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Defiance Daily Diary Part 4

Hello everyone and welcome back to my Defiance Daily Diary! Once again, my name is Ryan Coleman and I’m here to be your guide into the war-torn San Francisco Bay Area in the MMO shooter Defiance!

Today I’ll be taking a look at only a single facet of the game, but one so important and so much damn fun that I’d be remiss not to give it its own diary post. The topic of today’s entry is Arkfalls.

Arkfall 1

Arkfalls are random world events that cover a large portion of the in-game map in a deep red circle. Inside this circle, you’re given a Time Remaining counter and an event title at the top of your screen. Your objective, along with the objective of any and all other player who join in the event, is to destroy the ark crystals that have fallen from the sky. In a given arkfall area there are typically 4-5 individual large crystal events for players to converge around and focus their efforts on.

These crystals have tons of health and also attract the attention of hellbugs, which can and will kill you if you and the players around you don’t kill them first. Heavily armored, ranged, and even flying bugs will attempt to kill any players entering the area of a fallen crystal. There are two types of arkfalls — major and minor. Major arkfalls are the events that I’ll be describing in this entry, while minor arkfalls are rather simple events that consist of only the first part of the event that I detail in the next section, but you have to fight mutants instead of hellbugs and there are no crystal weak points.

Arkfall 2 - crits

The arkfall crystals themselves take normal damage from your weapons, but have a “damage phase” of sorts. Every so often, skittering hellbugs (the very tiny bugs that die from a single hit) will walk up to the crystal and take a bite out of it, exposing a weak point. Attacking this weak point causes your weapons to deal entirely critical hits for the short duration the weak point is visible. Your computer guide will point this out to you every so often just to ensure you’re looking for and focusing damage on those points.

This system presents an interesting dynamic — you can either choose to nuke the hell out of the crystal and destroy it with raw damage, or watch your collateral damage and allow the small bugs to chomp a weak point into the crystal to kill it faster. In the arkfalls I’ve been a part of, most players were cognizant enough to stay their fire when the skitterers were going to the crystal, and then everyone unleashed hell upon that spot once the vulnerable area appeared.

Arkfall 3 - destroyed

Destroying an individual arkfall crystal can take anywhere from 3 to 7 minutes depending on how many players have congregated around it. Once a crystal is destroyed, it vaporizes any hellbugs nearby and creates a brilliant beam of light into the sky. After it fades, you’re free to talk toward the former crystal resting spot and collect your loot, and said loot can be of quite significant value. Most of the weapons I’ve found myself using have come from arkfall events and I’ve found some very interesting and wacky weapons from these loot piles.

After the single crystal is destroyed, the game will display a marker on your HUD directing you to the next undestroyed crystal in the arkfall area. What often happens is, after a crystal is destroyed, all nearby players hop into their vehicles and speed off at full throttle to the next crystal. It creates an amazing scene of an impromptu caravan heading off to complete the next objective. Each new crystal you arrive at has progressively more players, and once the final crystal is destroyed, you head to the real objective: the boss fight.

Arkfall 4 - Hellion

This grotesque creature is known as the Hellion. Or, rather, the bug inside of it is. This three-headed monstrosity is just a host for a parasitic flying hellbug. This fight actually contains three phases, making it one of the more traditional MMO fights in the game.

The first phase involves fighting the towering beast itself. Its weak points in the mouth, as expected, cause critical hits. Phase two begins when the Hellion flies from the spiked back, revealing that it is in fact just controlling the grounded monster. This flying version has a weak point on the protected underside of its abdomen and forces players to face the enemy head-on in order to deal maximum damage. In phase three, the Hellion flies back into the larger creature and a slew of heavily-armored and very powerful hellbugs attack the players. Once these bugs are defeated, the Hellion flies out, and phases 2 and 3 are repeated until it dies.

During all three phases (but especially in phase 2), smaller hellbugs continuously pelt players with acid bombs and quick, hit-and-run melee strikes. Even if you aren’t focusing the main target, you can still eliminate the smaller targets to assist your teammates.

Arkfall 5 - Hellion2

These fights are some of the most intense, most grandiose, and most fun I’ve had in a video game in a while. They are extremely reminiscent of public quests in Warhammer Online, but they perhaps resemble the large world events in Guild Wars 2 even more. Player counts skyrocket to over 80 or 100, but interestingly and thankfully enough, my computer’s performance never once took a severe hit.

