Fallen Earth was actually released back in late 2009, but for some reason I only noticed it on Steam recently. It was free-to-play and looked pretty cool, if a little derivative of other post-apocalyptic RPGs (the Fallout 3 comparisons are inevitable), so I downloaded it.

The game drops you in the American Southwest in the year 2156, among other remaining survivors of something called the Shiva virus. It combines first-person shooter style ranged combat with melee combat, and glues it all together with a familiar MMOPRPG questing system. As a whole, it actually works quite nicely, and I was surprised to discover that despite the FPS element, latency was seldom an issue.

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In premise and concept, it is very similar to Fallout 3. Endless barren expanses, crumbling buildings and a hybrid shooter/RPG system also make it easily comparable to Bethesda’s AAA RPG behemoth, and whether or not that’s a bad thing is really up to you.

Having said that, various deliberate design choices create something quite unique, and it’s certainly not a game that will appeal to everyone. If I were to pigeonhole its target market, I’d say it’s looking at MMO fans looking for something a little different.

Players start the game in an instanced tutorial which provides a suitable introduction to the game world. I was tempted to skip it, but having heard about the free mount you receive at the end, I stuck it out. The tutorial does a good job of explaining the basics, but it’s only really after that does the learning curve get a little steep. For the most part, shortfalls in the interface are the culprit, and are likely to cause various annoying oversights, such as not knowing about mutant buffs at level 1 because they are contained in a hidden window that you are not likely to stumble upon unless directed to it.

So it took me a few hours to figure things out, and it was a little painful. However, once the ball started rolling, and I began to embrace the almost old-school “figure it out yourself” approach to game design, I really began enjoying myself.

The combat is for the most part a triumph, and is heavily influenced by stats and equipment. Headshots make a large difference in PvP, but are disappointingly less effective in PvE. The melee combat leaves a little to be desired, and mostly involves standing in range of the enemy and holding down the mouse button.

The game does not seem to require you to team up with other players to progress. Indeed, various traditional MMO caveats are missing, and having just gotten fed up of there being too many of those in Star Wars: The Old Republic, I welcomed the change.

Visually the game does nothing special, but is surprisingly quite beautiful at times, considering the scale of the project. Having said that, it’s pretty ugly at times too, and the animations are particularly awful, so it’s really a mixed bag.

What really won me over in Fallen Earth, is the survival element. Horses must be fed, motorcycles must be refuelled. This sense of realism is further enhanced by the fact that the game is not divided into instances, and is instead one large, connected open world. There is also a fantastic economy, and the crafting system is highly compelling.

Fallen Earth is a unique MMO that does not try to emulate any other franchise, and I can’t praise it enough for that. The fact that it doesn’t hold your hand is something that will appeal to certain gamers, and also something that will infuriate others, so it’s not for everyone, and that coupled with the fact that it’s free means you should really try it for yourself.

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