E3 2018: A second look at Trion’s Defiance 2050 reboot
GDC 2018 back in March was good to Defiance 2050, at least in terms of making people aware of the goals of the game. It doesn’t necessarily mean people like what they’ve seen or heard, but Social Influencer and Community Manager Scott “Mobi” Jasper and Community Specialist Coby West feel that particular reveal has done the best for the game.
At this year’s E3 followup, there wasn’t any huge new reveal, aside from the launch date itself – just more tweaks. There certainly seems to be a bit of a disconnect between the overall MMO sphere and the 2050 fandom the devs are used to, with the devs somewhat understandably being more connected to their fans. After all, those are people who are willing to pay to play, and especially for a free to play game, that’s what you need. I got my hands on the game for the second time this year, and while it’s a solid play experience, I worry that, created in a vacuum, its potential for growth beyond the original Defiance experience is limited.
A second try
While testing is never perfect, it has given Trion some good feedback from their fans. Listening to fans is actually a lot of what we discussed about 2050‘s development. This is supposed to be the “definitive” Defiance experience. Feedback has helped the team tweak the game a bit, like cleaning up the UI to be clearer and easier to read. It’s easier to understand power and investing, and you’re able to fix how you invest your points whenever you want, even during a mission (though it’ll probably kill you). Where there was once a lot of intimidating numbers, now there are smaller ones with small descriptions to explain what they mean, slightly aiding in erasing the earlier exploitive gacha-based mobile games system experience I initially had.
I asked about the influence of the weapons upgrade system, as I’d seen both MOP readers and MMO fans on other social media bring up this fear. The customization of weapons via trashing “junk” drops and paying to reroll stats isn’t directly influenced by Eastern mobile games, but it’s for kind of the same reason: It’s streamlined gameplay that allows stuff you don’t want to be reworked into the gear you like. That being said, reconfiguring how you customize your weapon is free, both in terms of in-game money and real-world cash.
When you’re trying to feed weapons for bonuses, rarity counts, and using fodder of the same type of the enhanced weapon gives better bonuses (i.e., feeding pistols to your shotgun may give you +10 towards leveling it up, but feeding it fellow shotguns will give it +30). It’s not a bad system in mobile titles except when you’re paying for weapons/units/whatever you’re recycling, and as Trion is saying those won’t be sold, the system may be something I can get behind.
Even more interesting is that I was specifically told that while “prototype weapons” (think legendaries) will be powerful out of the gate (and unmoddable but upgradeable), randomly generated loot of the highest tier should be comparable. It remains to be seen how true that will be, but in theory, it’s really good news to me.
Unlike at GDC, at E3 the team was showing off five classes: the well rounded and melee-esque Assault class, the DPS stealthing Assassin, the tank Guardian, the healing Combat Medic (complete with auto-healing bot!), and the first premium class, the explosive Demolitionist. I couldn’t see the Demolitionist in action, but I was told that it won’t be exclusively locked behind a paywall. When you start the game, you can choose any of the four non-premium classes, and about halfway through the story, you can choose a second class to get for free. After that, you can pay real money to unlock more or unlock them with in-game currency.
While your character level goes up to 50, classes go to 25. You can switch classes mid-combat. It’s risky, but as the Guardian didn’t quite satisfy me the way tanks usually do, I did pull off switching the Assault class by ducking behind cover and changing things up. I even changed my Assault loadout during a boss fight to change my tactics with that class. Bullet count doesn’t change, and cooldowns don’t get reset though. I found out that, theoretically, I could even respec in combat, but that seemed like certain doom.
Combined, those tweaks make your character feel quite fluid, akin to changing characters in Overwatch but without having to return to your base or dying to do so. The ammo limitation isn’t even a big deal, since there were several areas where I could reload to my heart’s content, even during a boss fight. Somewhat related is the fact that grenades are an ability, not a consumable. For the record, I’ve always been a grenade fan, but I’m stingy with consumables, so this was a nice feature for me.
While my demo was certainly heavier on story than my GDC experience, and sadly single player, it was satisfying enough. You can certainly play parts of the game on your own if you want, and skulls on the overworld map indicate how hard the encounters are based on your current power level, helping to ensure that you don’t wander into a bloodbath.
