The Defiance Dilemma
The Defiance Disaster! The Defiance Doomsday! The Defiance Downfall!
Defiance is one entity with a split personality, with these personalities being embodied in a generally successful TV show, and a less successful third-person shooter. Defiance the game has yet to hit the “smooth sailing” mark, and I don’t think it will any time soon. Trion has had it easy, so to speak, because the media stopped caring about this game about a month or so after launch, and there’s been no pressure on them to fix the game, from anyone besides the paying customers and shareholders of course. You could say it’s been like any other MMO launch, but there’s also a serious lack of communication, not just between Trion and their playerbase, but within Trion itself. If any other game, mainly one from one of the “big” publishers, had this many issues for this long, the media would NEVER stop talking about it. That has its pros and cons, but it can also light a fire under some asses and get things done. That’s not the case here, so let’s see if we can find a few matches and figure out what went wrong with DEFIANCE.
Trion and Syfy’s marketing teams were having a ball with this IP from the moment it was revealed. They made a splash by banking on the fact that Defiance would not be just a game, but a video game AND a TV show. Not to be based on each other but to be crafted in such a way that they would run in parallel and also be able to crossover. That was the big draw of the game for a lot of people; not necessarily a deep or forced connection between the TV show and the video game, but a meaningful one. They have yet to pull this off, and fans aren’t happy about it, but it’s understandable that it wouldn’t be that big in the first season. They just didn’t make it seem like that would be the case. One thing that always unsettled me was the number of dev diaries and trailers they released pre-launch, and how they showed very little of the actual product, or showed the same thing multiple times. The other thing that caught people’s eye was Kotaku’s report of the game having the ability to include cross-platform gameplay in a shooter with hundreds of players at once…between consoles. Not entirely unheard of, but I suppose people will bite at everything, but I’m sure interested gamers were disappointed to learn that what was detailed would not be how they’d play. That isn’t Trion’s fault, but it does lead into why the hype train for this game may have set the bar too high for itself.
Expectations. They can be high, they can be low, but most of all, they can be powerful. Especially when dealing with something that isn’t all that well known, and I think that’s one of the reasons Defiance has been having so much trouble, core issues aside. It looked like a third-person Borderlands with a much larger player count, just a little less polished. There was all this talk of co-op, robust multiplayer, tons of weapons, and a massive amount of content. However, what was found in the final product may not have matched people’s expectations, but I would chalk some of that up to the somewhat misleading marketing and previews hyping the game up. Which is funny because some of the same outlets that praised the game in previews, are the same ones that gave the final game a low score. Without a doubt it’s an ambitious undertaking, but with games like Destiny and The Division on the horizon, it makes the flaws of Defiance even easier to pick out.
“Are we there yet? Woah, already?”
I’ll start this part off by saying a horizontal progression system is awful when there’s even the smallest of missteps. I’m all for being able to take someone out who is 3,000 levels ahead of me, but then again…what if levels don’t really matter after a certain point? Ever since launch, Trion has been making the game easier and more “accessible” for newer players, and that basically means they give them everything without requiring them to work for it. The way progression was handled was already broken at launch, and it was only alleviated by how your points where spread out and when you unlocked what. Co-op maps were once gated off and required you to be a certain level or have completed a key mission because it was basically the setup for the co-op mission. That isn’t the case anymore and you can basically hop into a co-op map without knowing a damn thing about what’s going on…not that it really matters in the end. They’ve also made unlocking perk slots a breeze. It took me about 3 months to get my 6th slot through generally casual play, and leveling up to get more was one of the things that kept me playing. A recent patch unlocked all 9 slots for anyone at level 1,000. Which is a huge difference from unlocking your 9th slot at level 4,000.
This might not be that big of a deal if there was more content in the game, and if you were given a reason to experiment with new perks. The only possible reason being multiplayer, which is still a bit on the broken spectrum and I’ll talk about that a little more later. The biggest flaw in the progression system, in my opinion, is weapon progression. Weapons are sorted into classes, and each class can be leveled up. Individual weapons can be leveled up as well, and will grant you a bonus once it is “mastered”. However, a mastered weapon will no longer give you experience towards leveling up the overall class. This issue was addressed not too long ago, as they introduced the option to allow you to reset your individual weapon XP.
As you gain EGO levels, you’d expect to see more interesting weapons right? Well, how about no. I’d wager that you’ll see all there is to see within your first two weeks of playing. After that you’ll stop coming across new weapons types, and your inventory will just be full of variants of what you already have. A large amount of the weapons are virtually useless, and the developers are literally struggling to find a balance. There’s little variety in the weapons themselves, and I suppose they tried to fix that by having a random stat system…but there’s not even much variety in that! You’ll see the same stat combinations over and over and over. It’s like Borderlands weapon generation system on an extreme diet. Take all of that into account, and after you hit 1,000, you never really feel like you’re doing anything. That’s not a good sign considering the level cap is 5000. But don’t worry, you’ll run out of things to do long before you even reach that.
Inconsistent Plum Pudding (Solo, co-op, multiplayer, etc)
Your first playthrough of Defiance will be a rollercoaster. Whether or not this is a good thing or a bad thing will be entirely up to you. It honestly seems like there were 2 or 3 different development teams throughout the production of this game leading up to launch, and no one ever left a sticky note on the way out. None of the gameplay systems work together as well as they should. Which is a huge problem because that’s where some of the magic lies in a game like this. First off, for a game that had massive co-op battles as one of it’s main attractions, it’s strange to start off the game fairly alone. You’ll go through a training sequence that was initially awful at launch, but has seen improvements since, and you’ll set off on your opening mission with an NPC who some find charming and others find annoying as hell. You may run across a few other players but the game handles shards/phases in such a way that it spreads the player count much too thin. This opening area is sectioned off from the rest of the game world, but after that you are given a few directives and are free to explore at your will. My experience will be different than yours because I played the game at launch when there were a lot of players, when I made my first step into the open world, there was about 100 players within 20 feet of me. It was exciting, it was unexpected, it was…temporary. If you so much as drive far enough away that you can’t see a player anymore (which is that far), the game will probably put you in a different phase. You might not ever see that person again. This would not be a problem if grouping up wasn’t such a hassle and it didn’t have a silly player limit of 4. Even then, group members may change phases and it’s an issue that has been there since launch.
