The lights are on
Truth be told, if it weren't for the SyFy Channel tie-in, I may not have purchased Defiance. My intention was always to play on the Xbox 360 (though watching Game Informer PC editor Adam Biessener shook my resolve a bit), and the early days on Microsoft's platform were rocky to say the least. After hearing that server performance had smoothed a bit, I decided to take a chance. I'm glad I did.
Defiance has its share of problems, many of which will begin to be addressed in a patch due early next week. In a conversation with vice president of development Nathan Richardson, we discussed the challenges facing the console versions in particular.
"The 360 has been our most popular platform," Richardson told us. "The server load has been massive, and we've been working on eliminating the glass roofs." When asked about the source of the complications, Richard said, "There are components in the cluster that simply don't exist on PC. Our biggest challenge has been scalability, and Microsoft has been helping us."
In recognition of the rough launch, Trion Worlds has just announced a package of perks to thank players for their patience. Upon logging in, players will receive one week of experience, loot, scrip (in-game currency), and weapon skill boosts. Furthermore, work on the first DLC pack has been pushed back a week to work on patching the game. The first update will include balancing and polish in a number of areas. The patch notes are available here, but be warned that the list is extensive.
Based on our recent experiences, server performance has improved greatly in the week since the game's release. Despite the blemishes, Defiance is an extremely enjoyable experience with solid controls, creative weapons, and a deep level of player agency. More importantly, especially for its showing on consoles, Defiance is a wonderfully accessible game… mostly.
The systems that are a bit hidden (like weapon modification) will be receiving additional in-game explanation to bring them to the surface. We also spoke about Trion Worlds' unconventional approach to progression, namely the title's "EGO levels." "We wanted to move away from class, level, and experience," Richardson told us. "Defiance is an open world, and players can create classes, so we wanted to have a system to support the versatile character progression." The current cap is an EGO level of 5,000. (I am currently just a bit over 100, and Game Informer executive editor Andrew Reiner is in the mid-200s. We have a ways to go.)
"The EGO level is a guiding factor," Richardson explained. "It's an indication of progress." The impact of EGO level is solely to determine which guns can be used and which powers and perks can be purchased. There is minimal content gating, and the incorporation of group-friendly systems (like being able to instantaneously warp to a friend no matter where he or she is) speak to the philosophy driving Defiance's design.
"We want to make sure that you and your friends can still play together," Richardson shared with us. To that end, even the DLC will be created to maintain a unified player base. The season pass and single-pack purchases will include new playable species and abilities, but game content will be distributed for free to all players. DLC will be built around themes, pairing items with the new alien types.
We were surprised to learn that the missions designed to tie-in to the SyFy show, premiering next week, will expire. Once an episode airs, the previous set of related missions will disappear. Given the use of actors from the show, this seems like an expensive and risky proposition. However, Richardson isn't concerned. "I don't think it will have a huge, material impact on the experience for players coming in late."
Richardson was also sure to tell us that new content will still be rolling out when the show is on hiatus (or, worse, ends its run permanently). "When the show is done airing, the power will shift even more to the players," Richardson told us. That new content will include new types of Ark Falls (the game's random, large scale events). Currently, there are almost 30 types, bringing caravans of players together. "There aren't enough," Richardson laughed. "I'm always asking for more."
Defiance is risky for a lot of reasons. It's the first truly trans-media MMO, the experience on consoles as almost the same as on PC, and there is no subscription. With the promise of free game play content for all players at no charge, there is a lot on the line for Trion Worlds. We'll have to wait until April 15 to see if SyFy Channel holds up their end of the bargain.
For more on Defiance, check out our impressions and listen in to the next episode of Respec Radio.
Email the author Mike Futter, or follow on Google+, Twitter, and Game Informer.