Also On: PS3, PC
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Reviewing Defiance, a new third-person shooter MMO from Rift developer Trion, reminds me why reviewing an MMO around or shortly after launch is generally a waste of time. There’s a lot of things that I really enjoy about the game, but there’s also a hefty amount of stuff that just doesn’t work right too, and detracts a lot from the overall experience. While patching video games isn’t exclusive to MMO’s to fix problems around launch, it’s certainly a more likely scenario to encounter, with larger and more frequent patching required in order to iron out issues and fine tune the final product.
But isn’t that what beta testing is for you ask? Well yeah, obviously it is. And Defiance certainly had beta and alpha tests where certain issues were defined and fixed. And I think it’s safe to say there were known issues in beta not fixed when the game launched. Part of that, I would assume, is that the time table to get Defiance out to the public was also tied closely to the Syfy channel T.V. show that ties into the game. There are probably additional factors at work here that kept the game from getting some additional layers of polish prior to launch as well. And Trion as a developer isn’t a stranger to launching large scale MMO’s, their PC exclusive Rift MMORPG didn’t have a completely smooth launch either. Most online only games rarely do.
But at what point do we stop throwing the down the “lol MMO launch” card and start expecting fundamental things, like missions, side quests, interactive objects, co-op missions, and PvP matches to actually work? Because despite having a fairly detailed patch dropping just a couple days ago (4/18), issues still persist with all of those things. I’m sure at some point down the road more patches will drop and make necessary changes and fixes to create a better game, but if you’re interested in jumping in or maybe jumped in when the game hit shelves two weeks ago there’s a good chance you’re starting to get sort of exasperated at the state of things. And you should be.
And it’s not just bugs that keep Defiance down either. There are some odd design decisions in place that are worth talking about too. But there are also a number of good things about the game, and Defiance as a whole is a really unique experience in relation to what most MMO’s tend to offer. It’s one of the few large-scale MMO’s available for consoles, with full on patching and installation functions for PS3 and Xbox 360 that for the most part work smoothly.
While server issues and disconnects were an issue for the first few days after launch, Trion has also done an excellent job of tackling those problems and making the general online experience feel pretty smooth. The copy of the game I’ve reviewed was on Xbox 360, and while the visual fidelity doesn’t match the PC version, I am pretty impressed with the scope of the game and how well the interface works with a controller. Outside of few people using either voice chat or the in-game chat channel, there are not a lot of differences between the PC and console versions of Defiance.
Combat in Defiance is less Gears of War and more akin to something like Mercenaries, or Just Cause but without all the environmental destruction. There’s a lot of weapon variety here, with shotguns, assault rifles, sniper rifles, pistols, grenade launchers, rocket launchers and so on. And there’s some more sci-fi specific weaponry in the form of weapons like Infectors, which latch small pods onto enemies and hatch little bugs upon death that will swarm other enemies nearby. Every weapon has four upgrade slots, some of which are available when you pick up the weapon, and some that need to be opened up through your Salvage Matrix menu. Adding mods to a weapon can increase damage, add scopes, improve stability and so on. You can have two weapons equipped at once, and can create loadouts for different scenarios.
There’s an assisted aim option useful for console players, but it can also be turned off. Enemies generally pose a sizeable threat, and while they’re not often very smart, they will remain mobile and prevent you from being stationary most of the time. The difficulty from one area of the map to the next, as you advance the story at least, has a pretty decent curve to it. But death and failure are rarely punishing events, with the ability to auto-revive once every few minutes, and with plenty of checkpoints spread across the map to start over at.
Being a persistent online world filled with other players, you’ll often run into other players attempting the same missions or side quests as you. Instead of forcing you to group up or wait for another player to clear a location, you can just jump and pool your progress with anyone at any given time. Heading to a farm where you need to turn off a few generators? If someone has already started, with two switched off and two more to go, you’ll pick up that progress as soon as you get close enough. Then you can work together, without actually grouping, and both get credit for finishing it. Obviously there’s some room for players that will take advantage of being in an area without actually doing something, but I definitely prefer this over having to wait for something to respawn over and over again.
Other aspects about Defiance that I enjoy come from the way instanced stages and multiplayer work. As you advance the main story in Defiance, you’ll unlock co-op maps that can be accessed via a quick menu option at any time. Whenever you want, you can queue up for one of these maps, continue playing or doing whatever you’re currently doing, and then jump into the co-op map once the matchmaking has found enough players. I’ve rarely had issues with matchmaking as well, which is definitely a plus. PvP works the same way, offering up two competitive maps for team Deathmatch, and then larger scale Shadow War conflicts that take place on the standard Defiance map spread out across a large area, involving a bunch of capture and hold objectives.
