Defiance is an interesting premise, being one of the few MMO (Massive-Multiplayer Online) titles to transcend to console (also available on PC) but more importantly, Defiance is a transmedia gaming experience closely knit in with its sci-fi series counterpart. Trion Worlds have converted the SyFy series to a third-person shooter RPG with all the depth of story-telling sci-fi fans have enjoyed for so long, but also the dynamic versatility to incorporate key storylines into the video game. The concept seems brilliant but does it work in practice?
Developer: Trion Worlds
Publisher: Trion Worlds
Platform: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, Windows PC
Genre: MMO, Third-Person Shooter, Action-Adventure
Release: (AUS) April 11th, 2013, (EU) April 2nd, 2013, (EU) April 2nd, 2013
The story takes place in 2013 with the arrival of the Votan, an Alien collective seeking refuge on Earth after the destruction of their star system from an unknown celestial phenomenon. The remaining survivors from eight distinct species set a course for Earth and to their surprise, find the planet is already inhabited. The arrival of the Alien beings brings about hostility and suspicion from both sides however an agreement is met where both governments allow limited number of Votans to colonize, while the remaining millions are suspended in a state of hypersleep in the Earth’s orbit.
Ten years on and at a time of heightened tension, a rogue human supremacist does the unthinkable, assassinating the Votan ambassador during a live broadcast, resulting in the “Pale Wars”, a conflict between the Humans and Votans. Another seven years pass as the battle rages on, until one day a catastrophic event known as “Arkfall” explodes the entire Votan armada in space, wiping out millions. The resulting event dumps Alien terraformer technology on the planet, as well as a great degree of debris, forever changing the landscape. With governments struggling to re-establish order, both Human and Alien survivors band together, but with most Votan technology still in the Earth’s orbit (known as the “Ark belt”), the possibility of space travel is quickly ruled out. Pieces of “Arkfall” fall from orbit onto the Earth’s surface making for lucrative opportunities for those willing to brave the hazard of falling debris to recover the mysterious Alien tech. These opportunists are known as “Ark Hunters” and this is where the player steps in.
As you can see, Defiance is a science-fiction tale and there is quite a hefty back-story but interestingly, not much of it is touched upon within the game’s introduction but rather through watching the television series, hence the transmedia relationship. There is little direction beyond a short tutorial to guide you, opting to leave the amount of back-story a player wants to absorb in their hands. After an initial massive install and patches, our Ark Hunter avatar jettisons towards the Earth’s surface where customisation options become available. Races and trait selection is fairly limited, with the only relevant decision in choosing your special EGO (Environmental Guardian Online) power at the end of the tutorial lesson. EGO makes use of extraterrestrial science where an alien AI is fused with a body’s DNA to unlock dormant super powers, in this case implanted within our Ark Hunter. It sort of acts as a guide providing information on your terrain, as well as unlocking one of four unique abilities (Blur, Cloak, Decoy and Overcharge) to help you in combat.
Combat is from a third-person point of view and will no doubt draw heavy comparison with Mass Effect 3. Controls are intuitive enough and the action is easy to adjust to, but I found the game lacking graphically as textures appeared flat and on the bland side than I would have like. Moving into different locations offered up more variety and I can only assume new patches and updates will only help to improve on the environments. I also found some animation sequences were not as smooth as other shooters but nevertheless, was still plenty of fun chasing down and dispatching enemy units.
Technically Defiance may not be the best, but in terms of content it sure ranks up there with the best MMOs. The story mission is chunky with plenty of exploration and battles to engage in. There’s a wide variety of missions from your usual gather-and-fetch tasks, to time trials, pursuits, co-op maps and plenty of side missions sprinkled in between. Where the story missions are full of interesting dialogue with cutscenes and plot driven content, the side missions are the opposite with little to engage. They feel like a chore to complete and at times, the only driving force is the reward at the end. Fortunately there are Episode Missions which tie-in with the sci-fi series with integrated content from one to the other. It’s brilliantly interpreted and hardcore fans of Defiance are going to find plenty to get lost in. The most exciting prospect is the anticipated patches that can only enhance the overall experience.
MMO-style players will feel right at home with the random Arkfall missions that is more in-line to a giant raid encounter. These mammoth battles involve players across the server banding together to tackle a monstrous boss battle. The size of these beasts makes our little Ark Hunter avatar look miniscule in comparison and despite the sheer load of processing resources, the visuals with multiple explosions and gunfire happening all at one manages to keep on chugging along with minimal drop in quality. Although Arkfall may not require the strategy involved in organising a multi-player raid, it does capture the feeling of teamwork, working against what appears to be insurmountable odds.
As expected for the MMO genre, there’s plenty of grinding to be had with a whooping 5000 level cap and that is not a typo. Levels are measured in EGO, awarding benefits such as load out slots and new abilities for levelling up, but not at every incremental increase. The talent tree branches out to all four EGO special powers, unlocking new EGO abilities as your character improves that in a way, renders your initial selection on EGO power pointless as all powers do become available. Naturally, levelling occurs faster at lower levels and becomes a small grind higher up. Adding another dimension is the integration of contracts and faction alignments. Reputation earned with certain factions grant access to special items and weapons only available through unique vendors.
What I liked about Defiance is its non-subscription model. Rather than a monthly charge, Defiance is a one-off price to play, with additional micro-transactions available for the avid fans. Boosts in XP and lock boxes can be purchased for cosmetic upgrades but none of the available items offer up an unfair advantage to the overall game. As expected with an MMO launch, there are niggles and bugs to be found, both in the game and server side. Trion Worlds have had a proactive approach and resolved most issues relatively quickly, and best of all the Defiance community are kept informed throughout the process. It’s this level of dedication rarely seen on the MMO circuit and judging by the player base response, is helping to shape the Defiance universe for the better with fans rallying behind the game.
Defiance is a mixed bag. There’s plenty to enthral the sci-fi crowd if you happen to be in that category and from an MMO perspective, there really isn’t anything quite on the same level in the current console landscape. Defiance’s greatest problem is getting beyond the hurdle of appear too ordinary and appealing to the open mind of players who are willing enough to fully appreciate it’s potential. A great deal of work has gone into the game with an emphasis on the fun factor and immersive quality MMOs are so well regarded for. For a one-off price and new patches plus downloadable content always rolling out, there’s plenty of reason to descend into the Defiance universe.
7.0 – Good. Entertaining but is held back by a couple of flaws. It will certainly capture its intended audience but it won’t appeal to everyone.