Defiance: Main quests finished, and I’m feeling grumpy

Last night I finished the “Main Storyline” for Defiance. Or at least the main storyline as it stands now; I expect we’ll see more in the months to come. I still have lots of side quests to do, pursuits to finish, weapons and vehicles to level… and hopefully starting next Monday, Episode Quests.

But today I want to talk more about the main storyline quests. I was not at all pleased with how this series of quests ended, so warning: one of my rants is incoming.

There are a couple ways to finish difficult quests in Defiance:
1) You can be a hardcore shooter player and then probably none of the quests are difficult to begin with.

2) You can fight the best you can until the cavalry arrives in the form of another player (or players). This is my favorite thing to have happen. I’ll be running around, slowly grinding my way through the quest, and suddenly another purple dot shows up on the radar. Help has arrived! Two players are way WAY more powerful than one since with two players you can flank, which becomes important against certain enemies later in the game. Also, this is an MMO…if we wanted to play a solo game we’d play a single player game, right?

3) You can brute force it. I’ve had to do this a few times. You take out a few guys, die, respawn, take out a few more, and eventually you’ll whittle them down and win. It just takes persistence. The ‘death penalty’ is 180 scrip (Defiance’s currency). My character has something like 34,000 scrip and I buy everything that looks remotely interesting, so 180 scrip is so low that there may as well not be a death penalty.

But there are 2 main quests where these rules don’t apply. (Well, Rule 1 still applies.) In these quests you enter a solo instance so there’s no hope of friends, and if you die, the mission enemies reset and you have to start all over again. To add insult to injury, your ammo will be depleted so the first thing you’ll have to do on your next try is sprint for an ammo box and replenish.

The final Main Mission is one of these two missions. [Gameplay, but not story, spoilers incoming.] It’s a multi-phase mission. First you have to clear a bunker with the help of some NPC friends. Then you have to enter a solo instance and fight an enemy, three times. It’s that old-school ‘boss that keeps getting back up’ system. I don’t play modern shooters so I don’t know if they still do that, but it’s how designers used to finish their games: one last frustrating battle where the difficulty spikes.

Each of the three phases is different and at least if you die you respawn at the start of the current phase (thank heaven for small favors). But this being an MMO, you can’t save your game and walk away for a while. I -assume- that if you log out and come back in, you’ll have to restart the mission from the very beginning. I wasn’t about to test this but this seems to be normally how Defiance works. And there’s no Pause button.

So once you get into this last mission, you’re going to want to complete it in one sitting. It is far, far harder than anything else the game has thrown at you up to that point. Or at least it was for me. Invariably when someone says the mission is hard on a forum there’ll be ‘that guy’ who says “Hard? I finished the mission using only my starter weapon and it took me 5 minutes.” But my ‘straw poll research’ tells me I’m not alone in finding the mission to be difficult.

I did it, eventually. Died about 8 times altogether I think. There’s nothing like having the baddie down to a sliver of health and taking an unlucky hit and having to start all over again. Eight deaths doesn’t sound bad but I was trying to be careful. The mission, start to finish, took me about two hours and when I finally finished it, I felt more angry than satisfied.

It didn’t help that I encountered a couple of bugs. A couple times my Self-Revive refused to work (the message to hold E to revive was on-screen but holding E did nothing) and a few times when I died the Extract feature didn’t work so I had to sit around and wait for the timer to count down to auto-extract me. The first one was by far more infuriating but it only happened twice.

So two hours later, I was finished. I glowered at the following cut scene, flipped the bird at the crappy weapon I got as a reward (a freakin pistol? REALLY?) and dumped out of the game and stormed off to bed. Now that’s just me. I’m sure some players finished the battle, did a fist pump and a cheer and were elated. If you were one of those, I’m sincerely happy for you. In my opinion, though, this mission needs to be changed. We’re playing an MMO because we want to play with other people. Let us bring in help if we’re stuck. If that’s asking too much, at least tweak the difficulty so it is more in-line with the rest of the missions.

I’m not against hard games, but Defiance, overall, is a pretty casual game. (There’s one other mission that is a bit difficult but you can go online and research ‘tricks’ to make it easier. I couldn’t find any tricks for this one.) In my opinion it’s a game design mistake to spike the difficulty so drastically at the very end of a quest line like this (particularly since you probably want players to stick around after the final quest finishes). I’m hoping Trion decides to tone this one down a bit. Maybe after a certain amount of time or deaths they can spawn a powerful weapon or something to help those players who came to Defiance from other MMOs rather than from Shooters.

