[Update: 4/5]: Following a patch from Microsoft and several from Trion, the game seemed to stabilize during off-peak hours, and I was able to play for several hours consistently without issue for the first time. It is still too early to form any official opinion, but when it works, the game has a lot going for it. More next week.
Defiance is a big, grand, and incredibly ambitious game, and like any big, grand, and incredibly ambitious, it is facing some serious growing pains.
We’ve been following Defiance closely for a while now, both the game and the TV show. We’ve interviewed the game’s creative lead Bill Trost, we’ve spoken with SyFy’s president Mark Stern about it, and we did a set visit for the TV show. Next week we’ll even have a review of the first four hours of the TV show. Obviously, reviewing the game was a high priority, and we elected to check it out on the Xbox 360.
The PS3 version is identical but with a smaller online base in the U.S., while the PC version isn’t nearly as groundbreaking on that platform as it is on consoles. The game supports an insane number of people at once (by console standards), and in many ways it is a technological marvel. At least in theory.
Our original goal was to begin the review process on the Tuesday that the game came out so we could play it at its full potential with a server full of people, then post the review on Friday. That’s not going to be possible.
The Xbox 360 version of Defiance has been plagued with technical difficulties since its launch. After putting the disk into the Xbox 360 and installing it (you need to install the 5 GB game onto your hard drive before you can start) and nearly 30 minutes solid of patches and updates, the game promptly crashed. This was actually due to a server update that Trion warned gamers about via an in-game notification system, but it remained down for quite awhile. This has been a theme, and these frequent updates can last hours.
Defiance requires you to be online, so when the servers are down there is literally nothing you can do in the game. You can’t even mess with the options. Trion has been good about giving as much notice as possible, but it’s cold comfort for people locked in combat with a giant enemy for up half an hour to see that their session is going to end, possibly right after they win but before the game can register it and credit them (this happened to two of my friends). Random boots are also a common occurrence, and they can happen at anytime.
To give you a personal example, early on in the game there is a mission where you are sent into a base to kill mutant enemies and then sabotage their weapon caches. After arriving like a tornado of doom and murdifying everyone outside the compound, I entered, fully prepared to wipe out the mutants once and for all and create a legend that would live on. I would be a cautionary tale mutant parents told their mutant kids to scare them into eating their vegetables or doing their chores. I was surprised to discover the base abandoned. Perhaps I scared them away, I thought.
The game continued to tell me my objective was to wipe out the enemy, but it also had three icons signifying three weapons caches I was meant to sabotage. There was even a little icon at the top of the screen, signifying three targets. I dutifully followed the targets and found… nothing. Just… nothing. There was nothing to sabotage or interact with. There were no enemies to kill or objectives to complete. After several minutes, I decided to restart the mission, but with no better luck. I restarted my console, and still nothing. In a game where the majority of mission objectives are completed by shooting people a bunch and holding the X button to interact, this was an obvious flaw. I skipped the mission and moved on to another and I will retry it later.
To its credit, Trion has been remarkably forthcoming about the issues. The developer continues to update its blog, and in an industry where press releases filled with platitudes often fill in for actual notifications when things go wrong, Trion is at least honest about the issues.
Trion’s plans are bold, and it at least deserves a chance to have its work judged based on its actual efforts, not just a few bugs. Those bugs are certainly worth noting, of course, and if you are considering purchasing the game on the Xbox 360, you may want to wait and make sure that these problems are resolved first.
So as for the review, we will hold off through the weekend and hope for the best. It isn’t fair to judge a game on what we hope will be a very temporary problem, plus the issues have slowed any progression. Check back next week and we’ll update this page, hopefully with a legitimate review.