Even though I half-expected it for a while now, the news of Fallen Earth’s demise earlier this month made my heart sink. Way back in 2010 when I started at old Massively, one of my very first duties was to step in for a few weeks to cover the Fallen Earth column we had running back then. Even in 2010, it wasn’t the biggest of games, but there was a core of us on staff that were absolutely fanatical about the vision and freedom that this post-apocalyptic game offered.
It took me a couple of good tries to really get into Fallen Earth, but when I finally clicked with it, I clicked hard. I spent hours combing across the wasteland of the American southwest, I got deep into crafting, and I documented many of my adventures over the years. It was a weirdly wonderful game in spite of horrible coding, sub-optimal performance, and GamersFirst’s ham-handed free-to-play conversion.
While I still hope that Fallen Earth will be revised and rebooted under its new ownership, for right now I want to pay homage to 10 things that made this MMORPG kind of special.
It realized a true post-apocalyptic MMORPG
It wasn’t that long ago that I wrote up a Perfect Ten on the subject of post-apocalyptic MMOs. And while I could fill up a list with them, only Fallen Earth seems to have fully realized the vision for both a full-fledged classic sandboxy MMORPG and a wasteland setting. For fans that felt let down that Fallout Online never (properly) happened, Fallen Earth was a great consolation prize.
All of the little immersive touches
Fallen Earth was kind of a survival game back before we really had survival games on the market. By this I mean that there was more of a sense of permanence and immersion into a hostile environment that required a lot of crafting, situational awareness, and mapping to make it far. One detail that always stuck out was that your mounts — whether it be a horse or vehicle — didn’t disappear when you got off of it, but rather stuck around and forced you to remember where you parked. It sounds silly, but that went a long way to making me feel like the world had reality, as did things like item weight.
The black humor
The more you played Fallen Earth, the more you realized that this game was really bonkers in the head. It had the blackest of black humor that popped up in all sorts of unlikely places. I lost count of how many times the game made me sputter out in surprised laughter when, say, random NPCs were found practicing a botched version of a Shakespeare play or coal-black snowmen were made to try to celebrate Christmas.
The crafting system
While I’m not normally one for crafting in MMOs, Fallen Earth made me change my mind. I ended up adoring this system, firstly because it got me into the spirit of a wasteland scavenger who was grabbing all sorts of junk to turn into useful items. The fact that you could craft 95% of the items in the game was great, but there was something so satisfying about queuing up crafting projects and seeing them take form in real-time (while online or offline). I remember the day I finally finished my first motorcycle. That was one of the greatest accomplishments I ever had in an MMO.
Fallen Earth’s player faction system was well-thought out and rather genius. There were six factions on a “wheel” that demonstrated relationships between them. The more you pursued one faction, the more the other factions would react favorably and unfavorably with you. Your choice of factions influenced what skills and resources you had available, so if you wanted certain special skills or recipes, you’d best think about who you’re going to kill and what missions you are going to do.
If there was ever an MMO that tempted you to veer off the beaten track, this was it. Because… there was no track. It was simply a marvel to strike out in random directions and see what this sprawling and bizarre world had to offer. As long as you didn’t venture into the extremely dangerous radiation borders, you probably weren’t disappointed.
At turns moody, evocative, barbaric, and homey, the soundtrack for Fallen Earth went a long way to giving you a rust-edged western vibe while adventuring in the game. I was always disappointed that only “Volume 1” of the soundtrack ever saw the light of day. I guess the composer was hopeful!
The help channel
Fallen Earth wasn’t the easiest of games to figure out on the onset, but fortunately there was always an incredibly useful help channel at the ready. Out of all of the MMOs that I’ve seen boast these, Fallen Earth’s channel was among the most genuinely helpful and friendly. I know that it definitely got me on solid footing in those early months and made me appreciative to the community.
Have you ever given much thought to the “personality” of enemy mobs in MMORPGs? I never did much until I played Fallen Earth, at which point I found not only a diverse array of mutations and gangs but also characters that felt distinct and alive. Having swarms of giant ants pile over me or enemy factions shout quotes at me or seeing mutant hermit crabs wearing old CRT monitor casings on their back never failed to interest and amuse.
Fallen Earth’s zones are big. Like, really, really big. Almost immediately you needed some sort of faster transport to get you to quest objectives and different landmarks, and those came in the form of either horses or vehicles. Horses had an old west feel to them, but vehicles like motorcycles, cars, and ATVs tapped into the Mad Max attitude. All of them required care and maintenance of a sort, but at least you got additional precious inventory slots with each!