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Defiance is not your normal massively multiplayer online game (first impressions)

Confession time: I’m tired of traditional fantasy massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs). I’ve played them since the late 1990s. I’ve slain my share of bats and rats in newbie areas, learned my share of skill rotations, and seen my share of raid bosses. Now I’m looking for something a little different.

Defiance, the latest MMO from publisher Trion Worlds, is a little different. It’s a sci-fi third-person shooter for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC that feels more like Borderlands than World of Warcraft. It’s also a television show debuting tonight on the Syfy channel at 9 p.m. Eastern. The two will interconnect in some way, with characters from the show making guest shots in the game during Episode Missions. How the game will affect the show is still a mystery.

Defiance takes place in the near future on an Earth transformed by years of terraforming and war with an alien collective called the Votan. Giant mushrooms and alien flora dot the landscape along with ruined buildings and broken streets. In this setting, you play an Ark Hunter, a scavenger looking for alien technology among the debris of fallen spaceships. I’ve spent more than 15 hours cruising postapocalyptic San Francisco on my ATV and shooting at various mutants, raiders, and cyborgs. A full review is on the way. But in the meantime, here are some first impressions.

The story is forgettable, but the shooting is fun

Defiance is competent at pulling the player into its world with its addictive, fast-paced shoot-and-loot gameplay, but it falls a bit flat with its story and dialogue. The plot — where a jerkface scientist named Karl Von Bach hires you and your scrappy alien sidekick, Cass, to retrieve a MacGuffin object — is mildly interesting, but it’s not engrossing. Perhaps that’s because I recently played Funcom’s The Secret World, a horror MMORPG that drips atmosphere like water drips off Cthulhu’s tentacles. Defiance feels a bit soulless in comparison.

Public quests are all the rage in MMOs these days, and Defiance uses the same system found in Trion’s previous game, Rift. These areas, called “Arkfalls,” appear randomly on the map and usually involve battling multiple stages of enemies, culminating in some sort of boss fight. You can do story missions collaboratively as well. I’ve always like the idea behind public quests, that you can cooperate with other players without having to form into groups. Everyone participates, collects their loot, and goes their separate ways. No fuss, no muss. But these events are repetitive and grow stale over time. Eventually, they just feel like part of the grind.

Speaking of grind, I also like that Defiance has no traditional leveling system. Sure, you get an EGO rating, which is really just another name for level, but it doesn’t feel as important as it does in traditional MMOs. Improving your rating doesn’t unlock new abilities (you only get one of four), but it does open passive Perk slots. EGO also doesn’t matter when it comes to grouping with others. Someone with a rating of 5 could team up a 50 and still effectively contribute as long as they know how to aim. The A.I. isn’t smart. Close-range enemies predictably run at you, while ranged enemies tend to just move back and forth behind cover, making little effort to flank you. This doesn’t mean that Defiance isn’t challenging at times; I’ve died and revived numerous times during big battles, and a particular boss fight continues to stump me.

Yeah, but how’s the lag?

Defiance has had launch issues these last two weeks, but what MMO hasn’t? The PC server has been pretty stable, but it has noticeable lag. It’s also riddled with bugs. To its credit, Trion has kept a line of communication open with its customers on the official website, and it’s resolving the game’s numerous problems. It already released one significant patch to fix bugs, boost performance, and improve voice and text chat. It’s also most likely working on new content, which is something this type of game will need to survive past the first few months.

Although I have some mixed feelings about Defiance, it’s an enjoyable game and, given time, it could turn into a rather good one. It’s also multiplatform, making it an attractive option for console gamers looking for a decent MMO they can play from the couch.

We’ll have a full review of Defiance soon.


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