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Massively's Defiance launch week diary: Day two

Jef Reahard

Welcome to day two of Massively's Defiance launch week diary. I've put a little over seven hours into Trion's MMO shooter thus far, so that zomg-it's-a-new-game! glow has worn off and I'm able to see things more objectively (i.e., find things to criticize). That said, I'm still having a good bit of fun, so join me after the cut to find out why.

Defiance - Boss fight
Remember those four origins from character creation that we talked about yesterday? Turns out they don't mean anything aside from your starting outfit and weapon. Defiance is both a character-skill game and a player skill game, and if you find a weapon or a piece of gear, you're free to pick it up and use it. There are hit boxes, but there are also weapon and shield stats that will boost your character's productivity alongside your mad shooter skills.

Progression is both weapon-based and character-skill based via your overall EGO rating, which serves as a gating mechanism for perks and upgrades for your blur, cloak, decoy, and overcharge powers.

Let's talk about content for a little bit. I haven't PvPed yet, but I have done quite a lot of PvE missions and a couple of arkfalls. Arkfalls are RIFT-like dynamic events that involve swarms of alien hellbugs and mutant soldiers bum-rushing caches of Votan technology that falls from orbit. The lore here is appealing, and as ark hunters, Defiance players take on a certain sci-fi graverobber role that's kinda cool if you care about backstory and whatnot.

Mechanically, any player passerby can join in, and for the major arkfalls you'd better hope folks do because you aren't getting out of there alive all by your lonesome.

Defiance - Arkfall with Nolan and Irisa
Death in Defiance isn't too painful. It costs a bit of in-game currency, and there's also a nifty drag-yourself-out-of-danger-before-you-revive feature that works the first time you're incapacitated. If you fall a second time, you can just hit X to respawn nearby.

Aside from arkfalls, you'll engage in standard MMO PvE missions that involve traveling to different locations, activating different terminals, and clearing the area of assorted baddies and bosses. There are also vehicle racing time trials and rampage events that are essentially king-of-the-hill vignettes. All of these reward XP, money, and occasionally items, and the rampage and racing trials feature a leaderboard system so you can see how well you stack up against fellow ark hunters.

I've seen a few folks use the word bland to describe Defiance's PvE missions, but I dig them at this point due to the relative novelty of MMOish gameplay in a shooter (I know, Borderlands, but it wasn't my cup of tea). I'm a lore nut too, which means I'll be engaged longer than someone who isn't. And of course I'm also interested to see whether the television show manages to add any additional context, or if we're really lucky, content.

The game does have its issues, though, and wow, the running animations are probably where I should start. Honestly they're the worst I've seen in an AAA MMO since Lord of the Rings Online. I'm pretty forgiving in terms of visuals too. I never batted an eyelash at The Secret World's supposedly awful animations, for example, and despite the limitations imposed by Defiance's console clients and sprawling open world, the game's post-apocalyptic San Francisco bay area appeals to me. Watching my Survivalist and his corn-cob-enema gait makes me long for a first-person view, though.

Defiance - Drop ship
Similarly, Defiance's chat box seems like an afterthought. I know this is a shooter, and therefore the serious business players and guilds will be using some kind of voice chat. But come on, Trion, this is 2013 and you're marketing the game as an MMO. The least you can do is give it an MMO chat system. As it stands, chatting requires hitting the Z key to bring up a small submenu, which you can then scroll through with your mouse or keyboard.

There are some canned emotes, standard voice callouts (get in, get out, help me, etc.), and then the full chat window. Unfortunately this last one takes up a huge amount of screen real estate and it's just really inconvenient to have to drill through a menu tree to reach it, never mind having it obscure your view for however long you're typing. It reminds me of the multitasker's nightmare that is DC Universe Online and the way that opening your superhero's inventory renders you unable to see anything else on screen.

I've got some other minor UI gripes as well, the biggest of which is the inability to drag or resize any of the elements. It's not a deal-breaker since, as I mentioned yesterday, I dig the minimalist approach and the fact that the UI is sort of an immersive in-character extension of the game's EGO system, but it's definitely one of those nitpicks I hope to see addressed as the game ages.

As I said in the intro, though, these quibbles aren't stopping me from playing, and this is a feather in Defiance's cap given my ever-shortening MMO attention span. I'm a notorious game-hopper, and frankly most of the MMOs that have come out in the past couple of years haven't made it beyond my typical week-long litmus test. Defiance may yet be an exception; we'll have to see.

For next time, I'll look into deciphering the game's salvaging system and trying out some PvP. Until then.

Massively's not big on scored reviews -- what use are those to ever-changing MMOs? That's why we bring you first impressions, previews, hands-on experiences, and even follow-up impressions for nearly every game we stumble across. First impressions count for a lot, but games evolve, so why shouldn't our opinions?

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