Defiance is the new MMO by Trion Worlds and it is unique in one particular way, it was developed alongside and takes place at the same time and in the same world as the Syfy channel show of the same name. In another unusual twist Defiance is also on both the PS3 and Xbox 360. This joint development offers a number of benefits to the game, from the financial aspect to even the story and world. At the same it seems as though there a restrictions that possibly wouldn’t be in place if there were no ties to the show.
One of the more noticable restrictions is the lack of customisation offered during character creation. Most MMO’s offer a large variety when setting your appearance as a way of giving you something personal in a world of impersonal stories. Defiance has such a restrictive number that all the characters end up looking the same, only varied through gender and the two races offered. Even when more variety is gained through unlocked costumes there is still not much to differentiate you from the rest of the world due to the limited number.
This is also where the link with the TV show comes into play and why I believe there are limitations in place. Competitions will appear in game that will allow a player to win their character a place on the TV show. However fleeting that appearance is, it means that the game has to stick to the same sort of look as the show and not be too extravagant.
At the same time it’s understandable that you dont see people walking around in plated pink armour, this isn’t Azeroth or Tyria. Defiance is set in post-terraformed San Francisco bay thirty-three years after a group of seven alien species, collectively known as the Votan, made their way to Earth after their star system was destroyed by a stellar collision. Ten years after their arrival there was an event called the Arkfall where mass terraforming led to the whole of Earth changing, turning cities such as San Francisco into a wasteland.
As the description should indicate, there isn’t the widest variety in scenery and terrain. There’s rubble, grass and wasteland for the most part, with some water here and there and a number of alien plants strewn around. Everything is climbable and it’s very satisfying to use the remaining half of a bridge as a ramp to jump over.
Defiance is a very visually appealing game. There’ a lot of detail in the major NPC characters and especially some of the larger monsters, everything is also very colourful meaning your travels wont be without eye-candy, and you will travel a lot. It’s a shame the audio isn’t of the same level as the visuals. While the voice acting is excellent, and the sounds of guns and monsters are certainly good, the music is forgetful at best, teeth-grindingly irritating at worst – especially when a bug puts a particular track in a loop.
Defiance has quite a lot to offer in terms of things to do. The main story encompasses a large number of quests that take you across the whole of San Francisco bay, even into the city itself. Along the way you meet a number of different characters, some even briefly mentioned in the show. If you’ve already been playing Defiance then you will have met the two main characters of the show, Joshua (Jeb) Nolan and Irisa. If you haven’t, then the rumour is that they will be brought back to the game as they have left for St Louis.
This is the other way that the link with the show benefits the game greatly. Trion are capable at creating their own characters and stories, this we have seen from RIFT and the current content of Defiance. What is excellent is that when a character leaves the show they can make an appearance here in the game.
All reports indicate that there is already a plan in place for a character to leave the show world and appear in the game as an important NPC, only to then head back to the show later in the season. This ever changing and interlinked world will offer a wealth of options for Trion, especially during the break between Season 1 and Season 2 of the show.
However, future possibilities don’t help the game now and to be honest, it is lacking. The story quests are good and follow a strong path, introducing characters that you win over through helping them out, to culminate in some good end quests. However, outside of the main story it gets a lot weaker. The side quests are always the same scan an item or clear a location of enemies and they become repetetive to a flaw and monotonous to do.
What helps to break that monotony up are challenges such as time-trial courses, where you are put in an ATV and tasked to beat a time to get a gold, silver or bronze medal and rewards. I found these fun and actively sought them out. There are also other challenges such as rampage, where you’re given a large weapon and enemies come at you in waves, and hotshot, which tests your continued accuracy with different weapons. While the latter two do require more shooting, it’s different to the normal quest-based action.
To add to the fixed quests and challenges there are also unscripted events, namely the Arkfalls. These are very similar to the dynamic events that Guild Wars 2 featured, allowing a group of people to fight together against groups of enemies and if they get through the early stages, to fight a large boss. Everybody who participated is rewarded according to what they did and it makes it all the more fair. This method is also used for the side quests so there is no need to have a group to start questing, just drop in on others.
Also used to break up the monotony are a variety of objectives, effectively achievements. These range from simple murdering a large number of targets, such as killing a thousand of a certain enemy, to performing a 720 degrees spin in mid air after performing a large jump in your vehicle. These objectives have a number of tiers and more often than not the final tier gives you a title, costume or other reward like a vehicle.
