The next mmo from the humble Trion is nearly here for us all to enjoy and it’s a brave new endeavor for them in some many ways. They have a relatively successful mmo still in action, and with a sub amazingly which is a testament to how well the Trion can develop, update and maintain and mmo. Sure it doesn’t have huge numbers but the fact the succeeded on a modest budget in this genre is worthy of adulation.
Defiance is very new for them though, firstly a shooter is just as hard a thing to get right as an mmo in many ways… more so at times. The gameplay completely hinges on the abilities of the team to create a flawless experience in terms of server reporting. For the usual tab target, hot join affair you have a bit of leeway as it is not as crucial for the player to be.. several seconds out of synch but for this it is very noticeable.
They have done reasonably well though, the controls and action feel relatively tight and the gameplay is fun. But, I still like my Firefall more… you should play both though because they each have a widely different approach in how they they are structured, play and guide the player. Each with their obvious pros and cons.
Well this is Defiance’s review so onwards I guess
Aren’t I Pretty
As with most mmo’s it starts of with character select. The options here are rather limited in many ways and focus on presets of various facial features and such. There is a decent amount of things you can do but unfortunately the base character faces are limited (3 options.. one looked terrible) and lacked differentiation so customisation in the end basically comes down to everyone looking pretty much like male and female or human and Irathient (other humans).
The other options do make them look a little different from each other so you may not see exactly the same person all the time but it is just not enough differentiation Some of the options are just plain weird as well and don’t have the right proportions, the mouths are particular bad at this as they are all ridiculously puckered and more like a meme “duck face” then something resembling a human. The skin colours are ridiculous as well, they give the token darker shades but there are no features available that really resemble an African American (and other ethnicities) so going ebony seems more akin to a comedy black face.
In saying all this the characters can and do look quite nice. A bit of effort has gone into the characters getting the right amount of detail and shading so they look rather pleasing. The clothing is great as well… even in the beginning they give you some decent options to choose from of various styles that are remarkable detailed and suit the environment perfectly. I looooove the clothing customisation here, although it is in whole outfits rather then parts they are all just very well designed as well as easy to use and switch between. You get a few different ones while questing but there is also a wide range available in the cash shop. There is also no stupidly generic male fantasy stylized clothing either, it is all very appropriate and looks so badass… me likey.
My initial experience I have to say felt rather disjointed, I don’t know why but it just felt like the guns and shooting were just a little bit off. A little bit of lag between recognition of shots hitting, sluggish enemy AI at times, and the hit detection just felt, hmmm… weird. You are able to score critical hits on enemies when you hit them in certain areas but sometimes it felt like the hit box was smaller then the model or would shots would even pass right through. The terrain seems buggy at times as well with the visual and coded size being rather different to the point where you can clearly see and hit the shot but it is blocked by an invisible barrier. This tends to happen a lot when firing through windows and from ledges.
I felt this got a lot better as I progressed through the game when fighting in different areas and against different enemies. Maybe I was just a noob getting used to fps combat which I haven’t tried in a few weeks now.. or maybe it was me just getting used to this particular fps combat. Once acclimatised though I was able to run through with abandon, culling the countryside of creepy crawlies and banishing bandits. It felt good then… very good.
It should be noted though that the game handles characters and enemies reasonable well. When coming out of those starter areas I was seeing around 50 people quite comfortably. The draw distance does seem rather low though and although people aren’t just appearing on top of you it is very noticeable when they do appear. I noticed this strongly during some of the bigger ark events that although I could see everyone and everything around me, on the other side of the battle I could only see the key monsters. Now this is not a problem for PvE but I am wondering how it will work out with the PvP side.. I can imagine myself on a grassy knoll sniping with impunity.
Running and Gunning
Combat is rather slow and I guess that never changes too much.. there is no real chaos that comes out while playing like you experience in say borderlands when you’re getting overwhelmed and backing away while trying to get those key head shots so you will survive. Here, although skill is quite obviously important, you don’t feel as though there is any change during combat. You are either going to win or lose. There is very little tooth and nail fighting, even in the larger group events this is relatively true.
The movement of you character is ridiculous slow at times and like walking in treacle. I am so used to the run and gun em style of borderlands and the freedom in movement of Firefall that this feels so archaic. The monsters and AI are designed with this movement in mind though so during combat it isn’t that bad. Movement seems to be one of those key pillars for mmo combat these days as it just makes them more engaging and fun to play, Defiance is still very engaging due to its fps nature but I can’t help wanting it to be better although I would probably be entirely OP in this game if I had the jet pack as well so maybe that’s a good thing.
I love traveling by the quads though, those things are perfection. At first I was entirely frustrated with their movement as I was too used to the style of driving in borderlands and using the mouse more but once I got used to it I’ve had a lot of fun driving around the world. The environments are great and these make traveling interesting as you maneuver around many obstacles. I tend to use the road less travelled as well.. roads are boring.
Defiance seems like it is very linear at times. While it doesn’t have that quest hub sort of approach it is very clear that you are being funnelled down a certain path in order for them to gain exp and progress. It feels at times like you are being forced to follow an overarching story by following the bread crumb trail of these points of interest, constantly shuffled along.. point after point. There are side missions to complete around the world but the crazy part is that you need to do the story missions to unlock certain ones but you also need to complete a certain number to unlock the story missions at times. It is just a very very directed type of experience, mmo players are kind of used to that so it isn’t entirely unwelcome.