The action in these events is frenetic and fast-paced. Still, despite being surrounded by plenty of other players all focusing on a single objective, you still get the very real feeling that you are contributing. This is reinforced even more by the ‘end of event’ scoreboard, detailing your money and experience gains after each arkfall.

Arkfall 6 - completeNot pictured above is the actual scoreboard proper, which ranks all players in terms of their damage dealt to all enemies and crystals from 1st place to however many players were involved. Besides the XP and currency gains, you’re also given a piece of loot from the end of the event, and some of this gear has been by far the best I’ve seen.

Defiance encourages these arkfall events for a few reasons. Firstly, they are a major part of the narrative and story interaction (though I had to find this part out on the Wikipedia article). Second, they yield very good rewards and incentivize providing more damage and player revives to increase your standing on the scoreboard and gain a higher experience and money bonus. Third, they are fun as hell.

Hyperbole aside, arkfalls are one of the most fun events I’ve taken part in in an MMO. They are long enough to feel substantial, reward you for contributing, are difficult without being frustrating, and give you real, tangible encouragement to actually give it your best to complete them. If there are any more events like this in Defiance then I am absolutely ready for more of this game and the challenges that await.

Thanks for joining me on today’s Defiance Diary. Be sure to join me tomorrow where I give my overall impressions on the game, my progress update, and the lead-in to my full review coming next week.

If you’re interested, you can see these posts and more on Next Gen Update and Hard Reset. Thanks for reading!

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 5
Review

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Defiance Daily Diary Part 3

Hello and welcome back to my Defiance Daily Diary! I’m now on day 3 and I think I’ve gotten the hang of this game enough to have a good idea of how it works. All those other MMOs really helped out a lot, it seems.

Before I get started properly, I wanted to go over this little tidbit.

Stuck

No, it’s not to look at the horrendous texture quality. Those low textures are there because this isn’t somewhere you’re normally meant to get. I took one jump with my ATV that was a little too extreme and wound up in this pit. In most games, winding up in a pit like that equates to worse than death. In MMOs, though, there’s usually a way to get out, whether through inventiveness or admin interaction. This was an inventiveness time. I got back in my ATV, activated the rocket boosters, and launched myself out.

It was awesome and effective, and I must say that it’s refreshing to have boosters on a vehicle in a video game that actually function like thrusters instead of just making your vehicle go faster on the ground.

So, back to what I originally wanted to discuss: what is questing in Defiance like? Well, it’s mostly like this:

Hold E

Yes, most of the objectives in Defiance will boil down to holding the Interact key (default E), regardless of what you’re actually doing. Hacking turrets, restarting generators, and reviving allies is all done with a 2-5 second press of a single key. The hardest part of actually doing anything is the fight on the way there. I don’t think it’s an unfair complaint to want a bit more interaction in my video games, especially a game like Defiance that’s willing to do a little bit extra to keep everything different and fresh. From main story missions, side missions, and small world quests, the “E” key is likely going to be your best friend.

Breaking up the monotony a bit are the Rampage and Time Trial missions. You can probably already guess what these are from the description. Time Trials put you on a pre-set vehicle and have you drive through a set of rings on the ground to beat a high score and gain extra experience and money in the process. Rampage missions give you a pre-set gun and have you go on, well, a rampage against a horde of small enemies or against a few larger ones. Both of these mission types place your score on a scoreboard ranked against other players who have tried the same mission.

Episode Mission 1Allow me to discuss some of the most enjoyable missions of Defiance, however: Episode Missions. I would wager to say these tie-in missions have been some of the most impressive parts of the game as a whole.

Episode Missions are, as their title implies, missions that are tied to episodes of the television show Defiance. In what capacity they will influence the events the show remains to be seen, but what I can say is that they provide some of the most interesting story-driven content in the game.

Episode Mission 3

These missions see your character, whomever you may be, joining the main characters of the SyFy show on various missions to collect money or items. Nolan and Irisa (the human man and alien woman, respectively) seem to be hands for hire, bounty hunters, and general ne’er-do-wells, but while they are rough around the edges, they both seem like interesting characters. Nolan in particular seems to be a combination of every movie role Harrison Ford played in the 70s and 80s. Their main motivation seems to be to travel to Antarctica, although why that is exactly isn’t explained. I can only assume it’ll be a major plot point in the show.