I’m just glad to have it behind me. I’m actually looking forward to going back to cruising around the world, doing side missions and helping other players clear their main missions. That’s what makes Defiance so fun. Not being trapped in a solo instance with a boss that doesn’t have the sense to stay dead after you kill him!

Defiance at 19 days

Defiance has been out for 19 days as of today. I don’t think there’s been a day when I didn’t log in, which is pretty unusual for me. Raptr says I’m at 57 hours but for the first few days of launch week I wasn’t running Raptr since I was ‘hiding.’ I was logging in before work and on my lunch hour and didn’t want any co-workers to notice and think I was playing on company time or something (yeah, I’m paranoid). So I’m guessing that my real figure is somewhere around 65 hours.

Over-compensating So clearly I enjoy the game, a lot, but anyone looking at it objectively will tell you its buggy/quirky as hell. Somehow the issues don’t impact my fun significantly, though. This week saw the first major client-side patch, but even though the list of fixes went on and on, the game didn’t feel significantly different when I logged in. Also some new bugs were introduced. I’m looking forward to the next big patch which should be in a couple of weeks.

I play Defiance solo, which means I side-step a lot of the major issues which have to do with chat, both text and voice. Friends who’re trying to put clans together are, I think, experiencing more frustration there. Grouping for missions can be problematic, too. There seem to be 3 types of main missions: open world missions that everyone can jump in and help on, ‘instanced’ missions where you have to activate a portal to enter, and the confusing ones: phased open world missions. With this last type, you don’t see any loading screen or anything, but you can be grouped with someone and you’ll each be in a different ‘universe’ so to speak. The person with the quest will see enemies to fight and objects to activate, the other person will see an empty landscape. This has led to a lot of frustrations among friends who like to Group to play these games. Unfortunately I don’t think this issue is a bug so much as a design decision but I still hope Trion eventually changes things so you can help out a friend in need.

Mutants in San FranAs I said, I play solo, but I don’t play alone, and that’s a lot of what I love about Defiance. I spend a lot of time just helping strangers complete missions; there’ve been missions I’ve done 8 or 10 times by now even though I only ‘had’ the mission once. I don’t really play Defiance for rewards…I don’t play it like a Roll Playing Game. I play it like a Role Playing Game (and to be clear, Defiance is a third person shooter, pure and simple, not an RPG of any sort). So I help people out because that’s what heroes do! And I’m trying to be a hero this time around.

Then there are the massive ArkFall events, which I find fun now and then. They’re not my favorite aspect of Defiance since they start to feel pretty generic after a while. And last night I did my first Co-op Mission via the Matchmaking feature, which put me in a PUG. It was surprisingly fun, but when the leaderboard came up and I saw I came in 4th I felt like I’d only held the team back. In my dubious defense, they all seemed to know where to go and what to do so that may have hampered my efforts somewhat.

Earlier this week, Defiance the TV Show premiered. I enjoyed it quite a bit and I’m looking forward to more. I was expecting actual Episode Missions to debut in-game after the show aired, but instead we got Episode Pursuits. Pursuits are essentially clusters of Achievements. “Find these 4 items, kill 10 of that kind of enemy, do this mission.” These “Episode Pursuits” are only in-game for a limited time, so I felt a lot of pressure to complete them quickly. Since one of them revolves around completing events that spawn randomly, it meant (for me at least) 3 nights of driving around semi-aimlessly, completing random events to ‘clear them’ so the ones I needed would pop. This was, by far, the least amount of fun I’ve had in Defiance and for the first time since the game launched I found myself logging out frustrated and looking for something else to do. Last night I finally finished them (well, all of them except for the one that involves PvP…I’m no PvPer) so hopefully I can get back to the good stuff.

In a Raptr Q&A earlier this week, Trion mentioned a few times that since so many people are frustrated by having time-limited content, they might decide to just leave it in. They were talking more about the Episode Missions that were in game from April 2nd – April 15th before being removed, but I hope they do the same thing for these Pursuits. They would’ve been more fun if I felt like I could’ve searched a bit, then gone to do something else, then searched a bit more at a later date.

Anyway I also hope we see more actual Episode Missions in weeks to come. Pursuits are a nice ‘side line’ activity but I love the real missions. Speaking of which, at 60-ish hours and EGO rating of 650 or something, I still haven’t finished the main storyline. I keep getting distracted by helping strangers and doing side-missions, which is weird because I’m actually enjoying the storyline quite a bit.

