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Defiance Early Impressions

Update 4/5 5:34 PM: I just played through a questline that had a cool story beat, some funny dialogue, and some nice varied objectives. Where was this in my first two days of play?

Not only did Cass actually have a good line for once in the story intro to this main-line quest, the gameplay threw a decent curveball at me when I got to my objective. Defending a farm under siege by hellbugs called for different tactics, and I thoroughly enjoyed blasting my way through waves of leaping alien beasts. On the way there, I ran into a random event that turned into a sweet boss fight alongside some NPCs against a super-bug. On top of all that, I found an awesome new beam rifle that chains through multiple targets.

If Defiance had put this foot forward in the first place, my original impressions (below) would have been markedly more positive.

I'll have thoughts on the PS3 version later, but in the meantime several commenters (thanks, GI community!) have reported none of the framerate server problems Reiner has run into on Xbox 360.

Back to hunting aliens with my pump shotgun that shoots acid sprays. Life is rough all over.

Original Story:

I've been blasting mutants for a few days in Trion's recently released sci-fi shooter MMO. My thoughts so far are mixed.

My impressions are all taken from my experience with the markedly superior PC version. For Reiner's frustrations with the often-broken Xbox 360 game, skip toward the bottom.

The good news is that Defiance absolutely works as a full-on shooter in an MMO context. Headshots, grenades, dodge rolls, iron sights, and every other element we demand of a modern shooter all work as expected. The numbers under the hood are more complex than in Call of Duty – Defiance supports hundreds of hours of progression through highly customizable weapons that vary wildly in absolute power as well as special effects – but the general feeling is one hundred percent shooter.

The bad news is that I'm already approaching burnout on shooting mutants and hellbugs. The trip through the Mount Tam area where new players spend their first few dozen hours far outstays its welcome. Almost every encounter I've had has played out similarly thanks to the dearth of enemy types. The handful of different mutants and their elite variants present the same obstacle over and over, as do the three hellbug types. The solid if unspectacular basic shooting action is fun enough, but the uninspired content is testing my patience.

(click for full-size screenshot)

Unfortunately, Defiance runs into problems on the few occasions it does step outside its well-worn comfort zone. Arkfalls – pieces of alien starships that plummet from space and crash-land on Earth's surface, prompting intense battles over their valuable tech – are dynamically generated multi-stage boss fights that welcome all players' participation and scale their difficulty accordingly, and at their best are exactly the kinds of awesome large-scale cooperative battles I hope for out of a shooter MMO. For every cool arkfall, though, there's a scripting bug that prevents quest objectives from spawning properly or a poorly scaling encounter. One particularly dumb quest resolution had extra-fast melee enemies continually spawning with enormous health pools that could two-shot any player, who as a special bonus shrugged off point-blank shotgun blasts that I've relied on to knock back if not outright kill anything that gets too close to my sniper. I think I ate a dozen deaths on that one.

At least the death penalty is light – a minor hit to your funds and no respawn timer makes each failure more embarrassing than painful.

The vaunted tie-in with the SyFy cable TV show is minimal so far. A few characters make cameos with weirdly high-detail but stiffly animated faces, and most of my NPC interaction has been with an alien named Cass. I can only imagine that she serves a cosmic function as a black hole where bad dialogue is sent to not trouble the universe with its hackery any longer, because she is honestly the worst-written caricature of a freelance bounty hunter I have ever encountered – and I have shelves full of Star Wars novels. My intense personal aversion to made-up words doesn't help, with her constant usage of the awful non-word "shtako" as a replacement for the obvious vulgarity. Her reliance on the word is doubly confounding, since plenty of human soldiers have no qualms dropping f-bombs. If I weren't playing Defiance for work purposes, I'd have already mashed the skip dialogue button into pulp.

(click for full-size screenshot)

I have hopes that the PvP, which I've only dipped my toes into so far, is more engaging. I'm still messing around with different weapon and perk loadouts (of which there is a pleasantly enormous variety) and collecting better gear before really digging into it. The game definitely has potential - the better class of arkfalls are great fun, I'm happy with the subscription-free business model with its minor cash shop, and the gunplay itself is amusing enough that I'm content playing around with new tactics and weapons - but Defiance as I've experienced it so far has yet to elevate itself beyond merely average. Consider the $60 purchase accordingly.

The Xbox 360 Version
by Andrew Reiner 

Framerate problems, server crashes, and login issues dominated my first three days with Defiance. I rarely had a game session that lasted for more than an hour before the servers would crash or need maintenance, or the game would outright lock-up. Those were my first three days. Things are looking up today. Granted, I’m not playing during the peak hours right now, but a new patch seems to have helped with some of the problems I’m experiencing. Significant framerate loss still occurs on arkfalls and missions with too many players and NPCs crowding one area. Outside of that, Defiance is stable today. I’m starting to have some fun with it, too.

Blowing away hellbugs and gun-wielding mutants is handled well, and the game isn’t afraid to throw tons of them at players. In one mission, where I was tasked to help farmers protect their land, I must have mowed down 100-plus enemies, including a difficult boss who I battled for a good three to four minutes. At the completion of missions, I’m finding it’s quick to get right back into the action, thanks to a surplus of side content, random encounters in the world, and a nicely designed fast travel system.

When it works the way Trion intended, Defiance has proven to be enjoyable in the early stages. I just wish I could take on a big arkfall event without the framerate falling apart to the point that the animations are choppier than an episode of South Park.

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