Developer: Trion Worlds
Publisher: Namco Bandai
We’re back with the second part of our Defiance review, where we will be looking at the content beyond the storyline, the community aspects, progression and gear, and ending with a summary of the current state of the game. If you have yet to see the first part, where I gave my initial impressions of Trion's online shooter, you can get up to speed by clicking here.
As well as the storyline missions that lead you across the Bay area, the game unlocks a series of various other missions to take part in. Side missions act as fire-and-forget bites of gameplay but often end up being forgettable and sometimes downright annoying thanks to the overused audio cues from NPCs (your digitised assistant EGO being the biggest culprit of unoriginal thought.) However, the quick nature of these missions helps to create an addictive feeling of doing “just one more mission” when you’re just a few hundred XP from the next EGO rating. Ultimately though, there is no real variation between them – activate this, kill X amounts of enemies, deliver that. Rinse, repeat, ugh. While there are tidbits of lore included, the fact they have been relegated to the initial text upon getting the missions comes across as a way to keep the budget lower.
Outside of these missions, players will also find arcade-esque time trial activities ranging from races around the world to score attack arena that give the player a certain weapon type to eliminate as many foes as quickly as possible. These missions come with leaderboards so players can continually compete with each other once they get the gold rating, and while they can be fun it can also be a little disorientating for newcomers due to the strange removal of crouch and sprint functionality (something that is not explained heading into these modes.) They make for a welcome temporary distraction, and the rewards of keycodes, resources and XP are small yet appropriate for the time spent, but they are by no means an aspect that will have players loading up their clients in several months’ time.
If anything is to draw the punters back into the fray, it will be the Arkfall events – random events that can begin across the game world that range in scope. Minor Arkfalls give just a single location to attend, while a major Arkfall will see players having to visit several spots across the map, with both types scaling their difficulty to the number of players in attendance (meaning large groups of players can have an almighty brawl on their hands.) With the exception of the co-op missions (which we will be looking at further down the line) these events provide the most fun in Defiance, specifically in the open world. While the initial Arkfalls in the north may contain uninspired foes, those that appear in the lower half of the map are exciting and varied, with the Scrapper Progenitor being the best (and most visually engaging) of the bunch. Although players will be looking to keep each other alive during these events, they are ultimately competing with each other to deal the highest amount of damage to climb to the top of the leaderboard, winning keycodes and loot. It truly gives a sense of scale of the game when you see scores of players joining together to take on a gigantic creature with many maws, or a disgusting stress ball with a face, or a flying mechanical scorpion…
… but once the events are done, everybody grabs their rewards, jumps in their vehicles and drives away without saying a word. This chain of events aptly conveys the social aspect of Defiance, as players arrive, fight, and then leave in complete silence, and this doesn’t just relate to Arkfall events. This is almost certainly because the chat interface is hidden away behind an unintuitive system even on PC (I can only imagine how console gamers find it without a keyboard.) That said, this isn’t the only way players can communicate as a VOIP system also exists within Defiance, but while its latency has improved since launch the system really is not up to par with the twitch-based nature of the shooting mechanics (which appear to be fine in terms of lag.) While VOIP is a welcome feature to get strangers talking, the fact Jon and I ended up using Skype for our sessions together proves it isn’t up to par.
Even clans feel like an extra chat room as opposed to a way to bring players together to form communities. It functions adequately to corral players together but the bare bones approach fails to help create a sense of a living world in any way. Add on top of this the fact that vendors (which we will get onto shortly) are just machines placed throughout the world as opposed to NPCs, and the world begins to feel somewhat barren despite its abundance of enemies and colourful flora. No true settlements exist with odd outposts instead taking their place, but these miniature hubs are without the sense of ‘home’ to them that location such as Warcraft’s Stormwind, SWTOR's Coruscant, or Guild Wars 2’s Divinity’s Reach manage to convey. The only time it does feel like a populated land is when players work together during an Arkfall event, but the silence (which, in a way, plays into the merc-for-hire backstory) ultimately means the social aspect can be summed up in two words – together alone.
In Part One of the review I covered the Lockboxes and random loot drops, but the acquisition of top tier guns is not where the progression ends for gear thanks to the Salvage Matrix. The crafting mechanic of the game allows players to add mods to weapons which can increase certain stats, so a clip could be extended by 5%, or a scope can be added to increase accuracy. It allows players to personalise their arsenal (even if it isn’t top tier) so that their loadouts are tailored to their playstyle, but because there is a lack of tutorial associated with it the entire process can be a frustrating affair to begin with. For instance, guns equipped in any loadout cannot be modified, yet this is not explained (and because the game automatically assigns equipped gear to a new loadout when it unlocks, you find yourself with items unable to be modded, broken down, or even sold.) Additionally, while players can retrieve mods or clear a weapon of them, it currently destroys the other in the process (so if you want the mods back, you will lose the weapon.) Why a third, more expensive option to keep everything is not included baffles me, but as it stands players will need to be careful when committing a mod to a weapon.
In addition to finding loot and modding weapons, players can also improve their arsenal by completing Contracts. Similar to pursuits (which are Defiance’s equivalent of achievements) these checklists will task players to kill certain types of enemies or complete specific co-op missions before a universal timer expires, at which point a new Contract is issued to the player. Completing a Contract awards the player with faction-speficic reputation tokens, which can in turn be spent at a vendor for gear that, while not of the highest tier in the game, can significantly improve your setup if all you have are greens and blues. It’s a simple concept that works in giving players something to do every day, but the repetition of activities is something that worries me going forward.
We will close today’s instalment by returning to the main storyline of the game, which I have now completed. The fact it has taken me under a week’s worth of game time to finish it is worrying, and despite the ability to replay the chain again, as I explained in Part One I have no real desire to go through it one more time thanks to its less-than-stellar plot and characters. It was for this reason I decided to try something else and become a “professional arkfall hunter” (after all, that’s the backstory of everyone’s character) but that plan was scuppered when I discovered a rather annoying issue – the game map does not update in real time, with players forced to close and reopen the map to see updated Arkfall locations. To me, this comes across as rather archaic and counter-intuitive to the experience, encouraging a more pot-luck approach to finding an Arkfall, which for a Sci-Fi game where we should have the technology to track giant falling pieces of spaceship in real-time feels somewhat wrong.
However, despite my criticisms, and even though the urgency I felt during my first week of play to log into the servers has deflated somewhat, I still find myself playing for longer than I intended when I do boot up the client because, once the action gets going, Defiance still finds a way to be more fun than it has any right to be. I still worry for the longevity of the game, or even its relevance to the TV show (which I shall address in Part Three of our review) but as it stands, Trion’s shooter still stands a chance of being successful… but there’s a long road ahead to reaching that point, and not much time left to get there before it’s too late.
Summary So Far: Bugs and issues still remain despite the recent patch, and its expansive open world sadly lacks a sense of community thanks to poorly implemented communication tools, but while repetition has begun to sink in with full force, Defiance still manages to remain fun despite its flaws. Trion need to inject some variation and a bit more virtual life into the game to ensure a sense of enjoyment remains beyond the honeymoon period, as the hunt for loot will only keep people engaged for so long.
Stay tuned for our third and final instalment of our review for Defiance, where we we dive into the co-op missions, tackle the PVP options, discuss the TV show, and some words regarding the console version.