Defiance, that crazy transmedia project that links an MMO with a Syfy television series, is finally here. Well, at least the video game half is here; the show lands later this month.
Now, I admit that I don’t understand what Trion’s marketing strategy was with this title, but I can’t deny that it must have been genius. I got my hands on the game way back at E3 last year, and while the premise sounded exciting, it was hard to get people interested in it. Fast-forward to launch day, and you have retailers selling out all over the place. I checked with six major retailers yesterday, and there was only one Xbox 360 copy of Defiance between all six of them. People are excited. People are insanely excited.
But regardless of hype, regardless of how many copies the game sold at launch, the thing that we gamers care most about is how it plays.
I spent about four hours actually playing the Xbox 360 version of the game on launch day, after a long install process followed by two fairly large patches. I’m not complaining; long installations and day-one patches are longstanding staples of MMO launches, and Defiance is one hell of an ambitious MMO. On the other hand, this comes from Trion, whose RIFT launch was monumentally smooth, so I did hope for the best with this one.
Now, obviously four hours with a game of this size is far too short a time to base a numbered review score on, but I do plan on having a review up next week. Until then, though, I thought I’d check in with our readers and share my first impressions.
I have a pretty huge list of complaints, actually. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m enjoying the game thoroughly, and I’m excited to be done typing this very article so I can jump back into it. But my first four hours were far from perfect.
With day-one traffic being so heavy, the servers were straining to keep up. This became painfully obvious whenever combat situations arose, where mutants would rubberband back and forth and take over a second to react to being killed. Not only was it immersion-breaking, but I would often deliver what I thought was a killing blow, then turn around to find enemies I thought were dead being very much alive and very much pissed off that I had been shooting at them. Of course, at about Midnight Central Time, the server went down for maintenance, and when it came back up, these issues seemed to be vastly improved.
Another issue I had was with the Arkfall events. If you’ve played RIFT, these should be familiar to you, as they’re essentially the same thing as RIFT’s definitive rift events. Suddenly, a crystal appears on the landscape, and all sorts of monsters start spawning into the world. Players must join forces to push these back within a certain time limit, and if successful, they’ll be rewarded for their efforts. It’s a very cool concept.
My issue, though, is that the creatures you need to fight are incredibly overpowered. You can have two dozen people pouring ammo into some of these beasts for five minutes straight, only to see the creature’s health bar move the tiniest fraction of an inch. This makes it feel pointless to even try to fight, as the effect you have in the battle isn’t even noticeable. I would much rather battle massive swarms of weaker enemies than take on one epic boss that can barely even be hurt. It’s much more satisfying to know that, say, you personally killed 50 enemies that each had 1,000 hit points over the course of a thirty-minute battle than to know that you dealt 50,000 damage to a creature that had billions of hit points. After all, the brilliance of the Arkfall events is that they’re designed to make it feel like you, the player, are actually having an impact on this world.
Of course, Trion knows that this is an issue, that Arkfall event scaling is frustratingly imbalanced, and they’ve already promised us that it’s something they’re looking into. I hope it’s ironed out soon, as these events have the potential to make or break the long-term viability of Defiance as an MMO.
The other complaints I have are fairly minor, and perhaps they’re just personal quibbles of mine. To be honest, though, I’m having a hard time getting invested in the story of this universe. The opening of the game is cutscene-and-tutorial-heavy, which can grate on the player’s nerves a bit. Of course, this is a story that I’m sure takes place over hundreds and hundreds of hours, and one that seeps into the nuances of a world we’re going to spend months exploring, so I’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg here. It’s quite possible I’m being set up for something incredible that I’m just not able to see the scope of quite yet.
One last complaint: It feels super weird to run across characters from the TV series in the game, because they’re so painfully obvious. The character design of game characters is completely different than the design of characters who were obviously mapped from the faces of real people, and the two styles don’t mesh as well as they should. Again, this is a minor complaint when taken in the grand scheme of things, and it’s almost not even worth mentioning. But it does feel weird to me.
Now, I understand that this is an MMO, and MMO launches are never perfect. In fact, they’re generally exercises in patience for the player base. If Defiance can work through it, if Trion can work around the clock to fix some of the bigger issues currently present, then this game has the potential to be great. I have my fingers crossed, as I’d love to see this one succeed. And with Trion’s proven brilliance with RIFT, I have no reason to believe this won’t be the case.
Editor / Social Media
Date: April 3, 2013