Review :: Defiance

Not exactly defying expectations...

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Published Wednesday, 05 June 2013 09:11

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Did I have fun with Trion's Defiance? Yes, I did. Could it have been better? Yes, it could have. I wanted to like Defiance more than I did, but, that said, I did like it quite a bit.

First let's give some context to what this game is trying to do. Defiance is being released simultaneously with the TV show of the same name. It is a massively multiplayer online 3rd person shooter, and events that happen in-game are said to be going to have an affect on events in the show. It's a cool concept, and one that has never been tried before. Whether or not those in-game events will have an affect on the show is yet to be seen, but I am intrigued by the possibilities this type of cross-medium project could create.

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As a massively-multiplayer game, Defiance on the console platform does stand out for good and bad reasons. One being that it is a massively-multiplayer online (MMO) game, and any MMO game I have played has been strictly on the PC. Another is the rather lengthy installation process that requires 10 gigabytes of HD space, and then an additional hour to fully update. While I do generally laud attempts to break down platform walls, MMOs feel like they are best played on the PC. That said, Defiance is not your typical MMO, but rather a hybrid between many disparate games and styles; think Borderlands and World of Warcraft mixed with a little bit of Gears of War and you start to get close.

What the long installation process did allow me to do was to watch the pilot episode of the television show. Maybe this was some clever trick by the developer and production company to get players to watch it. In any case, having watched the pilot, I was excited to enter the world of Defiance and start Ark-hunting. I suggest if you do decide to play the game that you also watch the show, as it provides some much needed context for the game world. Both game and TV show really do feel like they are supposed to work in tandem with each other.

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Like any MMO there is a steep learning curve. There are many facets to character development, and it will take you awhile before you start to understand how or why the menu system is set up the way it is. This works to the detriment of the game, as what certain menus do or are capable of are only explained in brief little notifications that pop-up and disappear far too quickly. Moreover, the menu system leaves much to be desired. Switching weapons, selling items, selecting upgrades or perks for your character seemed far more difficult than it needed to be.

The game looks okay in terms of MMO standards. Your character is well-detailed, and his movements are fluid and appear natural. You can change the way your character looks via items you find or collect throughout the game, although those physical changes are minimal at best. If there is one major drawback to the look of the game it's the environment itself. Now, I did play this on the Xbox 360 and certainly the aging hardware of the platform had something to do with the game's lack of detail and the frame-rate choppiness, but the complete and utter blandness of the world can not be blamed on mere system hardware.

Unlike other MMOs on the market, the world of Defiance is contained to a terra-morphed San Francisco bay area. What that means essentially is that this place looks nothing like the San Francisco you may know. The world we know has been destroyed from a conflict between Humans and Votans (Votans are a collection of seven unique alien races who came to Earth thinking it was uninhabited). The color scheme of this changed-Earth is full of flat blues, greens, browns, and greys, which add up to visuals that are relatively boring to look at it after awhile.

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Confusingly, there are no cities or towns in the game, just farms, mines, factories and docks. I felt like I saw everything it was going to show me in the first couple of hours. Part of the MMO experience is the sense of exploration within the game world, and there really is no incentive to explore a world that is as uninteresting as it is in Defiance.

The one big redeeming factor in Defiance is that it is a lot of fun to play. The missions are quick and just challenging enough that they feel rewarding and satisfying to finish. The loot dropped by your foes is always worth a look, and after only a couple hours of play I really started to feel like my character was getting stronger. The usual time-consuming menial tasks that litter the landscape of most MMOs is replaced here with engaging, quick activities that highlight the game's great combat.

The missions consist of shooting hordes and hordes of alien bugs, looters, or robot-humanoids. The shooting mechanics are responsive, and feel slightly old-school (think of a 3rd-person shooter from the PS2-era). It's this old-school feel that makes the combat addictive and quick to pick up. It's easy to jump, dive, run, aim, and shoot. There is no nuance to the combat, but there is considerable depth to the items you find and equip your character with. The enemy A.I. is never too challenging, but they will throw enough enemies at you at the same time that it will probably take a few tries before you complete a mission.

The vehicles in the game make it easy to traverse the vast post-apocalyptic landscape. You begin the game with a standard, slow four-wheeler, but as you progress you can unlock quicker and stronger vehicles - whether it be a car, a jeep, or a truck. Not a whole lot of variety, but still, it is pretty funny to see Mad Max-style cars zip around the roads and hills with abandon. You can summon your vehicle at any time with a simple tap of a button, and if you get out of it, it'll disappear after a few seconds.

If there is one thing that is strikingly apparent from the get go it's that this is a sparse and barren world. The lack of cities and towns and general hubs where other players can mingle, join up, or simply be around each other, is absent in Defiance. The only time I ever really saw a collection of players was when one of the dynamic in-game events occurred. These are called Ark-falls, they occur on a section of a map, and are demarcated by a red circle on the map screen. The reason you would want to go to them, simply put, is for the loot. Seeing 20 or 30 players jump around and shoot alien bugs (whose damage and health is scaled in difficulty so it's not any easier with higher numbers of players), really highlights the frenetic fun to be had in Defiance. There was also a really funny moment after the Ark-fall when everyone summoned their vehicle and spread off in different directions of the map. It was a small moment of camaraderie, and I really wish there would have been more of that in the game.

This is leads to what is my biggest concern with Defiance: the lack of online community. Keeping in mind that is is still relatively early in the game's release, if one thing has been made very clear over the last couple of years, it's that MMOs need a strong online community to be successful. I never really felt the need to party up with anyone in the game. It was a solo affair aside from the Ark-falls. And I think this is how most people are playing Defiance. It's hard to forecast how the community will develop, but I do hope they start to encourage more party-style missions. If there is one thing that will keep the community alive, it's the TV show, as not many MMOs have that in their back pocket. As long as the show is around, I imagine people would want to play Defiance to some degree or another.

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It should be noted that I played Defiance about 2 weeks after launch. During the launch week there was some concern about server stability. I never experienced anything too major; it was down one night, but for most part the game was fairly consistent.

Final Focus

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised with Defiance. It's a lot of fun to play, and despite a few minor gripes, I do plan on continuing to play it. The combat is quick, and the missions are rewarding, it is just the boring world and lack of community that hold it back from being something truly special. With continued community support I do think Defiance could be an MMO that holds your attention for quite some time.

 


Pros

-It is a lot of fun to play

-The control feels crisp and intuitive

- The missions are quick and satisfying

- It doesn't take too long to level up.

Cons

- The graphics and sound are bland

- There is very little incentive to party up

- The online community is still very thin

- The game's narrative is full of cliche and tropes


Final rating
7.0 / 10
Comments
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Game details
Defiance
Release date : 2013-04-02
Platform :
Publisher : Namco Bandai
Developer : Trion Worlds
Gameplay : MMO

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