So, what am I missing?

I have to conclude I’m either missing things, or doing them terribly wrong. Just to give it a fairer shake (and to keep Psychochild from hitting me below the belt) I went ahead and grabbed a trial key for Fallen Earth. I didn’t think it twice when I saw them available because, one, that was one of my original semi-complaints -the lack of a trial- and two, it wouldn’t be the first time I had to eat crow about a game I originally disliked for whatever reason and ended up winning me over big time. I don’t mind being proven wrong if I end up with a good game.

Problem is, it’s not really clicking. In fact, something funny happened; my original complaints about the visuals, while not entirely invalidated after judging the game “the way it’s meant to be judged”(tm), have been lessened. While the rest of the stuff in the game, which I had no way of experiencing from mere screenshots and which I had assumed to be good because of comments from a lot people whose opinion I value, ended up being quite the disappointment.

Let’s go piece by piece, like Jack the Ripper:

First off, the visuals which I had heavily criticized. Are the visuals in motion, environments and the whole shebang better than what you can glean from the official screenshots? Yes, no doubt. The people who told me not to go strictly by shots and try the game to evaluate them properly, were they right? Without a doubt. But are the visuals -that- much better? Honestly? No, not that much better. Better than what I had initially given them credit for, sure, no doubt. But I don’t think it’s -that- much of an improvement.

In any case, my original judgment based on screenshots was technically -wrong- (the best kind of wrong there is), but to be perfectly honest, wasn’t far off the mark either. Environments, wearables, scenery, models… they all look and feel plain, repetitive and unengaging. I’ve rarely seen a game which is so afraid of color and intensity in its art like this one.

So I was pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong, and doubly-pleasantly reassured that I wasn’t that far off initially. So far, so good. Moving on, this trial was also a nice little excuse to sample all the stuff everyone else had been raving about, a.k.a “the rest of the game”. That… didn’t go so well. In fact, the disconnect between what I had been hearing about some parts of this game, all the raving comments, and what I actually got to play and was in front of me was so large that it prompted me to post this. I surely must be missing something, otherwise the disconnect is too big and I have to conclude everyone else is just doing LSD.

In no order of importance:

– Maybe it’s me, my setup, my configuration or what have you, but my avatar is -constantly- slightly pushed off center on screen. Slightly to the left. -Just- enough so I can notice it all the time. It drives me absolutely off the wall. Whether this is a bug, something that happens only to me for whatever reason, or this is done on purpose I absolutely despise it.

– The animation when your avatar runs diagonally is tragically awkward. The jumping visuals are ridiculously stiff too, but that’s par for the course in games it seems. The whole visual representation and feel of the process of jumping is just awkward.

+ It’s nice to be able to access personal transportation (horsie) early one. Kudos there.

– Yeah, you can see for miles and miles, but it’s miles and miles of naked and utterly boring terrain in shades of brown and cream.

– The two starting areas I’ve tried look essentially the same: Uninteresting, run down locales placed in a terrain that visually looks the same. The only difference being more or less variably different structures around, and more or less players gliding around you. The areas are different enough so you -know- you’re in a different place, but barely. Just there. Throw sticks and stones at me if you have to, I don’t care, but for example coming from the difference between starting near Stormwind or near Darnassus (huge visual difference), the difference between starting near Bree or near Thorin’s Hall (huge visual difference), the difference between starting in Shing Jea or near Kamadan (huge visual difference)… and then coming to this utterly meaningless visual difference between starting in Clinton Farm and Zanesville is quite an awful shock.

– The much celebrated crafting system. I found it more cumbersome than anything. I’m sure it’s deep, in the sense that I’m positive there’s a zillion things to craft. Bully for the system. But it’s awkward and not really very intuitive. And buggy. In the short time I spent with it, I had one cooking quest which asked me to cook some radish, I had all the ingredients for it, I was right next to the cooking location, but it wouldn’t let me. Even tried logging in and out, nothing. Stopped for the night, went to bed, picked it up again this morning and behold, for some reason it let me. Great, maybe they fixed it overnight. Well, no… I rolled another character and ran into the same bug.

Bugs notwithstanding, I think the system aims for complexity but it falls short and remains squarely in complication. I haven’t found a way to see at a glance which items can be used for recipes and what is just trash. Maybe there is a way and I haven’t found it, maybe there isn’t and you can use everything you pick, so naturally you pick everything until you run our of room and go vendor stuff which potentially you might need later but you have no idea right now. It’s also exceedingly granular (which I guess it has to be if it holds a zillion items) but sometimes granularity taken to these extremes can be counterproductive. I think it’s quite silly that on top of the zillion items, and the apparent no way of telling if something is useful or not, you also have a hojillion books to buy to learn the bazillion minor incremental upgrades to your crafting abilities (such as there being a book to harvest reptiles, another to harvest insects and another to harvest animals, I think. Come on now).

