The majority of MMOs share a common beginning, as their launch periods are typically filled with a range of technical, gameplay, and balancing issues. Luckily, the best part of the MMO genre is that there is always room for improvement, and the possibility for a community to blossom into a living entity unto itself. Defiance, the latest game from Trion Worlds, is no exception to any of these ideas.
Trion Worlds is attempting to build a bridge between the ongoing Defiance television series on SyFy, and a gameworld that incorporates the changes and outcomes of the show into a dynamic experience. MMOs are never perfect at launch, but Defiance provides enough of an incentive to overlook the flaws and see the game for what it is: a strong foundation to build upon a truly unique third-person MMO experience.
Defiance drops players into the San Francisco Bay Area after massive terraforming completely alters the landscape on a global scale. This devastating change to Earth’s ecosystem is met by numerous alien species attempting to immigrate to Earth, and others who want to take it by force. The Votans were met with violence as war broke out across the globe, further devastating the planet, until both species eventually learned to co-exist. It is at this point that you take on the role of an “Ark Hunter,” who is enlisted by the CEO of a corporation with questionable motivations to search for advanced and expensive alien technology.
It’s important to note that the story for Defiance is clearly not attempting to blow your mind with a revolutionary new tale of alien invasions and sci-fi. It wants to entertain you, and while the show may be aiming for something different, the game knows what it does best and executes on being a fun shooter. That’s not to say that the concept of the game’s storyline isn’t intriguing, but it’s more of the poor execution in delivering the story that may make it forgettable for many players.
Your quest for this alien technology takes you through a completely altered landscape that offers a variety of gameplay modes to quest through. Whether you choose to blast through the story missions, explore numerous side missions, or jump into the PvP/PvE component of the core gameplay you will find that the game shines by focusing on a core fundamental idea of giving you endless streams of bad guys to blast your way through with an assortment of weaponry. Pump action shotguns with explosive rounds, radioactive sniper rifles, and biological goo spreading grenades feature on said list. It could be said that Defiance is a sort of third-person MMO Borderlands, and it would not be far from the mark.
Defiance’s core gameplay remains solid throughout because it centers around playing as a shooter, which also happens to be an MMO. It’s apparent that the team has focused on providing tight gun controls to give players freedom from the feeling of helplessness when their gear and loot isn’t quite up to par. Defiance rewards players who are fast (and accurate) on the draw, and gives plenty of reasons to make you want to use weapons with maximum efficiency.
Progressing through the waves upon waves of enemies unlocks a vast leveling system, called EGO Boosts. It initially feels as if you’re leveling fast, but once you realize that the maximum EGO level is 5,000 the true scope of the skill tree reveals the game’s longevity. Many of the skills do feel as if they are simply thrown in as placeholders as they offer the same types of bonuses that relate simply to minor boosts in decreasing damage, or slight increases in DPS. Players will find that most of the significant upgrades that are gained come from purchasing or finding better gear.
Underlying the attribute-based skill upgrades are the four main powers of the game: cloak, overcharge, decoy, and blur. All four of these make for useful boosts in combat, but ultimately only the most useful were used during my PvE and Co-Op gaming sessions. While this certainly put a damper on my enjoyment of the PvP experience, I quickly came to a powerful realization that Defiance is truly about your skills and the best solution is to fight fire with fire.
The four core perks that create the foundations of the EGO Boost tree are really only as useful as the combination of weapons that are utilized. Players can create individual loadouts that they are able to switch between. This presents a great way to experiment and uncover the perfect playstyle to suit your needs, which makes the discovery of new weapons and equipment even more significant. Disappointingly, the game never fully explores the looting mechanics in place, and opts to focus on pushing players to resort to Lock Boxes.
These boxes always offer the most significant upgrades to your arsenal and encourage the pursuit of game resources and currency, which allow you to purchase the varied tiers of boxes. Defiance also offers the chance to modify your weapons by purchasing or finding different attachments, which can be increased by adding mod slots to different pieces of gear. Emphasis has clearly been placed on the best loot being purchased, and venturing out into the world on a looting excursion usually results in nothing but dashed hopes. Defiance manages to make up for this by offering players a variety of ways to attain the resources needed to fund their Lock Box addictions.
The game also offers a variety of ways to get your hands on the best weapons and shields by including a variety of ways to play. Whether you choose to jump into a Shadow War, a Co-Op mission, or one of the many Arkfall missions that dynamically occur, there is something to keep you engaged at all times. These are the game’s salvation from offering something other than the simply overwhelming number of tagging missions that exist within the realm of the side missions.
Arkfalls are an awesome example of this diversion away from the tagging grind. Randomly, a PvE event occurs on the map where pieces of the exploded alien Arkships have plummet to the surface of Earth. These pieces have been the cause of the traumatic deformation across the planet, and once they land it becomes an all out struggle to fend off some of the nastiest Hellbug creatures to claim your prize. The fact that these events occur all across the map could easily become a nuisance, but the implementation of a fast travel system, alongside a range of automotive mounts, makes accessing Arkfalls a breeze.
Arriving at your destination is truly a sight to see when dozens upon dozens of fellow Arkhunters take on the Hellbug threat in dynamic unison. Immediately, you’re immersed in the idea that you’re truly part of something bigger. Arkfall events appear as scattered points within a huge red radius. They are limited to a set of cycled missions, but the events remain a fun experience to distract yourself from the many other side missions and PvP/PvE events.
There are minor changes with how the game performs between platforms, especially during times of high stress with multiple people and enemies on screen. The console versions understandably suffer from the most issues. It’s jarring to deal with lag in certain situations, but Trion Worlds is proving that they’re doing their best to stabilize the core structures of the game. The console version is an impressive MMO, but if you’re striving for the best possible experience, I would highly suggest investing in the PC version.
The stability and lag issues that affect the game occur most often during the Shadow Wars. Enlisting in these allows you to explore the world and complete quests as the game searches for other players to match with on the server. A quick press of the D-pad will automatically jump you into the Shadow Wars match once everyone is ready to go. It’s quite an experience to witness the all out 64 vs. 64 player chaos, as you struggle for control over multiple points across a significant portion of the map.
If Arkfalls and Shadow Wars aren’t cutting it for you, then there’s always the range of co-op missions that the game offers. Players can jump into a variety of linear structured missions that hone in on the fun of blasting away for hours with a group of friends. It doesn’t hurt that completing each one nets you a notch on your trophy belt either.
Of course, if you want to skip all of the hard work, you can always drop a few real-world dollars and purchase in-game items that help boost your character. If you were expecting to pay a subscription fee, then you may very well want to apply it to your first batch of in-game content because Defiance is an entirely subscription free MMO. All you need to do is pay the $60 for the game and you’re treated to a wide range of content that aims to satisfy your shooting needs.
Defiance is a diamond in the rough. It’s merely waiting for that special moment when the team has buffed, polished and shined it into the game that it’s destined to become. The technical issues that bury the game under a layer of dirt are something that most have come to expect from a newly launched MMO. Hopefully, it’s only a matter of time before Trion Worlds can expand (and improve) the experience into much more than it is now.
This review is based on an Xbox 360 copy of the game which was provided to us.