Defiance is a fun MMO that incorporates a TV show, but technical hurdles at launch hold it back
We've already talked about how Defiance is bridging television and gaming, gave you our thoughts on the show's pilot, and explained how the game is basically the closest thing you'll get to a Borderlands MMO. Now that the game has been released, it's time for some updated impressions.
Note: this isn't a review – MMOs are too large and too dependent on the community to have a true understanding of their future so soon after launch, plus Defiance's success will no doubt factor heavily into the popularity of the television show. Not to mention the the game will feature episodic content which ties in with said show, and we're still more than a week away from the pilot.
Adventuring, brought to you by Dodge
Defiance is a third-person shooter MMO from Trion Worlds, developers of Rift. You play the part of an Ark Hunter, a scavenger of alien technology. The tech you seek has been buried in, left behind on, or has crashed to Earth, and it's up to you to recover it to ensure future generations' survival.
There is a main storyline in Defiance, but it only exists in the barest form, to get you out into the larger world of post-apocalypse San Francisco, before fading away so you can do your own thing. You are searching for Von Bach at the start of the game, a scientist who believes his research into ark technology can save the planet. The ship you're on crashes, and you're sent to find the bald-headed jerk.
The characters you interact with are mostly one-dimensional archetypes. Von Bach is a bald scientist with glasses who gets uppity when soldiers mess with his equipment. The commanding soldier in charge of the ship is a rough-and-tumble, leave-no-men-behind hero. The girl you meet post-crash is a scrappy rogue who sticks her nose up at authority. Your AI companion is a sweet-natured, gentle caregiver.
The plot has yet to grab me in a way that makes me care about these people, and both the facial animations and voice acting feel a bit stiff and lifeless. Defiance's storytelling is subpar, at least in these opening hours, but the missions these people send you on are thankfully fun and interesting.
Quests are varied, and those that focus on having you take down enemies often end with a mini-boss fight. Others will have you disarming C4, tagging medical supplies and defending them against waves of mutants, or just racing around the landscape in your vehicle.
The vehicles, by the way, are all Dodge. You'll recognize them by the big, bright “DODGE” emblazoned on their front. Trion does a fantastic job of making you feel like a part of this world and that everything fits together, so it's a little weird to see everyone riding around in armored Challengers. Sponsorship is one thing, but this is distracting.
Speaking of being bought, Defiance doesn't use subscriptions, but you can always throw your money at the in-game store, where you can purchase boosts, extra inventory slots, outfits, lock boxes with random gear, and vehicles. You purchase these items using “bits.” A pack of 400 costs $5, 1800 costs $20, and 5200 costs $50. Most boosts cost under 100 bits, while most everything else falls between the 200-600 range.
It's a fair system, and it doesn't seem like you will be able to pay your way to the top. Those who want to play through Defiance's quest-related content should be content.
Player vs player vs world vs boss fight
Defiance's version of PvP is both open world and sort of not at the same time; you have to queue up and choose to join in, which means no assassinating players out in the wider world. Once you've chosen to participate and a match is ready, you'll be taken to a specially-designated portion of the world map.
Matchmaking has two options: competitive and Shadow War. Competitive is a straightforward fight between two teams, sized 6 or 8, in a race to 50 kills. Shadow War, meanwhile, tasks your team with taking and controlling beacons.
Competitive matches take place on instanced maps, so players out and about can't affect a match's outcome. The Shadow War, however, takes place in the open - which is kind of ironic for something called “Shadow War.” You can't harm other players without queuing up for battle, and joining in on a match means being transported to a spawn location, so there's no calling in the cavalry and having them abuse the system.
Everything you do in Defiance carries over from one mode to another, so if you've picked up some sweet weapon or leveled up one of your EGO abilities, you'll have it when you play in PvP. The theoretical problem with that implementation is that you could become outclassed very quickly, very easily, but all the matches I played in the first week felt pretty fair and even-handed. In my very first match, my team came from behind to take the score from 14-32 to 50-48.
What's really interesting is that, not only can you join in on a PvP fight already in progress, but so too can the game's mobs. It's a perfectly valid strategy to provoke a group of mutant killers and make them chase you as you run past a beacon, giving the opposing team a whole new set of headaches to deal with. Arkfalls, the name given to Defiance's randomly-generated public boss fights, can also occur in the same area as a Shadow War match.
Try to imagine three capture points being overrun with Shadow War players and the world's monsters, while less than 100 yards away, a giant bug-spewing monstrosity is being shot at by four dozen or so other players. It's beautiful chaos, and fun as hell to get caught up in such frantic action. I'm not usually a fan of PvP in MMO games, but Defiance had me kiting strings of hellbugs into my enemies' faces long into the night.
Defiance launched across PC, Xbox 360, and PS3 simultaneously on Tuesday, April 2. The games don't connect to one another – PS3 players play with PS3 players, PC players play with PC players, you get the idea – but be aware that each version is having its own unique set of hurdles to overcome, and my experience may not be reflective of yours. Trion themselves have acknowledged frequent crashes on console, along with various other problems such as missing pre-order items, disappearing loot, improperly-scaled boss fights, and general connectivity problems.
I played on PC, which is currently suffering from lack of a working chat client. There's a “quick chat” function which allows characters to perform simple emotes, but having a full-fledged discussion with other people is, for now, out of the question. That's a pretty significant flaw for an MMO, and along with issues like stiff facial animations, and the myriad problems console users are reporting, make the game feel not quite finished. It's very close, and definitely an improvement over what I saw in March, but it's not quite up to 100% capacity.
Trion, for what it's worth, are trying to stay on top of these problems, and are keeping a good sense of humor about it. On his day two update, Defiance executive producer Nathan Richardsson titled one of his bullet points “FKN LAAAAG” and referred to it as an “Icelandic technical term which usually translates quite well to most other languages for some reason.”
There's always the “submit feedback” and “report bug” buttons in the game's menu should you come across any problems, and Trion seems to be working hard to get things into proper shape, but it's still distressing that the game launched when it appears to not quite be ready. Whether it's clients crashing on console or a broken chat system on PC, Defiance is being hamstrung by technical difficulties.
That's a shame, because the game underneath is really quite fun. It's a third-person shooter with solid shooting, and an MMO that – at least on PC – smoothly brings together a large amount of people to share in some skyscraper-sized bug-hunting fun. The world is large and beautiful to look at, and the score by Bear McCreary is equally as impressive. This isn't a game to bypass completely, but until tech issues get sorted, it may be better to hold off on trying.