First Impressions: Mutations and mayhem in a dark, but not-too-distant, future
The world as we know it is no more. A virus wiped out ninety percent of the population and then the survivors turned on one another, first blaming each other and then fighting for a place to start life over again. People gravitated toward resources and places where they could depend on each other for security and company. The resources didn't go to far, though, and now people fight for them, spliting themselves into groups along ideological and social boundaries. Life has become a choice between bad and worse: give someone a black eye, break their arm, steal what you need, or have it done to you.
That's the future as defined by Fallen Earth, an MMO currently in production at Icarus Studios. The virus is called Shiva and it spread through the Far East and into Europe and the Americas, followed by full-on nuclear exchanges as fearful governments tried to protect their citizens and punish the people they considered responsible. By the middle of the 22nd century, Shiva has mutated into a non-lethal form, the radiation has begun to subside, and humanity has begun looking for a new equilibrium. In the Grand Canyon-Hoover Dam area, six factions vie for control of people, land and resources. The Enforcers are remnants of law and military forces that populated the area before the Fall. They have great weaponry and are bent on restoring the old society. The Vistas are descendants of a local environmental group now turned guerrillas, farmers, and craftsmen. The tend to get riled up any time they hear about technology that damages the environment. The CHOTA?Children of the Apocalypse?want to destroy every last remnant of the pre-Fall world. Shiva has changed their DNA to make them big, brawny raiders and thugs that no one in the desert wants to pick a fight with.
All survivors have been marked by Shiva's passing, though the mutations show up differently in different factions and each faction will favor just a few of the ten mutation paths included in the game. The Lightbearers favor mutations just as much as the CHOTA, although theirs is a philosophy of ?moderation and light? that leans towards healing, defense, and instruction. They're spiritual guides, martial artists, and doctors who believe mutants offer a better future for humankind. It's tough to argue with them on this point, since mutations give a variety of abilities ranging from telepathy and healing to manipulation of nano-technology. And patho-transmission is an attack mutation that allows the user to infect others with damaging viruses. The Enforcers, though, don't believe in mutations--the only one the faction uses actually suppresses mutations in others. Each of the ten mutation paths offers a cluster of related abilities that can be learned and improved over time.
Factions and mutations are linked, but player characters enter the game fresh from the cloning vats, without an allegiance to any one faction. They're free agents at first, able to get neutral missions and faction missions as they learn about the different factions and sub-factions. Anyone who completes a faction-associated mission will earn reputation points with that group while losing points with rivals. For instance, anyone who completes a mission with the mercenary Travelers will lose points with their rivals the Vistas. And since the Travelers are more or less a bunch of thugs looking for profit outside the boundaries of the law, their allies will really lose points with the Enforcers. Each faction has its own storyline, equipment, and specialties, so a player who allies herself with one group will have a different game experience from players in other groups.
Joining a faction isn't required, though, since there are plenty of non faction-specific missions scattered around the seven thousand square kilometers of Fallen Earth terrain. Anyone who gets out and explores the nooks and crannies of that landscape will find all kinds of one-off missions and unusual experiences. But faction life seems to be at the core of the gameplay, and it's fully integrated into things like the PvP system. Of course there are the usual PvP arenas with single and team combat, but some faction missions call for PvP by handing out goals like ?kill 5 members of faction Y.? And at times, a faction may need a vital oil refinery or other resource held by rivals who don't want to share, resulting in a deadly contest of ?king of the hill.? Finally, the ?conflict towns? present in every sector will serve as sites for a huge amount of the PvP.
The huge area of Fallen Earth is divided into sectors, and each sector will have about twenty towns, each with its own population and missions. Some towns belong to individual factions, some are neutral, and each sector has a barter town where players can buy and sell goods. Every sector also has five to eight conflict towns that start out neutral, but can end up belonging to a faction based on player participation. At first, a conflict town has missions for everyone, regardless of faction affiliation, but factions gain influence based on member activity there, and when the activity reaches a threshold, one faction can occupy the town. All local guards become members of the controlling faction, and it can get really dangerous for rival factions. Town inhabitants remain aligned with the owning faction until another group carries out enough town missions or pulls off a successful, large-scale raid.
As important as faction-related action will be, the individual isn't ignored in Fallen Earth, and players will have a lot of options as to how they'll customize their characters. When they create a character, players will be able to choose from different faces, hair, and skin tones, and during play they'll find, buy, or make thousands of variations on clothing, tattoos and other items. One thing players won't do is choose a class. There are no character classes or races in Fallen Earth?everyone is human and players develop the skills they choose as they level up. With each new level, characters earn advancement points that can be spent on learning or improving skills, attributes, and mutations. There are ten skills that, on top of the standards like melee, pistol and rifle, include Armor Use, Group Tactics, and Stealth.
On the other hand, Tradeskills advance via learning and practice. Players have access to eleven different tradeskill areas, with some limits according to faction alignments. Factions are important in skills because they can provide the training a player needs to learn a particular skill. Tradeskills provide the crafting element of Fallen Earth, and they'll encourage interaction between players and factions, since no one person will be able to master all the possible skills. For instance, the Tech faction focuses on crafting and research of new technology. They also run the University at Dawson Hill, where they teach crafting skills to their members and allies.
The crafting system stands out because items will require real time in order to craft. So if it takes a few hours or days to make an item, that's how long it takes in real time. Fortunately, though, you can carry out missions or do other things while you're waiting?you won't spend those hours of in-game time actively working on crafting. It'll be possible to even queue items for crafting, log out of the game, and find them complete when you log back in. Crafting also offers a side bonus: characters earn experience points by crafting, especially if they're building a challenging item. Some of the crafting Tradeskills include ballistics, armorcraft, cooking, teaching, and genetics. It'll even be possible to craft a vehicle, though it will require a significant investment in time and resources.