Contains some spoilers regarding the opening cut-scenes.
Firefly Online gave us some tidbits at the annual San Diego Comic Con this year. Overall the presentation was a mixed bag containing both interesting news and some very disappointing reveals.
The entire original cast is returning to reprise their roles, and Wil Wheaton is voicing the male player character. The unfortunate news is that much of the original cast’s cut-scene dialog tried a little too hard to recapture the Whedonisms that made the original so charming. The execution comes off almost like a parody of the original Western-inspired dialog, aiming to cram in as much “Firefly speak” into a few lines as possible. It’s a bit cringe-worthy and hopefully the devs dial it down in future cut-scenes and NPC dialog.
The opening scenes were actually a bit hard to follow; the player character starts out as part of a crew who have some sort of pre-arranged rendezvous with the Firefly cast. The job goes sour, resulting in a weapons-drawn standoff with the old heroes. Simple enough, until some poorly executed and confusing flashbacks with Federation interrogators looking for River and Simon Tam start muddling things.
On the plus side, the devs seem to have some good ideas about balancing the need for nostalgia with moving the story forward. They stated clearly that the goal was to progress and make the lore grow rather than try to rehash what has already been established. Ideally they should have kept that in mind with the opening cinematic, but I won’t write off the entire game based on the first few cut-scenes.
The music was absolutely beautiful and captured the spirit of the show perfectly, and the audience was treated to a live performance. An entire album’s worth of music has already been written, though no release date was hinted at.
Character creation boasts several sliders for customization. We only got a very quick peek so there’s not a lot of details about how many options there are. There’s also a first mate customization screen and the player evidently collects crew members as the game progresses.
Supposedly the world experience will change dynamically for everyone based on the actions of player-characters, but no specifics were forthcoming.
The most unfortunate aspects of Firefly Online are the combat system and movement. Owing to the fact that this game was built from the ground up to revolve around smartphones and tablets, the combat is turn-based and extremely simplistic. The example we saw featured the dev select a target, run behind the target–who simply continued staring off in the wrong direction with no attempt to block or attack–and shoot him in the back. I’d like to be optimistic and assume that combat mechanics will grow in complexity as the player levels, but there was an ominous lack of anyone even hinting at dungeons or raids.
The movement is obviously first and foremost designed to be touch-screen friendly; tap where you want to run, a giant blue circle appears on the ground where you’re moving to, and the character lumbers towards it. Firefly Online lacks the fluidity of any major MMO I’ve ever played.
An audience member did ask about the gameplay being scaled down to accommodate mobile gaming but the issue was mostly sidestepped with very vague assurances.
Finally, the devs stated they regretted ever trying to give firm release dates in the past and said that no ETA for release was going to be given in the near future. There are no plans for paid early-access sales; rather a free beta with rolling invites will become available at some point in the future. Their goal is not to accept any money until they have a finished game to release.