Developer: Trion Worlds
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Here we are with the final part of our review for Defiance, the online shooter side of the Transmedia project between Trion Worlds and SyFy. We previously looked at my initial impressions of the live game, and then analysed the content, social features, and progression for the game. Today we will be delving into what lies beyond the PvE open world by testing out the Co-op and PVP, analysing the link to the TV show (as well as summarising its entertainment value), and closing with our verdict for the ambitious online experience.
We’ve already mentioned that Defiance's first impression is less than positive, making some shaky first steps in its first 8 hours of content, but once players manage to overcome the initial area of Mount Tam they are rewarded with their first slice of what is arguably the best mode on offer – Co-op. These instanced missions take 4-players (be it a pre-made group or via matchmaking) through what is essentially a corridor dungeon, but the mix of enemies and arenas end up being far more interesting and, more importantly, fun than anything the open world has to offer. As with Arkfalls, players will compete with each other for the top spot on the leaderboard (for that delicious serving of loot) but at the same time the need to ensure everybody stays on their feet is crucial – no single player can hope to conquer the swarms of enemies (let a alone the sub & main bosses) on their lonesome. Admittedly, they don’t have the same refinement as a dungeon found in the Borderlands series, but the co-op missions end up being challenging enough to make players think, and have enough freedom for players to perform flank manoeuvres to push forward.
It’s a shame then that (at the time of writing for patch 1.012) these missions also end up being susceptible to the most hideous of bugs, where certain instances cannot be completed due to interactive objects not appearing or bosses not spawning. In turn, the matchmaking system adds new players in with existing groups, only to find when they run the entire length of the mission to catch up that they are unable to progress forward. This wouldn’t be so bad an issue if it weren’t for the fact some of the daily contracts sometimes ask players to run specific co-op missions, and if that particular mission is bugged out there is no hope of finishing it until a server reset or, unfortunately, 4 players are already in said faulty instance and the matchmaking system creates a fresh working instance for another full group. It frustrates me greatly that this is the case, because driving around in a Cerberus assault vehicle as one player shoots from a turret and another fires rockets, all the while doing insane jumps through shipwrecks is but one of the awesome moments the co-op missions are able to produce for players.
Enough talk of players verses the environment – what of the competitive side of Defiance? PVP comes in the two flavours of Competative and Shadow Wars, the former being the more traditional affair of deathmatch action. The teams fight each other for kills until one has reached the points limit or the time runs out, with individual players presented with awards depending on their performance at the very end, along with the usual dose of XP, resources and keycodes. At launch the game comes with two maps, Waterfront and Observatory, both of which provide opportunities for close quarters action, hiding places, and sniping positions. The competitive mode ends up being fast and furious action that plays to its strengths rather well, and although certain weapon setups will always reign supreme (I’m looking at you, auto shotgun / FRC LMG loadouts) it makes for some of the more enjoyable deathmatch gaming I’ve played in some time.
For those looking for something a bit more involved in their PVP, the Shadow Wars game mode brings Dominion-esque capture points for players to hold and accumulate points. From a gameplay perspective, players will be doing much the same here as they have done elsewhere in the game, and similar rewards will be bestowed upon the best players just like in competitive PVP. However, I was a little disappointed with how Shadow Wars has devolved from how it was originally meant to be - a mode that was a part of the open world, where players could locate an on-going battle and queue to jump into the action (or watch it as it unfolded in-game.) For whatever reason, this isn’t the case in the live game and as such players are whisked away to a private instance. It’s clear that the idea was changed very near to release (the icon for Shadow Wars remained on the map legend list until the latest patch) but at the end of the day, despite the change from open world to instanced zone, the mode is as capable as everything else in Defiance, although having only one map is disappointing.
That said, Trion Worlds have provided little to no guidance on how to get to the PVP options in-game (in fact Defiance’s lack of information is something we’ll get onto later) and this could explain the high wait times for its Shadow Wars mode. Considering the game does a good job of introducing the EGO grind and how to equip items, why Trion did not include an extra tutorial sequence to access the PVP modes (and the co-op, for that matter) baffles me.
With this being the first Transmedia entertainment product to launch, it seems only fitting that we spend a little time taking a look at the TV show, produced by and airing on SyFy. Taking place in what used to be St. Louis (as opposed to the game’s setting of San Francisco) the show tells the tale of a frontier town in this strange now-alien Earth and the people that live in it. You’d be forgiven if you watched the first 15 minutes of the show and dismissed it thanks to some rather questionable CGI, but as long as it is approached as a bit of fun, and not as a serious or heavy sci-fi adventure, it ends up being a slow but entertaining slice of TV. Grant Bowler’s turn as Josh Nolan, who is clearly the imaginary lovechild of Mal Reynolds and Han Solo, brings the rogue-ish charm needed, and while Dexter alumni Julie Benz stumbles about as Mayor Rosewater early on, she eventually finds her footing in the role as the new leader of Defiance.
