Monday, April 15, 2013

Review: Defiance! (PC)

You may not have heard a lot about Defiance, a third-person shooter/MMORPG that ties directly into a Syfy television series of the same name. Launching a week apart, both tell the story of the alien and human inhabitants of post-disaster, accidentally-terraformed San Francisco, learning to live together and fighting to survive against hordes of hostile hybrid creations. It’s a ballsy move for Rift developer, Trion, - if the TV show is a flop then it’s hard to imagine many new people being excited to join the game, and the world of Defiance is going to get very lonely very quickly without a vibrant and growing player base.

I’m yet to see the show myself, but the first half of April has been a video game wasteland so I picked up Defiance on PC to while away some time. Was it worth all the effort? Find out...after the jump!

Writing a comprehensive review of an MMO is at best a headache-inducing and all-consuming exercise so I’m even going to pretend to try. Instead, this is really my first impressions having played around 12 hours of Defiance so far. Is this a game that will succeed in holding people’s attention long into the future? That I can’t really say, but I’m not personally looking for a long-term relationship here. I’m after a quick fling to keep me entertained during the quiet weeks of limited releases. To be honest, I’ve already probably gotten my money’s worth, and moving forward everything else is just a bonus (it should be noted that there is no subscription fee to play although there is micro - and not-so-micro - transactions for gear). For a casual player like myself, at least, Defiance is actually pretty good.

What I enjoy most of all I think is the general shooting mechanic. As a fan of games like Mass Effect, I’m not adverse to rolling around in third-person, guns blazing, while popping the odd power. Designed for multiple players, the firefights that occur in some of the game's ad hoc arenas can be overwhelming and intense. I did find myself having to think and strategize, and at certain times I died A LOT. There was a genuine sense of accomplishment when completing some of these multi-stage missions - often infiltrating large enemy laden bases - and I have never gained this kind of satisfaction from the “kill-ten-of-this” grind of more traditional MMO’s.

But Defiance is still not quite “massively multiplayer” and a big part of this challenge was simply because there aren’t a lot of other players around. In fact I played the first four hours or so glimpsing only two other players, and it’s only now that I’ve advanced somewhat that I’m finally running into the occasional player on a quest. And while the challenge decreases, co-op is a lot of fun. It would be rewarding to explore this vast open world with a friend but, at this stage in the game, good luck finding one.

So let’s talk about this open world. There’s certainly a lot of area to cover in Defiance and no shortage of things to do. Quests pop up constantly and rather than fill your journal, it’s very easy just to focus on one, complete it, and then switch to the next one. There’s main story quests which are usually elaborate and multi-stage, “episode” quests which tie in characters from the television show, and plenty of side quests, races and time trials. The map I'm on is very large and I have no idea at this point whether it is one of many zones or if this is the extent of what Defiance currently has to offer.

One of my initial fears was that the ambition of the game would be hindered by the reality of having to tie-in with a low budget TV series. But the transformed San Francisco is surprisingly engaging and although new enemies are slow to roll out, the game has held my attention for the most part. There's the usual MMORPG fatigue that eventually sets in when - after killing my 500th or so hellbug - I'm beginning to think, "Wait... why am I doing all this again?" but the promise that new gear, or a new adventure is just around the corner has so far kept me pressing onward. 

I enjoy my character despite the fact that the character creation is rather limited. You can only be a human or an alien Votan, which is essentially a human with a bit of rubber prosthetic on their face. Emphasis is not so much on your clothes, but all about your weapons. This is where comparisons can be drawn to Borderlands as there is a wide selection of easily modded weaponry to experiment with. You also have regenerating shields, modded grenades, and a selection of EGO powers which allow you to cloak yourself or create a decoy. You don't have a level as such, but your EGO rating continues to climb as you progress, gradually unlocking access to new perks. Your clothes are purely aesthetic and I liked the fact that your character looks cool right from the beginning. It's not like Warcraft where you spend 20 levels wearing a hessian sack before earning the right to put a couple of filthy old tortoise shells on your shoulders.

Oh, and did I mention the vehicles? Perhaps my favourite thing is driving from mission to mission in my personal transport. You'll get a rough and ready ATV about an hour into the game and you can continue to upgrade as you go. I'm currently in a pretty hellish little buggy with knives on the wheels that climb some pretty steep cliffs. Although the map is huge, I never grow tired of driving from place to place, preferably running over a whole lot of people as I go.

As with all MMORPG's I'm a little paranoid that I'm missing things, or failing to do things. I look at other players in their pimped out rides and wonder if I haven't upgraded something properly, or don't fully understand the crafting system, or have missed some important terminal at an outpost. I don't know how all the co-op missions work, or what the endgame will ultimately be, but I like the setting and damned if I don't enjoy rolling around shooting at things. As I suggested at the beginning - my demands for this game are very simple, and what it does do it does well.

So I like Defiance. It's certainly not a game changer, and I think the TV series is going to need to be a cult hit to drive it all forward, but it's a pleasant world to kick around in and I can see myself going back there over the coming months. Apparently Trion have a lot of new stuff planned and are dedicated to supporting the title, so I'm happy to give them the benefit of the doubt. They did some great things with keeping Rift afloat so I trust them to provide a worthwhile experience here. Keep your eye on this one at least. Worth a look if you can find it at a good price.

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