MMO’s are unpredictable animals, one minute they might be tedious and time consuming, while in another they could be immediate and engrossing. Many sites no doubt try to value their success based on whether or not they can de-throne the juggernaut that is World of Warcraft. We believe however, that not unlike the indie scene, there is room in the mmo marketplace for every palate. Trion Worlds attempts fill a niche by turning the traditional MMORPG formula on its head, removing the plentiful selection of classes, gear and abilities, and replacing it with a third person shooter combat system. With a comprehensive review being almost impossible with this type of game, here’s Elder-Geek.com’s thorough yet not final impressions of Defiance.
Built as a tie-in to the upcoming tv show of the same name, Defiance takes place in the San Francisco Bay Area after a massive terraforming event transformed the landscape and almost caused the extinction of the human race. The game doles out information about just exactly what happened at a painfully slow pace, and even then what little information you can gleam is cryptic at best. It’s like knowing World War II happened, but not knowing why, how, or who was involved. We assume the TV show will eventually fill in the gaps, and what is there certainly is intriguing, if a bit poorly written, but we wish the game could’ve stood on its own a bit more in case the show turns out to be a steamy pile.
Creating your character entails choosing your gender, race, appearance, and origin story. It’s pretty much all just cosmetic, as there aren’t any classes or racial bonuses, and respeccing away from your starting perks costs next to nothing. That’s not to say there aren’t any meaningful differences, the perk tree certainly has more than enough possible routes and interesting combinations. We grew particularly fond of extra damage from above and behind your target, extra damage while crouching, extra damage while standing still, and the ability to make yourself invisible for a considerable length of time. It might sound simplistic, but there are plenty more nuanced options available.
Of course, given that the game functions like a third person shooter, it doesn’t have quite the same amount of gameplay variety and depth as traditional mmorpg’s. There are different play styles available; from short range, long range, explosives and damage over time weapons, to healing and crowd control. There are also different types of elemental ammo, including electricity, fire, acid and leaching.
If you think this sounds a lot like Borderlands 2 to you, don’t be alarmed…it sounds like that to us too. Unlike Borderlands however, loot in Defiance is far less abundant, and the improvement made between a level 10 and level 300 sniper rifle is almost insignificant. You can modify your weapons with scopes, extended magazines, larger barrels, and improved stocks. These generally increase the statistics of the weapon by small amounts, though we’re told some will change how the weapon behaves entirely. Sadly we weren’t able to fiddle too much with this system, as finding parts that actually fit your weapons seemed all but impossible. Some tweaking in the frequency and quality of loot drops is sorely needed here.
Though the actual shooting gameplay might have more depth than the typical third person shooter, at the end of the day you’re still just shooting guys in the face with guns, which loses some of its appeal after 30 hours of questing. This problem is made more apparent by the unforgiving lack of mission variety; powering down turret generators didn’t really grab us the first time, so why Trion Worlds felt we needed to do it 20 more times really baffled us.
From what we played we can also surmise that the world of Defiance seems to be exclusively populated by giant insect-like creatures called Hellbugs, mutant soldiers, biotic mercenaries, and the ever popular cyberpunk bandit. They behave mostly just like normal MMO mobs do, standing around waiting to be attacked, and then staying pretty much in the same spot firing back at you. Once in a while they’ll fool you into thinking they’re trying to flank you…but really they’re just reacting to you moving out of their line of sight behind some piece of cover, something which they, by the way; have completely missed the purpose of.
Another major concern about the game is the lack of visual variety. If you plan on buying Defiance, we sure hope you can appreciate differences between green plains and rolling hills and slightly darker green plains and rolling hills. There are plenty of outposts, ruins, forts and settlements scattered across the impressively sized map to break up the ennui, but these are mostly filled with generic clutter and textures of every shade of gray. Continuing the theme of homogenous design, the music is severely lacking, with the game constantly repeating the same tracks, all of which lack any distinct melodies and fail completely at communicating an atmosphere.
Unfortunately our complains don’t stop there. The UI is terrible. Opening up your inventory fills the screen with a menu needlessly large, where most of the space is just that…empty space. Navigating further will present you with an admittedly well functioning loadout screen, stat progression overview, and temporary boosts overview, all needlessly taking up the entire screen, leaving you vulnerable to attack from the world still going on around you. Worst of the all is the modifications screen, where simply finding out whether or not you have any available modifications for any particular weapon takes quite a bit of work, and going back to hopefully select a different weapon takes you out of the menu system entirely, leaving you to repeat the whole thing all over again.
The UI issues extends to the game’s social aspects as well. There are two different chat channels for Group and Team, one being meant for cooperative dungeon play and one for player versus player teams. Which is odd given that you never engaged in the two simultaneously, and both mean the same thing in and out of game. There also isn’t any global chat, constricting banter between strangers to those in your area…leaving us feeling very solitary, perhaps even more so than when playing a single player game. Beyond this you’ve got menus for your clan, finding friends, creating groups and so on, all functioning relatively well, but again needlessly taking up the entire screen.
Defiance–being an MMO–has its fair share of cooperative dungeons and player versus player content. Some of the dungeons are a nice change of pace from the rest of the game, as they are usually a bit more pleasing to the eyes, and the boss encounters require a bit more cooperation or clever thinking. Of course true to the genre, you’ll still have to kill a hundred or so of their minions before you can reach them.
Similarly the PVP gameplay is also far more rewarding than questing, and the combination of the different active abilities and the shooter gameplay certainly gives the concept of large scale battlegrounds some extra flair. The Shadow War mode pitting 128 players against each other was particularly satisfying.
In the end Defiance strikes us as a game that does a lot of things right in trying to marry MMO’s with shooters, but it’s not the first to try, or even to succeed. We still can’t help but admire it for the effort. It’s a fun enough game that managed to keep us entertained (if just mildly) for well over 30 hours. That said, there are way too many inadequacies and bad design decisions strapped onto a game that just feels out of place and bland. If Trion Worlds expands Defiance with new and visually interesting areas, along with a complete overhaul of the UI, improved enemy AI, a smattering of new skills and weapon drops, and hires some better writers, we have no doubt that Defiance could be a genuinely fantastic game.
Our final thoughts: Defiance feels a bit schizophrenic. At first, we could only see what is wrong with it, but then its charms kicked in and we genuinely enjoyed the experience. But then after a short while, the game’s mechanics wore out and the repetition got to us. As of right now we’re a bit apathetic with Defiance and we cannot recommend a purchase