The End Times: Post-apocalyptic sandbox or just another quest grind?

Syp, of Bio Break, wrote a great post about why you shouldn’t play Fallen Earth a couple of days ago. Syp is a big FE-fan, but he still manages to see the faults, for which I applaud him. And while I love Fallen Earth as well, more and more cracks are starting to show in the otherwise so lovely (in a barren, post-apocalyptic sense) facade.

I call it...mister Pointy.

I call it...mister Pointy.

I’m still sticking with what I said about immersion – Fallen Earth does such a great job when it comes to that. I am also having a lot of fun questing, fighting, harvesting and crafting. After all, who doesn’t love wearing a top hat while stabbing things to death with a pointy stick? I did have a head towel that had better stats on it, but seriously, there was no way I could stay away from the top hat. I look awesome, especially wearing my sunglasses. Killing coyotes or bandits never looked this good before.

But I can’t help thinking that I’m forgiving Fallen Earth for sins that I’ve blamed other MMOs of doing. While I am having fun playing it, I wonder if certain design choices that Icarus Studios have made that are just as damning here as they are in other games. So, I thought I’d take a look at things that are already in place, but which I personally hope will get fixed/changed before they make me burn out prematurely.

First of all, the crafting versus the economy. The crafting in Fallen Earth is deep, it’s immersive and it’s most of all fun. You can craft more or less everything, there’s a bigger chance that you will be wearing your own crafted equipment over anything you pick up from doing quests or loot from mobs. Early in the game, everyone can craft more or less anything – it’s just about salvaging (or buying) the materials and picking up the skill books and you are away.

That means that the economy is more or less shot right now. It might be better when more and more people level up, since you need to cap both intelligence and perception to be able to craft the most advanced stuff, but it’s not certain it will help. I’ve been crafting quite a lot and I haven’t been to the auction house once. It doesn’t feel like there’s much of a point, except for being lazy. Also, capping out the two stats needed for crafting costs a lot of ability points, which means you can’t put them into ranged combat, which might mean you end up at a disadvantage in PvP. Which leads on to the next point…

The end-game in Fallen Earth seems to be all about PvP. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing. I like PvP, when it is well-designed. There are a few problems with Fallen Earth PvP, though, which are easily identifiable even at my low level. For example, there’s the capstone abilities, which you can only get by capping a skill and a faction. This can lead to the common balancing issues which has plagued other MMOs for years. There’s of course melee vs ranged, which also runs the risk of going through the good old nerf/buff-dance. And there’s the whole problem of not offering anything else.

Is it viable to stay a crafter? Can I make a career in the game as one and still have fun? Will I always feel like I’m missing out because I didn’t put my APs into the “right” skills? Do I have to break my immersion and go “grind the wheel” (as grinding through all the factions for maximum AP-gain is called) to be competitive? Do I just have to accept the fact that I will get smacked around a lot, without the chance of dealing out any pain in return? What happened to the “no classes”-design that is supposed to be such a large part of Fallen Earth?

Some have called Fallen Earth a sandbox game. But is it sandbox enough to allow for a wide range of playing styles or is it actually just another PvP-game, just like Aion or Warhammer Online? Which brings me to my final point, which is actually more of a question…

The sand is radioactive, of course.

The sand is radioactive, of course.

Is Fallen Earth a sandbox game at all? Since day one, I’ve heard people calling it a sandbox. The more I play, the more I wonder if that’s actually the case. While I’m still in Sector 1, and is still only low-level, as it stands right now, it’s looking more and more to be designed as a typical quest grind, with a PvP end-game waiting. More sectors will be added to the Grand Canyon, but will they be any different and not just offer new quests and raised level caps?

I am afraid that I might just be dazzled by the fresh new setting, the immersion and the crafting system. The problem is, I am not sure that I want to go through another long quest grind just to find myself at the top of the world, a world consisting of either waiting for more levels to grind or PvP I might not even be able to compete in. With no danger to the gear you go out to fight in, will crafting be a viable way to make a career, as it should be in a sandbox game?

I sound like a broken record at times, but I can’t help looking at Ryzom, where crafting is a must for the game (and the quid pro quo economy) to function – stuff breaks and needs to be replaced, which means that the crafters are in high demand. Also, the way the recipes work in that game, two pieces of armor that has the same quality might have completely different stats, depending on what materials the crafter used. It creates a game where crafting is important while being deep, while in Fallen Earth it feels like something everyone is doing anyway.

Also, the whole “Fallen Earth doesn’t have classes”-mantra doesn’t really hold up in this light. While you might be able to build a character to your liking, with the game focusing so much on PvP and since you always run the risk of missing out on the powerful capstone abilities, the question is if it is viable to go your own path or if you’ll just end up gimping yourself completely. Respeccs, when they are introduced, will be limited – we know as much. So you might end up gimped, with no choice but to reroll. Awesome!

Of course, these points might actually be completely unfounded. They might also be 100% true and be addressed by Icarus in the future . Patches are being released at an impressive speed and I applaud the work they are doing on the game. But from where I stand right now, I might not keep my sub up until I know certain issues have been looked at or explained by the devs.

Either way, I doubt I will be playing much Fallen Earth over the next couple of weeks. I don’t have a lot of time to play as it stands and there’s no way I will be out of Sector 1 before the first couple of thousand trial keys start going out. I have no clue why the devs are pulling this now – the game seems to be selling well, actually more than the servers can handle. Embry Crossroads are a pain to navigate through as it is, so I have to ask how well-planned this publicity stunt is.

