GDC 2018: Hands-on with Trion’s ‘reimagined’ Defiance 2050
Before my GDC interview with Producer Matt “Destromathe” Pettit last week, I was really frustrated with the news about Defiance 2050. I wasn’t a huge fan of the first Defiance, but mostly out of lack of experience; I liked the transmedia idea, and when that died, so did my interest. When Trion announced 2050, I couldn’t join in the excitement. The details were scant and PR-y. I wasn’t even happy with the questions we got back. When I was told I’d get an interview with Pettit at a “party,” I was worried it might mean I’d need a stiff drink to accept what I was being invited to see. In short, I expected 2050 to be a cash grab.
But now I wish Trion had put in its announcement everything Pettit told me. I feel much better about what Trion’s doing now that I’ve seen the product, and I didn’t even drink anything beforehand!
Maybe just call it a comeback
One thing you might have noticed is that Trion’s not calling 2050 a sequel. Neither is Pettit. “It’s not quite a sequel,” he tells me. In fact, at one point, he calls it a “ground up reimagining.” In fact, Nolan from the SyFy series makes an appearance, and fans of the show should understand why that might be hard to do.
I can get behind a reimaging. Maybe it’s because I come from an Asheron’s Call background where the sequel was a dirty word, or maybe it’s because I was recently enjoying a more accessible reimaging of a JRPG with a complex original game, but reimagining feels a little better, especially because Pettit emphasizes that Trion’s using the past four-plus years to make the game its players really want. Again, I’m not in that audience, so I can’t judge, but I hope you fans will.
(Incidentally, if hearing Nolan’s around for a mission is make or break for you, know that Pettit says 2050 is going to stand alone at launch. Trion wants to talk to SyFy about at least maybe getting permission to use some of the actors or something else in the game, but the team needs to show that the game is strong enough on its own first.)
Throughout the announcement, Pettit said the 2050 systems were all different. The loot system’s different too. This is why they had to change it all, right? Except that Star Wars Galaxies had its New Game Enhancement that did exactly that without literally making a new game, so it’s not impossible. If Trion were to keep the original game running and 2050 as its own NGE, it’d make sense to have a second version of the game that’s pretty different from the original. Pettit wouldn’t say that Vanilla Defiance is completely safe, but he said Trion does not “have concrete plans in place to say Defiance is going away. We plan to support both games at launch. Defiance is going to maintain the same support it’s at, which is the monthly updates, the events, rotating the X amount of stuff, and so on.”
However, Pettit did note that the console versions are on dying systems. Their day may come, and when that comes, Trion will have to make a choice. When pushed for comment on if they were just going to announce something for the console, Pettit said there wasn’t anything to announce right now, but if they were to shut down Defiance, Trion would be “as open and upfront with the playerbase as possible.” That being said, there’s a big push to “drive people to Defiance 2050.” And that makes it sound as if when enough people jump to the new game, the old one could feasibly fall.
When I ask why 2050 would be a good idea when so other sequels, reimaginings, and so forth seem to fail, Pettit stresses that Trion is using past experience with the IP to build what the fans want. That building something for itself would be a bad idea, and that Trion would fail without its fans. It’s something we hear a lot, but we want to believe. Fans should absolutely make sure they hit Trion’s forums to comment on what happens, as Linda “Brasse” Carlson had mentioned at one GDC panel just how much she pushes the forums to the top brass.
For those wondering about the game’s free-to-play system, especially in light of the ongoing industry lootbox drama, Pettit makes sense, specifically calling out EA’s inability to understand that monetizing a AAA title while putting in pay-to-win mechanics is monetization run amok. Pettit says that monetization in 2050 will be less about paying for direct power and more about pay-to-play-faster. You can’t buy fully leveled guns, but you can pay for boosts to play as a faster gain speed. It might still be pay to win if you’re big on PvP or wanting to clear content before anyone else, but I’ll leave that up to the community to judge. That being said, Pettit says, “Defiance 2050 is designed around customization,” so expect skins and classes to be in the game store (both real currency and in-game cash).
2050’s New Game Experience
So what’s changing exactly? First, like SWG’s NGE, the game’s getting real classes. But here, you’ll have not only several class/loadout options to choose from but also the ability to change classes, mid-fight. It takes all of two seconds to go from Assassin to Medic, and if the tank dies, switch up to Guardian without having to wipe first. In game, I’m not sure if I switched classes per se, but the weapons I switched did make me feel like my role changed. The combat was pretty fast-paced, and my Trion coach was urging me to get deep in the fight with my trusty shotgun, but in the moments my headspace was my own, I enjoyed myself.
I don’t say this a lot since I don’t do a lot of serious shooters, but the gunplay was visceral. The rocket launcher is cool, but less so when shields guard people, so someone needs to blast those away. The shotgun is knock-back blowing damage of bliss-inducing delight when in someone’s face, and laughable from a distance… and I loved it as someone who tends to dislike shotguns in FPS games.
You also don’t just level yourself now. You sacrifice parts of other weapons to help improve your weapon, which also levels. There’s not exactly a trade-off with powering up your weapons’ stats either, but you get more out of improving a variety of areas instead of just one. Not only that, but improving the weapon involves a dice roll, so two weapons of the same type improved in the same manner may have slightly different stats. You can reroll the stats too and choose between the new and old stats, but the end product should be mostly the same.
The basic movement and action felt comfortable. There didn’t seem to be much of a learning curve if you’ve played an FPS in the last five years. Our boss fight against one of the smaller bosses, Mother Load, who towered above us with glowing knees of “hit me to advance,” was easy enough to figure out how to kill, but what was more interesting was that we were able to skip the final phase by really unloading on the poor boss at the very end of his second stage. As in Monster Hunter World, we got ratings at the end, and with my coach’s help, I came out on top. That felt nice. I’m not sure if the game is exactly for me, but I feel much more confident this than I did when I walked in.
I’m not totally on board Defiance 2050 yet, but I enjoyed my demo well enough. If I knew nothing about Defiance, and my friends asked me today to download the game to play a few missions, I would. Co-op dungeons or possible overworld stuff only I think, since that felt interesting enough for the low cost of entry and to play with the new item system. I’m not sure how PvP would work out, but if vehicles come back and are involved, I’d give that a shot too.
However, for people who’ve already invested in the original Defiance, it’s a tough call. Pettit used to work in customer service for Trion, so maybe give the game a shot, and if you want, hit Trion’s forums and tell the team what you think. I’d expect Pettit to be waiting for some feedback from the fans.