Fallen Earth is essentially Fallout: the MMORPG. But then in some key respects, it’s definitely not. Icarus Studios’ ambitious online roleplayer is a game suffering from an identity crisis.
In terms of setting, the Fallout series is an invaluable touchstone. Fallen Earth shares more than the first four letters of its name with the grand old gentleman of post-apocalyptic RPGs. Action takes place around a topographically correct Grand Canyon in a ruined vision of AD2156, populated by six factions, ranging from the religious Lightbringers to the anarchist (and excitingly coiffured) Children of the Apocalypse. With its muted world – a daring change from the wooded glades and primary colors of its MMO peers – it’s an intriguing prospect for those left cold by elves.
It’s a shame the wasteland doesn’t quite deliver its full potential. Chucked out into the wilds as a clone after a rushed introductory sequence, new players are provided with little more than a vague description of their chosen starting town. Wander into the wilds and you’ll find uninspiring countryside. Stymied visually by its decimated locale, Fallen Earth doesn’t inject enough drama into its landscape. One stretch of green-brown grass is identical to the next, and with few graphical flourishes beyond the ubiquitous ruined overpasses, treks to new locations soon become trudges, even with a mount.
The indistinct visuals could be forgiven if the action – dodging heinous mutants – was suitably tense. Unfortunately, Armageddon seems to have left survivors with severe myopia – only a few feet of distance is needed to avoid attack.
Combat is real-time and, bucking the MMO trend, relies largely on mouse ability, rather than stat calculations. It’s a refreshing decision, but the clunky game engine renders it frustrating, particularly during server lag. Ranged combat is acceptable, if stilted, but melee battles are weak. The vision of a dog-eat-dog future is ruined somewhat by two men taking turns to bonk each other on the head with pipes. Group combat is also hamstrung by this issue, despite a helpful and friendly community.
Fallen Earth’s key selling point is its crafting system – 95% of the game’s items are player made. Happily, the mechanics for creating these inventory pieces are strong. Regular skills are leveled with a typical experience system, but so-called trade skills are developed by repeated use. Our first character, Hugh Fearnley-Killingstall, became a dab hand in the kitchen, putting together a mean salad for sale to hungry NPCs. With mining, scavenging and hunting all viable means of getting by, it’s an intriguing prospect, but with no way to save favorite crafting combinations, creating anything – from cookie to shotgun – requires far too much clicking. Plus on higher resolutions, large portions of your time will be spent squinting at the unexplained lumps in your inventory.
Yet, despite its glaring errors, Fallen Earth remains oddly compelling. It hasn’t achieved its hugely ambitious aims, lacking the polish of the Fallout games, but there’s a kernel of underlying excitement beneath the engine and interface problems. Ever-evolving MMORPGs are tough to judge in their opening weeks. If Fallen Earth manages to sort its issues quickly, the interesting setting and sense of reward afforded by making your own way in its wasteland could draw in a dedicated player base. Until then, it’s an opportunity missed.
Oct 9, 2009