I say this with a lot of love, really I do, but I think when people talk about this crafting system being one of the best, they should really start saying “It lets you craft a zillion items”. It’s not the same thing, and this crafting system isn’t the best by a long shot. It just lets you craft a lot of stuff, but the simplicity that should accompany something like this is killed by granularity. If your measure of a crafting system is how many items it lets you craft, then good for you. For people like me, having something that’s easy to use and actually provides some degree of fun is also important (we’re talking about crafting here, so any fun to be had will be lower case ‘f’ anyway. *dodges more sticks and stones*).

– Skills, stats, mutations, etc.: I have trouble trying to understand where one ends, the other begins and just what exactly governs what. And I’m a player with some experience. Granularity once again. Seems that everything affects a little bit of everything, and while that’s an interesting concept on paper, having to base your decisions and plans from a single pool of non-refundable APs is not exactly super. At least to me. Your mileage may vary.

– Combat is just plain atrocious. I don’t really know how to put it exactly. Clumsy. Unresponsive. Clunky. Incredibly poor feedback. Visually boring. Combat animations are not as tight as they should be. Hit distances are off, I was constantly being hit by enemies when they were visually too far away to hit. The biggest feedback you get when a hit lands is a tiny number scrolling up and maybe a grunting noise; there are no recoiling, blocking or jerking animations that I could see and I’ve always thought that was crucial. It doesn’t matter -how- you do it, but having a visual, timely and clear representation of hits and misses is essential to good feedback. As it is now, it’s two figures gliding around one another, exchanging combat animations which might be a second or half a second too early or too late, never quite knowing for sure when a hit actually connected. I could never find a good groove or rhythm to my combat actions, something which I’ve always found not to be a problem in other games.

Ranged combat is marginally better, and having an increased chance to miss if you fire while moving is a nice touch, but that crosshair is not as good as it should be and I had quite my fair share of stupid misses when you can tell visually the target was so close it was harder to miss than to hit.

Maybe it will get better at higher levels. Who knows.

– Way too many NPCs related to way too many tradeskills? I’ll just put that out there in case someone wants to pick it up. I don’t have an opinion one way or the other on this, but it does routinely confuse me as I’m not sure exactly who to talk to get what I want.

+ Quest texts I’ve come across ranged from above average to quite good, and little touches like the occasional ‘fuck’ and ‘shit’ during combat should be required from now on in games. All games.

+ The tutorial/intro portion in the Hoover Dam is nice, but except from the ATV part, it’s nothing that System Shock 2 or Deus Ex didn’t do one way or another over ten years ago. No need to get carried away for no reason, guys.

Overall: Awkward. Most things. Majorly. That’s the best way I can put it. I had an easier time and a gentler learning curve with EVE, ffs. So, help? Am I condemned to be unable to connect with this damn game? Or am I right and it just isn’t all that? I’m perfectly willing to chalk all this to me, but I wanna learn.

20 thoughts on “So, what am I missing?”

  1. I’m with you all the way. When I read these glowing reviews about it I feel like I’m just not in on the inside joke or something. I tried it for long enough to decide I really hated it, and every time I see someone fawning over it I wonder if they managed to download a version I somehow clicked the wrong link for.

  2. Borderlands may have a higher production quality but it’s still just as pointless with just over the top FPS action, mind numbing quests, with a random loot generator that’ll just feed the hamsters long enough till they can release the next paid expansion.

  3. (and to keep Psychochild from hitting me below the belt)

    I pummel because I care! ;) Now, behave and don’t me hit you again, baby.

    Seriously, though, at least you gave it a serious go and you explained out your reasons. I still think too many of them come down to “they didn’t take resources from some other part in the game to focus on visual elements that annoy me,” but you did give it an honest go and you explained your reasoning.

    You are so not getting a beta invite to any game I make, though. :P

  4. I just posted my extremely favorable reaction to my first day in Fallen Earth over on Keen and Graev’s blog, so I won’t rehash that here. Suffice to say I played all day yesterday and expect tobe playing all day today and tomorrow until I am forced to stop by having togo back to work on Tuesday.

    On some of your points, though…

    The look of the game from screenshots put me off, too. In game, though, I think it works brilliantly. Far from it all being dull and brown, it’s a very rich but subtle palette. I stopped loads of times to take screenshots because the view was just stunning (I imagine the shots won’t catch it, though, but when does that ever stop anyone taking holiday snaps?).

