Friday, April 12, 2013

Video Game Review - Defiance

I don't have much experience with MMOs. The most time I've spent with one is the handful of hours I had with DC Universe Online back when it launched. That game pretty much met with the expectation I had for all MMOs... constantly respawning enemies, lots of characters running around apparently directionless, and just general chaos. I didn't have high hopes for Defiance, a game I knew very little about going in. But nothing else new was launched that day, so it won my attention by default.

The game ties directly into a new show on SyFy (it always pains me to type that stupid name) that it set to launch April 15. For those keeping track, that's two weeks after the game launched. Not being able to see the show while I was playing the game made me wonder how much of the plots are similar. Are all of these characters part of the show (aside from the player-controlled "Ark Hunters" of course)? There were a couple "episode" missions with characters I know are from the show: Nolan, a bland Han Solo wannabe, and Irisa, his freaky-eyed cohort. Wikipedia says Nolan is a lawman on the show, but he sure seemed like just some treasure hunter in the game; the three of us teamed up to recover some pricey crystal. There promises to be more free episodic content, presumably with these characters, which is something I look forward to.

Aside from the diversionary TV-based episodes, the main storyline is awkwardly structured. Each of the 5 Acts move you to a new area of a futuristic wasteland that was once the Greater San Francisco Bay area. There's a few destroyed buildings here and there, but with the population of city that size you'd think there'd be more rubble. Anyway... with each new Act, you are introduced to a new ally or two, who mostly are just there to dish out missions. While there is a bit of enjoyable character interactions, it is far too few and far between. No real drama ever crops up in the plot. The story feels like an extended fetch quest, and when a villain finally arrives late in the game, it feels like a bumbling insertion into the narrative. Maybe he would have more of an impact if I had seen the TV show beforehand? Or if they had built him up with more than a few casual asides? As it is, the story's a disposable placeholder for missions... and side missions.

And there are a ton of bite-sized side missions . So many that I didn't even bother to read their descriptions, I just went to the objective marker and killed things, interacted with stuff, then returned my results to the future-time's equivalent of FedEx dropbox. Many, many times over. Add in a few standard races and some fun weapon-specific shooting galleries and you have 90 percent of the game. The other ten percent is the Arkfalls.

A major Arkfall is comprised of a half dozen small areas, each surrounding a crystal. Here you either need to kill a few waves of enemies or destroy the crystal while fending off an unending supply of baddies. After all the initial crystal areas are completed, a boss area will open up and you attack its hive to lure it out and then heap massive amounts of damage upon it. This is where you need dozens of other players. There are minor Arkfalls, which are comprised of a single area and can be done alone, but there is no way to complete a major Arkfall on your own. Maybe if there wasn't a 30 minute time limit, it could be possible... but even then, every enemy would be solely focused on you the entire time. I attempted to tackle one by myself... not intentionally but I was in the Act 5 area (a week after launch) and there was not another player in sight. I managed to destroy three crystals, and was working on the fourth when it ended. I was not awarded anything for my Herculean efforts. That was a half hour down the drain.

But at least I was able to stay online the entire time that night. A very severe issue since I started playing the day the game launched: the servers.

Initially starting up the game, it required a half hour of installation, followed by another 30 minutes or so of patches being downloaded. Once all that finished and I went to jump into the game, it told me the servers were unavailable. Once I finally got in, it dumped me off the servers again, this time right at the end of the tutorial mission. When I got back on, I was in the main game... and it screwed me out of my "complete tutorial" achievement!! Robbing me of an achievement is usually the quickest way to win a trip out of the window.

Over the first eight days I only recall logging off 3 times. Every other time, I was disconnected when the servers suddenly went down. The competitive multiplayer servers were even worse, I only managed to stay connected for maybe a third of my attempts, and these games are only five minutes long! The isolated 4-player co-op maps have their own issues, with doors not opening or bosses not spawning and thus you are unable to complete the mission. Worse yet, those co-op maps have the habit of staying open after players quit out, so new players come in, run through the large empty areas where the enemies have already been cleared out, and get stuck at the same spot as their predecessors.

The problems don't end there. A few of the extremely annoying bugs I came across:
                Selected EGO Perks (stat tweaks you unlock as you level up) unequipping themselves, or reverting to previous selections.
                Outfit selections not being saved.
                Extremely sluggish responsiveness to reloading and switching weapon commands.
                Enemies continuing to fight for several seconds after their health bar is depleted, before suddenly dying.
                The "interact" button not responding, both with objectives and while trying to dismount my vehicle.
                Invisible (and silent) enemies that don't even appear on radar. I've had to leave area and return before they showed up so I can kill them to complete the objectives.
                Alerts about "new" unolcks keep popping up onscreen, including co-op maps I've already completed. Some of these prompts involve pressing the start button to read more info, which screws up quick access to the loadout menu.

