You probably won't find Trion Worlds' Defiance at the top of many Game of the Year lists. It certainly isn't on top of any PC, Xbox 360, or PlayStation 3 charts with games like Grand Theft Auto V, Tomb Raider, Bioshock Infinite, DotA 2, Gone Home, and Assassin's Creed IV sucking up all the nominations. Defiance is probably the best pay-to-play, subscription-free MMO that came out this year, but Final Fantasy XIV would probably win out if you took out the former caveat, and Guild Wars 2 or The Secret World would probably win if you removed the latter.
Defiance is a solid second place game. To illustrate my point, here's MMO-focused Massively's Best of 2013 Awards. Defiance is a runner-up for MMO of the Year, Best Pseudo-MMO, Most Underrated, Best Trend, and Biggest Disappointment. You read that last one right; the game doesn't even win at losing. It is neither the best, nor the worst.
When it first launched, Defiance was a difficult sales pitch for me. 'What do you get for $50?' people would ask. (Note: no one actually asked me this) What you get is a Borderlands-style MMO with no subscription fee, decent graphics, some cool vehicles, emergent events, and a TV show tie-in. That's not much when it comes to selling points and of those features, the TV tie-in is probably the stand-out. The reviews for the game weren't any great shakes either: the highest Metacritic rating the game has is 64.
But I enjoy Defiance. It's not amazing, but even average games can be fun. Running around digital San Francisco in my Dodge Challenger (pre-order bonus!) and occasionally stopping to shoot mutants or headcrabs is fun. There's always something to do, from your main story missions, TV episode tie-in missions, dungeons, and the random player dog piles that are the game's Arkfall events. There's a decent variety of weapons and equipment: you'll find yourself shooting, looting, and selling or keeping a ton of gear. There's even RPG-style progression with a skill tree allowing you to unlock new character abilities and passive boosts. The game might lack a subscription fee, but it also doesn't cram microtransactions down your throat.
Defiance has a workmanlike feel to it. Bringing back the Borderlands comparison, Defiance is nowhere near as vibrant as that game and its NPC characters aren't as memorable. The cutscenes, dialog, and performance capture aren't great, but they do their job. The vehicles don't have a sense of weight within the game, but they're fun to ride around in and you get one right from the beginning. The storyline will get you from point A to B, if you're even paying attention to it. At launch, most of the enemies out in the open-world were pretty much the same; once you had played for a few hours, you'd seen what there was to see outside of dungeons.
Within that rote shell lies the core of a fun game. That core of Defiance will keep you playing for hours. My character - who I accidentally made to look like R&B singer R. Kelly - is very much a reflection of me as a player. My sniper rifle, my stealth abilities, the passive skills I have, and even the way my character simply looks is uniquely mine. And like other MMOs lacking a subscription fee, I don't feel stressed or tied to the game when I play Defiance; I just jump in, burn an hour or so, and log out. For me, Defiance is just fun. Basic, simple, fun.
Not every game has to be awesome and amazing; most are pretty average. Average games can be fun, too. It's not a matter of trying to convince people that the things we like are great, it's matter of simple enjoying them. We as a community are sometimes so tied into our game or hardware choices that we think they define us for better or worse. And part of that is true: they do define us. But only in a small way; these choices are just small bits of the full tapestry that defines a personality.
Liking or loving an average (or bad) game doesn't mean your taste is wholly suspect or you're a bad person. It just means something in that title resonated with you, be it the graphics, the technical mastery, the aesthetics, the controls, etc. You can be fine with that, without certain games being relegated to a guilty pleasure. There's also something to be said about the subjective nature of gaming. Pick a game you disliked this year - Killer is Dead in my case - and there's probably someone who absolutely enjoyed it.
Defiance was a hard sell when it came out, but the game has gotten better. Trion Worlds remains committed to improving the game with better dungeons, more impressive bosses, new weapons, and even some UI improvements. Defiance is also cheaper now. You can pick up the game on Steam for only $4.99, 50 percent off its normal price of $9.99. Even if that's too high for you, Trion Worlds recently added an Endless Trial mode for the PC versions. Yeah, you can play the game for free as long as you want, you're just stuck with a character level cap. Last week also marked the release of the Arkbreaker DLC for $9.99, with the new ability to summon Arkfalls and brand-new weapons.
And hey, if it's your thing, I hear the tie-in TV show is actually decent scifi. I haven't had a chance to watch it, but my friend and critic Rowan Kaiser reviewed all 12 episodes of Season 1 over at the AV Club and gave the entire season a B+. It's not like there's a ton of good science-fiction out there, especially if you're sworn off watching the CW for some reason.
So what completely average games did you really enjoy this year?