Defiance review (content as of launch)

Posted: April 5, 2013 by ryanlecocq in Reviews

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You’re a… heartbreaker… dream maker… love taker don’t you mess around-NoNoNo!

Defiance is totally not as bad as a lot of people would tell you it is.  It all depends what you compare it to and whether you write your review right after the servers go down in the middle of a major Arkfall.  On the other hand, some of the complaints against it are valid, but probably drummed up in the earlier mentioned scenario by people looking for reasons to knock it.  The fact is that Defiance launched with about the same amount of grace as any new form of MMO.  No more, no less.  Whether or not it meets your personal expectations however, depends a lot on what console you mostly play on and what similar games you have played in the past.

I’ll try to give it to you in a nutshell in the first paragraph to save you time.  If you own a PC, don’t buy this game unless you really love shooters and have a giant pile of extra money.  Not that it isn’t fun, just that this game cannot compete under any terms with it’s competition on that platform.  Games like Warframe, Planetside 2, Guild Wars 2 and Trion’s own Rift offer every single concept in this game (although not all together in the same game), at a higher level of polish and with less server issues.  True, Defiance is a new gameplay design with ideas you’ve seen before, but it still has to compete with games that are more similar.  If you are a console gamer and have not already played all of the greatest MMOs of the last 2 decades, this is where you need to be.  If Borderlands was your first introduction to co-op grinding, you need to be playing this game RIGHT NOW.  To a console gamer not already desensitized by years of the same thing, Defiance will be a new experience you have never seen on your Xbox 360 or PS3.  I would liken it best to when Phantasy Star Online hit consoles in early 2001.  Sure, in the PC space, two Diablo games, one expansion and a million clones had already released.  On consoles, the best people had ever seen of this type of game was the exceedingly poor port of Diablo on PSX and Gauntlet Legends.  So to a PC gamer it would just be “Oh, it’s just Diablo in a scifi world, in third-person.”  To people who had never played the like though, it was an all-consuming obsession, just like the first 2 Diablo games were when released on PC.  This parallel holds up really well, because the closest Xbox 360 players have been to an MMO is the sub-par port of FFXI that quietly gathers dust on the Live servers.

That said, I’ll go into discussing the game overall across all versions.  First and foremost, Defiance is an MMORPS, which is not technically a genre that exists.  Imagine Trion’s previous game Rift (or Guild Wars 2 if you’ve played that instead), with most of the successful elements of Borderlands incorporated.  So while there are other games which are somewhat similar, this is a new concept that has not been tested.  People comparing this game to traditional MMO roleplaying games are being just plain unfair, as that model has now existed for nearly two decades.  If you want to bash Defiance objectively, name for me one other game that is exactly similar to compare it to.  No, I don’t mean a game where you shoot dudes with other dudes online.  That would be like saying it’s fair to compare Dishonored to Halo 4 because both are technically shooters.  Okay, by that comparison Dishonored is a -212 on a fair rating scale as Halo 4 is better designed, has 100x the budget, is a sequel on a familiar engine, oh and will entertain you for about two months longer than Dishonored’s 6 hour campaign.  Sound a little skewed?  Yeah, that’s about how scientific it is to compare Defiance to Guild Wars 2.  Considering that Defiance is actually pretty ambitious and that it’s launch should be compared to an early example in other MMO genres, not 10 year veterans, most of the arguments you have heard against this game are now invalid under my terms.  People hate the scientific method and fairness even more than they hate reading real books though, so I’m not really expecting a Vulcan-esque revolution of logical thought in our society.

The plus column of this game is basically that it’s similar to Borderlands and you can play it with lots of other people in an open world.  If you’ve never played Guild Wars 2 or Rift, you are going to love the concept of dynamic events.  Instead of going to a pre-set area where the enemies always respawn after a set period of time, the concept is that encounters pop up at random around you while you play.  While I found this to be somewhat annoying after a while in Guild Wars 2 and Rift, it works a lot better in a shooter game.  Shooters cater very well to bite-sized encounters, so a constant stream of them to distract you from the main content just adds to the flavor.  It’s a ton of fun to be in the middle of shooting mooks with your party, when suddenly an Arkfall pops up.  You then form your little Mad Max style ATV gang and trek across the map with all of the other players to converge on one big battle.  These battles tend to get a bit chaotic and at times you can really see your console struggling with it’s lack of RAM if you are playing on those versions.  This is something many of us have lived with for years on other MMOs though (looking at you with your 15fps crappy PC and your bad connection back in the day, Laguna), so this should by no means discourage you from diving in.  The biggest downfall of the Arkfalls is that you do them so much they quickly become repetitive.  Trion is doing a fine job of getting content up as fast as possible, but the small amount of different Arkfalls in the initial release is a fault I’ll talk more about later.