In fact, that’s pretty much the same story for all the characters over the first couple of episodes, and I remain hopeful that the series will continue to flesh out the main players of the story over the season, but even with the limited time we’ve had with the show it has managed to provide more backstory about the Defiance universe than the game, despite its two week head-start. The game is supposed to be a way for players to live in this world and explore its history and it fails to do so, even with recordings scattered around the world. We see more Voltan species in the series than we do in-game, we learn more about their culture than we do in-game (with the exception of loading screens, which is a really cheap way of providing information), and we are getting much more interesting and charismatic characters than we do in-game (I’m looking at you, Jon Cooper.) Admittedly, we do learn some interesting facts about the Battle of Defiance through the main storyline missions (and how the separatists won in the face of impossible odds) but, as I pointed out in Part 2 of the review, I feel the lack of a true home base for players has left the game feeling hollow both in lore and community, and I really hope Trion address this sooner rather than later.
Before we crack on with the final verdict, I would like to say that, despite the awful bug that causes the battle music to repeat over and over, the soundtrack written for the game by Bear McCreary (who also did scoring duties for Battlestar Galactica and The Walking Dead) is absolutely worthy of note. The blend of orchestral and electronic styles helps to build up an ambiance of alien familiarity within the world, setting the tone exactly right whether the player is cruising around the Bay area, fighting against a bunch of Scrappers, or taking on a boss at the end of a co-op mission.
It’s been a long and hard road getting to this point, but it’s time to lay all the cards on the table and see if what Trion have managed to create is worth your time and money… but even now I still don’t know the answer to that one. As you’ve no doubt seen throughout the review, there are many, many flaws within Defiance, and its mechanics are adequate for the job but nothing more. So why do I keep on stating that I am having fun? The way the control mechanics are familiar and easy to jump into, combined with how the action can get visually hectic and engaging makes Defiance as enjoyable as it is despite its aggravating flaws. When you pick apart the game you will find nothing but mediocrity, and any other game that had built themselves up around said mechanics would be dismissed as quickly as it had arrived, but the whole of Defiance is clearly better than the sum of its parts. It’s not a failed experiment, but it’s not a success either, and while I’m sure those that have been there since launch will enjoy popping in and out of the game I honestly cannot say that those of you that fork out RRP will be satisfied.
It’s a bold attempt at bringing the MMO experience to a console audience, but when the first 8 hours or so are as uninspired as Defiance’s are you can’t help but feel that you could be playing a game that has exceptional gameplay mechanics, or a more involving story, or deeper RPG elements. Perhaps had Trion chosen to include gameplay roles (ie. the MMO Holy Trinity) the gameplay would have been much more involving, but even though there is a charm to the simplicity of everyone shooting at everything, it also feels like the easy way out. An enjoyable easy way out, admittedly, but easy none the less. Speaking of the easy way out, the abysmally low level of information supplied in the Intel and Help sections of the game are almost inexcusable. The fact I had to go and use Google to find most of my answers demonstrates how ineffective it is as a knowledge base, and I sincerely hope Trion are working on improving it.
Will I be returning to my latest incarnation of the Bearded One, McGarnagle, to continue his adventures around the Bay Area? Almost certainly, but I have no real urgency to do so right now. I’m almost certain that when I do I will end up playing it for much longer than I had intended (Defiance has a way of consuming your time) but considering I can learn more about the world from the show and can be much more engaged by it I feel no need to keep logging into the game week after week. As it stands, the show has a chance survive without the game (providing the backstory continues to grow as it has been) but the game will almost certainly not survive without the show. Even without a subscription, the investment of time would only be recommended when the price comes down a little more, but by that point the writing may be on the wall.
I do hope that, with the promised inclusion of a character from the series to appear in-game to task players with missions, the transmedia aspect begin to shine through because if I’m completely honest, it’s still a little too early to judge how well Trion’s online shooter will fair in the coming months, but for now, I will return to my original singular word description from the start of the review of "odd" and will augment it slightly to "oddly enjoyable."
- Accessible & familiar controls allow for gratifying battles.
- Co-op missions are a huge amount of fun.
- Unlocking abilities across the EGO grid is a great concept…
- … although it ultimately ends up with most characters being identical.
- The first 8 hours make an awful first impression.
- A repetitive open world & basic community functions could hurt the longevity for the game.
The Short Version: Trion's bold and brave project has many flaws, but if the developers can address them in time it could turn what is oddly enjoyable into just enjoyable. While better games exist in terms of gameplay mechanics, Defiance finds a way to be more fun than it probably has any right to be, and for that reason it still has some hope of succeeding.