There they are, two of the stars of the show: Hey Grant Bowler! What’s up Stephanie Leonidas! I can tell it’s them from a distance, if barely. Defiance isn’t a game that knocks your socks off visually on consoles, but it’s competent. It’s got moving clouds, really tall palm trees, decent texture work, day-night cycles, burning trashcans and sunsets that don’t suck. It’s a little blurry and jaggy when you look at the distant…I guess you’d call them formations, meaning these things that jut from the ground like cliffs, if cliffs looked like prehistoric trees (rogue terraforming, what can you do?). I’d guess the game’s actually upscaling from some sub-optimal resolution to mitigate frame chop. Those of you with PCs are probably chuckling about now.
So anyway, these two Very Important Characters from SyFy’s TV show aren’t moving, they’re just standing by their vehicle with guns raised and doing that weird cyclical full-body breathing thing video game NPCs do. I just logged back in after a hiatus to eat something — if these two are waiting for a story reason, I can’t remember what it is, which is another minor issue I have with Defiance, even if it’s also a problem with so many MMOs: Where was I? What was I doing? Oh look, a mission dot on the map (“Squirrel!”). I guess I’ll run in that direction.
The mission turns out to be about tagging medical supplies. A lot of Defiance‘s gameplay so far — okay, pretty much all of it — amounts to tagging-style missions: run up to a waypoint, hold down a button, wait for the timer to complete, run to the next one times infinity. Usually some bad guys spawn in to hassle, often in waves. I dispatch these with my Frontier Auto-Scattergun, a quick-fire shotgun that rightly forces me almost face-to-face with enemies if I want to inflict damage. Speaking of, I enabled “show damage numbers” in the options to get a sense for the math, but what a mess — a single blast from my scattergun and the screen’s flooded with numbers that vanish in a muddled blink. Off you go, then.
But my chief complaint with Defiance at this point is probably Shadow War, the game’s intriguing take on PvP, which can be a little like praying for rain in the Sahara. Mind you, I’m playing the PS3 version (I can’t speak to the Xbox 360 or PC crowds), but I’m waiting sometimes up to an hour for one of these suckers to launch. Shadow Wars aren’t instanced, meaning they spawn within the same PvE map as everyone else — you opt in by tapping through a matchmaking menu and selecting “Shadow War Quick Match.” Except getting in is nothing like quick, it’s agonizingly prolonged. At the moment, I’ve been sitting in Mount Tam’s Earth Republic Camp for 30 minutes, waiting for the requisite number of players to click in. Read that carefully: requisite number of players. The problem isn’t that I’m waiting in a queue, it’s that the game can’t seem to fill one.
No, you don’t have to actually wait in some hellish, screen-locked lobby. I’m hanging out at Earth Republic Camp so I can type this in relative peace, but you can keep doing whatever you like while the player count climbs, so there’s that. Still, if you’re in the mood for reasonably fast capture-point-based PvP, where you can play, finish, and keep playing without pause, you won’t find it here. “Waiting for 16 more players…” “Waiting for 15 more players…” “Waiting for 16 more players…” It does that for half a dozen minutes before shifting to “Waiting for 14 players,” then repeating the cycle, inching down into the single digits over the course of half an hour. You need 64 for a Shadow War to break out. And that’s a shame, because what little time I’ve spent in Shadow War, pairing off (team vs. team) and battling over points of interest has been…if not exactly mind-blowing, at least enjoyably competent.
Side note: I got the “spend a total of 1 hour playing competitive multiplayer” pursuit (pursuits are like achievements) after spending maybe 10 minutes in Shadow War and another 50 minutes waiting to get back into Shadow War.