The shooter gameplay isn’t top of it’s class, but definitely well-polished for a cross-genre game.  Think Tribes or Planetside, where it’s an online game that is competent enough as a shooter that it won’t bother you.  The vehicle controls would be excellent, if not for the bad collision that sabotages them at every opportunity.  Flying along at high speed with a huge grin on your face is regularly interrupted by a tiny rock or lip that your tires rebound from as if from a force field.  That won’t stop you from getting that huge grin back a couple of seconds later, but it definitely mars an otherwise very fun part of the gameplay.  Overall though, I would say the driving and shooting works almost as well as Borderlands, which similarly smooths over all of it’s rough edges with it’s very fun gameplay.  And oh is the gameplay fun.  Sure, all of the complaints people have are true in a sense, but they’re only making them in the bits of server downtime because they are really just pissed they can’t be playing.  That is pretty much the best pro I can give to any online game:  That most of the bitching is caused by people wishing they were playing because they are having so much fun.

Now for the cons.  As an MMO, Defiance is not nearly as good as it is an action/shooter.  The quests are often fun, but only because of you and your buddies’ actions and strategy.  Much like Rift, you are basically going to see the same thinking that has gone into every single fetch quest ever since Balder’s Gate, over and over again.  While I definitely consider this a con as a few games have gotten past it, this is still the state of norm for about 99% of all MMOs, so I don’t fault the game too hard.  Same could be said for the server issues.  Sure, you get booted from time to time and the server is down for an hour or so during peak hours more often than I would like.  Which pretty much describes every online game launch ever.  I remember when Diablo 3 launched and Laguna had it preloaded by midnight.  We just logged in to confirm what we expected, that the servers would be broken, laughed and went to sleep.  Considering that game had, as I’ve said before: “an army, a fortune and an eternity to develop,” expecting better out of a licensed game is just plain silly.  Defiance’s launch has been exactly like all of the MMO launches in my memory, no better, no worse.  The only difference is that compared to companies like Blizzard, Trion’s response has been vastly better.  When most games have bugs the first week, the devs hide from the forums and give no apology.  In the last week, I have gotten constant updates from Trion on bug progress and yesterday all players received a pretty hefty in-game perk for their patience.  How is that in any way, shape or form not infinitely superior to any MMO launch ever?  Really, please tell me about the time when Blizzard has ever been such a good company, because my past dealings with them over 17 years have been the opposite.  It still must be said against the game though, that it does not work well at all times yet.

The second big con is the lack of initial content.  True, compared to a normal single-player console game, Defiance is enormous.  But Defiance is an MMO, meaning it should be compared to games like Final Fantasy XI and DC Universe Online, which also exist on consoles in some form.  By that comparison, Defiance is pretty skimpy on day 1 content.  Sure, you can easily play it for weeks, but most of that is repeating the dynamic events and instances.  To actually do everything the game has to offer once or twice could be easily done in less than 20 hours of gameplay.  Compared to a game like SWTOR, which launched with several full 40+ hour campaigns as well as a ton of instanced content, Defiance is pretty skinny.  Like I mentioned above, this is mostly only a concern to PC players who could buy many other great online games for the same price.  On consoles, games that entertain for more than 20 hours are few and far between, so I don’t see this as an issue.  Console gamers are used to playing a game for a week or two and then trading it in to Gamestop for a new one.

Finally, you have the completely half-assed plot.  I’m not saying the show has a half-assed concept, I’m still reserving judgment on that.  What I mean is maybe they should have borrowed some of the writers from the show for the game.  I know Trion has decent writers somewhere in their building, but clearly those people are already spread too thin on Rift.  Not only is the dialogue and plot in this game some of the most ill-conceived drivel I have ever digested, it has the grammar of an 8 year old child.  I often find myself yelling at my stupid AI companion that it should be “come” and not “comes” in that sentence, or that you can’t change tense midsentence with no alteration in wording.  Granted, I’m a journalism major and a grammar Nazi, but this is just plain pathetic for a game that has received any kind of playtesting.  Actually, that’s probably the issue.  We must have reached a level of idiocracy where an entire company and hundreds of playtesters can read something and it is statistically possible that none of them are educated in their native language enough to notice obvious errors.  Scary, but probably true.  Once again, this could be said for most MMOs in the history of ever, so I’m not going to tank the score for it.  It would just be nice to see improvement in this area and when I saw the writers attached to the show, I hoped a little would cross over.

In conclusion, I think Defiance is going to be a very split product in it’s success and failure.  I see it completely tanking on PC unless Trion is able to catch up to an established curve they are already behind.  On consoles on the other hand, this is going to be huge.  I can’t even count how many times I have heard other players mention how they’ve never done anything like this before and they love it.  It may seem inconceivable to PC gamers that someone could have never played Everquest, WoW or Planetside, but this is a fact.  Many people only ever game on consoles and there have just never been many MMOs on consoles.  The ones that have released were either so bad that they would turn more people off it than on or they were such bad ports that any player would rush out and buy a PC if they liked it.  I think Defiance will be for many people their first “big open grind” and it will suck them in just as much as it did the PC gaming world a decade ago.  So by that reasoning, I’m giving the game a split score on consoles/PC.  While the PC version has better graphics and significantly less server issues, it just isn’t as good compared to it’s well-established competition.

PC: 7/10   –   Xbox360/PS3: 9/10

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