Defiance feels right. It actually, honestly feels right. Ever since the Dreamcast’s days of Phantasy Star Online, people like me have dreamed of a fully-realized console MMORPG. We’ve seen our fair share of attempts, with Final Fantasy XI and DC Universe Online being two prominent titles, yet the practice has always been much more disappointing than the premise. They’ve felt crippled somehow, their obviously-PC game design unceremoniously crammed into a console interface. None have encapsulated that mouse-and-keyboard essence and made it comfortable from the couch. That said, Trion Worlds’ massively online shooter may finally defy these trends. Maybe not exceptionally well – or even regularly well, in some cases – but this ambitious game undoubtedly gives us a glimpse at the potential future of MMOs finding a happy home on our comfortable consoles.
Defiance Feels Like a Shooter
From the moment you take control of your character after crash landing on the war-torn and overgrown wasteland of a planet, Defiance feels like a shooter. With pistol in hand, you’ll kill your first crowd of mutants with left-trigger, right-trigger fidelity, never needing to suffer through another shoehorned tutorial to understand the basics. Mission waypoints overlaid within your field of vision direct you toward the next quest objectives, just as you would expect them to in a true third-person shooter. You’ll toss grenades, raid ammo caches, and hide behind conspicuous chest-high chunks of the environment while your shield recharges. The omission of a snap-to-cover system is somewhat odd (and sorely missed), but everything else falls in line with shooter standards and, in turn, feels surprisingly familiar.
Defiance Feels Like an MMO
Defiance claims to combine these typical third-person shooter aspects with those associated with MMOs, and it isn’t lying. All traditional MMORPG tropes are intact, for better and for worse. Success provides the XP needed for character progression and special skill acquisition. Side missions sprinkled throughout the landscape send you on Defiance-flavored fetch quests. This is World of Warcraft-style MMO design, pure and simple, right down to the throwaway stories, awful dialogue, and graphical limitations that emphasize a smooth performance over a stellar presentation. The experience meets long-established PC expectations but brings them to a console, seemingly without sacrifice. It might not shirk conventions or strive for innovation, yet Defiance is the most authentic MMO I’ve ever seen on a home platform.
Defiance Feels … Okay
Ultimately, that’s the take-home message here: Defiance feels okay. Like the old “it’s pretty good for a Wii game” adage, Defiance is pretty good for a console MMO. Trion Worlds set out to effectively blend two major genres and Defiance does so with gusto. Although it isn’t the pinnacle of either gametype, the fact that it actually works – actually feels right – is exciting enough for this next step into the hopefully-blossoming arena of console-based MMOs. Sure, my beta session may have ended with a mission glitch that sent my main storyline quest to a screeching halt, forcing me to quit or relive the firefight I’d barely survived (frustrated, I chose the former). Still, these issues are all beta-related, ideally not indicative of the final build. A quick touch-up should reveal the solid support structure that promises a seriously significant proof of concept. I can’t say if there is enough time to fix my current qualms before the April 2nd release date – and Defiance will not be gaming perfection even with eight extra coats of polish – though hope its mere existence encourages other developers to explore the underutilized console MMO space. I hope so, because I had a hell of a lot of fun in the few hours I spent inside Defiance, all the while enjoying my forward-thinking speculations of what eventually could be even more.
Preview Platform: PlayStation 3