In today's gaming industry, risks aren't taken nearly as often in comparison to past generations. Today's generation focuses primarily on the status quo. In most cases, developers use a standard formula that, while it may not produce the best game, or the worst game, the result generally means a successful title that will ensure future titles for them. Occasionally, though, we get a developer that wants to try something different and will go out on a limb to take a risk and jump head first into the unknown. Defiance is a title that challenges the status quo by giving the gamers of today something new and fresh in the massively multiplayer online (MMO) genre.
When I took the opportunity to review this title, I found it hard to actually define what genre it fell into. It's a third-person shooter, adventure, and MMO, all wrapped into one rather chaotic package. Personally, I love trying out a new MMO. I have a pretty substantial history, starting with a very long run in Final Fantasy XI, eventually jumping to the open world player vs. player (PvP) of Perfect World International, and transitioning into another risky MMO, Aion, before ending a recent run in ArenaNet's popular Guild Wars 2. With all of those titles under my belt, I can honestly say I've never actually played a title quite like Defiance.
Defiance is based on the new SyFy Channel series of the same name. In the not too distant future, Earth is dealing with the after effects of a global catastrophe. Humans and alien races are now forced to co-exist and create a new society. At the time of this writing, the first season is just a few episodes in, and I recommend giving it a try. It's an entertaining show and is taking risks of its own in the science fiction genre. The game, of course, is based on this world changed by catastrophe.
I had my reservations playing this on the Xbox 360 for the sole reason that, as an MMO veteran, I know full well that it's going to eat up a lot of space on the hard drive and there will be a lot of patches. While the patches do take some time to download (roughly two and a half hours on launch night), the Xbox handles it well enough. After patching, it was time to make a character. A player's selected origin affects the character's attire, and facial features can all be customized.
Defiance, like any MMO, is an open world that is free to roam at one's leisure. Missions are scattered throughout the area that will focus on the primary story line as well as side missions that are there for experience, money, and items that can be used throughout the game. This is nothing new in the MMO genre, but the risks that I've been waiting to talk about come into play almost immediately after the first run in the game is complete. Defiance isn't about wielding a sword and shield and running out to kill a few cheap monsters. This game is about arming yourself with high-powered machine guns, rifles, shotguns, and other types of weaponry that is more modern. It's exciting to see that a company like Trion Worlds isn't afraid to throw the overused aspect of fantasy realms out the window and basically give players a game that can be compared to a Halo-like environment on a grander scale.
The problem that lies with taking a risk is that, sometimes, the risk can backfire a bit. A third-person shooter in an MMO environment requiring a player to be online at all times means dealing with server lag that can affect a mission adversely in a far different manner. For example, if I were playing one of my past MMO titles, such as Perfect World International, even if I were to lag out, my character would still will be swinging away with his axes and taking out whatever monsters were there. Dealing with server lag in a shooter is an exercise in futility that will almost never end well. In my first week, the game was plagued with nasty server lag that would make rather easy missions far more difficult. The servers have stabilized since that first week, but there is still some server lag in more densely populated areas.
One of the aspects of Defiance that I enjoy is the skill tree. Defiance doesn't use a class system, but rather an origin system that allows for no limitations--though the skill tree will ultimately shape what type of character one becomes in the game itself. The skill tree reminds me of a few past games, such as Final Fantasy XII, where if a player was diligent enough, they could unlock practically every ability and turn a character from just a melee or magic class into one that could do just about anything. The skill points are unlocked as one would expect: enemy kills, mission completions, and a host of other opportunities that present themselves throughout the gameplay.
Enemies in Defiance are tenacious, plentiful, and they come from practically everywhere--perhaps too often. The aliens that characters are fighting throughout the game are hidden in buildings, the back seats of cars, vans, trucks, and just about every other nook and cranny one can think of. Trion probably realized that this was going to be a major hassle to get from one area to the next, which is why characters get very early access to a vehicle that will take them past enemies whenever and wherever they want by simply calling for it with the D-pad. It's quick and easy, though controlling the vehicle can be a bit tricky and tedious as it overreacts to practically ever bump and crack as if an earthquake were occurring. I'm all for realism, but there needs to be a happy medium between "smoothest road in the world" and "driving in Los Angeles during the movie 2012."
Missions, especially those associated with the primary story line, do a nice job of making sure a player is in the right area and doesn't leave it by showing it on the map on the heads-up display (HUD). The goal will always be laid out for the player, though the difficulty of these missions in the various areas fluctuates quite randomly. On some missions, a non-player character (NPC) will join you and help take out some of the numerous enemies one faces, but there are some annoying times where the dreaded "escort mission" kicks in. Normal escort missions are fine where you simply have to protect the NPC, but early on, there is one primary story line mission--bordering on insanity--that falls somewhere between protecting Ashley in Resident Evil 4 and trying not to shatter your controller when Natalya in GoldenEye dies for the 47th time in the worst protection mission ever created. When I'm playing an MMO, I want to be able to just kill things and not have to worry about an NPC that seemingly wipes out enemies with ease one moment, yet is completely helpless the next. Give me one or the other, but it can't be both.
One thing that truly lacked in my experience on the Xbox 360 version is interaction with other players. While I'm the type that generally prefers to level by myself early on, I still want some interaction with other players, especially to get their thoughts on the title and how they feel they are progressing. With the proximity voice chat in my time in-game, I talked to exactly three people the entire time. I was starting to believe that my microphone simply wasn't working, and without an accessible chat room in the area on the Xbox 360 version to look at quickly (it's there, but it's tough to read), interacting with other players was virtually non-existent. The only time I had interaction on a large scale, besides the three people I mentioned, was when an Arkfall was being taken out and there were droves of characters helping to destroy it. It reinforced my thought that this would be better suited as a title to play on the PC and not the Xbox 360, unfortunately. Interaction is half the fun of an MMO, especially when one finds a group of players that they enjoy being around.
As a note to this review, I did not progress far enough into the game to get into any good competitive PvP or Shadow War, so I will refrain from giving any opinion on them since the information I got was only from a couple of players in the game that had participated in it.
Wrapping this up, somewhere in Defiance is a solid MMO that is just begging to come out of its shell. There are some aspects of the game that I love, such as the ability to just run around an open world and pick things off with a sniper rifle. There are some aspects that I did not enjoy, such as the wild change in difficulty from mission to mission and the enemy frequency that seemed to not only be overwhelming, but giving little to no time for a player to recover in some cases. Yes, I want a challenge, but I don't want a game to kick me when I'm down and offer practically no chance to get back up. The server lag is still an issue, unfortunately, on the 360 version, and it can really hinder gameplay if it gets bad enough. Accuracy is everything when using rifles, and to have the game glitch because of lag is incredibly frustrating. There is still some fun to be had in the title, but I believe it has to be on the PC version and not the 360.