I have already reviewed Defiance based on my first 20 hours or so of gameplay but, due to the complex nature of any MMO, I opted to hold off discussing particular aspects of the game until I had been able to put substantially more time into the product, as well as seeing how the show would play out. What follows are my impressions of the game as it exists presently.
Multiplayer: Not quite there….
The PVP portion of Defiance struggles on several fronts, though the developers have acknowledged that some work needs to be done. PVP has two primary directions: typical multiplayer, pitting two teams against one another on smaller, more focused maps, and a so-called Shadow War. The basic multiplayer features team death match and some other modes. It currently only offers two maps and these get stale particularly fast if playing for any length of time. When the matches are balanced they can be quite fun, but don’t honestly bring anything new or original to the mix and don’t do anything well enough to warrant playing these over better developed third person shooters. The Shadow War, however, holds a lot of potential. Players are dropped into the open world of Defiance and charged with taking control of multiple control points. These regions of the map still hold all the familiar dangers that players face in the PVE space with the added danger of fellow players looking to take them out. Players who are thorough explorers, and know the areas well, will be rewarded with having better angles of approach to objectives and a greater chance to ambush enemies. Players are also able to use their vehicles in Shadow War and sometimes locate the Cerberus assault vehicle, which has a mounted turret to dish out even more damage. Both modes offer experience and scrip as rewards for completion, as well as having an entire pursuit line to unlock new outfits for the regular world as well as outfit unlocks for the PVP.
The primary problem with both of these modes is they tend to be dominated by cloak spamming, shotgun toting enemies who can easily take you down in one or two shots. This wouldn’t be a problem except players only have weapons they have earned in the regular game available to them. If you didn’t start playing PVP at launch of the game, I wouldn’t recommend going in until you are at least ego level 250 and have your hands on some heavily modified weapons. The lack of balance due to players having random weapons really throws a wrench into the gears of what would otherwise be an amusing distraction from the rest of the game. Until Trion can find some means to at least group players based on ego level, I’m afraid the PVP won’t be much fun for most people. Another issue with Shadow War specifically is the spawn timer. When a player dies they have to wait about 40 seconds to respawn, which in smaller maps wouldn’t be an issue. The problem lies in the sheer scale of the battlefield as you will most likely die and spend five minutes trying to get back to the fight and more than likely will be run over or gunned down and have to start all over again.
These two modes could be a lot of fun if properly balanced, but until then I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who didn’t have a high tolerance for frustration.
The game is better with friends
My next point goes without saying, but I will say it anyway. Defiance is best enjoyed with at least one to three friends. The game’s difficulty has been balanced in such a way that, in the PVE world, players can easily group up and find a good fight even if one member is ego level 100 and the other 1000. Unlike most mmos where starting areas become a waste of time for higher level players, it is consistently entertaining to return to earlier areas of the map and take on the various enemies and continue to earn good loot. The game also has a number of Co-op missions that can be joined singularly or in a group of up to four players. If going in solo, players will be automatically matched up with three other players and, as you might expect, that can be a mixed bag in terms of getting teammates who work together well. I can hardly fault Trion for this as it is the case with any multiplayer game and when it does work and you get a good team, these missions really shine.
Aside from some particular instances in the main storyline, players can group up to tackle the missions. With a convenient fast travel directly to a player, it also makes calling in reinforcements extremely easy and rewarding. Missions are also fun to re-play with backup as it allows for a different strategy to be employed and as a result causes them to feel like different fights.
The way in which Defiance is structured doesn’t shoehorn players into any particular role. As you level up and earn various weapons and ego powers and perks, players can specialize in multiple roles changed very quickly. This is especially useful when consistently switching between solo and group play. In a group a player can specialize in being a healer while the other focuses on damage output, where a more balanced build suits solo play more. Random players in the world can also drop by at any time to lend a hand if they feel so inclined and this leads to some very interesting dynamic fights as strangers pop in to sort out some of the tougher enemies. The player also has an option to re-spec at any time in exchange for a cost of scrip that will vary depending on the level at which you do it, but it is never exorbitant. The player will also gain access to additional perks as they progress so there is always a reason to keep playing.
Social is anti-social
Probably one of the most glaring flaws in the game is the social aspect. It is a simple matter to play and enjoy the game with friends you already know, but finding and grouping with strangers is all but non-existent. Part of this problem falls on the in-game chat that sometimes fails to work at all, and other times only shows the most recent statement with little-to-no ability to read back what was said earlier. Voice chat seems to be there, but is often static-filled and stuttered. Most MMOs have central locations that act as social hubs, sometimes even hosting activities, but in Defiance all of the locations act more as way stations between kills for players to buy new weapons, mods and vehicles. The game could greatly benefit from more clan options like housing and trophies, as well as a central settlement that encourages players to interact with one another.
A trans-media experience
At the time of writing my first review, I hadn’t been able to see how the game and its related television show interact. With the fourth episode released this last Monday, the interactions are subtle but, for those who play the game and watch the show, it feels meaningful. An example of this would be the Hellbugs featured in Ep.3 that then led to the launch of Hellbug mating season in-game with related pursuits for players to kill various elemental types of Hellbugs. The developers have also promised more story quests much in the same vein as the initial quests offered before the show aired. Trion also seems good about constant game updates and transient events, which encourage players to keep coming back; the most recent was a racing challenge that unlocked three uniquely colored vehicles for those who participated.
It’s a bright future…
My initial review of the game still stands. It is a fun title that is worth an investment of time if you enjoy shooters and sci fi environments. The fun to be had by grouping with friends exponentially raises the enjoyment of the game and I would recommend bringing your playmates along for the ride.