Trion seems committed to Defiance (and they sound as frustrated as the players are with the number of bugs and issues) so I’m hopeful the game will have a long life. 5 DLC packs are planned and they’re scheduled to roll out between Seasons 1 & 2 of the TV series. (I got this info from the Raptr Q&A.) At that point Trion gets to move the story forward on their own, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with. While the DLC will have a paid component, my understanding is that all the world content (which I assume means the story stuff) will be free to everyone since Trion doesn’t want to fragment the playerbase.

Free is always good but I’m wondering how they’ll sustain the game financially. There’s no subscription fee. There’s a cash shop but nothing in it seems all that compelling. I did buy some ‘Bits’ (the cash shop currency) to expand my character’s inventory space but nothing else is really calling to me. Anyway, hopefully they have some ideas; I’m sure they’re pretty much 100% focused on killing bugs and polishing rough spots for now.

Anyway, so that’s what I’ve been doing the past few weeks. Defiance, Defiance and more Defiance, with a short break to watch Defiance. LOL I’ve even had to set Fire Emblem aside since I keep getting to bed much too late (Fire Emblem has been ‘play a mission before bed’ game until Defiance came along). It’s still buggy so I’d still suggest that if bugs make you crazy you should continue to hold off, but I’m having more fun than I’ve had in years.

I can’t blog about Defiance

I keep meaning to write up a big fat blog post about Defiance, but every time I think about doing so, I realize I could instead spend that time playing, so that’s what I do. That’s the mark of a game that’s an excellent fit for me; I play it every time I get a free moment.

You can find plenty of things to complain about in this game. It’s still fairly buggy, the UI is kind of awful (maybe less so if you’re using a controller, but I’m not 100% convinced of that) and it overall lacks polish. In spite of all that, I’m head over heel in love with it, at least for this week. (You know me and my gaming ADD.)

On the bright side, they’ve had a decent launch week on the PC. Decent, not super. Servers still come down too often for emergency patches and stuff, but to the best of my knowledge the PC servers haven’t had any extended outages or outrageous queue times. I guess the Xbox 360 version hasn’t fared as well, though.

But playing the game is a hell of a lot of fun and you always have many options. You can follow the main questline or the episode questline (and I assume we’re getting a new episode quest once a week one the show starts up on April 15th). You can do side quests. You can explore in an attempt to complete Pursuits or to learn about the lore and backstory of the game (Pursuits also give EGO levels). You can race vehicles. You can roam around taking on random spawns alone. You can jump into ArkFalls and join a mass of players taking on huge encounters. You can do structured PvP or open world PvP. [Disclaimer: I haven’t actually tried the PvP…hopefully it’s all up and working!] You can join with friends to do co-op instances. You can do solo instance challenges. You can complete Contracts to earn favor with one faction or another. Taking a page from Guild Wars 2, almost everything you do in Defiance earns you some kind of boon.

(This one looks best in HD.)

The problem is that almost none of this (except completing quests) is obvious when you first start playing. Well, the main quest and side quests are pretty obvious, but a lot of this stuff is tucked into the Goals system and the game never points you at that as a source of things to do. It should. In the same way it never really tells you to check out the Intel system for more about the world (a lot of lore is fed to you via audio transmissions).

Here’s an audio log example. Not one of the best, but I chose it because it has no spoilers in it:

A couple of warnings: Defiance is a shooter, not an RPG. You don’t have stats and you do need to be able to aim. In theory you could set yourself up as a kind of healer but I’m not sure there’s enough there to make that a rewarding career path. Basically you really need to want to shoot stuff to get much out of the game. It’s also still rough. If bugs, server crashes and a lack of polish is going to drive you nuts, give this one a pass for now.

As an MMO there’s a lot we expect that isn’t there: banks, a mail system, an auction house. “Levels” are here in the form of an EGO Rating and that’s mostly just there to gate content. Some weapons require a minimum EGO Rating, and as your rating goes up you unlock inventory slots, loadout slots and things like that. You do ‘rank up’ in weapons and vehicles; when you do you’ll get a minor adjustment. Extra boost time in vehicles, slightly less ‘bloom’ (bullet spread) with weapons…things like that. Nothing all that over-powering. There are only 4 skills and you can only equip 1 at a time. There are lots of passive ‘perks’ to earn, though.

