Review: Defiance is an ambitious MMO, that was clearly designed for consoles
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There are no levels in Defiance per se, though you do have an XP bar to fill. Instead of rising up one level each time, you gain an EGO Rating. Each time you fill up that XP bar you add 10 EGO to your overall Rating. Amassing a higher rating will unlock EGO Points that can be spent on a FFXII-esque board, which always unlocks an adjacent skill to one that was just bought. However, unlocking a skill doesn't mean you automatically use it (something which took me about an hour to figure out). Remember the loadouts I mentioned before? That's where you assign these perks. As you gain EGO Ratings, more loadout slots become available, which means you can switch freely between weapons, abilities and perks on the fly, depending on the situation you're in.
The EGO board also contains four major skills, one of which you pick at the start of the game. Whether you like the more direct approach with Overcharge (do more weapon damage) or Blur (do more melee damage, run faster), or you'd rather take the more stealthy approach with Cloak (turn invisible) or Decoy (send out a hologram that you can instantly teleport to if you choose), chances are one of these options will easily fit your playstyle. You're not bound to a single skill, as progressing through the EGO board can unlock more of these to use, but you can only have one equipped at a time per loadout.
The world of Defiance isn't huge by WoW standards, but it's still quite large. Still, fast travel and early vehicle access make traversing from one quest to another a breeze. Like Guild Wars 2, roaming the map will often lead you to an area quest that anyone can take part in as long as they're in the area, no grouping required. This actually works the same for main quests as well. Since it's so early in the game's life, you're bound to come across players who are working on the same quests as you who can work with you to complete your goals, without the need to ever exchange a single word or a group invite.
The quests themselves aren't anything spectacular, and more often than not, you're clearing out an area of enemies or delivering an important artifact to a certain NPC. There are also various trials, which are more single-player-focused and feel like a built-in Arcade Mode. Time Trial will put you in the seat of a vehicle as you're tasked to get through checkpoints, and the other two modes will put high powered weapons in your hands as you're tasked with killing as many enemies as you can before dying or running out of ammo. They're really just diversions, breaking up the monotony of fetch quests a bit.
There are some competitive and co-operative maps as well, which are certainly nice to see included in an MMO, since PVP is generally quite important. You can queue up for standard deathmatch, but by far the best multiplayer feature is Shadow Wars mode. This competitive match actually takes place on the world map, and has various teams of players fighting for control points. If only there were more alien races in the game, it would feel a lot more authentic.
Defiance supports a gamepad, though your gunplay might be slightly more accurate with a mouse and keyboard. Whatever your preference though, the game supports it. And while I didn't necessarily like playing with a gamepad in the beginning, it did grow on me over time. In fact, that's the only way I play now.
Where the gamepad feels most necessary is navigating through Defiance's clunky interface. While it's not the worst, it requires some getting used to. The fact that not all tabs can be scrolled through with RB and LB, and instead you have to hold the Left Trigger to access a radial menu with even more options, is slightly overbearing. Even exiting the game requires this.
Defiance certainly didn't have a smooth launch. Granted, it's nowhere near as bad as the SimCity disaster, but it had its fair share of bugs that initially turned some users off. I hate to say that that's expected of an MMO launch, but it is. Since its release, there have been numerous patches that have fixed a lot of problems, but some still remain. The console versions are the ones to stay away from. I can't speak much for the PS3 version, but the Xbox 360 version was horrific in my experience. Button prompts were delayed, and the game was overall unresponsive. As soon as I started the PC version however, it was like a completely different and exponentially more fun experience.
Defiance is best described as a third-person Borderlands, without the cel-shaded graphics and the over-the-top humor. Does it have what it takes to survive in the MMO market? Given its cross-media promotion, its promise of more content via Season Pass and no subscription fee to speak of, I'd say yes. Am I required to watch the show to get continued enjoyment from the game? Not at all, though the connectiveness is certainly intriguing. The fact is, beyond a few technical issues that are already being worked on, Defiance is an absolute blast.