A variety of objectives and events are all good and fine but if the glue that holds them together isn’t, then there is a problem. At the best of times, Defiance is a mixed bag. As already stated, getting around can be a bit of a slog. You can get around on foot or in car, or by simply fast-travelling to the meagre number of fast travel points. While racing around in your vehicle is fun, especially when making some awesome jumps, it can get a bit tiresome if you have a limited time and you simply want to get a quest out of the way. Getting around on foot is too slow to even consider unless the objective is nearby.
Shooting things is inevitably what you’ll be doing for the vast majority of the game, which makes it all the stranger that it’s so basic. There are no frivolities like a cover based system here, although you are free to attempt to use the objects and rubble as cover. Movement ends up being your best friend. Using the evasive roll or simply running and jumping around like a madman will improve your survival rate by helping you avoid some of the many explosives sent your way. But no matter how much you move, you will eventually die.
Combat isn’t difficult in a normal situation but Defiance has the tendency to throw numbers at you that make the Somme offensive look like a minor skirmish. Against the cookie cutter enemies this is never a problem but when the larger foes, or hordes of rocket launchers come, only the grace of god or outstanding timing can save you. It’s hard to describe the frustration of getting knocked over by a rocket, after dodging loads, to then get mauled by about twenty small fry before you get back up. None of that really matters because the punishment for death is a slight slap on the bum, a tiny slice of your wealth and then the travel back to the quest which doesn’t reset making failure nearly impossible.
Another of the limitations here is the skill system, known as EGO (Environmental Guardian Online). There are effectively four skill sets to move along. Blur gives you increased speed. Cloak offers invisibility. Decoy plants a hologram of you that the enemies will focus on and Overcharge increases your damage. All of these are activatable and recharge. These are the only active abilities that can be unlocked and only one at a time. As you obtain more EGO points you can move along from your choice, unlocking any adjacent abilities which are always passive and relate to your main skill in one way or another.
Where Defiance shines is when other people are involved, even as a sort of background feature. There is the previously mentioned fact that the quests are always open, meaning you don’t actually have to be on a quest to complete the objectives and help people out, and anybody in the vicinity doing the quest is helping each other you even when not grouped. This is especially good for the loners like me who rarely work with others, it adds a bit of life to an otherwise lifeless wasteland.
Possibly the most fun you’ll have with Defiance is when you enter the instanced events. There are a host of dungeons designed for four players and you can either enter with a group of friends or just queue on your own and end up with a group of random people. These are completely set aside from the main world, leaving your group alone to follow what end up being mini stories. These are some of the stronger moments of the game and end up leaving you wishing that the side quests could be more like them.
The instanced events aren’t limited to PvE as there is some PvP on offer. You are able to jump into small team deathmatch games which are fairly poor and there are only a few maps for now. There’s a lack of balance that turns most games into mass slaughter as lower levels pit themselves against higher ones, their inferior gear and fewer passive skills not really making a difference when matched up against their superior counterparts.
Where PvP really shines are in Shadow Wars. These are mass battles taking place in an area of the world map, but not able to interact with people who hadn’t signed up for it, so while they aren’t instanced they wont impact an innocent passer-by. In a shadow war teams can go to as large as 48 and it’s very similar to Battlefield 3. There are different objective points on the map to capture and hold. New vehicles with weapons are available for use.
Like all MMO’s, this isn’t without it’s bugs. There is the earlier mentioned music looping issue. This is still occurring and it only ever occurs after a fight, when the heavier music comes into play to work with the action that’s going on. The issue is, when this gets stuck it leaves you with very repetitive heavy music in the background as you go around looking at flowers. It’s jarring to say the least. I have also encountered a number of bugs with quests that wont recognise you having completed a certain task, leaving you in limbo unless you abandon it and with some of the challenges the timer hasn’t started at zero. A few times I started a time-trial challenge only to have it start on around 8 seconds, making it difficult.
Defiance at core is a strong game marred by limitations due to it’s link to the show. Outside of Hellbugs there is very little that looks interesting enough to fight, which is a shame considering you will be fighting all the time. The shooting is well made, albeit basic, but it’s very enjoyable to launch a rocket down on your foe while leaping over their head. What I believe will be make-or-break for Defiance is the future story content. What we’ve had up to now is possibly one of the better and more interesting stories featured in a MMO and following it will be no small feat. To find out more about Defiance, visit the game page.