Important note— As this is a massively multiplayer persistent experience, it should always be considered that the experience can change significantly over time via updates and various patches. This review should only be viewed as the starting point for the game in question, and it should be understood that it’s a pretty solid foundation.
Let’s say you’re a sci-fi fan and you’ve been watching countless commercials for the SyFy channel’s anticipated new series called “Defiance.” And let’s say you’re also a big fan of online multiplayer games, especially those that factor in an extra action or shooting focus, such as was found in MAG (and what will undoubtedly be seen in the upcoming Destiny from Bungie). If all of that rings true for you, there’s no doubt that you should try the latest MMOTPS – if that is indeed a correct classification – from Trion Games. Defiance can be a lot of fun and given upgrades and expansions, this could be quite the experience.
You can’t really expect anything too visually stimulating from such games, as the sheer size and scope alone pushes the constraints of current hardware. So you’ll have to deal with mediocre facial animations, average character design, and some bland environments that do little to stir the imagination. That being said, as you spend 99.99% of the time playing rather than looking, gameplay is by far and away the most critical element. Besides, there are a few things to like about the visual presentation, as there’s a lot of appreciated variety in terms of locales and overall creation, and some of the special effects are pretty slick. Briefly, this world is capable of great immersion for those who love this style.
The sound is in much the same boat from a technical standpoint. There are some decent voiceover performances and the soundtrack can be invigorating and even majestic at times. The effects are pretty good and nicely implemented ambient sound keeps one involved in the on-screen action. There’s a definite balancing issue, though, and that seems to be just as persistent as the persistent world we explore. All in all, the sound is better than average but nothing to write home about. And in retrospect, it’s actually too bad that this particular MMO sports cut-scenes, because that only brings the game’s graphical and auditory drawbacks into the unfortunate limelight. It's an odd flaw for an MMO, too.
Of course, all of that is easy to gloss over when one begins to play. While I have never managed to become interested in MMOs in any capacity, when I’m forced to test one, I usually end up enjoying myself to some degree. Perhaps it’s due to the more action-oriented third-person shooter approach on display in Defiance that I had plenty of fun. It’s also very important to mention that this doesn’t play like your standard MMO, in that there are story arcs, missions, character development, and other aspects of a single-player campaign that I always like. Hence, this should make the game more appealing to the online novices.
There are several intriguing modes that are destined to keep you playing for hours on end. The game mostly revolves around PvE contests (Player vs. Enemy) and you should definitely get your money’s worth out of those multiple story arcs. Another potentially fantastic twist is the inclusion and impact of the TV series, which will supposedly be factored into the game in some way. Basically, the show and the game will be connected, but the significance of this partnership is yet to be seen. I believe this is a great opportunity to expand beyond the standard MMO experience, which typically only involves a lot of grinding, fetching, and leveling.
For now, you should have a lot of fun heading out into the dangerous landscape and taking on a variety of missions. The Arkfalls are getting a good reputation as offering plenty of fast-paced entertainment; in this mode, destroyed Votan ships are falling to Earth in big fiery chunks. Each holds a cache of goodies and you must reach the wreckage to claim the treasure within a certain amount of time. It’s a little different than the standard “questing” you’ll find in standard MMOs, so this is another highlight that allows Defiance to stand apart. Then there’s the equivalent of competitive multiplayer for most shooters, PvP (Player vs. Player), and that can be a blast as well. And there's no poor AI in such contests, either.
It’ll be interesting to see how MMO followers receive this game, primarily because it is indeed a hybrid. You need the requisite reactions and moderate skill to succeed in most any third-person shooter, while at the same time, you need to embrace a much deeper system as compared to regular TPSs. In this way, I’m worried that Defiance will actually miss both groups of gamers, as both need to make some compromises. Still, there seem to be universally appealing features, such as the ability to upgrade all weapons, unique weapon traits, and the constant opportunity to team up with others. You’re never quite fooled into thinking this is a single-player adventure; the cut-scenes can’t make you forget that human players are all over the place.
On the flip side, there are universal problems, too. I suppose some will be more willing to overlook the shortcomings, just because they know Trion will continually be working to resolve lingering issues. However, it should be noted that enemy AI was almost brain-dead when the game first kicked into gear online. Things have become a little better with recent patches but the AI still isn’t anything special. Then there are obvious server issues, including crashing and freezing, both of which I experienced. Microtransactions are featured but I’ve never liked them and they don’t seem any better in this game. I wonder if any of them are worth the extra expense.
Still, there are parts of the game that make up for the inconsistencies. The action remains mostly streamlined, as players can easily join co-op missions, and the distinct differences between PvE and PvP, along with entertaining features and modes that add longevity and depth, increase the game’s value. It’s true that many of the problems are fairly common in the world of MMOs, so perhaps they shouldn’t be too greatly emphasized. Regardless, though, I’m not of the mindset that we’re allowed to completely ignore the flaws just because we assume they’ll be fixed in the near future. Flaws are flaws and must be acknowledged in any review.
One of the features I do like is the fact that Defiance doesn’t utilize a subscription model. The microtransactions are clearly designed to make up for that lack of income, and I have serious reservations as to whether or not such a tactic will work. However, it’s great for gamers, because you don’t have to fork over a monthly fee to play. Then you’ve got the solid foundation I mentioned above: The control is accurate and reliable, the missions are numerous and various, playing with others is usually quite entertaining, the pacing keeps one involved in the action, and the blend of traditional campaign and online multiplayer elements is quite stimulating.
Defiance is a persistent experience, which means it’s also a persistently changing experience. What we see now could be drastically different even a few months from now, so keep that in mind. For the time being, Defiance has started off on a relatively good note. The depth and longevity will undoubtedly cater to the MMO aficionados, the speed of the action-oriented TPS gameplay will interest some of the shooter fans, and sci-fi followers will definitely like the style and ambiance. There are several clear issues that plague an otherwise enjoyable experience, and microtransactions could be almost required in due time, but much of the drawbacks can be addressed in future patches. And I do expect the game to be well supported.
Therefore, if you like the idea and concept and you have the patience to let Trion fix what needs to be fixed, I say give the game a try.
The Good: Expansive, immersive environment. Solid control throughout. Nice blending of single-player and multiplayer elements. Various story arcs hold lots of promise. Good mix of depth and action. No monthly subscription fee.
The Bad: Technically unimpressive. Plenty of obvious MMO-centric issues. Server inconsistency. Microtransactions are concerning.
The Ugly: “I guess I’m spoiled, but I want my games to work all the time. Not part of the time.”
4/15/2013 Ben Dutka