However, I’m a multiplayer guy. It’s very difficult to get me into a shooter on my own, especially one that looks a little dated, and I say that as someone who played the heck out of the original Darkfall. I play them with friends, and it’s why I was never able to get into the original Defiance. I did like how the boss encounter had a kind of “puzzle” that felt MMOy: the “hit the minion just right without killing it so it makes the boss vulnerable to your attacks” thing. My handlers tossed out several strategies, and I combined them with my own to kill the boss, so it was nice to see some flexibility in the system.
That being said, it wasn’t the same experience as the boss I fought at GDC, where a group of us shared aggro and aimed for the boss’ weak points in a multi-staged battle. For a solo encounter, it was interesting enough. If a friend wanted to play, I could certainly see myself jumping in, but again, without the transmedia connection, it feels harder to get into.
The developers hope that the free to play nature of the game combined with the new class reveals will bring in new players, but from what I’ve seen around the MMO sphere, it feels like there’s a disconnect between the developers and the current MMO client. The hope is that being a free to play MMOFPS from an established MMO studio should help the game attract a new audience, but that ignores the past game’s reputation. That, I think, may be the game’s biggest hurdle.
Reimagining the past
Since many of you have mentioned it, I had to ask the teams about how they felt about 2050 being compared with Funcom’s Secret Worlds Legends reboot. I was surprised that the specific Trion folks I spoke to had never even heard of it. I don’t expect every dev to know the whole MMO-sphere, but Raph Koster’s collection of post-mortems about virtual communities shows that certain issues keep coming back up, so being unaware of the recent history of a major competitor to which your game is being compared stikes me as a recipe for disaster. It’s a bit late in the game’s development to rectify this and ensure that 2050 doesn’t repeat SWL‘s mistakes, but I hope bringing it up in a face to face discussion encourages more history-savvy devs on the team to speak up.
That being said, once I explained how fans felt SWL was a cash grab of recycled material with a few upgrades, the team understandably wanted to distance themselves from that idea. They seemed genuinely shocked that people would say that, as their fans have been asking for console ports for new generation and new experience, so they feel this gives it to them. I won’t dispute this, and if that is the majority of the feedback they’ve gotten, I completely understand their design choice.
However, when I asked if the fact that the PlayStation 4 is nearing the end of its lifecycle makes them worry about history repeating itself, I’m reminded that the current “old gen” consoles are still getting updates and other support, apart from games like Final Fantasy XIV and DC Universe Online that have stopped supporting their MMOs on older software. There’s a real reason Defiance fans are worried that a game on the new generation of consoles that’s not simply a graphical expansion could spell the end of the original game.
Developing a totally new game for newer consoles while also claiming the past consoles are relevant feels odd, especially when I’m told that 2050 isn’t being specifically geared towards console crowds, as some beta testers who’ve tried both PC and console editions have proclaimed elsewhere. Again, one would expect support for both titles, and forcing players to upgrade their console for a new game is more of a console company thing to do than a PC developer thing to do.
Without the show or SyFy’s assistance in, say, loaning out the show’s actors to do some voice overs, 2050 seems like it’s simply a new version of Defiance without the transmedia hype that made many of us interested in it in the first place. It feels like converting a car into a soapbox racer. Yeah, it’s cool and kind of new, but certainly lacks the power it previously had.
As some of you readers know, that’s taken the wind out of some fans’ sails. While some players may be frustrated with the current Defiance and feeling like their progress is meaningless when a new game often signals the death of the old, I’m reminded that Trion is specifically trying to negate that with the Valor System.
In fact, it’s been expanded due to community feedback. It’s nice that system carries over to whatever platform you play 2050 on (i.e., you can play on PC and PS4 and get all the benefits from the Valor System, but any further 2050 progress will remain locked on each platform separately), but it doesn’t address the loss of power that came with a TV show.
It’s a problem very specific to Defiance as a franchise, but as it seems both outsiders and fans aren’t seeing some explosive new feature to wow us into buying the need for a next-gen reimagining, one can only hope Trion’s got some secret launch-day weapon up its sleeve. Relaunches are tough, and even ones that revamp graphics and major systems, such as from Darkfall to Darkfall Unholy Wars, aren’t always successful. I really appreciate Jasper and West’s time for taking the time to chat with me about the game and trying to help me understand what’s going on behind the scenes on Defiance 2050.