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Fallen Earth (PC) artwork

Fallen Earth (PC) review

"Easily dismissed at first glance as a Massively Multiplayer Fallout clone, no simple comparison can really do Fallen Earth justice."

Fallen Earth, the debut MMO from Icarus Studios, has always had a rather unfortunate handicap to overcome. Easily dismissed at first glance as a Massively Multiplayer Fallout clone, no simple comparison can really do the game justice.

Fallen Earth is a game with an atmosphere all its own, despite sharing a setting with a certain other post-apocalyptic series. Where the wastelands of Washington DC were desolate and grimy, Fallen Earth brings tribal communities and their settlements to the forefront. These towns act as quest hubs and gathering places for players and serve to carve Fallen Earth's niche strongly out of the post-apocalyptic mold.

The near-future world of Fallen Earth has been rampaged by the Shiva virus and a subsequent nuclear war. There's a lot of detail, but all that really matters is that LifeNet - a subsidiary of a suitably evil corporation called GlobalTech - has developed a way to clone human beings to help rebuild life as we once knew it. Good thing for us, because we get to play the clones!

Character creation in Fallen Earth is full of facial tattoos and more piercing options than pre-generated faces. It's that kind of game. Right away I was reminded of Eve Online, a comparison that would stick (for better or worse) for the rest of my time with Fallen Earth. After you've made your clone you get thrown into a brief tutorial and introduced to the basic gameplay mechanics of Fallen Earth.

Icarus Studios made a noble attempt to mate shooter mechanics with an MMO here, but I don't think it works well enough. Any time you mix player skill with random chance, you're going to get a lot of equally mixed reactions. Take Fallen Earth's rewarding of shots to the enemy's head with a critical hit as an example. On one hand, I feel like I'm playing well because I'm shooting my enemy in a small target area while he's running around like a madman. On the other hand, I just unloaded a dozen bullets into some bandit's face and he didn't die. I am clearly not playing a shooter (because that bandit would be dead) and clearly not playing an MMO (because why would I have to worry about aim?), but I'm encountering pitfalls of both.

Even controlling the combat can be a bit of a chore. I constantly found myself forgetting I had a hotbar with skills I could use simply because it took me out of the flow of combat to consider using them. My eyes are on the crosshairs and my hands are on W-A-S-D and my mouse; it seems very counter-intuitive to have to look down at my skills and then use my movement fingers to use my special attacks. It's not a bad system by design, but it can be very disorienting, especially if you've played other shooters or MMOs recently.

Fortunately, Fallen Earth has plenty of other things to suck players in. The quests are well-written and numerous, if a bit standard by design. There are plenty of postal delivery and "kill x monster" quests to go around, but the real star is the dialogue and presentation. It's rare that I will read so much quest text in any game, much less an MMO, and the quality of the content is clear.

It's not just entertaining by presentation, either. Fallen Earth is hard! Players looking for a bit more challenge in their MMOs need look no further. The content itself is one thing, but the time investment and required knowledge are another entirely. Fallen Earth is an experience best approached cautiously. There are no respecs, the leveling curve is slow, and it's very easy to create a sub-optimal character from the very start.

If that isn't challenging enough, there are ten tradeskills and a ludicrously large amount of recipes for you to sink your time and teeth into. It's definitely worth the investment, especially if you decide to use firearms in combat. Players either have to craft or buy all of their ammo and you will soon find yourself penniless if you don't spend some time with the professions.

When it finally comes time to level up, Fallen Earth has no classes, instead opting for a hybridized skill & level-based advancement system that lets players pick which stats and skills advance with each level. In addition to the shared basic abilities, there are both Faction-based skills and Mutations that you can use to further customize your character. In theory, this allows for a lot of variety, but in practice it seems to lead to a lot of min-maxing and balancing problems.

You may have noticed that I seem to balance every bit of praise with a new criticism. Fallen Earth is a game of dualities. It's immediately comparable to Fallout and yet very different. It's a shooter-hybridized MMO. It's a very good game that can burn you with its inaccessibility. It's a game that you simply cannot play half-heartedly, though it's tremendously fun in short bursts.

In the end, Fallen Earth is something that every fan of the post-apocalyptic setting, shooters, and massively multiplayer gaming should try. Even if you don't like it, chances are you'll recognize uniqueness of the experience and the quality of the world Icarus has created.


frankaustin's avatar
Freelance review by Frank Austin (November 20, 2009)

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