Shoot many mutants.
Trion Worlds are trying to avoid the typical pattern of crappy movie/TV show tie-in games by being a companion, rather than a derivative. Their latest project is interesting simply because of it’s ambition. Defiance will release in April 2013 as a TV show on the SyFy network, as well as the multi-platform, third person shooter, MMO, we’re about to play here. While the two will be set in different parts of the world, the events of the game are planned to bleed into the show in some manner. Ambitious concepts have back fired on games before though, so how does Defiance hold up? Join us as we head to the Bay Area to find out.
Every moment of Defiance takes place online and, though you can solo a lot of the content, this is an MMO so we’re going to put everything under the Multiplayer section of this review.
Defiance takes place on a near-future Earth where a group of alien races, known collectively as the Voltan, have come to our planet in search of a new home. Years before the game, and show, a small colony of Voltan was allowed to set up on Earth and diplomacy eventually broke down, sparking a war. During this war,the Voltan began the terraforming efforts that give the world of Defiance its unique look. Eventually, the Voltan fleet mysteriously explodes, scattering debris over the Earth and causing mutations in some of its species. These pieces of ‘Ark’ ship debris also contain valuable loot, giving rise to the Ark Hunters; one of which you will play the role of.
As far as gameplay goes, fans of classic MMO games, like Guild Wars and WoW, will find the structure very familiar; non-player characters will assign quests to you, these quests will show up on the map, and completing them will earn you experience.
On the other hand, anyone who’s spent any time with a shooter will find just as many familiar elements. Defiance feels exactly any other third-person shooter. You aim, and you shoot; there are no statistics or other variables at work behind these fundamental mechanics. If your aim is true, you’ll hit your target as you would in any other shooter. Damage is based the weapon you’re carrying, and some enemies can absorb more damage than others, but beyond that your skill and aim will be doing most of the work.
Visually, Defiance doesn’t quite hold up to the standards you may be used to this late in the console generation. Fortunately, I was able to play on both the PC and the Xbox 360, and I can tell you that, if you have a choice, I recommend going with the PC version. The valley between the graphical quality is very prominent between platforms, with Defiance. That said, it isn’t unplayable on the Xbox 360, it just looks a little grainy while the PC graphics are nice and smooth. The world is just as detailed on both platforms so you will still get the full feel of this strange version of Earth, no matter which platform you play on.
The difference between the two versions also brings to light another one of the major issues with Defiance, in that it exposed that the game servers simply weren’t ready to go on all platforms. Some restarts and brief downtime are to be expected with an MMO launch, but the Xbox 360 version suffered multiple extended periods of downtime. The PC version, however, always seemed to be up while I was waiting for the Xbox 360 version to come back online, outside of scheduled maintenance periods. In fact I’m writing a good chunk of this during an impromptu, forty-five, minute outage on the Xbox 360 that then was extended by another hour, after the fact.
Players who are familiar with other MMO’s might find that starting out, Defiance doesn’t offer a whole lot of variety. Your character can be male or female, Human or Irathient (an alien race that looks almost human). There are four choices of class, but they do little more than give your character a snippet of back story, and determine your starting weapon. There is also only one starting area and one opening sequence, creating little benefit to going back to try a different character.
Defiance plays out as a series of missions, assigned to you by different people, scattered throughout the world. Players can group up for quests, but the dynamic nature of most of the missions allows them to be completed by whomever is around at the time. This unorganized type of co-op suits me well and, if you show up in a given area when there are other people completing missions there, you can move around in a pack and snap off a number of missions very quickly, with little or no coordination.
Missions don’t tend to follow the typical MMO formula of going to an area, killing ten of X enemy, and returning for you reward. Instead, missions are scripted affairs featuring voice actors, multiple locations, and sometimes multiple waves of enemies. The world is also filled with dynamic co-op events, called Ark Falls, where giant monsters will appear, causing everyone in the area to team up and destroy them. Just my second one of these events involved a group so large that I lost count after thirty players showed up. Lot’s of fun.
A good portion of my third day with Defiance was spent playing competitive multiplayer. If you want to engage in some player-vs-player action, you have two options. The first is a standard series of modes, and maps, you might find in any other shooter. The second choice is called Shadow War, and supposes factions of Ark Hunters often get together, in the middle of fields, to fight for territory and resources.
You can queue for Shadow War matches from your menu, and will be instantly transported there when the match starts, but the most interesting thing about these 32-on-32 matches is that they take place out in the open, with 64 players descending on a section of the world map for all to see. Bystanders can watch, or queue to join in, if spots are open.
Shadow War matches can be a lot of fun, but since they don’t take place in areas designed specifically for multiplayer, they can lose a bit of the tactical feel you get in the competitive maps. If you’re looking for something more akin to Gears of War or Halo, stick with competitive. Each mode is something you should at least dabble in, as there are valuable rewards for succeeding.
When looking to play with other players, in a more co-operative setting, you can use the matchmaking system to queue for one of seven co-op instances. These are separate levels that transport players outside of the main game world, and task a team of four with clearing the level and defeating the boss. These instances work much like dungeons do in other MMOs, but without quite the same payoff.
One thing that jumps out at me, after spending quite a while in the world of Defiance is the lack of loot. Sure, there are stores, and some quests reward you with weapons, shields, or mods, but new weapons you find are rarely better than what you are carrying. When you do find some new gear, that is worth equipping, it is only incrementally better than what you have.
Fortunately, after all these hours, combat in Defiance is still a lot of fun. Diving and rolling, throwing grenades, and mowing down enemies is a nice departure from the typical MMO formula. Even if the missions start to get repetitive later on, with most seeming to send you into an enclosed series of buildings to clear out a pile of enemies, completing them is still fun.
While the dynamic co-op and co-op instances are a lot of fun, trying to complete quests in a group, with a friend, is not. In an attempt to complete some quests with a friend of a lower level I was only sporadically able to see quest objectives marked on the map and had to manually enter his “phase” when the quest would enter an instanced part. I really feel like, since he was the group leader, I should be shown his objective markers, and automatically follow him into phases, but instead I’m left trying to run behind him while he explains to me where we’re supposed to be going.
Just when you’re beginning to tire of Bay Area scenery, the story will take you across the Golden Gate Bridge where the scenery changes and the quests again become much more interesting than they had been for the previous few hours. I’m still not sure that Defiance is going to have enough content to satisfy the typical MMO player, but considering there is no subscription fee there is at least enough to get your money’s worth.
Defiance is undeniably fun, but isn’t quite ready for prime time. Some of the systems are lacking polish and functionality, and the game servers are not yet up to delivering a steady, stable, environment. As far as gameplay is concerned, it would be easy to say that Trion are just borrowing elements from other MMO’s, and other shooters, but the way they have melded the two genres does deserve praise. With a little more love, Defiance could be something great but for now it’s buyer beware.
Available On: Xbox 360 / PS3 / PC