Defiance Daily Diary Part 1

Welcome to my MMO Daily Diary of Defiance! My name is Ryan Coleman and I’ll be your guide through the war-torn, post-apocalyptic world of the San Francisco Bay Area of the near future.

I’m a longtime veteran of many MMOs, including, of course, World of Warcraft. I’ve also dabbled in a little gem known as R.O.S.E. Online in the far past. I know my way around a levelling system and skill tree, but for Defiance I’m basically going in blind. All I really know is the name, the basic premise and that the game is tied into a television show of the same name airing on the SyFy Channel next week.

I want to also note that I had very little interest in this title until seeing a few preview videos and streams from TotalBiscuit and Bwana. Their interest and positive words about the game convinced me to start a diary, so let’s jump into it.

This first post will be the introduction into the game, so don’t expect much in the way of me knowing what the hell is going on. The learning process is always the longest in a new MMO.
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Well, here we are.

This is an MMO, after all, and a PC digital download, so I suppose this is to be expected. I can watch some Defiance streams in the meantime.
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I would like to point out that that 5:19 seconds took about 4 minutes. The game won’t update every time, of course, but it’d be nice to have a launcher that gives at least somewhat of a close estimate. Still, 4 minutes isn’t much compared to the 2 hours of downloading, so I’ll let this one slide.
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There was an intro video which gave a bit of exposition, but it’s still pretty light on back story so far. From what I gather, there was an invasion by a race known as Votan that terraformed the surface of the Earth, and now humans and another alien race are fighting against them together.

And now I begin the most difficult part of any MMO.

It appears that there are no “character classes”, but merely origins and races to pick from. I chose a human male Survivalist, who appears to start with a hunting rifle.

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Not too shabby, eh? I do love my video game self-inserts. This is basically me if I was 10 years older and the veteran of a few more wars.

The cutscene following character creation shows my character (henceforth known by his name, Akuze), having to escape from a dropship with an escape pod after things predictably take a turn for the worse. Seated next to me were two rather realistic looking characters whom I can only assume are two of the characters from the television show.

One rough crash landing later…

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A spunky alien girl named Cass and this ghostly looking figure awaken me from my rough fall and subsequent migraine. It turns out that this ethereal girl is called “EGO” and she’s been implanted into my brain. I’m assuming this is the handwave as to why you have a heads-up display, very similar to Borderlands.

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Well, well, well. A floating exclamation point? That’s a new one. Still, the game certainly doesn’t look too bad, and on my PC it runs at a silky smooth 60 frames per second with all the setting at max. Speaking of max settings…

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Yikes. That’s the settings menu. A resolution choice, “Graphics Quality” selector and a few post-processing effects. I know this is a multiplatform release, but for what is supposedly a full-featured MMO, it would have been nice to have as many graphical options as other titles. You know, like the almost 10 year old World of Warcraft.

It’s also worth mentioning that, as I navigate the various menus of the game, including my inventory, skill screen, and control bindings, one thing is becoming abundantly clear: The menus take up the entire damn screen. This means that you cannot choose equipment, change settings, or do anything else without utterly losing control of your character. This is just not acceptable in a 2013 title and an MMO to boot. It’s not like the game pauses when you hit ESC. This is a glaring problem and one that I hope is fixed in a future patch.

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Now we’re talking. I’ll call this rifle “Daisy”.

The first few missions are pretty standard fare: teach basic game mechanics such as movement, shooting, looting, and objective completion. What’s immediately clear is that this is not a typical MMO. It definitely seems to be, as far as gameplay goes, a third person shooter. Not a cover-based one, but a shooter nonetheless. You can jump, sprint, roll, shoot, and reload just like you would in pretty much any other third person shooter. Even aiming your shot placement counts – headshots do much, much more damage than body shots, especially with this hunting rifle I acquired.

As noted by others, the enemies in the starting area are dumb as bricks. They won’t attack or even notice you until you’re about 5 feet away from them, and by then you could have just punched them to death (using the F key delivers a melee blow).

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This is the inventory screen. It’s not a bad layout, really, and the interface in all facets is extremely responsive. Again, the main issue is that it takes up the entire screen. I’m sure it’s something I’ll get used to, but it bears repeating that it’s not something that should even exist.

Speaking of interface weirdness, you might notice a circular object in the bottom left of the screen with the words “EGO” and a picture of a spacebar. That is how you navigate the menus. No, really. It absolutely reeks of a concession for the console versions that translated poorly to PC, as does most of the interface in the game. To go from menu to menu (from Character Loadout to Settings, for example), you must hit ESC, hold the spacebar, and then click the option you want from a popup radial menu. It’s obtrusive and unnecessary.

It seems to me that making a more PC-friendly interface would have gone miles to making this a better experience. On a positive note, however, the interface is absolute gorgeous. Menu presentation is something that gets overlooked a lot, but Defiance delivers in spades in this regard. Flash over substance isn’t something that normally happens for game menus, but it is appropriate here.

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More menus! This time it’s slightly more interesting. Like Borderlands, the main difference between characters in Defiance is what EGO power you choose. They are Cloak, Overcharge, Blur, and Decoy. Cloak and Decoy are rather self-explanatory. Overcharge increases the damage of your weapon for a short time and Blur lets you move at rapid speeds while inflicting more damage in melee. The game lets you try each of them out before choosing in a cleverly-made tutorial. I chose Cloak, just to be that sneaky sniper that pops heads from a mile away.

This seems like a very smart way to make “classes” without actually forcing you into a class. From what I’ve read and seen, the EGO Grid works very similarly to the Sphere Grid from Final Fantasy X or the Passive Grid from Path of Exile. In essence, you have to work your way out from your starting point and gain powers as you move along. It stands to reason that you’d eventually be able to work your way to all the other powers and skills, but that remains to be seen.

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What ruins a reasonably good-looking game, especially an MMO? Draw distance. That fog you see is obscuring faraway objects in order to save performance. A necessity on Xbox 360 and PS3, but a complete waste on most PCs. Also, though it’s hard to tell, there are in fact enemies on the hill over on the right of the image. They’re invisible, however, because they have disappeared due to being too far away. I can only assume this’ll be addressed in a patch, because unlike an obtuse menu, this legitimate has big ramifications on actual gameplay.

Despite my grievances and complaints, I am actually having a good time with Defiance so far. It remains to be seen whether or not that’ll last, however. The biggest positive about this game is that the controls are solid, and that more than makes up for the interface and other gripes I have currently. It feels like a third-person shooter, not an MMO, despite it very clearly being an MMO. I’ll give it some more time and see how things starts to shake out once I get farther in the leveling area and gain some new guns and skills.

Thanks for reading! Part two will be up tomorrow!

You can also check this and more of my posts out on NextGenUpdate.com and HardReset.co.uk!

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Review

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