With Defiance's launch imminent, we hopped into the last beta weekend to see how the game has been shaping up. The game and television show are based in a post-war Earth in the near future, where man is no longer the dominant species on the planet. Events of the game and the show are supposed to intertwine, but to what extent remains to be determined. Our focus was to examine the stand-alone game and to take a deeper dive into some of its mechanics.
While certainly massively multiplayer, Defiance doesn't have a lot in common with most MMOs, as it feels much more like a conventional third-person shooter. There are no action bars for firing off abilities and no "stand and fight" battles where you work through a rotation of keys. The combat is mobile and fast-paced, with controls that are more akin to how you'd play a third-person shooter. The game also has a bevy of travel options to get you to the action, from instantly traveling to certain locations on the map to accessing a speedy vehicle upon entering the game.
Combat is fast-paced but surprisingly responsive. Trion has done a great job of making enemy movement appear natural without any rubber-banding or other issues that can plague even slower-paced MMOs. That's not to say you'll be popping off headshots left and right, but at least when you miss, it is due to the enemy being agile rather than the result of latency issues.
Character creation is very limited, with a few face and hair options, and though there are two different species, they are purely cosmetic choices. Your origin selection is only slightly less cosmetic, letting you choose a background and a starting look and gun. Throughout the course of the game, you can acquire different looks for your character in the form of clothing and headgear, and while they are preset colors, there are numerous looks. Since there is no "armor" to speak of, these are purely cosmetic choices. The only "gear" you have is your guns, and there are certainly enough of them to keep loot hounds happy.
The majority of character-building comes in the form of a grid, with four main skills surrounded by tertiary perks. You can choose only one main skill, which ranges from the ability to cloak to temporarily amping up your weapon damage. You can further improve these abilities and unlock their associated perks by spending points, which are gained by raising your EGO level, which is roughly the same as any other MMO level, but with a lot less weight. Though a higher EGO player will have better guns and more perks, not a lot differentiates them from a lower EGO player. Depending on how they spent their points and equipped their perks, the two might even functionally be the same. This also means that there would be few drawbacks to higher EGO players grouping up with lower-rated ones.
Combat is shaping up to be pretty rewarding, and it invokes some flashbacks of Tabula Rasa in some respects. While Defiance lacks a cover system, you are able to sprint and perform evasive rolls to quickly get around a corner, dodge incoming fire, or roll out of the way of a leaping hellbug. The gunplay is easily the most impressive part of the title; it felt like a shooter, and that's not something that usually adapts well to the MMO genre.
It is incredibly important that Defiance nails that feeling because much of the game rides on its success. While you can occasionally bolt some mods to your weapons to improve their stats, there isn't any real crafting, and every aspect of the game that isn't combat-based is very minimalist in its design and presentation. You have two main aspects of gameplay in Defiance: shooting the crap out of something or quickly dabbling in something so you can get back to doing the former. Everything is very streamlined, with key menus only accessible via keyboard shortcuts rather than a cacophony of buttons all over the screen. Clearly, the idea is to keep the screen as uncluttered as possible, so the player can see more of the action.
That's not to say that it's a bad thing, but it does seem to hamper parts of the game. It could just be the beta, but the in-game chat is essentially dead, so no one's conversing about looking for a group or, well, anything at all. This could also be because the chat interface is almost always hidden, and new messages don't stay on-screen for very long. At times, it feels like you are not playing the game "with" many other people as much as simply playing the game "as well" as many other people, and it will be interesting to see if this issue remains after launch.
The game has both competitive and cooperative play, which we got to check out before matchmaking broke (probably attributable to the beta). The competitive play felt a lot like the Battlefield series, with two teams vying to capture and hold three points on the map, and you are significantly more vulnerable in these matches due to the presence of vehicles and how weapon damage seems to be amplified. Stray too far from cover or lollygag in the open, and a sniper will likely nail you with one well-placed shot. The cooperative play consists of instanced missions that can be played with up to four players, and it's much more plot-driven than the missions that you find in the game world proper. They're rife with more than the usual amount of voice acting and cut scenes to boost their presentation, and they run about the same length as regular instances in other MMOs. During our limited time with both modes, they were a lot of fun.
Defiance has a lot going for it, and it will be nice to play the game after launch to properly gauge it. The combat is well polished and flows really well, and the game world makes you want to grab your favorite gun and start blasting away. However, with so much riding on one aspect of the gameplay, much depends on the game content to keep things fresh. With interconnectivity promised between the game and the TV series, there's some room for growth in that regard, and what is present is certainly fun, but the endgame content and/or regular content updates will be really important. We'll know more about how things pan out after Defiance launches next month and we've had time to put it through its paces.
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