Date: May 15, 2013
Author(s): Rob Williams
When entering the world of Defiance for the first time, it’s wise to take everything you know about MMOs and purge it from memory. This is a game that strives to be a bit different, and the fact that the entire game can be completed solo and has no leveling system is a good hint to that. But the important question: is it worth your time?
What do you get when you take one part sci-fi TV show and one part MMOG and toss them both into a blender? A strange way to open a review of Defiance, that’s what.
From the folks who brought us Rift and End of Nations comes an MMO that takes place in the not-so-distant future on the planet we all call home (that’s earth for those not paying close enough attention). Although we enter the game in the year 2030, the story begins in the present day. As you’d expect from a sci-fi themed game, aliens are involved.
Votans, the primary alien species in Defiance, came to earth in 2013 after their home star system suffered a stellar collision. While they believed that the planet was uninhabited, it obviously wasn’t, and before long, they were greeted with hostility. After ten long years and right on the verge of a peace treaty being completed between the two species, a human supremacist assassinated the Votan’s UN ambassador. Over the course of the next seven years, the Pale Wars tore the planet apart.
That brings us to 2030, when an Ark fleet roaming in space mysteriously exploded, killing millions of Votans. The Votans accused humans of causing the mess, while the humans claimed it was the result of experimental alien technology gone awry. Whatever the cause, the result is a constant flow of Arks falling from the sky, resulting in “Arkfalls” – instanced battles that I’ll talk more about later.
As alluded to above, Defiance is both an MMO and a TV show. The show broadcasts on the SyFy network, and has had decent enough success already to warrant a second season for 2014. For an MMO gamer, I can’t imagine anything cooler than having a TV show based around your game – and vice versa. If you happen to like the game, you’ll very likely enjoy the show.
After looking through the screenshots for the game, don’t feel bad if it happens to remind you of Halo. Everyone else has thought the same thing. However, apart from some familiar terrain and outfits, both games share little in common. At the same time, Defiance is hardly a typical MMO.
The vast majority of MMO games out there hinge on one important game mechanic: a leveling-system. It’s what keeps people coming back as much as possible – to gain levels, gain new abilities, gain access to new content, and so forth. In Defiance, there’s no leveling system – enemies have no levels, and you have no effective level.
This enables Defiance to be more of a “jump-in-and-go” MMOG, one you simply don’t need to dedicate a ton of time to in order to succeed. That’s not to say that grinding is useless, however – it’s effect is just virtually non-existent compared to most MMOs I’ve played. As you progress your “EGO” rating (see? not “level”), you gain EGO points that can be used to gain access to the four main skills in the game (Overcharge, Blur, Decoy and Cloak), along with 80 “perks”. Each EGO level gives you one point; the four main skills can be leveled up five times, and the perks, three times.
The other benefit to increasing your EGO rating is that at certain points, loot will increase in effectiveness ever-so-slightly. Obviously, you’d expect equipment with an EGO rating of 2,000 to be better than that with an EGO rating of 500, but again, the contrast isn’t as stark as you’d expect.
Thanks to this design, any new player can become effective very quickly, and because all enemies on the landmass are effectively the same level, this new player would be able to team up with someone who’s been playing for months and still be pretty effective. This, to me, is one of the true highlights of Defiance. Whenever I’ve done a co-op map or showed up to an Arkfall, I never felt inadequate. I found equipment I liked, became good with it, and performed well (if I do say so myself).
With all that’s been said so far, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that Defiance isn’t a complex MMO. Far from it, in fact. There’s no crafting system, for starters, though a simple weapon modding system exists (it’s a matter of applying a mod found through questing or looting to an available slot on a weapon). While weapons have damage values, you’re not going to see great variance between them – this is what helps keep newbies powerful enough while preventing skilled players from being overpowered. There’s no “armor” in game, just outfits which carry no defensive or offensive properties. In a way, this is a blessing – it means you can wear whichever outfit you think looks best, rather than what’s most functional.
Not long after starting your adventure, you’ll earn your first vehicle. Here lies another shining feature in Defiance: you can spawn your vehicle with minimal exceptions – you can’t spawn them in dungeons, and after your vehicle explodes, a small timer must expire before you can spawn another (about 10 seconds). This ease is for a reason though. The landmass in Defiance isn’t large by any stretch, but traveling it on foot would get old, fast. Being able to spawn a vehicle wherever you need to allows you to traverse the terrain quickly and efficiently, and boy is it satisfying to be able to do so.
In terms of gameplay, Defiance is again quite different from the rest. “MMO” might mean “massively multiplayer online”, but Defiance could be treated as a single-player game just fine. In fact, this is one of the biggest downsides of the game – there’s almost no community whatsoever. It’s rare when you see people chat, and when they do, it’s probably because you’re not helping with triggering a co-op quest flag, or because someone needs to be resurrected. To some, this is going to be off-putting. After all… this is an MMO.