Head to the forums and you’ll see a lot of people saying that they feel alone in the game world, and they have every right to. It’s turn into one of those games that, if you aren’t in a clan, or don’t have a full friends list of people playing it, you’ll generally be playing by yourself, despite a few random players sprinkled around here and there. The game’s four EGO Abilities; Overcharge, Blur, Decoy and Cloak, could have had some wonderful harmony, aren’t actually all that useful when it comes to coordination and there’s no need to use anything besides Overcharge or Blur in most battles. This isn’t always true, and the game can offer that same dynamic as Borderlands at some times, where every player is using a different ability and playing off the strengths of someone else’s power, but it isn’t exactly a strong element here. It’s mostly due to the lack of “special” enemies that require different tactics that would entice you actually use these abilities. There are a few, some with shields, grenade launchers, or Tankers who can only be damaged from the back, and powers such as Decoy and Blur are useful against them, but that’s about it. More often than not you’ll be mowing through basic mobs that don’t require much strategy to defeat.
This also carries over to multiplayer, which is definitely the least attractive part of the game, but unknown to some, it’s also the part with the most potential. In it’s current state, it’s an imbalanced mess. The maps are glitchy, respawn/load times can be random at times, and there are a lot of core design issues. It fell into the trap of being just another multiplayer suite, as there’s nothing truly unique about it. There’s two game modes, TDM, and Capture & Hold. Players are allowed to use whatever they earned outside of multiplayer, there’s no separate ranking system or anything. Which may be where the problem lies, but that’s story for another article. Weapons that are extremely useful against mobs are now garbage, snipers and pistols are only for the brave, and weapons that can be modded to inflict insane amounts of damage over time rule the wastelands. It’s obvious that there wasn’t a lot of effort put into it, and it just hurts the game even more.
The co-op maps, even with the small amount of them, are the saving grace for some people. The gameplay is not as tight and refined as one might expect, but it does enable you to work as a team more efficiently due to the smaller battlefields and the situations you’ll encounter. There’s honestly no reason to replay them unless it’s to complete pursuits or the like, and they basically play out the same way each time and end with an underwhelming bossfight. All in all, it feels like there may have been too many people in charge of design, and they never talked with each other about core pillars when it came to creating the entire game and making it cohesive.
Every MMO launch. It happens all the time. This is nothing new. You haven’t played an MMO before? Less QQ, more pew pew. Okay, we get it, a perfect MMO launch is a myth. The problem with this isn’t the fact the game was bug riddled, or that most of the people who bought the game couldn’t connect or stay connected for that matter. No, the problem was that Trion was mostly silent unless the media put them under the spotlight. Aside from a few blog posts from the (former) Executive Producer that tried to assuage everyone’s frustration, there was pretty much no way of knowing what the hell was going on. The community managers didn’t have any info other than what was on the blog. Sometimes a “we’re working on it” isn’t enough. Especially when the issues were present in the alpha and beta builds, and are STILL present today. Patch after patch was promised, and promise after promise was broken. Again, launching an MMO on 3 platforms is not an easy task, especially when you have a hard-locked launch date, but communication is key in a situation like that. It also doesn’t help that Trion is seemingly unable to update one thing or add content to the game without breaking something else. A patch to fix a patch is definitely not a strange new practice, but the things that they had to fix should have been in order before the patch was even released. Fans continue to question Trion’s QA team, and I for one, think they have every reason to. Things are a lot better at this point, but you know what they say about first impressions…
Apparently the game has sold well enough to keep it alive for this long, and (barely) maintain it’s current buy-to-play model. However, the recent troubles within Trion itself is probably enough to make someone question spending their money on the game. Especially when the game was $60 only a few months ago. You can now pick up the game and the season pass which is good for 5 DLC packs before season 2, for $10 less than the price of the game at launch. For some people, that’s a steal, but who’s to say that isn’t a sign of the game failing? At this point, you wouldn’t be wrong in thinking that the fate of the game is uncertain, along with the fate of Trion. Will it be F2P soon? If so, why should you spend your money? Let’s not forget all of the layoffs that hit right after the launch of the game. Defiance’s team has seen the rise and fall of two “Executive Producers” since launch, with one of them holding the position for about two weeks before his studio closed down. There currently isn’t an EP because the new/relocated team hasn’t quite settled in yet. Trion’s former CEO has also returned and he has stated his plans to rebuild and reform Trion, while dropping hints that instead of internal development, they would seek out other developers and build partnerships with them.
With all of that said…this is an MMO (despite contradicting views from various Trion devs), and MMOs change. Maybe not often, but they do change, some for the worse. I do however, think that Defiance has a bright future, but it’s gonna take a lot of work to get there, and a lot more organization. Communication between Trion and the community will also help ease the journey over the rocky road ahead. The potential is there, they just need to capitalize on it.
Was launching an MMOTPS simultaneously on 3 platforms developed by a team that has never released a shooter a great idea? Maybe not. Was the execution of said idea great? Maybe not. Is Defiance a good game? That’s up to all of you to decide. Just tell Trion there’s “no time to ride the line.”