One of the programming issues I've encountered that has baffled me most is why the developers other players are more of a priority than enemies. During the Arkfall boss battles, there are dozens of players running around, and I seem to always see them on my screen and yet the giant boss creature will keep disappearing. I still see players being knocked into the air by the monster, but I can't see it. That's ridiculous. Other player's actions in the main game have no effect on each other, except maybe for grenades. They can walk, and even drive, through each other. So there is no reason I need to see them instead of seeing a very real threat.

This is a huge list of problems. If this were a single player (or standard co-op) game, these issues would not be tolerated and hell would be raised and the internet would explode as Twitter teens would claim they're suing the publisher for bazillions of dollars. But, we're just supposed to be okay with this work-in-progress style of programming because it's a MMO?

And yet, under this mountain of glitches, I had a lot of fun with the game. I don't think I'd have been so upset at each disconnection if I weren't enjoying the time I did have with it.

It's a pretty straight-forward third-person run & gun type of game; putting a large object between you and the bulk of the enemies while you pick them off one at a time is often the best strategy. But it's got a great sense of openness in how you go about getting to your objectives. You can go straight through the gates of most areas, or drive around the back and hop a fence. Or simply linger a hundred yards away and snipe until the area is clear. And if other players happen to be there, you get to mooch off of their progress, possibly even having most of the objectives done by the time you arrive.

You also have the choice of one of four special abilities (or all four, once you earn enough EGO points), although the one that should be best, Cloak, is flawed. Some enemies continue to track you when cloaked, forgetting they're not supposed to be able to see you. But worse yet, you can't interact with objects, refill at an ammo supply or even revive fellow players while cloaked. Attempting such immediately decloaks you. That doesn't make sense to me. Why give me that ability if it can't live up to its full potential? In competitive multiplayer, however, Cloak is practically overpowered.

The create-a-character is extremely limited. Male & female versions of human and a practically-human alien race. I played as a female alien because the human males were generic looking and there weren't a lot of options for changing their looks. No changing height or body size, and outfits are earned very slowly throughout the game. I played close to 50 hours and only unlocked maybe ten costumes. So get used to seeing a lot of identical players running all around. Disappointing, especially considering the best thing about DC Universe was its character creating.

One great difference between this game & DCU... During most missions, Defiance has a set amount of enemies for the area. So you can take them all out (or distract them) and then complete your task, rather than trying to interact with an object and being instantly interrupted if you're hit by an enemy. I'll definitely take that over DCU's "Get X number of kills at this street corner of constantly respawning bad guys" missions.

Defiance is also really generous with its practically no-fail approach to missions. Assuming you don't hit a unpassable glitch (or the server goes down) during the mission, bad guys don't respawn even if you die. You can jump back in the action where you left off. Sometimes it respawns you 200 kms away, which is annoying, but acceptable. The sole exception I encountered was the boss battle at the end of Act 3. I had to fight a tight room full of enemies before getting to attack the boss, who I could only whittle down five seconds at a time while fending off constantly charging enemies. The AI compatriot accompanying me (because she was the one wanting this guy dead) stood on a platform behind me, offering no help whatsoever. So when I died and had to redo that entire part again three times, I was not a happy Ark Hunter.

But at the end of the game, I look back and realized I had a lot of fun playing Defiance, despite its crippling flaws. If they gave it a few more months of polish, instead of rushing it out in time for the TV series to begin, I could definitely be more comfortable recommending it to people. But as it is, patience is the key ingredient for enjoying the title.  And while it might seem beneficial to wait for them to fix more problems: if the community dies out, a lot of the game areas become invalid.

2 out of 4 Stars

Recommended for: Patient people able to deal with server problems and technical glitches, as well as fans of run & gun shooters who don't care much about having their character stand out.

Franchise fixes: I don't want to wait for a sequel for them to add a controller shortcut for cycling loadouts on the fly. Right now you have to open the menu (which can be immensely slow during battles) to do so, and there's no pausing online play so death can follow swifty. Also, more dress-up options! Something as simple as adding clothing color choices would be nice. Or how about some facial hair options?

Achievements/ In-Game Rewards - Achievements are not very creative, pretty much all progression based, and trying out the multiplayer stuff. You can unlock costumes as you rank up by completing sets of tasks called Pursuits, though they are quite a grind. 

No comments:

Post a Comment