There seems to be three types of MMORPGs being developed right now. First, you have all those crowd-funded titles to toss your money at with the hopes that the dev team can deliver on all their promises. Second, there are the hundreds of Eastern MMOs that are being launched in the West, where you can join the horde of displaced gamers as they move from one failed launch to the next. Lastly, you can try to relive the wonder years of MMOs by placing your faith in an old favorite that is being relaunched with new systems, a fresh coat of paint, and possibly even new content.
It appears that Trion Worlds is putting their eggs in the third basket. Tuesday brought us the free-to-play relaunch of Defiance, Trion’s sci-fi shooter MMO, that originally came out in 2013 for PS3, Xbox360, and PC, unfortunately without the TV series tie-in this time. Rebranded as Defiance 2050, players are getting the chance to travel back to the Bay Area to fight off all sort of alien creatures, this time around on PS4, XBox One, and PC. Trion promises that “Defiance 2050 is focused on bringing the game into the current generation. In addition to taking advantage of modern hardware to improve the original game’s visuals, Defiance 2050 also makes major updates to Defiance’s gameplay systems, streamlining and modernizing them for today’s shooter audience.”
Although I will have a full review of whether Defiance 2050 lives up to the promises given to players ready in a few weeks, I wanted to take some time out from playing the game to give my take on how the early access launch went as well as a brief overview of what has, and hasn’t, changed in the game. To give a little history of my prior history with Defiance, I had my feet on the ground for launch day back in 2013 but only stuck around for a couple of months. I actually thought it had a good story (really liked the TV series, watched it ’til the end) and the gameplay was fun. I didn’t leave because I disliked the game, I just had other MMOs that I had vested time in to go back to. I feel that history makes a good starting point to review Defiance 2050, as I remember what the game was like, but didn’t spend so much time with it as to let my original experience bias my opinion of the relaunch.
Although existing players are able to bring some cosmetic items over from the original, there won’t be any character transfers, so everyone is starting off on level footing. New players and veterans alike will have to go through character creation, but don’t expect to spend much time here. Some gamers revel in their time spent creating a character, almost treating the experience as a mini-game where they spend hours adjusting every slider available to create the perfect avatar. Trion has skipped this first chance to make changes to the game, obviously feeling that character appearance wasn’t one of the areas that warranted an upgrade.
Instead, your limited choices to character customization start with three face shapes. You will have a handful of generic haircuts, eyebrow shape, hair and eye color, and tattoos. There are three species to choose from: Human, Irathiant, and Castithan, all with male and female options. You won’t find any of the modern luxuries here though. There aren’t any sliders, so changing height, facial features, or body shape is out. This is fairly restrictive, but given that we are headed into a third-person shooter with a fixed camera distance, any more detail would probably be lost in game anyway.
Check Your Ego At The Door
Where character creation has evolved from the original is in the addition of classes. Defiance launched with a leveling system where players picked a single defining skill, your Ego Power, which becomes more powerful as you level up. You also purchased passive offensive and defensive perks to flesh out your character’s abilities as you gained levels. Along with these powers and perks, the player had access to a large list of weapons, further defining the role they played.
2050 has revamped this system by moving all the Ego Powers and perks into skill trees, with each tree assigned to one of the five available classes (only four available at character creation):
- Assault – Focused on close to mid-range combat, skills improve mobility and survivability
- Assassin – Stealth is your ally, and so are dots and increased damage buffs
- Guardian – Tanky McTank, energy barrier, crowd control, and damage mitigation
- Combat Medic – Self and group healer, party buffer, yet still handy with medium caliber weapons
- Demolitionist – Not available at character creation, this class deals in all things that go Boom!
Your character’s overall level is represented by your Ego. You also gain experience in your selected class, earning points to add to your skill tree as you level up. All classes are available for purchase with in-game currency, so a single character is able to advance through each skill tree. Players are able to have multiple loadouts (start with two, purchase up to four more), so switching between classes is accomplished easily. This system may seem restrictive to veteran players, but new players may find the class and tree design familiar to the other games they have played. I found the new system to be a decent balance between flexibility and accessibility.
