Sunday, February 28, 2016

Coming Soon: Orcix, Goblinix and Trollix

Well, that's about enough of Firefall for now. If it's still around next year (which I doubt) I'll look into it again. After finding a bugged mission, I chose to travel to another one only to find my aerial mode of transportation was bugged and everyone else knew it would get bugged because it's been bugged for some time. Then my character fell through the world, which was about the most exciting thing that happened to me since I came back. Meanwhile the crafting system still isn't in and won't be for... well, probably for however long it takes to fix the gliders too.

This is what happens when you blow your entire budget on redoing the same pointless cinematics ten times over.

But it's those cinematics I want to really talk about, or rather more generally Firefall's aesthetics. The bouncy crayon-box plastic doll look of Copacabana may not be for everyone but three years ago it certainly succeeded in declaring itself new and fresh among the endless re-iterations of elves and orcs cluttering RPGs. Not all that new, really, but given an entire generation's worth of lowered standards, providing slightly different giant bugs to set on fire will get people's attention. Better yet, the token evil humanoid NPCs weren't your standard dumb troglodytic brutes spewing broken English to make the player feel superior to them. Though still bland enough not to scare the idiotic masses away, the Chosen in their initial presentation came across as mysterious, intelligent foes whose inscrutable machinations left plenty to the imagination. They showed little to no interest in interacting with their prey.

It should come as no surprise that as Firefall increasingly WoW-ed itself, the Chosen too began to approach orc-normal familiarity. Instead of growling out a few cryptic phrases as they trample you to death, you're treated to lengthy monologues by cackling Chosen villains torturing poor heroic damsels in distress. Oh noes! Someone call Rocky and Bullwinkle.

Not that it's the only change. Your technician, Aero, no longer seems to have a troubled past. Oilspill, the swamp-rat mechanic who formed the other half of your NPC adventuring party, was side-lined in favor of a blond-haired, blue-eyed dependable soldier archetype, to which was added a libidinous old moustache-twirling rogue whose dialogue would make Weregeek's El Pantero blush... except El Pantero was created as a hilariously bad pastiche of such Zorro-esque cliches, while whatsisface hitting on the token heroic tough chick in Firefall lacks any such self-awareness.

Still, it's the Chosen who seem to have taken the brunt of the duncing. Yes, they degenerate from slightly creepy, mysterious embodiments of the unknown to endlessly monologuing Snidelies, but that's not enough. How can you decisively drive home the point that they're now no different from goblins and ogres, that Firefall is becoming a warmed-over World of Warcraft?

Meet Ogrix, your designated punching bag for a couple of lengthy early missions, the big stomping fat guy who AM NOT TALK GOOD ENG-LISH !

See, it's important to remember that games these days don't get dumbed down for lack of knowledge of better choices, but because of a concerted effort across the industry to lower the audience's expectations, to control the market, to prevent competition. Aesthetics are absolutely a warning sign of a game's overall quality, and vice-versa. This change in the Chosen was implicit the moment Firefall's resource acquisition started getting simplified. When you see an online game adopt WoW-ish features or lack thereof like a lack of a player economy, a lack of meaningful long-term persistent map objectives, a lack of anything which might mentally challenge customers, make no mistake: Ogrix is right around the corner.

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