillsets. Everything from a wide variety of crafting and fighting skills, to “mutations” (the post-apocalyptic equivalent of magic) may be advanced through spending AP.

Your character does gain levels like other games, but you frequently get new AP granted between levels, and as a reward for completing certain quests. The maximum possible for each skill goes up with each level, but you also can raise the maximum possible skill by applying AP towards raising your related stats (e.g. raising Strength raises your max possible melee skill, raising Intelligence helps with crafting skills, etc.)

It all combines to make for a very rich set of paths for you to mix and match as you play with your character. Min/max type players will no doubt gravitate to a limited set of builds, but most others will find that they have a wide array of choices that will guarantee no two characters are exactly alike.

Unlike other sandbox MMOs, Fallen Earth still has a rich array of quests to be done, with storylines that are more interesting than usual. PVP is present in selected areas, but anyone not interested in it will find plenty to do, and won’t have to worry about being hassled by griefers or gankers (unless they want to.)

One interesting innovation is that you can fill a crafting queue, and it’s done “real time” as you go about your adventuring or other activities in the game. In other words your character doesn’t have to stand at some workshop or such in order to craft. Queue up the things you want to make, and then go do anything else you want. You can even log out of the game, and your crafting will continue at the same pace. This decision means alot more people will be crafting in Fallen Earth than other games, and you’ll have yet more places you’ll be tempted to drop some AP.

Right now all players are on one server. Icarus, the makers of Fallen Earth, have said that they are considering launching a full-PVP server as a separate option, and also have mentioned the possibility of an RP-oriented server in the future.

Overall the graphics are serviceable, with decent character customization upon initial creation. There is a very good array of clothing/armor choices later on, so even by 4th or 5th level you will find characters diverging even more in appearance. The world itself is a bit plain, but is very large, and has enough variety to keep it interesting. Roughly speaking, it’s like a much less cluttered Fallout 3. An in-game ‘Aliasing’ setting didn’t work for me, so I had to force it through the nVidia Control Panel, but once I did that the game world was much easier on the eyes.

There’s a bit of shadow flicker and other graphical anomalies, but for the most part things run well, with good framerates. The bottom line is that you have enough graphics to let you immerse yourself in the world, although you probably won’t be exclaiming in awe that often.

Music is well done, without being overly intrusive, and the UI works well. It doesn’t break new ground for the most part, but it does the job once you figure out a quirk or two. The tutorial also does a decent job, and from what I hear they’re working hard to make it even better before the official release, which is a good idea. Too many people form opinions very, very quickly, and having a smooth starting experience will help rope them in better.

The community is, for the most part, very friendly, and appears to be older than average when compared to most other MMOs. There’s the usual array of jerks to be found, but overall there’s not nearly the level of idiocy as is found in the general chat channels of WoW or other games. (Once again, EVE comes to mind, or perhaps EQ2).

So far the Early Access period has been quite successful when compared to the typical launch. (Or pre-launch if you want to be more exact.) Yes, there is lag to be found in crowded areas, and they’ve had to reboot the servers a handful of times in the last few days, but for the most part I and most other players have been able to play in the game for hours at a time. I do get the occasional CTD as well, especially in very crowded areas like Embry Crossroads, but so far this launch ranks up there with LOTRO for playability on initial release. For those who’ve already played Champions Online, I’d say the launch is comparable.

Overall, I’m having a great deal of fun in Fallen Earth, and can see myself playing this game for a long time to come. The developers have been communicative and show a great deal of energy and desire to make this game the best it can be. If they keep up the effort they are putting into it now, it should mature into a very compelling game that puts the major game studios to shame in terms of innovation and creativity. If you find the “sandbox” idea intriguing, or like the post-apocalyptic setting, then I strongly recommend you give it a try.

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