    I really like the character models and the gear. Great art direction on those, I think. I had no issues with the combat animations, which isn’t something Iever pay much attention to anyway. I have certainly seen much worse in other MMOs.

    I have so far seen two towns, about 5 minutes ride distant on a decent horse. They look no more like each other than two towns in the same area should look. One is a small town of two story clapboard buildings laid out on a grid, the other a rambling settlement with a big domed facility like the Eden Project. This isn’t high fantasy, after all. The kind of difference level that exists between Ironforge and Stormwind or Ak Anon and Felwithe would be ludicrous in such a small area.

    Some of your comments on crafting are just plain wrong. Every item you loot is clearly marked as tradeskill, if it is of any use. Vendor loot is unmarked. It’s written right there on the description when you mouseover, no guessing required. And you don’t even need to be near a crafting station to craft. You can craft anywhere, as it plainly tells you in the tutorial. Crafting stations just make it faster.

    As for the character being slightly off-center, I think that might just be you. If mine was, then I never noticed. I’ll look when I log in after breakfast.

    Whatever, this game is going to be a niche hit. And, like Eve, everyone else is going to go “I just don’t get it!”.

  5. The leftwards offset is definitely intentional. It still sets every voice of neuroticism and order screaming inside me, but it makes it easier to see what you’re aiming at from point blank range.

    I think the jumping feels how a non-acrobat parkour should jump, and that would be enough if they also allowed you to climb obstacles. Nevertheless, you can’t, so it would be nice if it wasn’t such a PITA.

    I honestly love the boring terrain that goes on for miles and miles. It’s believable that going from town to town takes significant lengths of time, even using a mount or vehicle, and a lot of it is plain and uninteresting. The other sectors are visibly different, but they’re separated by enough geographical distance that they don’t have the self-contained biosphere feeling that “zones” do. I’m tired of theme parks. To me, Fallen Earth is reminiscent of the *old* MMOs.

    Regarding tradeskills, yes, it’s very complicated. Yes, it can be buggy, but until those are fixed, relogging is an effective workaround for everything but bugged non-inventory quest clickables. The easiest way to sort crafting materials from trash is to make an inventory tab that only shows tradeskill items (or discludes trash). After a while you learn which item types are materials and which aren’t. There are a few equivalent materials, such as rebar, which counts as steel, but that’s listed in the tooltip, and the gross majority of materials go by generic names. The weakest part of the crafting system, that I’ve found, is the salvage mechanic, where you can disassemble any item you could make into materials. Generally, the quantity of items received is half what you could afford by vendoring the item and buying the materials.

    I’ll agree that the stat/skill system is too non-intuitive to not have any level of point reset. The only reason I haven’t restarted my character is that the developers have said they’ll be adding a limited respec. I do like the stat/skill associations, though, and that it lends some level of shape to the character based on your top two or three skill choices. The biggest problem with this is that higher level characters require mutations to be effective, but lower level characters have no idea what the mutation categories do without information from community sites or other players.

    Combat is, generally, too simple (especially since you get almost no variety in abilities until mutations in the 20’s). One gripe I have is using first-person is unquestionably better for hit-detection (and fixes most of those point-blank ranged weapon misses), but after the fight is painfully ugly to use gathering nodes with. Recoiling/blocking/jerking animations would be nice, but they’d be overriding attack animations that would be very frustrating not to see. If they mechanically stopped attacks, pistols would rule the field and PvP would be non-functional.

    Having a merchant for each tradeskill in its associated workshop would make more sense if they actually had all the commonly used and always-available materials of which their tradeskill made use. But botanical chemicals, for example, which are very commonly used by medicine, are never found on the medicine merchant, despite always being available on other vendors in town.

    The quest text and dialogue are probably the most understated upsides of the game. The NPCs express a wide variety of ideological motivations and personal details. Some of the quests, while not linearly related, build your knowledge of a situation slowly into a much greater story – the TETRAX quests in Sector 1, involving a rogue AI spewing zombie-like clones, are a good example of this. There are also frequent references to the position of the player as an initially untrusted, second-class citizen, which defuses the “too many heroes” problem. I’d much rather hear “Another clone? I suppose could use you…” than “You killed which dragon? Eh, I need seventeen wolf pancreata, chop-chop.”

    Personally, one of the most memorable concepts in the game so far are the mounts and vehicles. The requirement for feed or fuel is a nice touch. Their use as the primary extension of carrying capacity should be revolutionary. Their inability to fit into your pocket necessitates some logistical considerations for your most precious possession. These aspects are very immersive for me.

