Firefall's gameplay centers around huge mining apparati called Thumpers. These 20-foot-tall drills can be called down from space, and once they land, immediately begin "thumping" the ground searching for resources. The beat acts as a beacon for all of the creatures in the area to spawn in and try to attack it, so the player has to defend against wave after wave of increasingly more difficult baddies. Teamwork among the classes works really well here, with an engineer's turrets and repair stations aiding the assault and dreadnought classes in shooting the buggy bastards. Currently, the waves feel a bit too scripted, with roughly the same sequence of enemies popping up each time, but hopefully Red 5 will add more variety to spice things up.
The enemies in Firefall boil down to bugs and bad guys. Aranhas are a species of spider-like creatures with various special varieties like ones that inflict poison damage or explode in fire. They go down pretty quick to a few shots and serve as foot soldiers. Bigger monsters with more HP called Rageclaws and Terrorclaws, only spawn when a Thumper is thumping away. These bugs can usually only hurt you through melee attacks, but watch out for the big flying mosquitoes with a nasty ranged stinger. Other than the "wildlife", beware of the weird whispers that mean the alien Chosen are nearby. I played Firefall with surround-sound headphones, and more than once the demonic whispering made me whirl around my character in fear. The Chosen are humanoids wearing mysterious black armor and wielding guns, and you'll mostly see them when random events occur.
Two of the three random events in the beta can happen anywhere in the game area and they offer a bit of a diversion to break up the monotony of resource collection. A crashed Thumper might need to be defended from Chosen so you can salvage parts, or you might be tasked with wiping out a small patrol of Chosen nearby. The events are open to all players to participate, but most of them can be soloed fairly easily. There does appear to be some dynamic difficulty calculations in effect, so you might need to call in help if more people are online at the time.
The ramped-up difficulty is definitely true of the Chosen Incursion event. A huge Chosen ship will drop down near the fancy beach property of Copacabana, and the players have to assault the Chosen hordes, knock out the generators, and destroy the "Warbringer" dropship. The whole event takes a fair amount of coordination among players, and easily feels like the most developed content in Firefall's beta. The designers promise that dynamic events will effect the world, with Chosen taking over towns if they aren't defeated, but that hasn't yet been shown in the beta.
PvP is another diversion, and can net you some resource rewards as well. There are four maps and they include standard team deathmatch rules and the attack and defense of a series of nodes. Fighting is vicious, and each class needs to work together to survive the onslaught, but there's not much here that hasn't been done in other games. There's little consideration for the newbie, as players just starting out don't have much chance at defeating guys who've been playing a while equipped with fully upgraded battleframes. I'm generally awful at PvP shooters though, so your mileage may vary.
I know it is only a beta, but the world of Firefall feels pretty empty. Upon starting, you plug into the SIN (Shared Intelligence Network) of the surviving humans in Copacabana and get a map of the habitable area surrounded by the Melding. You can go to the edge of that map, and discover a few new SIN terminals in settlements, but these buildings are devoid of NPCs or any content. I spent time poking at the edges of the Melding, but soon realized the purple haze will kill you fast. There was such a lack of stuff to do, I couldn't help exploring in the hopes I would find something to entertain me. Other than a few abandoned old cars, there was nothing.
Red 5 Studios has been opening up the beta of Firefall to players in waves slowly since December 2011. It's clear that lead designer Scott Youngblood and his team want to concentrate on perfecting the core mechanics of the game before moving on to seeding the world with content. No monetization has been implemented either. There's no way to tell how the free to play elements that Red 5 CEO Mark Kern says will support the game will feel beside the current offerings from merchants in Copacabana like crafting patterns and consumables.
I imagine the slow build of content and the iteration of mechanics will only strengthen the game as it gets closer to release. I hope the very dark night is just one of the many experiments the team is willing to try before dismissing it outright like it might be forced to do if Red 5 were on a strict release schedule.
Firefall is in a true beta test, with all the empty space, glitches, bugs and bold ideas that entails.