The world is dotted with events points if you’re after a change of place but they are much more similar to WAR’s public events then the dynamic events of GW2. These points are very static and unchanging, usually consisting of the standard defence type of combat but there is just so little permanence involved. Everything stays the same regardless of the outcome, if bandits or bugs succeed the npc’s just stay in a down state waiting for you and the enemies wait around. They also seem to repeat far too often. After finishing one such mission I hadn’t even had time to leave the area before the event started again and monsters spawned on top of me, because of this sort of thing they don’t really feel worthy while as your actions have little effect… not to mention levelling up is relatively easy without them.
The larger Ark events are a bit different and occur at random times around the map but so far I have found them rather pointless as well. Some of the events just take far too long, there is only so long you can keep firing the same weapon, round after round into something before you just get bored. For one such time a group of around 30 people were fighting this one monster for 15 minutes.. yes 15. There were different phases to the event too but these felt tedious. Some of those elite bugs are ridiculously scaled in terms of health.
Then you have the issues with ammo during some of these events. Your pumping a lot of rounds into them.. a lot, and while some mobs do drop ammo you need to get the killing shot.. in a large group I found that rather rare which either meant running back to a supply crate earlier on or falling back to one of my electric type guns.
What is great about questing though is that with the way the world is designed it is remarkably free form in how you complete these open world events and missions. You can run in like a maiac through the front gate or find a nice vantage point to snipe from, many times I was even able to sneak into an area from a different direction and collect what I needed and then escape without even needing to fight. You’re even free to spawn and drive around your vehicles in and around these mission points which makes running over the weak mobs fun but also gives you an avenue for an easy escape . Due to Defiance’s massively and multiplayer heritage players are able to freely help out in whatever way they can. You always have your quest items to yourself but fighting the mobs around a point is a collective effort.
I have been rather opposed to having story elements in my mmo’s now as they are usually just done so poorly but here, it actually has me rather intrigued so far. The story elements although a main point of the game are not as restricting as what we are used to. They are usually completely uninstanced and unphased meaning you are always playing around others and contributing to a mission together.
Cutscenes are relatively minimal as well as short but they highlight the characters and themes well in what they do. They are just interesting points that get across the personality of the characters rather than giving you a mountain of backstory and such. The themes are rather adult too which better reflects the characters and the environment.
There is not that many of these scenes either even as part of the main story missions as you mostly receive the voiceover of the ergo (computerized program) who guides you, gives the basics of the mission, and pointing out where you need to go now. Even when it is an NPC instead of always providing communication through cutscenes it’s a mere holographic display near the bottom of the screen that in no way restricts your play. You keep traveling towards your next mission as you’re learning about it.
The minimal amount actually has you looking forward to them more as they are not that constant annoyance getting in the way of gameplay. Finally they are starting to learn that players want to play the game and be involved with the world rather then led blindly in-between player interactions
This may sound like I’m just glowing with praise regarding the game but it really does have its inherent flaws. Firstly it is still a bit buggy in critical ways, many of the options in game don’t work appropriately. Every time I wanted to go into settings to change keybinds, audio, or visual options I would just get a random no name crash to desktop… rather annoying. I also find the entire options menu and ui very… very unintuitive.
The major part that will make or break people’s enjoyment though is that Defiance is adhering and following with the current style of mmo design. It is inherently limiting the players options in many ways, it is not really guiding but constraining the player down a certain set path, only allowing deviation to a certain extent. The danger of having a more linear experience though is that people begin not to want to deviate from that path once they begin. I found myself many times after setting a way point to my next mission stop just completely ignoring the events I passed on the way.
There is the usual gear approach as well where you are always clamoring for the new shiny piece to use. Defiance has gone with the GUNS GUNS GUNS approach of borderlands to provide that sense of differentiation in its leveling but there just seems like so little diversity involved. Borderlands works because it is constantly giving massive upgrades and making you feel vastly superior between upgrades.. here it just seems a bit better. I just don’t see progression being that important of and aim because of it as the guns don’t matter much and the ego upgrades are rather minor too.. there is just little growth and for a linear approach I don’t know if it will work.
It’s also suffering from the same sort of self-serving attitude you get in gw2 where you are merely playing near not with other people, contributing to an event but not really cooperating. While there are lots of people and the world feels alive it just comes of as soulless for a multiplayer experience. I still very much prefer Firefall over this…Firefall and defiance while being of the same pedigree seem diametrically opposed in many ways. It is a fundamental difference between old and new mmo design; open vs. linear, player vs. developer content, substance vs. style that makes me prefer one over the other but both are good in their own way.
It does grows on you in way with its familiar rhythm of the shooter. I am contemplating playing in the near future, not a pre-order by any means but I’m going to see how the TV show turns out and if I want to get involved and experience along with the growing story. It’s fun but the part holding back my decision is if it is going to be sustainable fun.
Oh and I didn’t worry about the PvP because this game was never going to be about that in the slightest