Episode Mission 4

The presentation of the Episode Missions is cinematic in every sense. Dynamic camera angles, appropriate musical cues, and well-animated characters all contribute to a sense of high production value, none of which I was expecting in an MMO. These missions, especially the cutscenes, feel like the natural progression of what The Old Republic was trying to accomplish with their cinematic presentation, but Defiance has the advantage of well-done animations and characters that actually show emotion.

Episode Mission 2

What’s not present in Defiance, however, is choices when it comes to the story. This is really not a complaint so much as a general statement, as I wouldn’t really expect to be able to personally influence the major characters from the tie-in TV show. I haven’t yet seen any choices available in the main story missions either, but I would assume there aren’t any to be had there as well. Again, this is not really something that can be considered a negative since this is an MMO and that’s a concession I’m willing to accept. The Old Republic did choices rather well, but most of them managed to be wholly inconsequential anyway at the end of the day.

Episode mission 5 (instance entrance)The final Episode Mission (there are 4-5 total so far with more to be added later, as I understand) had me entering a personal instanced area by way of a portal as seen above. This particular portal led into a rather nice-looking cave where Nolan, Irisa and I were tasked with recovering an item for their employer. The mission was scripted and straightforward, and really felt lacking gameplay-wise compared to the wide-open areas you fight in for most of the combat in Defiance. There were some interesting enemies that required me to target specific locations on their body to do any damage and other enemies that carried shields that forced you to flank them from above or behind to defeat them.

Episode Mission 6If you’re noticing that Nolan and I have the same clothes on, that’s because one of the rewards from the Episode Missions is outfits for your character to wear. I thought Nolan’s apparel was rather appropriate looking for an adventurous ark hunter like myself, so I donned it as well. I don’t think he minded all that much. Along with outfits, you also receive weapons from doing these missions, and most of them were reasonably powerful or interesting. They certainly weren’t overpowered compared to my other gear, but they fit in nicely with the rest of my arsenal.

This bit of extra content was so impressive to me that I felt the need to spend this entire diary on it. If you play Defiance, I strongly recommend checking out these Episode Missions. I also recommend doing it quickly, because they are optional and time-limited. Based on the information I was given, the Episode Missions rotate along with episodes of the TV show. That being the case, this current batch will be gone by the 15th, which is Monday of next week, so do these while you can!

Thanks for joining me for this time on my Defiance Diary. Be sure to check back tomorrow for Part 4 where I’ll be talking about one of the most awesome group events in the game: Arkfalls.

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

Part 1
Part 2
Part 4
Part 5
Review

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Defiance Daily Diary Part 2

art_defiance_0

Welcome to day 2 of my Defiance Diary. After only discussing the intro area and my menu gripes in the last part, I decided I ought to actually talk about the game this time around.

I can certainly confirm this about Defiance: it’s a third person shooter. The MMO aspects like extensive customization and inventory management are definitely there, but by and large it’s going to handle like an action game. That is most certainly a positive given the half-assing that many MMOs do in terms of their combat. It gives the refreshing feeling that TERA did when I first got into that game. Your skill and actions in combat actually matter beyond pressing 5 keys on a hotbar (it’s worth noting that there is no hotbar in Defiance), and that includes precise aim, reloading at the correct times, and avoiding enemy fire.

Boss Fight

One of the instances where that is absolutely true is in the above boss fight versus a very angry looking mutant with a very dangerous grenade launcher. Yes, I did say boss fights; it was complete with an intro cutscene and everything. This big palooka carried a big damn grenade launcher and he was deadly accurate with it. My little rifle and pistol did the job, but I had to duck and weave behind cover just to stay alive.

The accuracy and relentless nature with which this particular enemy (later known as a Mutant Grenadier, implying I’ll fight more later as regular baddies) was impressive and nerve-wracking all at once. I had to carefully time my shots between the volley of explosives hurdling toward me, to say nothing of the regular grunts with assault rifles trying to gun me down. If there are more encounters like this in Defiance, especially on a larger scale, then I am absolutely looking forward to more of this game.

