Review: Way of Defector20 Dec 2017 0
Review: Way of Defector
Released 12 Dec 2017
Brought to us by a South Korean team called Dev Arc, Way of Defector is about escaping from North Korea and defecting to the south. It’s a surprisingly serious and dour game coming from a studio who’s only other title is a janky top-down zombie shooter called A Mass of Dead.
Seeing as Way of Defector is a game about North Korean defectors made by a South Korean studio, you’d probably expect at least a portion of it be set in that rocky peninsula. In expecting that, however, you would be wrong. Most defectors don’t normally try running the gambit that is Korea’s DMZ due to how heavily guarded it is -- instead, many defectors try their chances with China’s eastern border. However, Chinese police and public safety officers don’t usually take kindly to NK defectors. Viewing defectors as criminals, they will readily arrest and send them back to the Hermit Kingdom, where execution squads and deadly labour camps await.
Your ultimate goal in Way of Defector is to gather five pieces of “Broker Information” which will point you towards a “Broker” who’ll help you escape to South Korea. Getting the information is easy, but surviving is another matter altogether. Hunger, public safety officers and injury can all lead your defector to an early grave. Out of my dozen or so playthroughs I’ve successfully defected once. Way of Defector is by no means an easy game, and while a challenge is always nice, it can sometimes feel like your demise was more a matter luck than anything to do with skill or planning. But then, that probably is fairly indicative of what real defectors go through.
Way of Defector’s bleak, simplistic aesthetic both hurts and helps the game. It’s world map and UI are easy to read even if the game’s English is sometimes a little off. However, for such a unique and barely explored subject in gaming, Way of Defector doesn’t really seem to do it justice.
You have a choice of seven unlockable defectors to choose as your avatar, as you traipse about the mountains and cities of eastern China. Each defector has their own traits and abilities, but for the most part the game remain the same. It would have helped replayability if each defector had special modifiers regarding the end goal. Perhaps one has a young child with them, for example, and as a result you require more food and move slower. But the inverse of that would be that the child can steel food easier and makes others more sympathetic to your cause.
Rolling The Dice
The days in Way of Defector are split up into four segments. Three day segments in which you can move, rest or interact with your local area and a fourth night segment in which you can’t do anything. If you’re in a city, you can find work to earn money and buy food, which I would have to say is probably the most vital resource in the game. I’m almost positive that collapsing from hunger has killed me more than anything else. Your defector has two bars, one for health and another for hunger. Should your hunger bar drop below to zero you will start to take health damage and will die unless you rectify the situation.
Now, when I say everything in Way of Defector is determined by dice rolls, I really do mean everything. Extracting information, dodging authorities, resting, working and any other action the game may contain is subject to the fickle winds of RNG. This right here is where Way of Defector will make or brake for most players. On the one hand, the dice rolls serve the same purpose as hit percentages in games like XCOM: it introduces uncertainty and unpredictability which in turn adds tension to the game. However, it also means that once you look past the dice rolls, you’re not really left with a lot of game.
Way of Defector isn’t simply a game of luck though. It’s game in which you have to stack the odds in your favour. Decisions made early on in a playthrough can come back to haunt or help you further down the line. In one particular playthrough, I decided to focus on working until I had a fair amount of money before moving around to find the necessary info. This meant that I never had to worry about being able to afford food, and when at one point I was arrested, I was able to flash some cash to have the authorities let me go. However, since I spent so long earning money the authorities’ alert level shot way up and I ended sharing China’s mountainous country side with some army public safety officers who soon caught me.
I personally don’t despise the dice rolls in the game, but there was one exception for me. Once the alert level reaches a certain point, public safety officers start patrolling in force and you have to pass a dice roll every time one enters the same location as you. To make matters worse, if you happen to end up in a city with one, you’ll have to pass a dice roll for every action you do. At one point, I did six dice rolls in a day just to dodge the authorities, and that’s on top of all the dice rolls I had to pass whilst going about my tasks.
I have to say that it’s here where Way of Defector needs tweaking in the difficulty department. When you are eventually caught, you will be held for a day, at the end of which you will need to pass a dice roll to break yourself out (though sometimes special events occur). If you fail, you’ll be carted off to “Best Korea” where an AK-47 bullet is no doubt waiting to meet you. In the later parts of a playthrough, the sheer number of public safety officers you run into means that you’ll almost always end up being detained at least a few times. A simple way to fix this would be to ensure that their paths can’t overlap or at least make it so that only two can overlap. This would stop the annoying cycle players run into where they break free of detention only to being immediately arrested and detained.
Way of Defector is an interesting take on a subject matter that’s hardly touched on gaming -- or any other visual medium, for that matter. It’s simplicity means that it can appeal to a wide variety of people, but that same simplicity hinders it from saying or doing anything great. Looking past it’s faults, the game is enjoyable for a few hours, but I fear without DLC or add-ons it’s replay value is rather limited. However, as a small game that costs very little, it’s hard to really bemoan it for lack of content.