Defiance, as it stands, is a stunningly uninteresting game; cynically cashing in on the popularity of popularized sci-fi games like Borderlands 2 in order to tempt gamers to purchase premium bolt-on content and XP boosts. It is another example of a developer ticking all the boxes, offering the minimum, and throwing together something marketable. This wouldn’t be such a bad thing if the game were any good.
At £34.99, Defiance follows the same model as Guild Wars 2. You purchase the entire package, and Trion supplement expenses through in game purchases. At this stage, I’ve no cause to complain about any compromise to gameplay through the availability of extra purchasable content, because in reality that’s not actually the problem. The biggest problem is that, despite the fact Defiance is launching alongside its own TV show of the same name, it makes a startlingly small amount of effort to introduce you into their science fiction universe.
The story is set on Earth, where after a catastrophic environmental disaster which altered the face of the planet – its flora and fauna – and the balance of the economy and global ecosystem, a seemingly unrelated arrival of new alien species threw some more salt onto the wound. The aliens, known as Votan’s (not the Votan’s from Mayan mythology), eventually got over it, and decided to live together with the Halo-esque, decidedly military human population. This sets the stage for you, as an Ark Hunter working for Karl Von Bach, to do a bunch of menial tasks, such as clicking boxes, reviving allies, and killing endless swaths of “mutants”.
Torn clothes, muddy colours, an angry chain of command, and some light bureaucracy: Defiance has all the hallmarks of lazily slopped together B-movie science fiction trash, without any of the nuance and character the world needs to suck you in. You can play as two races, the humans or the Irathient; the edgy, ragged tribal types who speak in apparent yiddish instead of swearing. After a brief introduction where a captain shouts at a scientist (because we all know how fed-up of their meddling in military affairs top brass are!) you meet who I presume are two characters from the television show (not seen again, at least not by myself in thirty hours of game play) triggering your character creation.
It’s not science fiction without your own blue cyber lady constantly bugging you
Having crashed on Earth, you find yourself met by, ostensibly, what is a digitally survived Votan, and an Irathient female with the aforementioned penchant for derivative Yiddish. These two companions make up your guiding morale for the majority of the opening sections, issuing you quests and assisting you in combat. A lot of the time, you’ve to protect her as she tinkers with something electronic (a loading bar fills), facing off hordes and hordes of the same enemy over and over again. This is not so fun when combat is so mediocre.
Combat in Defiance is fundamentally dull. There’s nothing wrong with the meat or power of the weapons per-se, but it feels as though you’re merely mousing over enemies and watching their health bars go down. We saw in Borderlands 2 a serious problem with inaccuracy of weapons, but Defiance has the opposite problem, ostensibly because it’s not a PC game.
The UN don’t take kindly to bug infestations
The ability to shoot for the head on PC downs most enemies incredibly quickly, and each quest area – or area within a quest – is generally comprised of around 4-5 of the same area specific enemy types, which come at you in hordes. The questing dynamic of: go here, shoot past these guys, click this object, then go over there, is therefore marred by the horrible easiness of combat.
Whilst killing is easy, getting killed is also very easy. At the start, you can equip two weapons of any type you want. Weapons require ammunition, which can be replenished at various points around the map or through enemy drops. I found myself consistently running out of ammo through no fault of my own simply because this, of course, is an MMO, and enemies respawn. You then have to either melee your way through, using the horrible “soft nudge” melee animation, to an ammo point, or just let yourself die, losing some scrap (currency), and run back there after having found some ammo.
Defiance retains the same group event system that Rift enjoyed, but nothing is more annoying than the problem with ammunition here. Groups of you have to shoot, for quite some time, an alien spawn point until it explodes. This can take 10 minutes or so, and I found that I ran out of ammo incredibly quickly, with none to be found within the circumference of the quest area. I had to melee some enemies for small clips, if I could find them, in order to do any damage to the enemy point. I understand that in a shooter not having unlimited ammo makes sense, but in this case I actually can’t see the logic in an MMO giving you an extinguishable first attack; enemies respawn, so you always need at least one attack. Nope.
Massively multiplayer; not an RPG
Whilst Defiance is an MMO (although I don’t see many people about), it’s not an RPG. It does feature some customization. Character creation is very barebones, taking us through a series of numerical variables (less than Guild Wars 2), and there isn’t even the ability to change your armours per body part (but you can buy outfits with real money). You can, in fairness, change your entire “out-fit” and hat, but they are entirely cosmetic. It’s up to you to find and equip guns, shields, and weapon modifications – sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Most if not all of the dialogue is voice acted, but there isn’t much information as to the world on the whole. It feel as though, perhaps, SyFy are purposefully keeping the lore hype to themselves, because right from the out-set, the only really story related aspect is contextual: you’re looking for your boss. Of course, you meet this objective relatively quickly, but everything in the middle is true to the core of fundamentally bad MMO’s: grinding and filler.
I’ll have a number 4 with fries on the side
Most of what you’re doing in Defiance feels inherently meaningless. I feel as though I was told to “rescue hostage soldiers” about 20 times in the opening area alone, and of course “rescuing hostage soldiers” is just a matter of storming a stale, static enemy area, killing mobs, and pressing ‘E’ on some shallow NPC’s. Quests like this are okay in an MMO as supplementary to other tasks, but that was the task quite a few times.