I love Fallen Earth, absolutely. I would love to keep my sub running in order to support another indie developer. But if the trial key experiment turns out as catastrophic as I fear it will, and if the end-game isn’t really thought through, I am not sure that I will.

Oh, and feel free to prove me wrong in the comments.

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  1. Scopique says:

    I’m not going to try and prove you wrong. You make some decent points that I neglected to consider, especially concerning the crafter-economy and crafter-pvp links.

    As for being a true sandbox, I think that it is. With something like WoW, combat is IT. You MUST quest, which involves combat, period, or else you won’t progress. When a game offers the ability to play for hours, days or months without entering combat, or allows you to progress through non-combat actions, THAT is a sandbox because it gives you options. More games need to feature this.

  2. Blue Kae says:

    I don’t feel that I played FE enough to say it is or is not a sandbox, but I can tell you what criteria I would apply. Are you provided goals or do you have to make your own? In Eve, I have to come up with my own activities. I may be trying to hit a certain balance of ISK, train and fly a certain kind of ship, build a business as an industrialist, pirate, or claim a system in 0.0. There is very little in the game that directs you to one goal over another.

    From the sound of the sector layout and the PvP end-game focus, FE sounds like a hybrid of Warhammer and Eve.

  3. Petter says:

    @Scopique – yes, you do get XP from crafting, but it’s a rather tiny amount, even though I have at some point pushed through to another AP-gain from it. At the same time, with the economy looking the way it is, do you think there’s a way for a crafter to get the materials he/she needs without leaving town? The way I understood it, the AH is currently stocked with materials that are all way overpriced, meaning the end result won’t be worth it. I can be wrong.

    @Blue Kae – I think the hybrid-likeness is a good one, even though I do believe that the way the game currently stands, it’s more of Warhammer with a much, much better crafting system. If the economy gets better, we might start seeing more Eve-like tendencies.

    And who knows? At some point, with more and more people at level cap, we might start seeing politics, alliances and other groups fighting for supremacy over the conflict towns. I really hope we will, since that could potentially lead to FE standing on its own like a true sandbox.

  4. Fuzzy says:

    EVE Online has many career paths that are well-developed. You could explore and look for wormholes, get into crafting and try to corner a piece of the market, run missions with various agents, run a courier service (or not, since you’ll probably be scammed 90% of the time), harvest minerals in far-off corners of space, or join a corporation and take part in the massive war effort that is 0.0 space. The important thing is that there is no one general path for you to take, and each path is equally rewarding in its own way.

    Fallen Earth doesn’t go that far in its sandboxiness. Crafting is certainly an option (although leveling solely from crafting can be a challenge), but there is this inexorable northern push towards the latter sectors that you can’t really ignore due to all the quests and the experience/AP/plot development you gain from them.

    This is a bunch of theorizing on my part, but one way to gauge the sandboxiness (it is a term, I swear!) is to trace the paths of every character on the server. In Fallen Earth, you’ll probably see a concentrated mass heading in a northerly direction – my guess is that’s it’s in the northern half of S1 or the beginning part of S2. When I started the game 2 weeks ago in Midway, the place was packed and scrap nodes were hard to come by. When I came back last night (en route to Odenville, since I needed geological chemicals for gunpowder), the place was nearly deserted. Same with Clinton FARM and Odenville – a few people, but the hustle and bustle is definitely gone.

    For EVE, you’ll probably find an equal number of people in both Empire space and 0.0 space, with no general trend showing up within those two sectors. You can take two random mission runners/miners/explorers/crafters and there’s a good chance their paths will run vastly different courses. There may be some popular agents/asteroid belts/wormhole areas/trade hubs, but you are never guided down that path by the game itself.

    However, what Fallen Earth does have to offer is an immersive world rich with RP opportunities. Not everything in the world has an in-game purpose, and oddly enough that makes things more interesting. That structure in the horizon could either be a Blade Dancer mountain outpost with a few goodies inside or an abandoned post with nothing but a still-burning campfire. (true stories!) While I’ve never RP’d before, I’m actually entertaining the possibility now in Fallen Earth, something I’ve never really considered in previous games.

    Whether or not this is nothing but “that new MMO smell” that comes from exploring an un-wiki’d frontier remains to be seen.

  5. Blue Kae says:

    The biggest difference between the Eve and FE economy that I’m aware of is there’s no item wear in FE. Eve doesn’t actually have it either, but need for new ships, modules, and ammo is driven by losses in PvP (and missions). For crafting to really take off in a game, there needs to be a good cycle of supply and demand. Without item wear or some way to take equipment and items out of the game, I don’t see how Fallen Earth can have an economy like Eve does.

  6. Petter says:

    Fuzzy – good point on the spread of players. In EVE, people push out in all directions, while in most other games they push in only one. And you are very correct on the RP-friendliness of FE. Sadly, I came to MMOs because of the RP and had it totally ruined during my days on a RP-server in WoW. But good to see that you are interested, it’s a fun way to play.

    @Blue – indeed, there’s no supply or demand in FE right now. Hopefully, that will change in later sectors, as only the ones that went for Int/Per will be able to craft the high-end stuff. Also, faction comes into play here. It might get the gears of the economy moving, at least a bit.

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