Review: Defiance (PS3)

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Title: Defiance
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (4.9 GB)
Release Date: April 2, 2013
Publisher: Trion Network Inc.
Developer: Trion Worlds
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: M
Defiance is also available on Xbox 360 and PC.
The PlayStation 3 Disc version was used for this review.

As console gamers, some of us are rarely treated to the joys (and hardships) that MMORPGs have to offer. That’s not to say that consoles are completely devoid of them. This generation, PlayStation 3 owners were treated to DC Universe Online, and PlayStation 2 also had its share; from Final Fantasy XI, to the lesser known (but no less entertaining) Everquest Online Adventures. And while I firmly believe that MMORPGs will begin to see more life on consoles with this next generation (what with Elder Scrolls Online, and the possibility of the next Everquest) we are still a far cry from being anywhere near the place where PCs stand in terms of “massive multi-player online” gaming.

Thus a game like Defiance offers an experience that few games on a console provide, one where you are part of a larger living world, though I might be taking some liberties with the use of the word “living”.

The lack of similar games on the platform isn’t an indication that Defiance isn’t a great experience, rather it’s a decent experience with a modest level of quests, and “things to do” that unfortunately begin to blend together a little too soon.

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The concept behind Defiance is certainly an interesting one. Alongside the release of the game back in April, a similarly-titled television show was released, detailing (much better than the game, unfortunately) the narrative behind the events leading up to your place in the world. Events in the game (and apparently influence from the players) would affect the progress of the show and vice-versa, though I have yet to see this happen, particularly considering that the game and show take place hundreds of miles apart. Still, the show is moving into its second season, and perhaps gamers who frequent both medias will see influences from their game sessions show up on the television show. Admittedly, I did start watching the show, but I lost interest along the way. In all honesty, it was not a bad show, and it did a much better job explaining the events that transpire in the game, but I found myself not really caring about the characters as much as I’d hoped. I might give it another chance, as I am curious to see this game/TV show experiment to its conclusion.

Gameplay:
As a stand-alone experience, Defiance is a third-person shooter with RPG elements. And although those elements are rather on the light side, you are allowed to customize your character with various powers and abilities. The skill graph reminds me a lot of the Final Fantasy XII skill system, with a grid of abilities spread out across a large canvas. As you spend points, you work your way out through various branches of unlockable abilities. My character focused heavily on stealth, so I ended up spending points on my cloak and the damage I did while cloaked. One thing I particularly liked about this class of stealth was that after I attacked, my character would instantly return to cloak, rather than give away my position to the other enemies in the area. On the other hand, sometimes the AI in Defiance was so “robotic” that I doubt they’d notice me anyway.

In terms of third-person shooter mechanics, Defiance holds its own. Holding the L1 button partially zooms in and focuses on enemies, while R1 discharges your weapon. The system works as well as any other third-person shooter, with the option for temporary aim assist available, and welcomed for some of the more chaotic fights. And the fights do delve into the realm of chaos, particularly in larger events, where dozens of players take part in heavy battles. These fights seldom challenged me much, because the sheer amount of allies available seems almost unfair to the poor NPCs and I often felt like my place in the battle really didn’t matter. I can’t fault Defiance for this, as I did spend some of my time in this post-apocalyptic world on my own, taking on various quests (some story driven, some found on the field). Playing the game as a single-player experience gives you a stronger sense of purpose, but the game always reminds you that you are not the only one “alive” in this world, as some other player might temporarily join you on your quest and help you take out that nasty swarm of mutants. This happened to my quite often, and it reminded me of my days on Everquest Online, where I would be on my own, about to face death, and a random stranger would come to my rescue.

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Unfortunately, MMORPGs all come down to longevity. How long will you want to play in this world? What keeps you coming back? I am providing you with one opinion on the world of Defiance, but I also know players that play this almost daily (I see them on my friend list). I personally lost interest after a few weeks. My character didn’t really take on any characteristics that made me feel like I was growing, unlike my experience in other MMORPGs, where I felt I was a completely different character than when I started. The world of Defiance is free to play (aside from the initial purchase of the game). There are no monthly fees, and I didn’t experience any micro-transactions, for which I am grateful. So if you are curious about the game, you won’t lose much for giving it a shot. It is entertaining, but not genre-defining.

Visuals:
Defiance will not win any awards here. But like any game in this genre, one has to factor in that a lot more is going on underneath than meets the eye, so I tend to be a bit more forgiving on the graphic sides with games like these (although seeing the upcoming Destiny in action does set a new bar). As an MMORPG this late in the PlayStation 3’s life, I would definitely expect a better looking game, but I have also seen worse-looking titles. Defiance doesn’t take the large population in strides either, as the game is plagued with choppy framerate, even at times when I’m just coasting through the world on my ATV. The post-apocalyptic environments are well-designed and expansive, at times Helghan, and at other times Defiance (though neither as good looking as the originals).

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I’d also like to point out that the interface for Defiance is very attractive. I often like to pay attention to things like this because interface is sometimes what bridges the gap between you (the player) and the fictional world. The Defiance interface is very techy, with a lot of motion, no still menus here. Choosing skills to upgrade is presented with some slick parallax layer shifting and Tron-like visuals. Checking on weapons stats is also provided in a very attractive manner, with a large view of the weapon you are observing and a nice listing of its attributes accompanying the model.

Audio:
While the theme music in Defiance is still ringing in my ears as I type this (it’s pretty catchy) the sound effects suffer from occasional dropouts and stuttering. I noticed that this improved over time, and I had sessions where I didn’t experience it at all. Again, I understand that this is a multiplayer experience, but it can’t be an excuse for buggy execution. Otherwise, the game sounded great, and the weapon fire provided a great compliment to the on-screen action. Voice-over work was also available throughout, with all cinematics provided by a full cast. Not all of the acting was balanced, so some deliveries were better than others, but again, I’ve heard worse.

Online/Multiplayer:
You’re always online in Defiance, but you do have a choice on how you want to tackle quests. As I mentioned before, I chose to embark on a lot of quests alone, but it was always nice to see other players running around doing their own thing or driving across the war-torn hills on their ATVs. On occasion I would join a group and take on a large boss. While the aforementioned framerate was an issue, I seldom experienced any other game-breaking problems, although I was a victim of some full crashes early on. As an online game of this magnitude, Defiance is not bad. It works well, and it plays well, even in some of the more-chaotic moments.

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Conclusion:
I can’t recommend this game as your next third-person shooter. I’d say you have plenty of better options for that. But if you are new to a massive multiplayer game like this, Defiance is pretty merciful and might prepare you for games like Destiny on the PlayStation 4. Also, if you want to play a game with a large group of friends, Defiance will offer a large playground to explore. If you have however played MMORPGs before, this one is not going to stand out in any way. You’ve done these quests before, probably hundreds of times.

Score:
6.5

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