Aside from that, I’ve been killing, collecting, and pressing ‘E’ on a number of different objects around the same sparse and open, papery looking map, and that’s really about it. It sounds like I bear a grudge against Defiance, but I really don’t. I am an incredibly huge fan of science fiction, and the idea of an MMO – something that lives, breaths, and grows – launching with a TV show of the same lore and name was exciting. There’s no excuse for game-play this bad, though, and when combat is so mundane and the quest dynamic is so inexcusable, with no real strength in lore or RPG elements, there’s really nothing to be excited about.
The technical bits
To its merit, Trion have kept up with the classless system (you eventually pick your technology type, not class). Whilst it appears to the contrary, you don’t pick your class in the character customization so much as your “Origin.” This sounds like RPG sweetness, but it seems to come down as more of an aesthetic choice. It doesn’t limit the weapons or style of game-play you can enjoy. It doesn’t dictate your abilities, either.
Long distance SMG’s are the future
Defiance features non-linear character progression through an ability grid, which unlocks adjacent grid blocks around four central main abilities. Because of this, I suppose it isn’t entirely honest to say there are no classes, since if you pick your first skill in one of the four corners of the grid, you’re locked to a north/east progression, or your respective choices’ direction, at least for some time. These skills can be equipped in your character screen, with unlockable skill slots as you earn XP. Your level is defined by your “Ego,” which is a similar numerical ranking system.
Choosing your abilities is important, since you can customize roles for yourself – even though this is something Trion fruitlessly try to avoid (optimized classes will always exist). For instance, I could pick + critical damage when crouching, which could expand to bonus damage when crouching, making me a good static DPS, which has its own inherent problems:
You can join a multiplayer game by using the match-making system in game at any point. This will take you out of the game world and throw you into one of the multiplayer maps. Multiplayer Team Deathmatch in Defiance is horribly unbalanced. Remember my aforementioned skills? They’re entirely useless in PVP. Defiance is a game about jumping around, enjoying great accuracy. It is not a skill shooter. The added bonus crit and damage to crouching is completely undermined by swiftness and agility. Because of that, you’ll find your character for PVE is useless in competitive PVP – at least, that’s how I found it.
Unlike most MMO’s, the PVP felt considerably more tacked on that you’d expect. It’s a third person shooter, but it feels as though everything has been built for PVE – from the combat mechanics themselves to the weapons and skills at your disposal. Playing the multiplayer felt, and looked, like a Tegra 3 android game – not unlike Shadowgun, and this is something that eventially carried through into my PVE experience… I felt as though I was playing an astonishingly cheap title.
This is not a PC game
From the dynamic of combat to the clear limitations of the games visuals; UI to balancing, Defiance was not made for the PC. There are less graphical options than a Konami port to PC, and technical limitations on the PS3 and 360 have left us with horrible draw distance, appalling texture quality, and incredibly papery, murky visuals. Animations, too, feel incredibly dated, and Defiance feels similar to Aliens Colonial Marines in that it’s as though the developer had ignored all improvements in procedural animation techniques. It doesn’t feel nice to play.
Their vision is based on movement
Whilst the various weapon and ammo types do have some nice effects, PC royalists are going to be enraged by the little effort Trion put into the PC port, especially in the UI. The game has a classic console UI: cumbersome, and useless in the heat of the moment. The UI takes up the entire screen, with no opacity settings, and gets you killed more times than I’d like to admit, due to a stupidly placed “quick menu” on the CTRL key, which I constantly pressed for crouch. If you press this, then C or X in a panic during combat, you’re basically dead, because navigating out of the full screen menu requires you to click “Exit Menu” since Esc apparently wasn’t a viable option.
There are few redeeming factors in Defiance
I’ll be completely honest, it feels as though SyFy are at the reigns of the Defiance franchise. They control the lore, they control the story, and they control the direction. It feels as though Trion have been licensed merely to reference the show, but that hasn’t worked very well because right now no one has seen it, and no one has the slightest idea what the hell is going on. It’s a bit like releasing Star Wars Kinect before any of the Star Wars movies came out. Who the hell are these people, and why does everything look so terrible?
Defiance might need a little more time, but since there are so many fundamentally poor aspects of game-play, it’s not as though story development is going to help in that department. The quest dynamic has been set, and it is tedious and lazy. The visuals are poor, and Trion have made no effort to extend their ambition on PC. The soundtrack is god-awful (that in-combat “club” music that loops endlessly literally had me scratching my head).
Absolutely no one will bother with multiplayer in its current state
In the end, I didn’t feel like I was playing a game, I felt like I was playing a product designed to market a TV show. At best, Defiance feels like a game designed to reel you in with familiar game-play, settings, and tone, hopefully coaxing some cash out of your pocket for a bolt-on you probably never even wanted. I can see why a lot of people would claim that Defiance is “fun.” It is a very playable game. Problems arise, however, when you realise that it has been designed to hook you with a concept, and have you sit there aimlessly grinding away with the bare-bones of depth. It is an MMO with absolutely no skill, social, or story reward. Because of this, I can’t help but feel as though the whole thing is one big DLC sponge.
That said, Defiance is going to evolve, and we are incredibly interested in how the game and TV show supplement each-other, so we’ll be back for more. As it stands, Defiance needs its televisual partner before we begin to really sink our teeth into it. SyFy could have helped out reception of the game through allowing the title to expose more of the lore, but because they’re clearly showing how in control they are, Defiance currently feels like an expansive albeit cheap third person shooter, with bare-bones third person shooter mechanics, that basically servers as a marketing campaign for the main event: the show. Iterative weapon customization and time-trials aren’t distraction enough from the fact that Defiance - whilst great on paper – is fundamentally mediocre in execution, which is why it gets an even score.