This won’t be a full review of Defiance, which I’m hoping to have done by the end of the week or early next. Instead I felt like I should share some impressions of the 20 plus hours I’ve spent with the new MMO shooter on the Xbox 360 platform specifically, just to give readers an idea if it’s something worth picking up now, or whether you should wait for some of the launch wrinkles to be ironed out.
I’ll start off by saying that Defiance is certainly rough around the edges. It’s had the typical MMO launch woes that you sort of expect to see, server downtimes, patches, bugged missions, graphical glitches, and other errors. Most of this stuff is old hat for any experienced MMO devotee. If you’ve been present at launch for games like World of Warcraft, Everquest 1 or 2, Star Wars: The Old Republic, and a host of other games in the same vein, you’ll know what I’m talking about. To developer/publisher Trion’s credit they’ve made some effort to be pretty transparent about issues that the game is currently experiencing. And they’ve certainly rolled out a number of stability patches to improve things like lag on the Xbox 360 version of the game. Also surprising is the low amount of server downtime I’ve encountered. Yes, they’ve gone offline frequently enough, but rarely for anything more than a half hour or so.
But there are also issues with the game that are a little more inclusive to Defiance, along with some positive things to note. Considering that this is my first experience with an MMO shooter, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect. I currently stand with mixed feelings on the current product, but find myself being drawn back into the game over and over again despite some of its shortcomings. The open world setting of Defiance’s alternate-future Earth is well realized, but often repetitive. Enemies can be both aggressive and completely brain-dead, when their path scripting doesn’t go haywire, or when they don’t magically teleport away from you or suddenly appear in mid-air. Other notable bugs include character animations becoming stuck in often hilarious ways, and missions needing to be restarted because a required interactive object is not so interactive.
Character loadouts seem effectively busted too. As you advance through the game, with character progression being marked by ambiguously labeled Ego/Power Levels as opposed to standard leveling systems, you’ll gain the ability to use more loadouts. These would be helpful, as there are a number of weapon types present, and certain weapons are definitely more effective against enemy types. There’s also some elemental attributes given to better weapons, again useful against particular enemies. But being able to change those loadouts is currently a gigantic pain in the ass. It usually requires you to switch to the loadout you want to change, back out completely from the menu, go back into the menu, make your weapon changes, and back out again for them to take effect. This sometimes works. Sometimes it does not. It is, however, consistently frustrating.
Adding to that frustration is the modding system in place for weapons. While I absolutely love the weapon selection present here, and all the variants of those weapons you can run across, I’ve begun to think the modding system present for weapons is all but useless. Ideally you can equip most weapons with up to four different mods, stuff like barrel and magazine modifications. These are intended to add some bonuses to the current weapon, which sounds like a great idea and another way to make your weapons feels unique. But actually adding those mods is far more frustrating than it’s currently worth.
Not all weapons have their mod slots open at the beginning, sometimes requiring you to spend salvage (earned by scrapping weapons and defeating enemies) to open up mod slots on the weapon. This process, however, also represents a major time sink, taking 10 minutes to unlock a single mod slot on a weapon. During this time period you can’t use that weapon, and depending on how far your Ego/Power Rating is, you might not be able to use the modification screen at all, even for breaking down other weapons or adding in mods to weapons that have their slots already unlocked. On a weapon with no mod slots open, that means it can take 40 minutes to be able to use that weapon and equip mods in every single slot. This seems like a mind-boggling concept to me.
This also dovetails into the current loadout issues. If you have a weapon equipped in a loadout that is not currently active, you can neither mod, sell, or destroy that weapon. As you advance through the game and open up more loadouts, you’ll constantly have to babysit those loadout screens in order to cycle out older weapons you want to get rid of. And since altering loadouts is currently a major pain, it really makes the experience far more frustrating than necessary. And you can’t simply copy a current loadout to your other loadout screens, instead you need to go in and change every piece of gear one piece at a time. Granted, there’s no real armor system in place (thankfully), but it still gets to be a tedious time waster.
Still, despite a lot of frustration, I keep coming back for more. When Defiance works it’s a lot of fun to just go around, shoot stuff, build up your experience bar, and collect loot. The loot itself isn’t grand, there definitely needs to be some thought given to either making loot feel more special, or at least giving some added noticeable benefit for higher loot tiers. But the sheer variety in weapon types, which also have their own experience levels to build, means you can mess around with a lot of different ways to take down all the bad guys you encounter. There’s no shortage of things to do in the world either, besides the main story quests there are a number of optional side quests, episode quests that tie directly back into the T.V. show debuting soon, and lots of world events that are ripped right out of Rift’s (Trion’s other MMO) playbook. There’s even smaller encounters you’ll see frequently, which are pretty repetitious, but are rewarding enough to make them worth completing every time they’re encountered.
As far as what I’ve covered so far, I just hit the third story act, knocked out a couple co-op missions (think group instances), and have taken on just about every side quest I’ve seen. I finished out the episode missions, which result in a pretty solid weapon reward. And I’ve participated in a number of the world Ark-Fall events, which see you teaming up with any other players nearby to take down waves of enemies and glowing crystals in order to possibly net cool loot.
The only thing that feels really lacking mission wise is the co-op missions. Clearly intended to be group focused instances with tougher enemies and bosses, there’s not much of a payoff present for completing them. One you down the boss, you’ll get booted from the instance and see a screen that tells you how much money, XP, and tokens you won, which can be redeemed for random gear boxes. You also apparently get gear dropped, but the game doesn’t tell you what it was, leaving you to search through your inventory as you try to figure out what you earned. So far those rewards have been pretty paltry, and make completing the co-op missions feel like something not worthwhile.
I know that these impressions sound mostly negative, and I don’t think I realized how much I wasn’t enjoying things until I sat down to type this. But I haven’t sampled competitive multiplayer yet, and I still have a lot to do story wise. There’s even five more co-op mission to tackle that I haven’t unlocked, and a new option for contracts that I just uncovered yesterday. So there’s still a lot of game to go. It’s worth noting that it’s not a very smooth experience currently, and despite not handing down an official score just yet, I’d really urge you to hold off until the first promised big patch hits on the 15th to get a better idea of where the game stands. Expect a bit more Defiance coverage here soon, and an official review score to go along with it.