Welcome To The Jungle
Once you have chosen your character and watched the intro cutscenes, you are quickly introduced to the harsh new world of the San Fransisco Bay Area, circa 2050. Aliens (several races collectively known as Votans) have made their way to Earth, and in typical human fashion we didn’t handle it well. The resulting war (of course) and accidental and uncontrolled release of Votan terraforming tech has created an inhospitable environment, complete with broken terrain and strange new wildlife. And don’t forget the dangers of Arkfalls, pieces of the destroyed Votan fleet randomly falling to Earth. For the new player, this means you won’t spend your first minutes in the game hunting a bunch of rabbits to level up, and everyone can agree that’s a good thing. It also means that unlike most tutorials you can die. This is a shooter after all, so expect enemies just as lethal as you are. One enemy isn’t too bad, but if you learn anything from the tutorial, head into the main game knowing that there’s never just one enemy.
Once you complete the tutorial missions, you are free to explore the open world however you like. There is a main storyline to work through and, as I said earlier, it is pretty good. You are free to go solo or group up with friends, and the story arc will introduce you to all the different types of PVE content the game has to offer. There are also plenty of side missions scattered throughout the area to distract you from your main quest. I haven’t made it to the end of the main story yet, but so far I have come across a wide variety of objectives and enemy types. Some of these missions will have you completing objectives in the open world, while others will send you into instanced dungeons to complete your quests.
Along with the scripted story quests, players are also able to participate in open world events – Arkfalls, Sieges, and Incursions. All of these events attract a ton of players and offer up some pretty good XP and loot.
- Sieges – Players must capture, and then defend, points on the map. Survive until time expires and enjoy your rewards.
- Incursions – Similar to sieges, players must survive wave after wave of enemy attacks. Make it to the end to get your loots.
- Minor Arkfall – When a small piece of the destroyed Votan fleet falls to Earth, the Arkfall will attract small groups of local creatures. Able to be completed by a solo player or a small group, mopping up a minor Arkfall is a quick way to gain some solid XP
- Major Arkfall – Sometimes a larger piece of a ship will come crashing down to Earth. Often loaded with valuable and rare alien tech, hordes of creatures will be met by Ark Hunters from far and wide, resulting in a massive battle. There will also be a massive guardian to defeat before you can get access to your rewards.
While all of these events are fun, the major Arkfalls are quite the sight to behold. It is during these events that you see just how well the new class system works, with all the classes working in unison to take down a massive foe.
Head Start And Beyond
So there are some changes to the systems as advertised, but what about performance gains? Well, the head start was a bit of a bumpy road. Although I didn’t experience many crashes on my PC, others haven’t been as lucky, with console users seeming to have the worst time. Frequent disconnects, especially during Arkfalls and other large events, have been the root of many complaints. Nothing is more frustrating than spending a chunk of time completing an Arkfall only to disconnect before you can pick up your loot.
I have had an issue with lag and enemies rubberbanding. Even away from big events, I would experience problems. At times it was like watching a pinball game as the enemies would bounce all over the place. I didn’t play in the betas, but I am told the problem existed there as well. It doesn’t always happen, so I thought maybe it was an issue with the graphics. Lowering settings and resolution didn’t make any difference during the head start.
On the plus side, these issues are getting better. Trion has been making frequent patches, and with each one, the stability has improved. More importantly, even with the increase in players from the free to play launch on Tuesday, it hasn’t gotten worse. I know it isn’t acceptable to have a shaky launch, but compared to others I have experienced lately this one isn’t too bad.
So now it’s time to head back into the game to kill some more Hellbugs. It’s only been a few days, but so far the positives have outweighed the negatives for me. Over the next few weeks, I will be checking out all the classes, completing the main story and as many side missions I can. I will work through the crafting system, and even see what PVP has to offer. My goal is to give a fair and honest review of all aspects of the game, including whether Trion continues to make improvements to the stability and lag, and more importantly if the game can keep a strong player base for more than a week or two. See ya in a few weeks.