Another plus about those co-op maps, at least the first couple times you run them, is that they offer up unique scripted storylines and sequences to enjoy. Oddly enough these are almost given more attention than the main story, and provide nice alternatives to what you encounter in the main game. They also feature unique bosses, most of which are pretty memorable encounters that require some form of teamwork to complete, and can be pretty challenging until you pick up on patterns and weaknesses.
Finally, I enjoy Defiance’s loot system. It’s sort of a standard MMO design, offering up varying degrees of rarity for loot that’s color coded so you know how rare something you pick up is. But the majority of the loot recovered consists of weapons, grenades, and shields. Outfits are more for show than actual defense, so they’re generally unlocked via optional Pursuits that complete over time. But putting the emphasis on just a few items makes it easier to manage inventory and sort through potential upgrades without needing to endlessly micro-manage your current avatar.
But one of the more interesting aspects of Defiance’s loot system is the fact that an early game weapon can be just as useful as something you pick up towards the end of the game. While weapons run the rarity gamut of common to legendary, that rarity doesn’t have much impact on base stats. So damage output, clip size, fire speed, reloads and so on are usually comparable from one weapon in the same class to the next. There are a number of sub-classes in each weapon type, which will change those stats accordingly, so you might run into 2 or 3 submachine gun types alone. What rarity brings to the table are additional skills, already unlocked mod slots, and synergy abilities that unlock after a certain number of mods are equipped. It’s an interesting balance system that doesn’t block players out based on luck, but makes finding a rare or legendary item still feel important.
Defiance also has a whole host of problems too. I’ve harped on some things already with my previously posted impressions from the first 20 hours. From that, I will say that my complaint about modding weapons gets addressed later in the game. Opening up mod slots takes time, and also prevents you from using that weapon during the process. Early on it’ll also lock you out of the Salvage Matrix, meaning you can’t mod other weapons, or destroy weapons for resources (used as a secondary currency in the game). But as you advance in level more Salvage Matrix slots become available, making this a little less painful. Tying up a weapon you want to mod for 10 minutes still feels needless, but at least the Salvage Matrix can be brought up, or other weapons can be modded.
Another issue I have with Defiance’s early moments comes from the character creation process. There are options for race and gender, and scalable stuff as well to further modify your starting look. But then there’s also an option to choose between classes, which would certainly make sense, but classes don’t seem to have any impact on anything. Instead, you’re given the option of choosing one of four starting abilities, EGO powers, but those aren’t tied directly into what class you choose. Why even give me a class option if it has no real role in the game? And if it’s just an outfit option, I feel like stating so instead of using the term “class” would have been more fitting and less confusing.
There’s also other MMO tropes that Defiance seems to want to use, but doesn’t implement them in an expected or logical fashion. EGO Rating is one of those things, which at first seems to work like standard leveling found in other games with experience systems built in. But the experience you earn for completing quests or killing enemies, which builds up a bar at the bottom of the screen, seemingly has nothing to do with your EGO Rating. Instead that expands as you complete the optional pursuits, which can be tied into a whole host of events or requirements. However, filling that experience bar does allow you to unlock new skills by allotting a single skill point every time you fill the bar. Again, this whole process seems needlessly complicated and confusing, almost as if it’s trying to be different for the sake of being different.
The actual skill system is another issue. Skills are laid out in a square grid when you begin the game, with your first skill being the EGO power you choose with your starting character. The four EGO powers are placed close to the corners of the square pattern, so that when you choose one of the abilities surrounding it, those skills become available to devote a skill point into when you gain one. This continues across the board whenever you drop a skillpoint in a new skill. This aspect I have zero issue with, it’s somewhat reminiscent of skill boards found in titles like Final Fantasy XII, or numerous other RPG’s. And all skills can be leveled up, at least a few times, so you can continue to drop skill points into abilities in order to increase their effectiveness.
But what does become an issue is Defiance’s desire to limit the skills you can equip, even late in the game. As you advance in EGO Rating, you’ll unlock skill slots that allow you to equip more than one ability. Again, not an unusual thing, but there’s a big progress wall that you hit after reaching an EGO Rating of 500. Up to this point you’ll unlock a skill slot for every 100 points of EGO Rating gained, which feels appropriate and natural, corresponding well with your forward progression. But after you hit that 500 EGO Rating threshold, your next skill won’t unlock until you hit 1000. To give you an idea of what that might entail, I’ve put around 48 hours into the game, and I’m at EGO Rating 750 (roughly). But, I’ve been earning skill points left and right, to the point I’ve been able to max out all equipped skills, and have unlocked about half of the available skills on the board. So here I sit with a bunch of skills and not a lot to do with them.