    All in all, I think the major draw is nostalgia. It’s awkward, gritty, and has mobiles that aren’t directly related to quests. A large part of it is pacing, since you have to do so many things just to keep the killing machine oiled. Keen made a post last week about Concentrated Actions in which he observes that the feeling of a game being a grind is largely derived from performing a very small number of actions for an extended period of time. Fallen Earth’s complications break up the travel/kill/loot cycle, creating a more diverse experience and reducing wearying factors in the gameplay.

  6. If I had to sum the game up in two words I’d go for: “pointless grinds”.

    I just couldn’t connect with anything outside of the tutorial during my beta play sessions. Nothing about the world made me care, and the crafting was tedious.

  7. The slightly off center character is standard in pretty much all 3rd person / over the shoulder FPS games these days.

    “The tutorial/intro portion in the Hoover Dam is nice, but except from the ATV part, it’s nothing that System Shock 2 or Deus Ex didn’t do one way or another over ten years ago. No need to get carried away for no reason, guys.”

    While its nice to point out that Single Player games have done it over a decade ago, the fact that most (all?) MMOs haven’t still makes this a very important step forward and *is*, in my opinion, something to get carried away with.

    Anyway, glad you tried it, sad you didn’t like it… but its always better to review something you’ve played than something you haven’t.

  8. I’m still giving it a go. I’m not done, and I plan to milk this trial for all it’s worth.

    There’s still this tiny candlelight inside me telling me to keep going, and maybe the clicking will be just around the next corner, but the harsh window of observable reality is open and the wind blows.

    I think Jezebeau up there got it right: A major draw of this thing is nostalgia. A lot of the games’ “complications” were your standard m.o. ten years ago, so when confronted with this there are basically two groups of gamers. The ones that say “Cool, hey, they’re doing it again”, and the ones who say “We call these things complications for very good reasons”.

    Count me squarely in the latter group.

    1. I don’t think it’s just complication, I think it’s the removal of EVERYTHING being streamlined towards the shiny that is so common in many of today’s MMOs. FE makes you ‘work’ for your rewards, and I think many among the older MMO playerbase enjoy that style of gaming.

  9. I think most of the “complications” are actually bugs, which will get cleaned up in time. Once you dispense with those, FE seems very much “easier” than any pre-WoW MMO I can think of.

    The similarities with MMOs of those days are cosmetic. FE has all the mod-cons we’ve come to expect and didn’t have then – radar, mini-maps, global maps, tabbed quest journals, automated, on-screen quest tracking, quest location finder, multiple, configurable chat channels, built-in VOIP etc etc.

    It’s no more old-school than any other post-WoW MMO as far as I can see. There’s no meaningful death penalty, you get a free mount at level 2, levelling is quest-based. Combat is almost mindlessly easy and very fast; at level 2, with absolutely minimal starter gear, my character could easily kill level 5 mobs and he could kill same-level mobs in two blows.

    If there’s nostalgia at play, it’s for the time when game designers treated players as intelligent adults, not for the old, restrictive gameplay that we’re well shot of.

  10. I don’t think you are missing anything. You are trying the game and finding it not to your liking. No problem there. Fallen Earth is not going to appeal to everyone. Perhaps not even most. At least you got a chance to try it without having to buy a box and that is all they should ask of you.

  11. I love reading honest reviews like this for games that I’m a fan of. It certainly isn’t for everyone as Ethic pointed out. At the risk of being long winded I’m going to give my train of thought two-cents on a few of the aspects mentioned.

    I rather like that it’s not pretty and shiny. The look of the terrain and general feel of the towns fits the setting perfectly. If it were high fantasy with multiple races steeped in lore and every place I traveled looked like it was popped out of a mold I’d be fairly put-off. Fallen Earth is most certainly none of the above. FE represents a scarce population with limited resources doing what they can to survive and aesthetics isn’t high on the menu. Also, as previously mentioned, things do diversify when you get beyond sector one. As factions become more prevalent you start to see the diversity of what those groups represent carried out in the architecture. It is a lot of sand and generally ramshackle structures but in a genre dominated by magical towers and clean, sprawling kingdoms it’s a nice change of pace.

    Jumping, in my opinion, feels clunky because running around and jumping is clunky. Run, jump, land and keep running…it’s not pretty. I do agree that it could look better and that it would be nice if the terrain was at least somewhat navigable by jumping. It currently serves no purpose but if you couldn’t jump people would be constantly asking why they can’t. If nothing else the current physics of jumping (which have actually improved since beta) keep people from running around in circles and jumping up and down like a flock of idiots and prevents people from “bunny hopping” in PvP.

