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Review In Progress #1

William Murphy Posted:
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I wrote about my first forray into the live version of Defiance just on Tuesday. I’ve spend several hours with the title so far on the PC, thanks to the “Digital Deluxe” version of the game I was given for review by Trion Worlds. Over the next few weeks I’ll report my findings on the game in a sort of “review diary” we’re fond of calling a “Review in Progress”.  Each week, hopefully I’ll experience something new, uncover new successes or failures within the game, all leading up to my final review later in April or early May.  So without further adieu, let’s break the good and bad of the first few days down.

Let’s start with the part that’s probably most important: Defiance is fun. I may worry it’s not quite enough MMO for most MMO veterans, and not enough of a shooter for your hardcore fans of that genre, but aside from its identity crisis Defiance remains a fun game with a lot of kinks to iron out.  It’s a diamond in the rough, if there ever was one.  I like me a good shooter, as bad as I might be on the competitive side.  As single-player experiences, they’re often finite in their enjoyment.  As an MMO player, I’ve always wanted a persistent online world in which to get my itchy trigger-finger scratched. And since I’m pretty much terrible at Planetside and its sequel, there’s always been a longing for a game whose primary focus is PvE and Co-Op... Defiance fits this bill nicely.

The problem that players will have with Trion's latest is that it largely lies somewhere between traditional MMO mechanics and shooter mechanics.  It’s not stellar at representing either, and instead winds up just "good" at both being an MMO and a shooter.  Its world is big, nuanced, and fun to traverse. But what else is there to do besides kill stuff? Not much, really. Perhaps this is why Trion’s backed away from the “MMO” term. Not because they were afraid of the association of Elves, but because they knew a lot of requisite systems the MMO elite crave are simply missing from the game at launch. 

One of the major Arkfall events that players will find early on.

They had a target release they had to hit, and as such they were forced to pare down the amount of features they’d ship with (especially when you factor in three platforms releasing simultaneously).  I get all that.  But one thing I hope comes to Defiance is more non-combat activities. Even the races and time trials are a good start, but they’re solo affairs.  Why not set up an actual race course for players to partake in? A little Mad Max in Defiance? I’d buy that DLC. Housing? Crafting? I know it’s not part and parcel for a shooter, but believe me when I say that eventually even the shooter folks will want more from their persistent world than action.  It’s the natural order of things.

The worst parts of Defiance are the things that are fixable: namely the UI, the chat, and the VOIP.  They’re in pretty bad shape.  The UI itself functions, but it’s cumbersome on the mouse and keyboard. As many have noted, even finding how to exit the game is a puzzle the first time.  There are a lot of menus, and learned shortcuts help, but the clunkiness of the UI is an issue that PC users must contend with.  I also think the default controls on the mouse and keyboard are a little rough.  You’ll wind up dodging a lot, but it’s default is the left Alt key, which becomes a little awkward and might be too close to spacebar (jump) to hit accurately and often.  I switched mine to a button on the mouse, and was far better at dodging incoming fire and getting out of snares.

Editor's note: As if reading my mind, the first state of the game addresses much of this. 

Your EGO is more helpful than any person you'll run into in the game.

Another big issue I’m having as an MMO guy is that everyone looks the same.  I’m only being hyperbolic by a tiny bit too.  Because of course while there are other “outfits” and “headgear” to wear, there’s not a wide enough selection of either.  You can’t mix pants and shirts, and you can’t dye them any different colors.  So if Ark Hunters are supposed to be clones? Well, then it makes sense.  But since we’re all supposed to be special snowflakes for hire, there needs to be more options in how we look.  Again, this is something that can be fixed.  But if you’re an early adopter, be prepared for the limitation. 

I think the storyline, oddly enough, will wind up being the strongest part of the game, alongside the title's vast open-world Arkfalls and group events.  It’s not Shakespeare, but the main missions are engaging, the cinematics and mo-cap are well done, and I’m intrigued to see where it all leads.  I also like that there are “Episode” missions (see below) which tie into the TV show directly by letting you interact with its main characters.  The shared universe of Defiance could go a long way if the show’s as fun and watchable as its first fourteen minutes seem.

The Arkfalls are also a major win so far.  True enough, they’re basically Rifts from Trion's flagship MMO. But in a shooter, they become something gloriously hectic and fun.  These giant alien invasions scale based on how many people partake, they get rather nuts, and we’ve been told there are more than just Arkfall massive events as you get further in the game too.  They’re supposed to be one of the best sources for loot, but unless I’m just unlucky it seemed all I got from the video above is a lot of money and experience (again, see the state of the game letter).

One of the ‘Episode Missions’ where players interact with the TV show characters.

One of my biggest early concerns about Defiance’s overall gameplay though is a matter of balance.  You see, as mentioned above, everything scales based on how many players are in the immediate area.  You don’t have to group up, as everyone fighting will get credit, loot, and XP.  But because of this scaling, mobs becomes superhuman beasts when there are three or more people around.  It’s kind of incredulous enough when solo to drop a mutant human with a dozen or so bullets. It gets ridiculous when it takes fifty or more because there happen to be a few players around. 

I think instead of scaling the health of mobs, Trion would be far better off scaling the number of mobs spawned.  This happens to some extent, mind you.  Instead of two regular health mobs, you’ll get five high-health ones.  But I’d rather fight 100 weak mobs in a shooter than one super-tough bad guy who takes all of my rifle ammo to drop.  We’d feel more powerful as players, and the game in general would benefit greatly. 

The most fun enemies to shoot so far are the little hellbugs that horde you during arkfalls, because they take just a few bullets to kill and rupture with satisfying sounds and visual effects.  It takes far too many bullets to kill things, and that’s a relic of the MMO design. A sawed-off shotgun blast to the face at five feet should probably kill just about any “mutant” humanoid, is what I’m saying. And don't get me started on the very dumb mob AI. 

I’ve been tweeting back and forth with a few of you about my thoughts so far. Essentially, what I’m finding with the PC version of Defiance is that it’s fun but also flawed. Everytime I play I find little niggling annoying bugs and quirks, but I keep playing. And about two hours into my session last night I realized it wasn’t just because I had to for work, but because I found the experience enticing.  How long that lasts, is up in the air.  I worry about Defiance’s longevity and ability to hold its players’ interest.  Even if the show is a rousing success, will there be enough meat on these bones to keep shooter and MMO veterans alike coming back for more? How often will DLC come, and will it be the sort of content we’re chomping at the bit for? How fast can Trion rectify the many issues above so that the fun parts shine through even more?

This is just about all the character models you get to choose from...

Despite all of my issues with Defiance, I’m compelled to keep playing. I’m enjoying the exploration, the story, the change of pace in terms of MMO combat, and the prospects of what the future holds.  But there are a fair number of problems keeping the game from “great” status as of right now, and I’m hoping we’re going to see patches that remedy issues with the UI, the AI, visual customization and such in the next couple of weeks.  That said, Defiance is fun and that’s paramount to anything.  But it’s a diamond in the rough, and we’ll see how I feel about it after a few more weeks of play. Next week we’ll look into Co-Op instanced missions, hopefully explore Clan functions, Shadow War, matchmade PVP and more.  So stay tuned.

What about you? Have you been playing Defiance? What are your thoughts so far?  Let us know!

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.  

Read more of our Defiance coverage below:


William Murphy

Bill is the former 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.