Defiance officially launched last week and as seems to be the way with most online game releases, it’s been unstable and difficult to get a solid play session in with the shaky servers being a problem area. As the launch date passed, and some time went by, Defiance’s servers have became smoother and I have finally been able to give it more playtime resulting in what I think is a fair review. It is immediately obvious that Defiance is treading in foreign territory for consoles. All in all there just aren’t that many console MMO’s out there. I must say though, that it is really cool to sit down on your couch, fire up your Xbox 360 and jump into a world teeming with other players.
The story in Defiance places you in the role of an Ark Hunter, one of many who have come to a Bay Area, set far in the future with a ravaged Golden Gate Bridge and all, to seek fortune by salvaging debris, which strikes more often in the Bay Area than anywhere else. Gradually you find yourself more acquainted with the game and its society. Similar to other online-based games you can be hired to work for various factions, however the ultimate goal is to stop an increasingly threatening faction looking to continue the terraforming on the planet.
During my time with Defiance I wasn’t overly excited by the story. When playing an MMO though, story generally isn’t a focus. The gameplay takes center stage and the narrative serves as a catalyst only to set up gameplay and make sense of Defiance’s unique world. Missions are varied, though they tend to break down to simple routine formulas. The majority of Defiance is not built around the story and the story-based missions don’t occur all that often. Randomly occurring Ark hunts are one of the most common side missions you’ll find in the game. Ark hunts are definitely a highlight of Defiance, when they work properly that is. Ark hunts see several players working together and result in large-scale battles. An Arkfall is another group related event that generally begins with a smaller side mission. The general idea is that you fight off enemies while trying to destroy a freshly landed crystal. After you complete one, you then generally race to another. This repeats until you reach the main Arkfall event. You can begin as soon as an Arkfall lands, or you can join in progress; ultimately there is a timer going during this event and for the best results players must push to complete this chain event as quickly as possible. Contracts are another form of quests in Defiance. These mini-objectives include things like killing a number of enemies in a particular area to simply visiting a certain portion of the map. These contracts change often and create some nice variety when exploring the two currently available landmasses.
As I played it was notable that the most common approach to events involves you and 50 or more people being put up against a giant boss-like monster. The way the events function reminds me a bit of Guild Wars 2, though often times the events weren’t as exciting or as varied. Upon completing an event you receive credits, experience points, and items. I found missions to be fun to jump into, but a bit more variety would’ve been nice. That being said, the first time I found myself riding along in a convoy of players engaging in an Arkfall battle I found myself really impressed. It’s awesome for a console game to pull off such an epic moment that includes so many players. PC gamers are most likely acquainted with this experience if they play MMO games, but for consoles this is a rarity.
The general flow of Defiances’s gameplay results in a hybrid of shooter and RPG genres, much like that of the Borderlands franchise. Typical of any other RPG shooter, the numbers count. Increasingly powerful weapons are always a focus, and the more people around the tougher the enemies become. Nothing in this game will catch you by surprise too much, and I found that Defiance gave off a bit of a dated vibe. The combat mechanics are fairly bland with no cover system or destructible environments. As I ventured through the games various areas I discovered that the AI in Defiance is terrible. I found both friendly and enemy units to act quite random and quite ridiculous at times. Enemies would often not react at all to my presence while I often witnessed allied units running into objects and failing to fight back when being attacked by enemies. The user interface is also quite clunky, as it buries your menus within other unnecessary menus. On the flipside, as you level up in Defiance, you earn points to spend on upgrading your perks or purchasing new ones. While you are constantly earning new slots for perks, you always have more perks then slots. This forces you to construct a build that works for your play style. This system is simple in its approach, and it’s fun.
Defiance asks too much of the Xbox 360′s dated hardware. Although it is not an overly great looking game, it’s still decent, but what is notable is that because of the volume of players and the amount of events going on the it struggles to maintain a consistent frame rate. When the action gets particularly intense things get ugly. When you have over ten players on screen taking shots at enemies, things begin to crawl. Picture the aforementioned Arkfall events with numbers getting closer to fifty players and you’ll cringe. It really does impact one’s enjoyment of the game when these issues interfere with your ability to take part in combat.
It’s common knowledge that Defiance’s launch was a mess with frequent patches and updates needed. As time has passed the game has been making progress, though it is still plagued by many issues. The game requires an online connection to do anything and this alone has caused some discomfort amongst the fan base. Regarding the bugs and issues, some examples include mission objectives that don’t display correctly to unresponsive controls. Something as simple as exiting a vehicle can become a stressful endeavor due to glitchy controls. Even though the servers are starting to settle down nasty lag can still hit quite hard. This, combined with the games already prevalent visual slowdown, results in a very inconsistent gaming experience. Glitches like this aren’t unheard of and anyone who has played an online game has experienced these issues in one form or another. Defiance has also faced a more serious issue with many players claiming to have had items disappear without reason from their inventories. Many forums include topics with players talking of being nervous to log in with the fear of losing their best weapon. This is a game breaking problem and something awful considering some weapons require several hours of material grinding.
If you can look past its technical flaws, Defiance does have something to offer. Though many of the features found in Defiance aren’t new to PC gamers, it is great to see a developer share the MMO genre with consoles. All in all Defiance can be a fun game, though it is difficult to enjoy its many features when so many bugs run rampant. The visual slowdown combined with the Internet related issues creates quite a mess at times, but when the game is working I can appreciate its uniqueness. The game is expecting several updates in content, and DLC is certain. One can only hope the game receives some much-needed polish and fixing via updates to further progress against the current issues that are prevalent.