    The only game I’ve ever played that had a crafting system I would describe as “amazing” is Second Life (which isn’t comparable as a “game” so I’m leaving that reference where it stands). Any praise I’d give to crafting in FE is built on one simple premise: The items you make are actually useful. Unlike most MMOs you don’t get fistfuls of gear from quests, farm dungeons for boss drops or find much of anything useful from looting mobs. Crafting is an integral part of the game and diluting it by making it a paint-by-numbers system that allows you to churn out 50 trivial hats in 5 minutes would make it completely pointless. In this case one person’s complication is another’s breath of fresh air.

    I’ve not experienced the mentioned non-responsiveness in combat unless you’re referring to the delay due to attack speed on melee weapons. As for hit detection, I’ve not experienced a problem with it in 1st person (though I never thought to attempt melee in 3rd person). The animations could certainly be more interesting and diverse but that’s not the sort of thing to make me go “eww” when playing a game. They’ve done plenty of animation updates since beta and combat anims have come up on the forums more than once so it’s possible they’ll come up with something down the line.

    The “pointless grind” thing can be cited with any game, it all depends on what motivates the player. Aion, pointless grind. WoW, pointless (raid)-grind. LotRO, pointless (faction)-grind…etc etc.

    I could go on but as a bottom line I appreciate all the little things that it seems others might consider a stopgap. Yes it has its share of problems and (insert “what game doesn’t” comment of choice) but overall the “inconvenient” non-linearity is what keeps me going.

    /end pointless wall-of-text grind

  12. I’ve been playing the game a bit, and so far I mostly like it. I see lots of other people have commented already, but here is my two cents:

    -I agree that the graphics aren’t as polished as in some other games, but they capture the setting. The game takes place in the American Southwest after an apocalypse, and that’s pretty much what it looks like. The color and variety of games like WoW wouldn’t be appropriate.

    -The crafting system works very well. Tradeskill-related items are clearly labeled as such. If you don’t know what an item is useful for, you can store it or sell it. There are a lot of tradeskill components, yes, but that’s because of the number of things you can craft. And crafted items are actually useful. I’ve not yet had to grind out useless items just to advance my level, as I have in many other games.

    -I agree that the skill system is not adequately documented and that the tutorial isn’t quite enough. Apparently the devs are working on improving the tutorial and adding respec opportunities. Other than that, I love the flexibility of the skill system, which allows you to create the type of character you want.

    -The game doesn’t feel grindy at all. There are tons and tons of quests of all different, including quests specifically for crafters. There are public quests and dungeons to run. If you get tired of questing, you can harvest, craft, or just roam around exploring the huge world. There is much more variety than in most other MMOs.

    I think the game has the same sort of appeal as EVE. It has a bit of a learning curve, but it gives you the freedom to make your own decisions, which is refreshing in today’s market. The polish will come in time.

  13. I was critical of your first FE post and you might have even been referring to my response in this post. I thought it fair to say I found this post to be excellent.

    1. Not really, Pendan. I wasn’t replying to anyone in particular, and if it looks like that it’s accidental.

      Glad you like it in any case. ;)

  14. Still playing. Slowly getting the hang of things.

    Things have been learned, some ways to navigate around the awkward parts have been found, but no way to truly eliminate them or ignore them.

    One big positive (for me) was my decision to reroll and try other starting areas. Enjoyed Midway and Mumford -way- more than Zanesville and Clinton Farm. Currently trying South Burb and doing alright.

    I wish to hell they would fix/redo the trading interface with NPCs. I also wish to hell there was an easy, fast and readily apparent way of telling trash items from tradeskill items without having to tooltip each one. Yeah, even if it’s 0.1s per tooltip, it adds. I also wish there was a way to just sell only the trash with one button. Having buyback from NPCs would be nice, but probably too much to ask (way too carebearish for the apocalypse, who knows).

    Got a grip with combat. Realized I was doing it the wrong way. I was trying to pay attention and respond to it. Found a better way: Tag your target from range, get your 1-2 shots in, switch to melee and just keep the button pressed, trying to track the idiot mob dancing around you. I’m not really using actions or mutations that much at all. It’s silly to have a 3s stun which is wasted because it registers 1s early or late and then the server catches up. Might as well call it the 1s stun.

    I’m not happy with combat, the original gripes are still there and not going away, but at least I found a way to skip all its bullshit. Most of the time at least.

    Overall: Feeling better, but not that much.

    1. Use the filters in your inventory. Anything in “other” (I think that is the trash tab – not in game to check) is trash. You won’t find much there.

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