Defiance Beta Impressions: Defying Expectations
I took part in the Defiance Beta event that occurred this past weekend, something that I’ve looked forward to since first hearing about the MMO-ish third person shooter. Trion has set out to do something that very few have gotten right in the past in ditching traditional MMO functionality for fast paced, reactive combat on a grand scale. Whether or not Defiance will be able to stand the test of time is not something I feel comfortable saying at this point, but from what I’ve played it has a whole lot of potential.
Welcome to Earth?
I’m not really going to focus on the transmedia side of what Defiance is trying to do (the events in the game are supposed to run parallel and/or affect what happens in the Syfy channel shows or vice versa) as the success of the game is going to lie entirely on whether or not it can draw in players from two genres of online gaming that couldn’t be more different. The abridged version of the story is that the Earth got all messed up because of some catastrophic event and now there are a bunch of aliens, mutants and giant bugs running amok. You need to shoot these things, collect sweet gear and make the Earth a more habitable place to live.
It’s quite the undertaking, as both shooter fans and MMO fans already have a solid stable of games to focus on, though Defiance does offer something that’s just different enough to turn a few heads. While I believe Defiance is far more appealing to shooter fans, there’s enough MMO there to satisfy outliers and anyone that might be getting tired of the combat that’s been the stalwart of MMOs since the beginning of their inception.
Once the game begins (after a decently acted and animated intro scene), you’re given the opportunity to create a character, customizing their appearance and their “origin” (which determines their starting weapon set as opposed to any class specific powers). Once you’re done, you’re thrown into a tutorial that shows you the ropes, eventually leading to you picking the first of your EGO powers .
EGO equates to the special abilities your character posses, which is essentially how classes will work in the game. You’re given the choice between 1 of 4 EGO powers, all of which lead to a passive skill tree of sorts that you can fully customize. I went with an ability that grants you increased firepower, but you’re also able to cloak yourself, boost your speed and melee damage or send out a decoy to distract enemies. The passive skills that you can unlock from there will either supplement these powers or give you other benefits, such a cutting down on your EGO recharge time or granting you more ammunition during drops. It’s a simple system, but Defiance can get away with that as equipment and player skill is going to play a much larger part than one’s ability to roll the perfect “build”.
Loot What’s Left of The World
Equipment wise, you’re armed with a primary and secondary weapon, a shield and a grenade in a system that’s not unlike the Borderlands series. Grenades and shields will have different damage outputs and benefits, but the weapons system is the more interesting and yet the most frustrating aspect of Defiance. Almost every weapon can be modified with attachments that can be found throughout the game, which means that weapon customization is going to be a huge focus. Unfortunately, because of a poorly implemented menu system (more on that later) attaching modifications can be a bit confusing and tedious. Additionally, while I tended to find quite a few weapons and quite a few modifications, they never seemed to fit together because each gun requires a specific type of mod be placed in a specific slot in the weapon. You’re given the ability to add additional slots to the weapons, but this costs resources and actual in-game time (took ten minutes for me to add a random slot to a weapon). This isn’t a deal breaker per se, but quickly modifying a weapon isn’t going to be something you’ll ever do in combat.
You’ll also be able to equip vehicles to your character as well, which can be “summoned” to any location at any time with the click of the “V” button. This makes traveling around the very large map both easy and fun as the vehicles can be driven in reckless, stunt heavy fashions. This isn’t a reward you have to work too hard to get, however, as you’re given a sweet ATV after a few early missions. Josh, Justin and I all played the game and were utterly distracted by driving around like goofballs but it’s also quite possible to use the vehicles in appropriate ways as well. Down the road, you’ll be able to pick up things like trucks and other modes of transportation, but I was pretty content with my ATV during my time with the game.
A Sensible Shooter
As for the action itself, I was really surprised at how well Defiance plays. It’s a great looking game that allows for a ton of people to be doing all sorts of battle related activities on giant, loading-time-free maps. Despite this, gun play isn’t affected at all and is far more accurate and satisfying than I could have imagined. Defiance really does feel like you’re taking part in a gigantic war against the aliens and mutants that have taken over San Francisco. I was expecting more instanced combat, but I was able to seamlessly go from completing an individual quest to taking part in one of the massive co-op battles that pop up on the map from time to time. The enemies are a bit dumb at the moment, but it’s not that noticeable and given the scale of the game, may be something that’s the result of them being overwhelmed by all the players coming at them.
I took part in a variety of quests during my time in Defiance, ranging from standard RPG fetch and elimination missions to huge PvE events called Arkfalls. There are a number of other mission types that will be available, such as instanced 4 player co-op maps and raids, but I didn’t have the time to explore those during my playtime. While the standard story and side quests were nothing to write home to mom about, they usually didn’t take long and were easy ways to earn new gear and currency. The Arkfalls, on the other hand, are what impressed me the most. See for yourself as Justin and I took on some giant Hellbugs:
During the course of the game, pieces of the Arkbelt (a story related tidbit with an origin that escapes me at the moment) fall onto the map. These can be identified by both symbols that ppear during the game as well as large red circle on your map. Once you enter an area with an Arkfall event taking place, the sky gets all red and stormy and you suddenly get the feeling that something big is going down, and going down it does. Arkfalls lead to large-scale battles as the large piece of rock attracts all manner of baddies. There’s a timer applied to each of the Arkfall locations (which are all part of the bigger Arkfall event) and your goal is to essentially wipe out all the enemies or destroy the piece of the Arkbelt. This leads to epic battles where large groups of players fight side by side as wave after wave of enemies come at them. They’re difficult, chaotic and extremely entertaining. They also give the game a sense of camaraderie as it requires a bit of teamwork to complete the chain of events.
Issues? Here’s a Tissue
It should be reiterated that my opinions are based on my experience with the beta and things can change between this version and the final release. While it was fun to drive around and shoot things at my own pace, Defiance has some bumps in the road. The biggest one is the menu system, which is a bit confusing to navigate and needlessly cumbersome. Because it’ll take you a bit of time to navigate the many different selections within the menu, it’s not advisable to open it up during combat.
Another concern I had (which is definitely personal concern) is that while the gameplay was tight, I got a bit bored after a while. Playing with other people helped quite a bit, but the landscape feels a bit barren at times, not because it’s plain-looking but because it has a bit of that shallow MMO feel to it. I like to dig around a bit, but exploration is clearly not the point of the game.
Finally, while the chaos of massive combat is entertaining, it’s sometimes difficult to feel like you’re contributing a whole lot to the battle, especially in higher level Arkfalls. Some of the enemies (especially the Hellbugs, the alien insect creatures of the game) are bullet sponges and have weak points that are a bit difficult to hit when the enemy is moving around and there are thirty other players scrambling to take the same kind of shot as you. Because of this, the large battles feel more like shooting galleries than moments where strategy is important.
I have mostly positive impressions of Defiance and am quite impressed that it was able to do what Trion claimed it would. While I can’t say that I’m ready to pull the preorder trigger, the game is in my sights and if you’re a fan of co-op shooters than it should be in yours as well.
Defiance will be released on April 2nd on PC, Xbox 360, and PS3.