Defiance Review: No Risk, No Reward

These interlocking systems — pursuits, loadouts, and so on — are interesting, but they are also placed behind one of the worst interfaces I’ve ever had the misfortune of using. Defiance’s interface is definitely designed for a console over a PC, and the result is a nightmarish hodgepodge of awkward keybindings and bad button placement. When a player looks at your UI and longs for the interface of EVE Online, you know you’ve done something wrong. I’m sure it works great for consoles, but it’s inexcusable on the PC.

Arkfalls — otherwise known as “public quests” — also show a lot of promise, but they fail to live up to expectations, just like Pursuits. Arkfalls are carbon clones of the rifts from Rift, but they lack the most important feature: variety. Arkfalls come in two flavors: minor, which are one-shot Arkfalls that give small rewards; and major, which are lengthy Arkfalls similar to a Rift zone invasion. Anyone can join an arkfall quest at any time, and rewards are doled out depending on the individual’s contribution. The entire time I played Defiance and fooled around with Arkfalls, I found myself wondering why the designers did so well with the variety in Rift’s public quest system, but did so poorly in Defiance. If you want a dynamic mission system, you have to populate it with a decent amount of unique objectives, and Arkfalls don’t have that.

Besides Arkfalls, you can do other small random encounters scattered across the landscape. In a comical twist, these encounters show a lot more character and variety than the Arkfalls, despite having lesser rewards and being much less of a focus for the game than Arkfalls. I don’t recommend actively seeking them out, but if you pass one of these events, you should try giving it a go.

Getting around between events is fairly easy thanks to the vehicle system. Defiance doesn’t have a particularly robust system for using cars and ATVs, but it is extremely convenient for the player, and in that regard the vehicles are some of Defiance’s few unabashed successes. Summoning a vehicle is extremely quick, there is no cooldown, it drastically increases your speed, and all of the vehicles are pretty cool-looking. It’s a small thing, but I greatly appreciate greater mobility when I’m asked to run around a large environment.

For those not interested in open-world roaming, there are “co-op missions” that you can perform. Functionally, they are MMO dungeons; you queue for an instance, it takes you to a linear path where you slaughter your way through enemies, and you get a nice little reward at the end. It’s great for those that want even more direct hand-holding from Defiance, but I found that playing co-op only made the problems with the gunplay balance more noticeable.

Finally, there’s player vs. player. It’s a standard third-person shooter game with a few different game modes, with the most unique being the Battlefield-esque territory control of the Shadow Wars mode. Last I played, almost everyone used stealth thanks to how ludicrously good it was for getting a positional advantage. Imagine a bunch of future military guys phasing out every minute or so, and that’s Defiance PvP. Without more abilities to make the balance more interesting, I can’t honestly recommend playing it more than a few times. It’s tedious, and being shot in the head by a cloaked sniper is only fun so many times in a row.

The aforementioned Shadow Wars attempts to inject a sort of World vs. World flavor into Defiance, but it falls flat. The wars don’t really determine anything — they are just larger-scale matches — so there are no stakes to get you in the mood for playing really well. The scale of the battle is cool, but it also makes for more annoyance when swinging from objective to objective. If you absolutely have to play Defiance PvP, though, I suggest doing it here. The standard PvP is too frustrating, and Shadow Wars at least shows some semblance of brilliance. If it was tied to some sort of territorial control, like the Clan Wars system from World of Tanks, it would be far, far more engaging.

Defiance is not an especially pretty game. At times it wants to swing into more realistic fare, but sometimes it goes for the absolutely silly, such as in monster and alien flora design. It’s disconcerting to see the human-like face of an actor tie-in alongside the relatively realistic NPCs and the bright, almost-fantasy trappings of the environment. More importantly, it’s not cohesive. Cohesion in art style is the most important aspect of any game — it allows for players to quickly identify aspects of the game, from threats to puzzles — and Defiance ignores it almost completely. NPCs are relatively realistic, environments toe the line between silly and normal, and monsters consistently go over the top. Defiance never makes up its mind.

The more I think about Defiance, the more I mull over my time in the game and muse about what makes it good or bad, the angrier I get. The most disappointing thing is that I know Trion can do better. Defiance is a game that actively flaunts bad gunplay in the player’s face, has no real progression to speak of, lacks cohesion of design in both mechanics and art, and is missing the most important part of an MMO: variety. It’s simply not interesting. Defiance is a collection of good ideas done poorly. Arkfalls and the open-world system have some serious legs, if Trion decides to flesh them out, but for the most part Defiance is either mediocre or outright bad. Here’s hoping — and I’m optimistic, given their track record — that Trion can shore up the problems and craft a truly fun shooter with future patches and expansions. In the meantime, wait for a price drop before considering jumping into the world of Defiance.

Pros

  • Cool Arkfall system
  • Open-world gameplay
  • Good skill progression
  • Interesting character leveling

Cons

  • Withholds important features too long
  • Gunplay is either boring or frustrating
  • Poor variety
  • Poor PvP balancing
  • Disparate art styles
  • Terrible interface

Final Score: 55/100


Game Front employs a 100-point scale when reviewing games to be as accurate about the experience as possible. Read the full rundown of what our review scores mean.


James Murff’s other work can be seen here, and you can follow him on Twitter at @jamesmurff.

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