To Defiance’s credit, I can respec at any time, and can un-equip skills at will. So there’s definitely room to try different builds and combinations. But why wait so long to give me the other slots? I’ve finished the main story, completed a large chunk of side missions, and ran through every single co-op map multiple times. I’ve participated in a lot of world Ark events, Shadow War battles, and have played through the Team Deathmatch maps over and over and over. Quite frankly, I’ll be burned out long before I hit the max EGO mark, because there’s just not enough content to support that time sink. There are episodic events being put into the game corresponding with the show, and promises of future free content updates too, so over time this won’t be an issue. But right now I feel like there’s a high ladder to climb, but not much reason to do so.
And then there are the awful, persistent bugs that remain an issue even after the newest patch. Co-op matches can be fun when they work, but that’s not as often as you might think. Just last night, when attempting to run Explosions 101, I had to jump in and out of the map just to get a working game. You’ll run into instances where you’ll join a map, and no other players will be nearby. So instead of positioning you with the group already in progress, you get dropped at the beginning of the instance and need to run all the way to wherever they are. Certain scripted sequences continue to be issues, like a mid-boss that doesn’t spawn in the aforementioned map, which causes you to be stuck in a room with no exit, giving you no other choice but to back out completely.
I’m still receiving constant, annoying notifications that fill up an already busy user interface. Every time I log in, respawn, load into a co-op or multiplayer session, or quick travel, I’m shown a constant string of “New Content Available” messages. But it’s not actually new content, it’s a listing, one by one, of every single co-op map I’ve had unlocked for a dozen plus hours. And then there’s the string of “Contract Complete” messages that fill the screen at the same time, despite having not actually completed any contracts.
Certain missions continue to be bugged, with my most recent encounter being a side mission titled “Project Aegis, Part 1”. This mission tasks you with rebooting four turrets along a road, which should be easy enough to complete. The problem comes from reaching the turret and not being able to interact with it. You can restart the mission and maybe the first turret will work, but when you reach the second it won’t be interactive. Dying and respawning might fix it, but then you need to battle it out against all the enemies on that road again just to reach the turrets, and the problem might not be fixed. You can eventually work your way through it using these methods, but there’s really no reason why you should have to do so.
Other issues stem from not getting appropriate credit for completing events or pursuits, having stats reset on various items, and there’s still a multiplayer map missing from launch, taken out due to some exploit. The problem from that is some of the daily and weekly contracts, necessary to complete in order to gain faction points for certain in-game stores, actually require that map to be available in order to complete. And despite being an issue since the map was removed, these contracts are still in the rotation, which I find absolutely baffling.
There are other annoyances too, like the in-game map not giving you enough detailed information to find specific areas without an active waypoint. Or not being able to copy one loadout slot to the next, or wipe gear on a loadout slot without going in and reequipping every slot with something else. Or not being able to select a bunch of items from your inventory to salvage all at once, instead needing to pick one, salvage it, revert back to your inventory list (at the top of the list too, not where you left off), select another, rinse and repeat. This complaint also holds true for purchasing salvage in bulk from a lockbox vendor.
And while I enjoy the mechanics of the loot system, actually getting that loot and understanding what warrants it is pretty ambiguous. There are lockboxes at most fast travel location hubs, where you can exchange Ark Keys for loot boxes. There are four tiers of loot boxes present, requiring 8, 16, 24, or 64 Ark Keys for Tier 1, 2, 3 and 4 ranked boxes. Common sense would make you think that Tier 4 boxes would contain your best chance at the best loot, especially considering it’s a 40 key jump from the Tier 3 to the Tier 4 box. But nothing in-game seems to support that. The only difference, at the moment, is that Tier 4 boxes net you 1 more weapon than Tier 3. So why spend an additional 40 Ark Keys for one more weapon when you could take that and purchase 5 Tier 1 boxes for five weapons total?
Also, the co-op missions feel like the equivalent of instanced dungeons in most MMO’s, but the rewards for completing them feel small and insignificant. They can be fun to run through, but final bosses don’t drop loot, and the experience payoff is sort of small. Compared to standard quests and world events, the incentive isn’t scaled to match the effort.
So no, I don’t really think Defiance is worth picking up or checking out in its current state. There are a lot of things about the game that I enjoy despite the flaws, but until some of the things mentioned above get ironed out, it’s certainly not something that begs to be played. Defiance can still get its hooks in you in the addictive way that most MMO’s do, but there’s a point where frustration with the various issues will continue to build, and make you put the game up for good. Once those issues are fixed, assuming they will be, then I imagine we’ll have a decent experience on our hands, especially for console gamers that don’t get a lot of MMO love. But until then, I’d suggest saving your time and money for something that actually works and feels complete.