Defiance is unlike anything that has ever hit the world before. It’s a television show like any other, but isn’t. It’s a Massively Multiplayer Online shooter, but it isn’t. I don’t really know how to describe the concepts at play to someone that isn’t at least sort of familiar with it already – but I’m going to try. Basically, Syfy, the TV channel, partnered with Trion Worlds, the game studio, to release this cross-media experience they like to call Defiance. Both the game and the show take place in the same world and are supposedly going to impact and influence one another, but that remains to be seen. As of the time of this writing, I’ve had a good deal of time with the game and seen the shows double-length pilot episode and I have plenty to say.
First and foremost, let it be known that the version of the game that I played was on the PS3. While I have heard of issues with the 360 and PC edition, I can only speak of my experience with the version I reviewed. Secondly, I wanted to love this idea, but I was instead just passively amused by it. The game starts out be letting you create your own original character, an Ark Hunter, who seeks out crashed alien spacecraft on the terraformed Earth for salvage and profit. The world of Defiance is war-torn and messed up with bandits running around several different alien races intermingling with humans and lots of other business going on.
The idea of a “post-apocalyptic” setting isn’t unique and neither is a sci-fi world filled with aliens, but Defiance at least tries to make a reasonable effort to be unique in some ways. The TV show generally takes place in the area around St. Louis, Missouri, but the game takes place in the San Francisco Bay Area. Characters from the show do of course show up in the game and how they plan to integrate the two should be an interesting development, but as of now they are mostly separate experiences.
After the aircraft you’re being transported on crash lands (surprise) you’re free to find your way around and get your feet wet. Thankfully, I can report that the game does in fact feature most of the things you’d expect out of a competent MMO. It also features most of the things you’d expect out of a competent third-person shooter. However, it does not feature the seamless execution of those two elements combined together. There are quite a few bugs, although granted this is an MMO and some issues are already being fixed, but it has to be mentioned. Side missions would often break and force me to restart, I’d clip through environments, get glitched on terrain and much more.
Worst of all though, is the enemy AI. Countless times I could walk into a clearing with several enemies and they could even be looking right at me, a few yards away, and would do nothing. Often times, I could shoot them in the face without so much as a flinch. However, when they do respond and react, it plays well. You can dodge roll, crouch behind cover and shoot your guns at other things carrying guns.
Each character also gets the choice of a special ability linked to their EGO (Environmental Guardian Online) Implants. These include a short-duration damage buff called Overcharge, an invisibility power called Cloak, a speed boost named Blur and an ability that creates a holographic clone called Decoy. Each character chooses one of these abilities to specialize in with several passive bonuses to equip and upgrade as you gain experience and level up.
Quest design are absolutely nothing new at all, with your standard fare of interacting with computer terminals, going to way-points fighting off waves of enemies, collecting items, etc. Similar to Trion Worlds other MMO, Rift, there are dynamic events and they are largely the highlight of the experience. Ark Falls, when pieces of alien spacecraft plummet from the sky and crash onto Earth (remember, you’re an Ark Hunter.) These events are big and draw sometimes hundreds of players. Typically they involve killing swarms of enemies and destroying the debris, eventually leading to lots of nice rewards and loot for the players. The events can get very very hectic and chaotic, but that’s part of the fun.
Competitive game modes exist as well, in the form of standard deathmatch maps and a Shadow War game mode. It succeeds in proving you an avenue to shoot other players instead of lifeless NPCs, but it fails in that it’s just not that fun really. People spawn randomly all over the map in seemingly random fashion and it lacks any real substance to hold your attention as anything other than a “I’m bored and want to enjoy this game, let me try Shadow War for a few minutes.” Hopefully they beef up the modes a bit down the line and add more variety and depth, it has potential.
Defiance succeeds in providing players with an MMO experience based in the same universe of the newly released TV show by the same name (which was actually better than I expected, I recommend checking it out.) I’m excited to see how these two develop in tandem with one another, as it could very well lead to some truly innovative experiences – but don’t expect too much. The core gameplay mechanics and ideas are often uninspired and lifeless, even if the idea itself is ambitious and unique. It’s worth playing on consoles, if anything for the mere fact that it’s an MMO. However, I’d never recommend buying the game for PC. While I have not played the PC version myself, I can promise you that there are much better options on the market, 100% free of charge to start playing right away. Defiance is an ambitious experiment, but I’m not convinced they have a great winning formula just yet.
This review is based on a review copy of the game for the PlayStation 3 provided by Trion Worlds.