Honestly it’s hard for me to quantify what I love about Defiance, but I’ll try. I love that I can jump in and play for 10 minutes and feel like I got something done, but if I have 3 hours I don’t get bored. I love how I can help (or be helped by) people without forming a Group. I love that it’s a shooter that is casual enough to be fun for me…someone not a serious shooter fan. And I feel like I’m pretty good at it (I’m perhaps delusional…but the important thing is I FEEL good about my progress, rather than feeling frustrated). I love that I can get involved in a gloriously chaotic Arkfall event with 50 other players…or go off all by myself and see what I can accomplish on my own. When I get tired of shooting, I try the races. If I get tired of those too, I just go and explore. I’m always feeling like I have more to do than I have time for, which is, to me, a good thing.

Anyway I wasn’t going to blog about Defiance and now I’ve gone on and on and I could be playing so.. off I go to play!

Defiance, transmedia and DLC

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post title Defiance and I are having our first fight. You can go read it if you’re got time to kill but the gist of it was that I was concerned about their announcement of DLC for the game, and here’s why:

My logic was that if a big part of Defiance is the ‘transmedia’ aspects (in which events in the game and events in the tv show will intermingle in some way) then, assuming the transmedia ‘updates’ were packed into the DLC, we’d all need the DLC to get the full game experience, and so if that’s the case why not just charge a sub fee and be done with it.

Anyway, I reached out to Trion to get the straight dope on what’s going on here. It took a few weeks for them to get back to me, and the news is brief, but good. Here’s a quote of everything they were willing to share:

“Crossover stuff is NOT part of paid DLC. As a matter of fact there is a good amount of content updates that are not paid DLC dependent.”

So there you have it. You can buy the game, watch the show, enjoy the transmedia aspects, and not feel pressured to buy the DLC.

Personally I’m thinking I’ll buy it anyway since I enjoy the game so much, but it’s nice not to feel like I ‘have’ to buy it in order to get the full experience.

Defiance and I are having our first fight

I’m excited about the SyFy show Defiance, coming in April. And I’m excited about the Trion game of the same name. I can’t talk a lot about why due to an NDA but I have been in a beta weekend and I’ll leave it at that. I have the game pre-ordered.

But today came news that is giving me second thoughts.

Defiance is an MMO shooter. It costs $60 but has no subscription fee. All indications are that it’ll have some kind of cash shop. I’m basing this on the fact that pre-ordering Deluxe versions get you bonus items like

  • +5 Increased inventory space
  • 30-Day scrip boost
  • 30-Day XP boost

Those sound like things you’ll be able to buy in the cash shop, don’t they? And that’s fair… with no sub fee Trion and SyFy need some way to pay for keeping the servers up, right?

But all along we’ve heard a ton about ‘transmedia’ and how events might start in the TV show and end in the game, or vice versa. That suggests an ongoing stream of new content in the game based on advances in the TV show. I was pretty excited about seeing how that works out.

Today however, we got word of a Season Pass for DLC. $40 gets you the first 5 DLC packages. Here’s what they say about DLC:

Join the fight and save big on 5 DLC packs with the Defiance Season Pass. Enjoy a new playable alien species, new weapons and vehicles, missions, and rewards � plus a bonus Hellbug Combat Cap and Lock Box � a 20% savings!* This is the ultimate package for the true Ark Hunter!

And now I’m concerned. If we’re getting new missions and species via DLC, does that mean all this ‘transmedia’ stuff is going to be in the DLC that we have to pay for? At that point, isn’t this just a subscription, basically? If you watch the show and some big event happens and then you log into the game and find out to access this new content you have to pay $10 for the DLC to get it… I mean it isn’t literally a subscription… you could just skip out on that new content. But the transmedia aspect is one of the unique things that Defiance is bringing to the table.

Now, let’s be fair. It might be that there will be plenty of new content dished out in addition to the DLC, and if that’s the case I’ll be less concerned. But right now it isn’t clear.

I think Trion needs to be a lot more transparent about what sorts of content we will get outside of paid DLC, and exactly what that $40 is going to get us.

$60 box price (standard edition) + $40 Season Pass + cash shop to upgrade things like inventory slots… suddenly Defiance is sounding pretty damned expensive.

In general we gamers need to make more noise about this kind of thing. Publishers urge us to pre-order or buy season passes and they often are very light on the details about what exactly we’re paying for. Even looking up at that list above… +5 Inventory Slots. What does that mean? Does a basic account have 100 slots, in which case +5 is a mere 5% bonus? Or does a basic account have 5 slots, in which case +5 is a 100% bonus. We don’t know, but we’re supposed to trust the publishers and pre-order anyway.

Publishers: If you have faith in your game, give us all the information we need in order to make informed decisions.

Of course as I said, I’ve pre-ordered… so clearly I am part of the problem.