Because I’m a bit of an unusual gamer, this doesn’t bother me too much. Usually, I like to drown things out and just kick some ass. Even if there’s not much chatter going on, however, there’s always people to join up with for some Arkfall duties, and rarely I’ve been left to die when people are around. Clans are available in the game, but I’m truly unaware of the bonuses they offer aside from being able to sync up with people quickly. There are no “Raid” bosses; just Arkfalls and missions.
On the topic of Arkfalls, anyone who’s played Rift will understand the mechanics of these. Randomly, a piece of an Ark will fall to earth, at which point a battle will ensue. There are multiple Arkfall types in the game, and I won’t exhaust their descriptions here. Generally speaking, you need to eradicate the center (largest) target by aiming for their weak spots that are opened with the help of the hellbugs gnawing away at them. Rewards for completing Arkfalls can include XP, some currency and random gear.
When not participating in a co-op map or an Arkfall, three mission types can be tackled: main, episode and side. Each of these is pretty self-explanatory. The main missions may have little to do with the TV show, but episode missions do. Side missions are minor in comparison to either of these, but are great for leveling up and gaining currency. Main and episode missions are mostly a matter of going to one point and completing a quest, and then continuing onto the next point, right up until the end.
A typical action-filled Arkfall
The game offers a number of events to complete as well, including Hotshot (kill off as many enemies as possible before your ammo runs out), Rampage (ditto – except it’s death that ends you), and Time Trial, the game’s race mode. Overall, there’s quite a bit of variety here, but there’s one thing we haven’t yet discussed: PvP.
At any time, you can get into queue for a competitive or Shadow War match. Competitive is simply a deathmatch scenario where one team is against the other, while Shadow War is a domination match where your team needs to hold more points for the most amount of time in order to secure the win. Rewards from Shadow War matches include Echelon credits, which can be used to purchase special equipment and outfits.
MMOs are typically complex, but not Defiance. In a mere 1,400 words or so, we’ve virtually covered everything important about the game. So let’s tackle other miscellaneous things, shall we?
For those who enjoy action games like Halo or Borderlands, there’s a good chance you’ll also like Defiance – as long as you don’t go into the game expecting the typical MMO experience. Few people talk, and the entire game can be completed by your lonesome. Like Borderlands, enemies increase in difficulty as more people join in. Having friends around definitely makes certain things easier, but it’s not required. Even minor Arkfalls can be soloed if no one else decides to show up.
In some regards, Defiance is a great MMO for those who don’t have time for MMOs. You can play a couple of hours a week and be content, and because there are no subscription fee, you’re not wasting money. In all, I’d estimate it took me about 60 hours to complete every quest the game offered me, leading up to the TV series launch. Not a ton of gameplay for an MMO, but if you’re a dedicated player or happen to love PvP, you won’t run out of things to do anytime soon.
With the TV series comes new quests, which are rolled-out as each new episode is. So far, few of these quests have had much to do with what’s been seen in the show, but they’re great for leveling up and earning special currency. On occasion, official episode missions get added to the game which actually introduce new character dialog and a worthwhile story.
Personally, I quite like Defiance, and would recommend it to anyone who loves shooters and likes the idea of an MMO that they don’t have to sink a ton of time into. I’d almost be willing to give the game an Editor’s Choice award, too, but at the current time, I must hold-off due to the sheer number of maddening bugs that the game unfortunately has.
I won’t go into extreme detail here, but especially right at launch, the number of bugs in the game was jaw-dropping. It’s clear that Trion had to rush the game in order to align its launch with the TV show… that’s great for publicity, but horrible for the gamer. The third night I played, I got booted and lost two hours worth of progress. Why an MMO is designed in such a way that you can lose more than 5 minutes worth of progress is beyond me, but the kicker? It only affected a couple of people, so it wasn’t a server-side rollback.
Depressingly, a server-side rollback did occur weeks later, but instead of affecting me, it affected our own Jamie Fletcher. Admittedly though, this is all very rare, but the fact that it has the potential to happen is a little disconcerting. I’m sure Trion will work out all of these kinks as time passes, but I can’t help but wish the game stayed in the oven for another couple of months. It could have made a tremendous difference.
And… that’s a wrap.
Other bugs I’ve experienced have included enemies that go invisible (due to the terrain structure, I believe), quest halts due to a failed trigger (requiring you to start from scratch), and trying to stay in sync with friends for a quest even when in a group. These are the only major bugs I can recall at the time of writing. Some bugs happened only earlier on in the game, so I won’t talk about them as I’ve not encountered them again. It’s just wise to be aware of the fact that the game is rather buggy – a stark contrast to Trion’s Rift at its launch.
If you can deal with occasional bugs and the lack of a true social aspect, Defiance is a good MMO worth checking out for shooter fans. If you happen to watch the TV show as well, your experience will only be heightened.
One last thing: I implore anyone thinking about picking up Defiance for the PC to ignore the Deluxe Edition. While the Deluxe Editions for the consoles include a bunch of cool merchandise along with digital goods, the PC version only includes the digital goods – yet retains the same $40 premium. You could take that $40 and spend it in-game and come out much further ahead than with what the Deluxe Edition offers. The fact that Trion offers a Deluxe Edition for the PC in this state is appalling.
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