In my last post, I talked about my return to Defiance after briefly trying it once before, but I didn’t have space to get properly in-depth, so I thought I’d do a follow-up.
It’s not a great game, but I do find myself enjoying it more than I expected to based on past experience. It’s got its share of flaws, but it also has its highlights. I might as well just run down all the various pros and cons.
Pro: There’s always something to do
For all that Defiance is a pretty small MMO in the greater scheme of things, you never feel wanting for content. What content there is is densely packed, and you can’t go twenty feet without stumbling into something to do.
There aren’t nearly as many quests/missions as you’d find in a standard WoW clone, but individual missions can feel be fairly involved, and there are still quite a few. There’s the main storyline, which has been keeping me busy for about a week now. There are episode missions, which have direct tie-ins to the show and often feature familiar characters. And there are also side missions, which are pretty generic kill and collect stuff.
I don’t much care for the side missions myself, and much of my enjoyment of the game is due to mostly ignoring them, but there are quite a lot of them, so they deserve a mention.
Then you’ve got challenges scattered over the map. These are short scenarios like time trials and shooting ranges to test your skills, and you end up on a global scoreboard with other players.
On top of that, the world is overflowing with dynamic events ranging from the very simple to massive Arkfalls that cover huge portions of territory and often culminate in a major boss fight.
And that’s without even getting into the dungeons and PvP!
Defiance is not a game that believes in downtime.
Con: All that content is pretty much the same
On the downside, there’s very little variety within all that vast content because of how simple the game mechanics are. Some enemies have special mechanics to adapt to — Raider rioters have shields that render them invulnerable to attacks from the front — but for the most part, this is the Serious Sam school of combat: circle strafe and shoot it until it stops moving.
Part of the problem is the core mechanics, which include few options other than “shoot it” or “shoot it in the head.” I find myself pining for Mass Effect, which was itself too simple in my view. At least Mass Effect had the option of biotics and other abilities. Defiance has only four active abilities in the whole game, you can only have one equipped at any time, and they’re all fairly weak.
To date, I’ve only fought two or three bosses that felt worthy of the term beyond simply being giant HP sponges that do a lot of damage. For instance, one was a giant robot in a Dark Matter Arkfall that could only be damaged by shooting its legs. It also had a point blank AoE knockback/stun, so you had to be careful not to get too close.
Still simpler than the easiest Raid Finder boss in Warcraft, but at least it’s something.
Part of the reason I’m focusing on the main storyline is that having a plot motivation for everything I do allows me to at least pretend there’s some variety to what I’m doing, even if everything in the game boils down to, “Go to a place and run around shooting things.”
Pro: The story’s actually pretty good
I’ve touched on this in the past, but the main story in Defiance is a lot better than you might expect.
Now, I’m not going to pretend it’s Shakespeare. But it’s entertaining, and that’s really all a story needs to be. It’s got a lot of humour, but it doesn’t devolve into endless self-parody like WildStar, and it can still be serious when it needs to be.
The plot itself isn’t that special, but the characters carry it through. They’ve all got a lot of personality, and the voice acting is generally pretty good. A little corny at times, but in a way that makes sense for the setting.
Choosing to focus on a small, focused cast of characters was a brilliant move, and I wish more MMOs would follow that lead. Even The Secret World’s NPCs, for all their impeccable writing, are usually forgotten (by the game, not the player) once their missions have been completed.
The plot is further helped by some of the most seamless phasing I’ve ever seen, allowing plot events to be integrated into the open world with minimal instancing.
The story has had its weak points — I’m looking at you, Rosa — but for the most part, it’s kept me engaged.
Con: Severe lack of visual variety
Many have noted that Defiance suffers from what is, by MMO standards, an extremely small game world, and that’s true, but I think the greater issue is that there’s almost no variety whatsoever in its environments.
Everything looks the same in Defiance. There’s no notable visual difference between Mount Tam and Sausalito.
What bothers me even more is the lack of variety in enemies. There aren’t very many types of foes in Defiance, and most of them all feel like slightly different flavours of the same thing. First you’re fighting freaky mutants, then it’s freaky raiders, then it’s freaky cyborgs.
It just starts to feel very repetitive after a while.
Part of the story of Defiance is that your character is implanted with an advanced AI called an EGO. In gameplay terms, she serves as an adviser and announcer, alerting you of nearby Arkfalls and other useful information.
She also does double duty as an automated cheerleader, constantly praising the player for every accomplishment.
I have somewhat mixed feelings on EGO. On the one hand, she is an example of pandering in its purest form. Her acronym is appropriate, since she spends all her time stroking the player’s ego.
But pandering or not, it works. It’s hard to deny the appeal of having an absurdly perky girl telling you you’re awesome every thirty seconds.
Coupled with the simplistic gameplay, EGO helps you fade into a pleasant, semi-conscious haze as you run around mindlessly killing things while soaking up the effusive praise of your AI.
Con: I can’t drive
This one isn’t really the game’s fault, but I’ll mention it anyway.
I am a terrible at driving in this game. I’m constantly careening into everything and swerving all over the road like a drunken, myopic old lady.
I don’t know if driving in Defiance is anything like driving in the real world, but if it is, we should all be grateful I don’t drive. I’d be a menace.
I also apparently can’t read a map to save my life.