Friday, 10 May 2013

Review: Defiance (PC)

Defiance is an interesting game from Trion worlds makers of RIFT, warface and end of nations.  Overall they are fairly competent when it comes to the MMO genre being they cut their teeth in it, but Defiance is a somewhat mixed bag.

Borrowing from the successful template of Guild Wars 2, Defiance is free to play online after the initial purchase without any further fees unless you want to spend money on microtransaction items in the store.  It features a large world area that could potentially expand with new content, has numerous arkfall events which basically act as the games mass PVE battles and it's most intriguing aspect, the link to the new sci-fi series of the same name.  Defiance isn't actually set in the titular location instead being nearby in San Francisco so as to avoid having to feature the cast of the show.

You play as a Ark hunter the worlds version of explorer/treasure hunter/gun for hire.  They could be likened to wild west gun fighters always looking for the next town to spend their money before moving on to the next job.  The world has become a very different place after a terraformer ship crashed into the earth and released haywire terraformer tech which pretty much screwed the earth up beyond recognition.  All of this happens after a set of wars known as the pale wars which where fought between the human Earth Military Coalition and the Votanis Collective, which are made up of the various alien species that now share the earth with humanity.

Defiance see's you working for a man named Von Bach who is considered a shady sort, who intends on using a rare piece of Ark technology to somehow repair the earth.  Obviously things go awry and you are separated from both Von Bach and the Ark tech forcing you to work for numerous people to get it back and stop the usual mix of ne'er do wells and evil blokes from killing the good folks of the future earth.  Really the characterisation here is OK, nothing special but it's not terrible.  The problem is that many characters are very two dimensional and lack any real depth.  There's the gruff military commander, the sleazy businessman, Science nerd, Techie chick, world weary sheriff, surly alien war vet, concerned politician.  The list goes on, and although these characters are interacted with regularly they never develop much beyond their basic traits.

Character creation is fairly limited for a genre which generally offers as much as possible to diversify yourself from everyone else these days.  Defiance only offers two playable races, humans and Irathients.  No Castithans, Indogene or any other Votan race, just Irathient.  Apparently a third playable species will be added as DLC in the future but I wonder who will actually want to restart from scratch to play a different race so long after launch.  The story isn't exactly riveting so replaying it for that isn't exactly a driving force to revisit Defiance's numerous story missions.

One thing it does have going for it is combat which feels solid and is easy to get used to for those who aren't the usual shooter player.  Played from a third person perspective Defiance has a host of weapons from the usual suspect lineups of pistols, shotguns, smg's, lmg's, sniper rifles, assault rifles and rocket launchers.  These are supplemented by both human and votan variants which both have their advantages and disadvantages.  The most original weapon is the rather gross infector type, which basically fires a solution that causes alien parasites to burst from an enemies body killing them instantly.  These parasites then attack the nearest enemy before exploding themselves.  The difference between the two groups weapons are distinct, usually with human weapons feeling more weighty and damaging, but slow to reload and lacking range.  Votan weapons are more sci-fi with energy bolts and alternate kill effects.  Votan weapons are quick to reload but have smaller clips and tend to be less damaging compared to human versions.

Weapon damage is generally fixed and rarely changes as you increase in EGO rating.  The way weapons handle are influenced by your skill with specific weapon types so using them increases your skill which improves the weapons overall effectiveness.  A example of this would be LMG's which generally do 404 damage.  This never changes but as your proficiency increases so does your skill with such weapons, reducing recoil, bloom, increasing accuracy and damage amongst others.  The only downside is that you can only gain proficiency for so long before it stops.  Every weapon you use has a XP bar which when filled will stop granting you experience.  So you must change weapons often to keep this skill improving.

Shooting can feel a little off due to lag but it generally works well even during the more chaotic arkfalls which can see hundreds of players all firing at once at the same target.  The arkfalls are basically large PVE events which are open to every player in the world.  Destroying them can grant rare equipment so it's worth driving over to lend a hand whenever you can.  They can become somewhat repetitive when your main objective in each one is 'shoot the crytal' or 'shoot the weakspot'.  I sort of imagined arkfalls to be ships crashing like the first episode and players scrambling over the wreckage while fighting off AI enemies.  Still the events are fun and do add a sense of urgency to the combat when you are up against a timer.

Levelling is handled differently again here as you don't level up in the traditional sense.  Instead you earn exp toward EGO.  EGO is a system that provides mission updates and exposition while you adventure but also unlocks new upgrades.  These upgrades or perks as they are known in game allow you to slightly enhance your character under specific conditions such as your shields being broken or health being below 40%.  They can be upgrade 3 times each but only so many can apply as you unlock perk slots for your character as your EGO rating increases through play.

EGO also allows you to select one of four powers from the get go.  The four types allow you to either cloak, decoy, increase damage or blur which increases movement speed.  These power can also be upgraded as your rating increases for increased benefits.  Eventually you will be able to use all four but it will take a long time to do this.  Funnily enough the amount of equippable gear is limited with only weapons, shields and grenades being used.  Armour isn't a consideration as your characters clothing is purely for aesthetic purposes and has no effect in game.  There are plenty of unlockable clothing items though, awarded either through missions or for completing pursuits.

Pursuits are basically achievements with rewards at the end of them.  These take the form of scoring points in challenge missions, discovering locations and voice recorders.  They aren't mandatory and a majority of them you will complete by playing the story mode, but it's nice to see a reward for all the map humping you will do for some of the voice recorders.

Enemies are a little generic after a while usually falling into either monster or human varieties.  Monsters such as hellbugs are waaaaaay to common and will be one of the enemies you kill the most in game.  Human enemies are only really dangerous in groups as alone they are fairly braindead and can be easily killed.  They do at least give more of a challenge simply because they can fight back from range.  Later enemy types are generally the same thing with a different skin and some alternate attack patterns but at least they change things up a little.

Shadow war is the games competitive PVP mode and I don't really know what to think of it.  They periodically appear on the map similar to arkfalls but have no introduction or explanation for them.  I had no idea why I was fighting other players or what the consequence would be if I lost.  I was on the winning team and received some gear but that was all.  The shadow war really needs more explanation in my opinion, but it's good for PVP and on that scale it works well since the shooting mechanics are fundamentally sound.

Graphically Defiance is nice if not a little rough around the edges at times.  Screen pop in is regular as you drive around the map and low res sprites can be seen from quite a distance before popping into their full resolution version at times.  The world looks interesting and fairly alien while also managing to retain some of the more recognisable features of the locations the game is set in.  Character models are detailed although some of the textures can look a little low res again, but generally do the job.   NPC's oddly have no mouth animation when they speak to you which seems like a weird oversight to be honest and feels very old school frankly.  The combat effects such as explosions, weapon effects and monster abilities all look appropriately flashy and work well.

Audio wise the game has a few bugs, the first being the combat music getting stuck into an infinite loop forcing me to turn the music off.  The voice acting is good for the most part but with the poorly defined characters it means little unfortunately.  Weapon sounds are nice and meaty for the human weapons, while the votanis weapons very pew pew sci fi.  Vehicles which you will use regularly to travel around the work do have some rather short engine sound loops so expect to hear the same revving effects repeatedly as you go for longer drives.

Overall Defiance is a decent game and that's all really.  It's boring on your own and sometimes a little too hard without help.  Playing with a friend or two makes the game way more fun and elevates the play to something more interesting.

SCORE: 6.9/10


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