Speaking of things to look forward to…

Burst Shock Shotgun

This little beauty right here. This is called the “VOT Auto-Fragger”. It is a 3-round burst fire, 15-round magazine plasma shotgun. Yes, that is as awesome as it sounds, and yes, it does perform as expected. That is to say, amazingly. The fact that a weapon that looks so cool is also so effective with such a unique ability is very satisfying.

Defiance has actually reflected Borderlands in more than one instance, and the gun design and randomization is one of them. I have been incredibly impressed with the weapon variety and random effects. I’ve seen electric, burst-fire carbines, fast-firing semi-auto sniper rifles, and a pistol that has a small magazine and low fire rate but a 4.0x multiplier on headshots instead of the regular 1.5x multiplier. Even with the seemingly standard fare of machine guns and shotguns, the plethora of random weapons and item modifications grants you the ability to customize your play style to the way you want to play and still look cool doing it.

Drab Locations

One thing that does not look very cool, at least in the starting area, are the locations. Expect to see Copy-Paste Ruin #12 inside Ruined Town #3 often. Brown and gray are the colors most present in Defiance, and it’s a real shame because the setting is very interesting. There’s a lot of potential for cool vistas or locations and I definitely hope they come later on.

Platforming

Thankfully, traversing these areas is rather diverse. In the above image, my objective is to get to a control panel and erase data on it. The control panel was up on a ledge inside of a building and I saw no ladder or staircase with which to ascend. Then it hit me: think outside the box. Or rather, on top of the box, in this particular instance.

Traversing the world is a bit more than looking for a ladder to climb, it seems. I actually had to do a bit of simple platforming to get up to where I needed to be to complete my mission objective and I can only assume this type of physical obstacle will be used more often, perhaps even to find hidden treasures as was done in The Old Republic or Guild Wars 2.

Vehicles

Though the locations may be drab, the way you get around is certainly not. Very early on, you get your very own off road ATV. It serves as the default mount, or at least this game’s equivalent. They are fast, agile, and get you from place to place in a hurry. They’re also very easy to summon: all you need do is press a key (default V) and the quad bike materializes before you, letting you jump on and zoom away.

Pressing sprint activates a rocket booster on the back for a limited duration, letting the already-nimble vehicles really take off at full speed, but you do lose quite a bit of maneuverability while boosting. What these boosts allow you to do, however, is take advantage of the conspicuous ramps and huge ledges.

Jump

Not pictured above: the 100 foot drop. It may not be the ATV’s intended purpose, but it performs it very well.

Speaking of performance, though, one rather glaring issue I’ve had is with mouse control and aiming. The normal mouse look controls work well enough, but it’s very clear that there is mouse acceleration in the game. This is a big no-no for basically any video game using a mouse and keyboard, but acceleration is a common and expected feature on controllers for console games.

Controls

As a result, many console-to-PC ports are plagued with poor mouse controls unless the option is given in-game to turn them off. In Defiance, it is not. This can lead to wild mouse controls when running around and very slow and very insensitive while aiming. It’s something that I’ll probably get used to, but it’s something that is an issue that needs to be addressed immediately. I might be able to fix it by digging around settings files, but I shouldn’t have to.

Thankfully, the game doesn’t seem to have any major game-breaking glitches or horrible issues like most MMOs do on launch.

One problem it does have, though, is server stability. More than once I was kicked out of the server for no apparent reason only to be placed in a queue or unable to log in at all.

If these few issues are ironed out I can certainly see Defiance becoming a popular and enjoyable game. I’ve already had a good time with it so far.

Thanks for reading! Part three will be up tomorrow!

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

Part 1
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Review

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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.
Pic 3

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.

Pic 6

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…

Pic 7

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.

Pic7.5

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…

Pic 8

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.

Pic 9

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).

Pic 10

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.

Pic 11

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.

Pic 12

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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Venturing into the world of Defiance

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Very soon I’ll be diving into the world of the new MMO from Trion Worlds, Defiance. I wasn’t initially interested in this game, but a few videos and streams by TotalBiscuit and Bwana got me interested. I’ll be on the PC version of the game under the username Akuze (if it’s available!)

I’ll also be posting a Defiance gameplay diary that’ll be hosted on NextGenUpdate.com, one of the gaming sites that I’m currently writing for. Look for upcoming posts here and on NGU detailing my adventures in Defiance.

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