I’m currently on a bit of a forced break from Defiance until this weekend. Having a son pop into the world unexpected will do that to a reviewer. But since launch, I’ve logged about 20+ hours and reached nearly EGO rank 300 in the game, and I’ve played with a good deal of the features that Trion’s latest has to offer. So, from the hospital room, I figured I’d take a little time and write up my thoughts after the first full week and a few days spent inside of Trion World’s third-person shooter MMO. Baby’s fed, pooped, and now I can turn my thoughts to how Defiance’s first few days have left an impression on me.
Firstly, let’s start with the fact that one of my first complaints about the balance of large scale PVE fights has been remedied. In fact, it was done just a couple of days after my initial Review in Progress. They’ve adjusted the scaling of all mobs across the board so that they have a maximum health. Big Hellbugs in major arkfalls will still have a high constitution but much less than previously, making the events less of a slog to get through. And other lesser mobs in small areas don’t scale as much when there are a lot of players around. So mutants won’t suddenly become impervious near Tranquility Gate in Mount Tam, just because there are a lot of newbies standing idle. It’s worked well so far, but there’s a part of me that still wants to see the number of mobs increased as well.
Overall the communication from the development and community teams has been outstanding. It’s no secret by now that some major server and lag issues face the Xbox crowd (no problems for me on the PC edition, to be honest). But there are still problems facing VOIP, chat, and disappearing items as well. But almost every day there’s a new blog from Nathan Richardsson (Executive Producer and former Dust 514 lead) or the community team outlining what’s being done to remedy the problems. On top of that, Trion recently offered a bunch of free Boosts and a special launch title of “Daredevil” as a nice play on the fact that we first delvers are facing the brunt of the woes. The boosts are an especially nice gesture, as they can greatly increase the rate at which you earn scrip (the game’s money) and experience towards EGO ranks. They can only be bought in the cash shop, so it’s effectively free money.
Next week, the Review In Progress’ report will depend upon Monday’s big 4/15 patch. All three clients will be receiving a major update, including the hopeful VOIP fix. Richardsson also told us that just two weeks after that another major update is incoming, and then we’ll start to learn more about the game’s first DLC (some of which will be paid content, and the rest of it will be free for all). The VOIP would go a long way alone in making sure that the game becomes a more social affair for those players not in an organized clan with Ventrilo or Teamspeak.
Speaking of clans, I did join one as I was offered the chance during the middle of a massive arkfall. I accepted, and I see lots of people logging in and out, but no one talks. VOIP doesn’t reach the level of Clans (yet, though Rob Hill told us it might soon) and the chat is still broken. So really, unless your guild/clan is one you always roll with in these games it’s not worth joining one just yet (even if their members chip in and buy clan-wide boosts).
Defiance’s answer to typical MMO dungeons and instances are Co-Op Missions. You can queue up in the equivalent of a dungeon finder for whichever one you wish to play (there are at least seven that you unlock as you progress in EGO,and Robert Hill mentioned 12 or so during our first MMOFTW experience with the Trion team). I’ve only been able to do the first Co-Op, which has you diving into a military bunker with three other players to find out what’s happening to missing soldiers. Spoiler alert, the mutated EMC members are harvesting their adrenal glands to make drugs that make them super-powered. But let’s just say it’s not going all that well.
The first mission itself is quick, painless, and relatively rewarding. I didn’t notice getting any more loot from it than I had say from an outdoor big event, but for the more personal and close knit PVE experience, it serves the purpose well. There are multiple objectives in this first “dungeon”, from turning off an alarm while hordes of super-powered mutants swarm you (which reminded me a bit Left4Dead, actually) to taking out a series of well-placed AI turrets and disarming the generator before they come back on. The map itself isn’t much for exploration and is rather a trek from point A to point B, so I’m anxious to see if other Co-Op missions offer more diverging paths later on.
Another thing that’s likely to go unnoticed by many in Defiance is the reputation or “Contracts” system. Beyond EGO rank 250, you’ll unlock the Contracts part of your Pursuits (achievement) UI. These contracts are essentially daily and weekly goals that reset on their own every day and week. If you do what task they set before you, you gain reputation with various organizations (Von Bach Industries and so forth), and a bit of scrip and loot in the process. What’s the point of gaining reputation? That part is up in the air for me, as I haven’t yet unlocked any rewards with a specific group. I’ve been a little busy changing diapers, but will pick up my life as an Ark Hunter this weekend.
I’ve also noticed that progression, while not immediately apparent in Defiance because you’re not constantly getting new skills and gear to make things obvious. Rather you’re getting small but stacking boosts to your EGO skills, your damage from certain vantage points, reducing incoming damage, and so forth. You’re also able to equip better and better weapons with more interesting and effective modifications. I went back to earlier areas in the game, and though you’re not going to suddenly take everything out with one hit, mobs and content are easier. I also started a brand new character to compare, and it’s clear as day how much stronger Bill Murphy felt compared to Llib Murphy (I’m so clever).
I want to stress again, that while I’m unlocking more and more outfits and headgear as I play, I still feel like there’s not enough visual difference between me and the next guy. Outfit dyes would really help, that’s for sure. Get on it, Trion! You’ll unlock quite a few new outfits just by doing the Pursuits, Episode Missions, and playing the main storyline. But the ability to pick my colors would really help me feel like my character wasn’t just a clone of everyone else.
So far, Defiance is somewhat shallow on the surface but incredibly fun even though there are several broken bits and pieces. I find myself wanting to log in, and that’s half the battle. It needs to mature, and it needs more to do than just shoot everything in sight. But the more I play, despite the broken VOIP, chat, and seemingly unnecessary clan functions... I find myself wanting more. The higher level guns really make combat more fun, and playing at EGO 200+ will be stark in contrast to your first baby steps into the world. Oh the wonders of a bio-modified automatic grenade lobber.
I’m still not certain there will be much point in playing more than a single character, but with its lack of subscription and plans for DLC throughout the rest of 2013, Defiance might be the perfect game to pick up and play and then come back to whenever there’s something new to do. That’s not a put-down, either. I can think of ten games I’ve put down and never returned to for every one I’ve visited and revisited because the core gameplay was inherently fun. And that’s what I’m seeing with Defiance so far: a game that’s inherently fun, but in need of a nice coat of polish.
Next week, we’ll take a look at PVP and the Shadow War, and report back on whether the 4/15 patch alleviates some of the woes we’ve all been experiencing. Have you been playing Defiance yet? Leave us your thoughts in the comments below!
Bill Murphy / Bill Murphy is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.