Defiance Impression: Defiantly Average
What kind of art style is it, you may ask? Well, I honestly can’t tell what they were aiming for. It wants to be a dark, grim, dusty sort of shooter, but it also throws in some really colorful and entertaining enemy designs. Defiance is a game that hasn’t made up its mind on whether it should be an abstraction of real-life, or an imitation. This sort of indecision is really harmful for brand identification.
The art is wonderfully detailed, though. Characters have some nice animations (with the exception of head turning, which is hilariously awkward), models are extravagent (once they load; to cut down on server strain, all characters show up as a generic model until their info is loaded), and the aforementioned enemy designs show some real creativity. It’s creativity that seems to be on loan from fantasy titles, though, which leaves Defiance feeling like it has no real identity. There’s love and care put into the work here, but the character is missing.
This lack of defining character is also present in the game mechanics. You are allowed to create a loadout that contains two weapons, a grenade, an active ability, and a number of passive abilities based on your level. You then run around and shoot dudes in the face until they drop and dissolve into sweet cash and loot. There is some more depth to this – most notably the confusing and relatively undocumented weapon attachment system, which I will attempt to puzzle out in a future impression – but your time in Defiance will generally revolve around the “shoot and loot” concept pushed by so many RPG shooters.
I’ve talked about a lack of impact in MMO combat here on Game Front before, but I never imagined that same deficiency would strike a shooter. Don’t get me wrong, Defiance is functional and (arguably) fun. You kill dudes and get loot, after all. But it has no punch. Combat feels weirdly disconnected from any sort of danger or weight, both in terms of animation and game mechanics. I can dump ammo into every enemy I see, but it doesn’t feel like I’m doing anything until the enemy drops.
Speaking of ammo: It’s superfluous, at least in the beginning. You can restock lost ammo every 10 feet, and enemies also drop piles of magazines. I only ran out of ammo once in the first 10 levels, and I immediately restocked it at no penalty. If you strip ammo conservation of consequence, you may as well take it completely out of the game. Even now I worry more about my reload speed than my ammo reserves.
Besides your loadout, there are countless ways to customize and tweak and advance your character. These areas are approached well, for the most part. Outfits provide you with cool cosmetic tweaks that don’t affect your stats, weapon proficiencies give you bonuses to the guns you use most often, pursuits (aka achievements) give you concrete reasons to go off the beaten path, and the skill tree is expansive and interesting to explore. The skill system in particular is quite good, and it emphasizes flexibility over rigid specialization. Since you can only carry a few skills with you at a time, there is no need to restrict you as harshly as the likes of World of Warcraft. After all, having 80 skills isn’t nearly as impressive if you can only use 10 of them at a time.
Unfortunately for us, the UI for these elements is just atrocious. I got used to it after a while, and I’m sure any new player willing to stick it out will as well, but it definitely shows signs of being designed for console. The part that aggravated me the most was the radial menu, with the obtuse pursuits menu coming in close second. In order to go beyond the inventory, you have to hold spacebar and select an option from a radial menu. Did I mention that this menu is fullscreen, and the game (unsurprisingly, as all MMOs do this) continues to play in the background? It’s absurd and unintuitive, and it’s clear that it was created with a console controller in mind.
Pursuits suffer from this the worst, unfortunately. They are organized in a really annoying way (by “season”, then category, then pursuit) and tracking which ones you are on is a pain in the ass. It’s a shame, as the pursuits system is genuinely cool and gives you some really nice rewards – such as an increase to your character level or new customization options – for seeing it through. The UI just happens to drag it down so badly that it’s hard to care.