My problem was that I skipped the extended tutorial. How much tutoring could I possibly need? This was just another MMO, only this time wearing the togs of a Mad Max or Fallout universe. I'd been sat in my pants playing MMOs before this game was even a twinkle in the designer's imagination, and there was nothing, nothing, I couldn't figure out for myself. Right? Well, half right. I hadn't realised that the end of the extended tutorial delivered a free horse.
A mount at the end of the tutorial sequence! How many MMOs can boast that? None, as far as I knew, and so I padded away into the post-apocalyptic night, entirely unaware that my smugness would lead to suffering.
I barely paid that extended tutorial query a second thought as I paced about the starting town on foot, trying to find out why the food had been poisoned, and killing conveniently ghettoised local baddies. Everything seemed to be where I expected it. Dudes with quests littered the town, each crowned with a little biohazard symbol to signify their interactivity. It didn't take long to find a shop where I could trade in my loot for ammo and new trousers.
I was pleasantly surprised to see that levelling had been augmented with an "action point" system, in which you spend action points as you level (or save them up for later) which meant the XP grind was smoothed out with lots of smaller decisions about managing your skills and inventory. By the time I got to level five and was in a suitable condition to head out of the starting town to another nearby settlement to continue the larger quest-arc, I was rather enjoying myself.
I jogged down the town's craggy ramp, past the ruined airport, and out into the desert. After running for a while through desolate wilderness, and straying into a player-versus-player zone that gave me the jitters, I was passed by a man on a horse.
People on horseback and little quad-bikes had been appearing regularly as I'd explored my first shanty town of the apocalypse, and I'd not paid them much attention. After all, they were probably the same high level dudes that you see everywhere in other MMOs. But wait, this guy passing me in the desert was a lower level than me! I ran a bit further, past cacti and coyotes, slowly realising that the town just a few pixels across the map was actually miles away. As a pedestrian I was going to be on this journey for quite some time. I looked back at the rocky hillock from which I'd just come, and wondered if I should head back. Annoyed, I squeaked with indignation: "But I want a pony!"
Where to find a horse? I felt certain a long grind would lie ahead of me. Most games would demand a high ransom for such aspirational items as x-percent faster travel. Happily, there was a quick and convenient refuge, which was Fallen Earth's help chat channel. An astonishingly friendly and well-informed set of people were quick to diagnose that my problem was that I hadn't played the extended tutorial, before explaining that there were other ways of getting a horse. And so, having sold a load of loot and raised the chips (the game uses casino chips as cash) I was able to gather the appropriate ingredients and make a horse. Apocalypony, I call him. Thanks, help channel!
Let's rewind a bit. By the time I hit that extended tutorial option I'd already played through a substantial starting section of the game which teaches you about the world around you (looting corpses and so forth) as well as the rudiments of combat. This action-packed intro scenario also sets up the story of the shattered planet you're going to be riding forth into (assuming you get the horse), and your place in it as a clone. The central fiction is based around a clone vat system to which you are linked. Thanks to this cloning system you'll be able rise again if you die, unlike all the other normal people who inhabit Fallen Earth. As such you're both valuable, and anomalous, which I think is - like EVE's pod-pilots - a useful conceit to explain the immortality of players in an MMO.
That's not to say the world is without its dangers. It is, of course, teeming with encounters that will send you to the respawn tubes. Fallen Earth does allow you to fight a number of enemies in one go without too much trouble, as long as they're not much more than a level higher than yourself, and all the early encounters are easy, but it doesn't stay that way. Aberrant humans, rabid animals and mutants await as you delve further into the game.
Combat, which is first explained to you in that instanced tutorial adventure, is a not-that-great mix of real-time and stat-based. While it feels a lot like the standard timed combat that you see in most older MMOs, ranged combat does require you to shoot at your target directly, and to hit them. It's quite possible to miss if an enemy is moving, and the same goes for melee, in which you swing in real time, with damage being calculated by your skills and the weapon you choose to use.
This alone makes Fallen Earth a little more engaging to play than a batch of other MMOs I could mention, and the ability to choose between gunplay and close-quarters combat is brave, if not actually that dynamic or exciting. It's something of shame that enemies don't reward you with the same kind of diversity of behaviour. It tends to be little more than a single kind of attack, which you either have the hit points to absorb or not. That said, cover is "real" and you can run and hide from a sniper if you need to.
This clumsy hybrid of a combat model might not be perfect, but it does offer a portrait of the game as a whole. What I mean by that is that Fallen Earth isn't boasting up-to-date production values, or genuinely innovating within the MMO space, but it is trying to be its own game. This is not a clone, nor an attempt to be brutally commercial.
While it has some very real limitations - PvP is currently rather pointless, it's not particularly rewarding for team-based play, and the animation and other glossy elements leave much to be desired - it's a testament to the dedication of this small, independent team that they've managed to create something that is both firmly embedded within the MMO tradition, while at the same time feeling new. And it also feels honest: they've got a good idea about where they're going, and there's nothing cynical about what they've done so far.
(By contrast, I've felt that Cryptic's offerings since City Of Heroes have been very much More Of The Same, while Fallen Earth feels like More Of The Same, But Making An Effort To Be Different. Hell, go play the ten day trial and you'll see what I mean.)
The end game, it seems, will be one of PvP and very serious crafting. There's already a huge trade and production system apparent within the game, with players able to make everything from ammunition to mounts to armour. Books are available for your characters to learn this stuff, and then there's the collection of a whole range of different trade items and consumables. I can't recall a game that poured so much different material into my inventory in the first few hours, and it only seems to proliferate from there.
I imagine this is going to be an absolute goldmine for the trade and resource-minded player. It's not pretty, or framed with a good UI, or adequately explained, but it does hold a lot of promise. Combat-focused characters can settle for crafting their character via mutations: potent mutagenic alterations to your character that can make them hideously powerful in combat.
All this would probably been superfluous without competent world-building, and there's plenty of that here. The various settlements that are scattered across the game world each have their own character, despite the overall tone of the game being post-apocalyptic drabness. Nor is the game without a sense of scale. As I mentioned, having a mount is a really significant boon to travel. Even the first sector of the game is huge, and getting about on foot is improbably time-consuming.
Something I should note, because it's a minor detail but kind of wonderful, is that mounts are persistent objects in the world. You'll probably want to leave your horse to graze at the edge of town or mission location when you are getting your business sorted, because that way he'll stay out of danger, and possibly even recoup stamina as he rests.
Probably the most important thing for new players, however, is that Fallen Earth is positively dripping in quests. You'll end up setting some objectives for yourself in terms of crafting and getting hold of mounts and armour, but nor will you be without something to do in the game world. For a small MMO that has just started its journey, Fallen Earth remarkably rich in things to do.
Fallen Earth wasn't in great shape when it launched late last year, but it's rapidly improving. The next two planned patches (1.4 and 1.5) are intended to expand on that, with a new region, new PvP objectives, and genuine support for clans (which is rudimentary at present, and one of the main things holding this game back.) All in all this is a bold project, and one that I feel like we've been waiting for. Expectation is a trickster, and I have to admit that expected far less than I got from Fallen Earth. For something so apocalyptic, it feels like it's got a bright future ahead of it.
7 / 10