Hello and thanks for joining me! My name, of course, is Ryan Coleman, and welcome to the fifth and final entry in my Defiance Daily Diary. Today’s entry will be focused a bit less on a specific topic and more on my general thoughts of the game as a whole. After playing for a few solid sessions I feel like I have a firm grasp on how the game works now and this entry will serve as a preface to the full review I’ll be posting this weekend. Also, the images posted may not necessarily coincide with the topic. They’re just some screenshots I found interesting.
Through my many hours of playing through the early days of Defiance, one thing has become very clear to me: this is basically just Borderlands: The MMO.
Combat, items, weapon design and function, and game mechanics and skill trees are all hugely reminiscent of Borderlands and Borderlands 2. It’s almost as if Trion took the ideas from Gearbox’s franchise and stuck them into a destroyed world with Guild Wars 2‘s questing system. This seems to keep in line with Trion’s history of “borrowing” ideas from other games and incorporating them into their own. Their previous MMO, Rift, was infamous for being, at least on the surface, a direct carbon copy of World of Warcraft. Indeed, if Defiance was in first person instead of third, you’d think you were shooting through Pandora and not San Francisco on Earth.
I want to stress that this is not a bad thing. If you’re going to imitate franchises, you might as well aim high. Thankfully, Defiance proves to be different enough from the games it borrows from that it doesn’t feel derivative. It has enough of its own life injected into the formula that never once do you feel as is you’d be better off playing one of the other games.
That also leads me into my next point: Defiance is a damn good game. That’s a spoiler for my review, I suppose.
Defiance has been getting a lot of hate in the gaming community since its release and I must admit not all of it is unwarranted. There are technical issues, the game is not terribly good-looking, and the lack of explanation for its mechanics and systems may leave some unsavvy players scratching their heads. The issues that get some flak that I do not understand is the actual gameplay.
Defiance does not have amazing gunplay, but for what the game is (an MMO) it does it pretty damn well. The fact that movement, aim, recoil control, diagnosing enemies on the fly, and even correctly timing reloads are all important in an MMO setting is unprecedented. More importantly: Everything works. I never once felt as if I was playing a two-bit knockoff of a “real” shooter while playing Defiance. Everything performs as it should for a shooter, and that’s something to be praised.
I do have gripes, though. Defiance is not perfect — nowhere near perfect, in fact. However, the game is competent enough, fun enough, and has enough stuff to do that these complaints never get in the way of the fun.
By far my biggest issue is the lack of weapon slots per loadout and the obtuse nature of changing loadouts. For each of your loadouts (of which you start with two), you can have two guns, a grenade, a shield, and a vehicle equipped. However, with the huge amount of varied weapons and the fact that you can carry up to 20 extra guns with you, having only two weapon slots per loadout is inexcusable. If it’s done for the sake of “balance” then it’s horribly misguided. One of the reasons it’s misguided is because you can change loadouts at any time, even in combat. It necessitates going into the (full-screen) menu and manually clicking which loadout you want, but it can still be done with no penalty. If more weapon slots aren’t added, then a quicker way to change loadouts needs to exist. It simply does not make any sense in its current form.
The second issue I’ve got is the way the skill system is set up. The EGO Grid seems almost cordoned off from rational decisions at times due to the way the perks are distributed. You can choose between one of the four skills I mentioned earlier and work your way out on the grid from there. The issue is, a lot of the perks revolve around only a singular play style, despite the fact that you can choose to use and specialize in any weapon type.
For instance, the perks surrounding the Cloak ability all have to do with dealing extra damage to critical points and to unaware enemies. These are great for a sniper who takes single shots at precise locations, but do very little when using a shotgun or a rocket launcher. “Okay,” you might think, “I’ll just respec and choose Overcharge instead for extra damage,” except that all the perks surrounding Overcharge deal with activating effects by killing enemies with explosive damage, something that a machine gunner would almost never do. Worse yet, you are required to take these perks to get to the other more useful but less interesting perks farther away from the EGO skill nodes. It’s a frustrating system that needs to be re-thunk in the future.
