Defiance Got Right
- + Fun as a co-op shooter
- + Heaps of crafting options
- + Enjoyable multiplayer
Defiance Got Wrong
- - Heaps of bugs
- - Disappointing story
- - Awful AI
- - Why would MMO players switch?
MMO’s haven’t typically been kind to consoles. After playing three hours on Xbox 360, Defiance is no different, which is why this review is primarily based on the PC version -- the one you should play, bearing some type of allergic reaction to a keyboard and mouse that has you and your hive-covered face running for a controller.
Like every MMO that’s ever launched to bumpy server issues, Defiance is full of flaws but worth persevering with for the untapped potential within its backstory and mythology.
It’s an ambitious collaborative project between developer Trion Worlds and the Syfy Channel (SF on Foxtel). This isn't "Defiance: The Video Game" -- both game and TV show are treated as equals and have been developed simultaneously.
Set on earth in a near-future, Defiance begins after a fleet of alien spaceships have entered earth's atmosphere. Seven alien races, known as Votan, engage in lengthy negotiations to reside on humanity's resplendent planet after their own were destroyed.
It’s not the prettiest game and you’ll be cursing the blemishes for hours, but if you last that long, you’ll realise how much you’re enjoying yourself.
It all goes horribly wrong when the ships are destroyed, raining futuristic technology down upon the earth and teraforming it into a survivalist wasteland, sparking an unprecedented world war. After almost driving each other into extinction, the seven foreign races and humans rebel against orders in the Battle of Defiance to find a way to co-exist harmoniously. But the damage has been done and scavenging to survive or remaining secluded in peaceful settlements has become a way of life.
The game is set in San Francisco, whereas the TV show is primarily based in a settlement in St Louis. Each has the potential to influence the other, but the small separation allows for anomalies. That’s why Defiance is such an intriguing test-case, and why it’s so hard to judge now as we’re yet to see how they’ll cofunction. It’s a great idea in theory, but an unknown quality in practice, if it happens at all.
As it stands, there are a lot of bugs and glitches. The PC version isn’t exactly pretty, but it’s what we’ve come to expect from a stock-standard MMO. The console version, however, is downright ugly.
The story is compressed into the opening few minutes and then drifts away into a dreary mess. The TV show has a lot of slack to pick up if Defiance, the collaborative project, is ever going to be remembered as a dramatic tale of mystery and intrigue.
I just don’t care about the characters in the game, especially compared to those in the TV show, who make a fleeting special guest appearance, at best. Considering its origins, it’s profoundly disappointing that Defiance’s weakest attribute is its lacklustre story.
For all these shortcomings, Defiance still remembers to be fun, especially if you buddy up with some friends and spend hours grinding away missions at the same leisurely pace; ignore the other randoms running around on the server, and it’s basically a co-operative third-person shooter that borrows heavily from Borderlands -- in a good way.
Missions follow a consistent MMORPG structure, combining fetch quests with hordes of enemies to kill and loot. They progressively become more powerful as you unlock bigger weapons and more explosive equipment. Crafting is central to Defiance, allowing you to break down materials and rebuild guns as you see fit. But for the uneducated, it could go completely by the wayside -- Defiance would be split into those who are doing it right, and the clueless uninitiated.
But let’s head back to be beginning. After creating your Ark Hunter, you’re sent to scavenge for loot before being introduced to the EGO -- the Environmental Guardian Online, a guide that gives Ark Hunters their four core supernatural powers: Cloak, Decoy, Overcharge and Blur. A lengthy tutorial explains each of the abilities and how a familiar RPG levelling system will see them evolve. It’s a shame that I forgot about these for half the game and played Defiance as a regular third-person shooter.
Enemies range from once human wasteland mutants, to genetically engineered soldiers, hideous ogre-esque creatures and massive bosses that take a collaborative effort to destroy. As an MMO that can be played solo, Defiance’s enemies scale to the size of your manpower. As a one man (or woman) army, expect to be challenged but able to pick off opposing forces one-by-one. In a team of 15 Ark Hunters, you’ll be confronted by much greater numbers and need to part with more precious ammo to neutralise each threat.
The bullet-sponge “arkfalls” early in the game have players congregate to wipe out waves of bugs and a giant beast that seems to have an unlimited supply of children with large claws emerging from its sludge-pipes. These huge fights are optional offering loot, and you can always choose to run away instead of fighting as a team.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter who you’re fighting as the threat is diminished by some rather disappointing AI who put up a strong fight only through a barrage of bullets. Enemies stand around until they’re ready to attack, and then it’s unbelievably predicable: they just rush you, all at the same time.
As someone who doesn't often bother with MMOs, Trion has done a solid job of integrating an action-packed shooter experience. Early on, you'll gain access to an infinite spawning all-terrain vehicle to roam the desolate wastelands, which can later be upgraded to something with a bigger gun. It solves one of the biggest problems non-believers have with MMO worlds: ease of exploration.
When you’ve had it with teamwork, there’s also a 32-player competitive multiplayer mode called Shadow War. It’s a capture point mode that awards victory to the team with the highest score from controlling points A, B and C. It’s the most fun I had with Defiance, but problematically the game doesn’t bother to equalise the playing field by allowing everyone to keep their customised weapons and equipment -- rookies are going to struggle.
Defiance’s biggest downfall is also its underlying strength: it tries to fuse too many genres. Defiance wants to be an RPG, action game, co-op third-person shooter with a dramatic story and remain a subscription free MMO. It does all these things well enough, but not better than its nearest competitors. Mass Effect is a much better story-driven action RPG, Borderlands has it well covered in the co-op shooter department and MMO players are always hard to sway.
This overreaching labyrinth is also why Defiance so darn fun. It’s not the prettiest game and you’ll be cursing the blemishes for hours, but if you last that long, you’ll realise how much you’re enjoying yourself.
The Final Verdict
Defiance is a bland but still fun co-op shooter. Played with that in mind, the hours will whittle away thanks to a never-ending stream of quests and side missions until the terrible AI drives you away. MMO players are likely to be disappointed by its many shortcomings, but console gamers have little else on offer. As for its transmedia experiment with the TV show, Defiance is yet to really demonstrate how the two will collaborate, and therein lies the untapped potential. For now, Defiance is an enjoyable experience that’s underdeveloped at every turn.