Publisher: Strategy First
Developer: Nicely Crafted Entertainment
Release Date: September 28, 2004
Buy 'TIME OF DEFIANCE': PC
“Massively Multiplayer.” What usually comes to mind when we pair these two words? Obviously the first thing your mind adds is the term “Online.” But what then? “RPG” sounds good, and there certainly have been quite a few made in the last few years, but why must we continually tread that ground? Planetside proved that we could pair “Massively Multiplayer Online” with “First Person Shooter” to create a new genre of sorts. And now we have this, Time of Defiance, combining “Massively Multiplayer Online” with “Real-Time Strategy.” Yes, that’s right, it’s an MMORTS recently released by Nicely Crafted Entertainment. Now, I must admit when I first heard about this game I was looking forward to giving it a whirl. It made me reminisce of some casually fun online multiplayer games I’ve played in the past, games such as Earth 2025 and Utopia.
The gameworld here isn’t your standard battle over a contiguous plot of land; instead you’ll be competing for control of scattered islands, the last remnants of the broken country of Nespanona. And these aren’t your normal islands, instead the entire world consists of a bunch of rocks floating in the sky, each containing harvestable resources and potential building space on which to construct bases consisting of constructors, turrets and other defenses. Why the rocks are floating is hard to explain, think Cloud City in Star Wars, only no where near as cool looking. There appear to be energy beams coming out of the bottom of the islands, disappearing far below into the mists towards whatever might be down below. Maybe those are holding the islands in place. Who knows.
So what do you do in this game? You harvest resources and colonize islands, allowing you to build more ships and bases in order to harvest even more resources and colonize even more islands. It’s a pretty classic formula for empire building. Oh yeah, and there are other players doing the same thing you’re doing, and a finite number of islands. Is conflict bound to occur? I’d say yes. Fortunately you can build warships to attack and seize enemy islands, and defenses to defend your own.
The game’s RTS core is pretty standard fare. Buildings and ships are limited to just what’s necessary to accomplish the aforementioned tasks. There isn’t much in a way of a tech tree either. Advanced ships (Shadoo design) can all be purchased from the Eighth House, the overlords of Nespanona which hold the secret of gate technology (otherwise known as the computer). About the hardest thing to do in the game is to manage the transportation of resources between the various islands in your empire, since most islands disproportionately produce more of some resources and less of others. This is more a test of logistics than anything else, which may float some people’s boats but will turn off others who don’t enjoy messing with such things. What does make things interesting, and where the game diverges away from being a remarkably unremarkable RTS, is that any given game is being played against several other players over a period of weeks.
You can attempt to micromanage things, but the computer does a pretty good job of taking care of things by itself. This is obviously a good thing, though, because most people are not going to be playing the game 24/7, and the game world is persistent and runs in real time, whether you’re logged in or not. What isn’t good is that the game runs SLOOWWWW. Building anything takes upwards of 15 minutes. You can order a fleet to go to another island, but don’t expect them to arrive for anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour later. This is real time, mind you. There simply isn’t enough to do after you issue your orders, so often playing the game is a matter of logging in, managing a few things, giving some orders, queuing up construction of buildings and ships, and then disconnecting to go do something else while stuff actually happens.
The major problem with this game is that the game system is simple, so simple in fact that if this game wasn’t MMO it would be hardly worth even talking about. The game system, however, has to be simple because you need the computer to be able to handle things since you’d be hard pressed to find a player able to play this game 24/7. The level of commitment is quite high, because you’re fair game to any enemies when you’re offline. Is this flawed game design? It obviously isn’t very much fun to not be able to take a couple days off without worrying that your empire is going to get trashed. Other MMOs don’t suffer from this problem. However, if you think about it, how else could this have worked? It’s not like you could make people immune to attack when they were logged out, especially given that most players will spend more time not logged in than online.
Diplomacy plays a key role here, because having friends and allies makes it more likely that the next time you log in, you’ll have an empire worth logging into waiting for you. There aren’t any rules that come built-in to dictate what allies can and cannot do, so for all you know that new buddy you just made might decide to take over half your empire the next time you’re away. Such is life. This game is obviously striving for some level of realism, banking on that to set itself apart, which is humorous giving that the setting is totally futuristic science fiction.
I can’t really see someone having fun with this game unless they had the capability to play it at any time they needed to, 24/7 for as long as the game session lasts. Anything less opens you up to getting beat down while you’re not capable of defending yourself. Sure they’ll email you if something big is going down, but you’re not always going to be in a position to do something about it.
There’s a league set up that ranks players, and allows players to earn points by participating in ranked league games. It’s nice that they give players something to strive for, especially given how much time is needed to seriously play this game.
Graphically the game isn’t really that fantastic. The landscape, such as it is, is pretty much devoid of anything. This might have been great a few years back, but in the modern day we expect more from RTS games and from MMO’s in general for that matter. If the game was great you could excuse the lack of any real eye candy as just being part of creating a fantastic cloud world, but it really isn’t good enough that a bit of visual ooh’s and aah’s wouldn’t go unappreciated.
If I had to summarize this game (and I do), I’d say it’s like playing chess by mail. It’s slow and you have time to think your moves through, but it can also be a bit dull. Except that in this case you also need to be hovering over the mailbox the entire time, or else your more attentive opponents get extra moves. I have to give them credit for boldly trying out a new formula, but this game really isn’t what I think most people are looking for. However, much like just about anything, there will be some diehard fans that are going to love this game to pieces.
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