My third biggest issue with the game is the tedious nature and lack of variety in the side missions that aren’t major arkfalls. “Rescue the soldier”, “defend the miner”, and “kill the raiders” are not fun, not engaging, and serve only as a momentary distraction from the actual fun the game has to offer. After completing 5 side missions in my very first play session, I’ve not touched them again and I feel no regrets about it. The randomly-spawned events are just as dull, but at least you don’t have to manually activate them; you can simply take your car and run everyone over to complete it instead.
Finally, my fourth biggest problem with Defiance is the fact that so many interesting story elements, game mechanics, and need-to-know information about the game is hidden three screens deep in the unintuitive menu system. How to mod weapons, what ark salvage does, and what numerous different systems actually do are all hidden away from you with no tutorial or even a loading screen hint of how to access them. I’m all for exploration and figuring things out, but let me do that for the more advanced things in the game, not the bottom-level basics.
In addition, while the game never mentions it, there are actually Bioshock-style audio logs to pick up throughout the world that give fantastic insight into the world of Defiance and the legitimately interesting characters that inhabit it. I strong recommend navigating to the Intel section of the EGO menu to check these out if you haven’t already, because I’m sure you never even knew they existed until now.
This is not so much a “problem” so much as just a “thing”, but there is product placement in the game. It’s only for one company, Dodge, and it’s not shoved in your face (save for a cutscene at the beginning for a split second), but it is there. For people who really hate that kind of thing, I hope it won’t bother you too terribly much that some of the best vehicles in the game are Dodge Challengers. To Dodge’s credit the cars do look cool, but it’s a bit odd to think that the only cars that will survive in 30 years come from a single manufacturer.
There are so many thing about the game that I do like, though, that these complaints almost seem small by comparison. Freedom of movement from the cars is a huge one, as is the fantastic realization of group quests via the major arkfall events. As I mentioned in the last entry, arkfalls are great fun and a good opportunity for cooperation, and even become more varied in location and enemy type as you move further into the game.
The most fun part of the game has to be the weapons, though. When I say it feels like Borderlands, I absolutely mean it. The guns look awesome, perform awesome, and sound awesome. There’s style and interesting design dripping off even the most mundane weapons, not to mention the crazy, ridiculous weapons you get of Purple or Orange (Epic and Legendary, I assume) quality that can have a myriad of effects or designs.
This shotgun was acquired from a lockbox (an item purchased using a special currency obtained from arkfalls) and it’s become my new best friend. Without going into too much intricate detail on each and every stat, suffice to say that this shotgun holds a ton of shells, fires fast, and does tons of damage from close range. It also happens to be the first Orange-quality item I’ve found in the hundreds of guns I’ve come across.
Like Borderlands, half the fun of the game comes from finding new and exciting weapons and seeing if they’re effective enough to incorporate into your arsenal. A machine gun with an extra-high ammo capacity is one thing, but a double barreled shotgun that fires grenades and deals poison damage is entirely another. These types of exotic guns are commonplace in Defiance past the starting areas. It’s just a matter of finding them.
If nothing else, what the Defiance game has encouraged me to do is check out the “Defiance” TV show to learn more about the characters and world. I suppose in that sense, Mission Accomplished to the marketing team behind Trion and SyFy. You’ve gained a customer and a watcher. I have high hopes for the show after playing the game if not just to see the terraformed Earth of Defiance with real people and see how the crazy world of the game translates to a live-action show. I wonder if they have to kill Hellbugs at arkfalls…
Thanks very much for joining me on my adventure through the war-torn Bay Area in my Defiance Diary! I had a lot of fun playing and writing this series and I sincerely hope that I’ll see some of you soon in the in-game ruins of San Francisco capturing some salage and weapons!