News, Views, and Reviews
Crudely but effectively, my ATV hobbles over the rubble that looks like it used to be a paved road. I’m headed for a mission objective, clearly marked on my mini-map, but something is happening up ahead. As I get closer, I can see some soldiers are pinned down by heavily armed mutants. For a moment, I think I have better things to do, but their cries for help can’t be ignored. I change direction and head directly towards the fray. Without even slowing down, I roll off my ATV and hit the ground firing. One by one, I pick off the mutants, and the relieved soldiers thank me as I collect my loot. Before I get back on my ATV, I check the area map and realize there is another mission between me and my original destination. I set a way-point on the map, but I also happen to notice an “Arkfall” event is about to happen nearby.
I drive as quickly as I can, but when I get there, a few other “Ark Hunters” have already arrived and are fighting alien spider-like creatures. I join the fight, taking down giant flying aliens and blasting apart waves of “Hellbugs” bursting out of the ground. Suddenly, a massive creature emerges, nearly four stories high, spraying toxic venom at us. A few more Ark Hunters have joined the conflict, and it looks like we’ll need more. I quickly type “Arkfall boss, need back-up” in local chat while trying to dodge enemy attacks. Soon, the entire area is filled with Ark Hunters and Hellbugs. As the smaller creatures explode from gunfire, I try to collect the loot dropped to the ground while strafing around the giant boss. I notice one of the flying aliens is attacking another player, who seems too focused on the boss to fight back. I empty a clip into the tougher creature, and it falls apart in front of me. But I was distracted for too long, and a wayward toxic blast knocks me to my knees. Before I can cry for help, the other player revives me, and we both resume blasting at the boss. Finally, the giant bug explodes, and rains loot everywhere. A few of us stick around to mop up the remaining aliens, collect our loot, and drive off in different directions. It’s just another day in Defiance.
The premise sounds promising: in the future, several alien species have come to Earth, and some were more hostile than others. Now, in the year 2046, Earth has been terraformed beyond recognition, and an uneasy treaty has settled 30 years of conflict. But the combined inhabitants of Earth will have to put aside their differences and work together if they want to survive an even graver alien threat. From the defiance.com website: Valuable alien minerals and technology scattered by the orbital destruction of the Votan planetary arks now encircles the earth in the Ark Belt. This debris occasionally rains down in dangerous events called arkfalls. Ark Hunters must fight off other competition both human and alien if they wish to claim the rare minerals and Arktech from the heart of an arkfall for their own.
MMO developers Trion Worlds describe their game as a “Massive Co-Op” experience, but it’s essentially a third-person-shooter-MMO. Hundreds of players will play online, and can either play by themselves or spontaneously co-operate with others. Even normal mission objectives can be cleared with or without help. There is a sense of competitiveness, though, as players or “Ark Hunters” rush to pick up loot dropped by enemies. For those interested in true player competition, or PvP, Hunters can pick up “contracts” and join the “Shadow War” and participate in Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch skirmishes. The amount of things to do in Defiance may seem overwhelming, but it’s all about creating choices in an interactive environment. There are static, story-driven quests to complete, but as you drive through the overgrown and beautifully rendered landscape, you’ll find optional events to participate in. The experience feels more organic this way, and removes some of the mundane “fetch quest” nature of other MMOs. At its core, Defiance is an action game. The mechanics are a natural fit for a console controller, so Xbox and PS3 gamers should feel right at home. PC gamers can use either KB/M or controllers.
The sci-fi setting and third-person shooting action set it apart from other MMOs, but Defiance is remarkable for other reasons. On April 2nd, Defiance will ship for PC, PS3, and Xbox 360. So far, only the PS3 has had any success with this genre typically dominated by PCs. Several titles have been developed for both Xbox and PC, but the Xbox versions were never released. So, this will be the first MMO to appear on the Xbox 360. On April 15th, Defiance will also premier as a television show on the SyFy network. Events in the game will reflect events on the show, and vice versa. To my knowledge, this has NEVER been done; simultaneously promoting a video game AND a TV show, Defiance is charting a new path.
Today begins the third beta weekend I’ve participated in, and so far, I’m really excited about Defiance. The controls and graphics are impressive, and the range of activities should keep players busy. In addition to missions and side quests, PvP, and the Arkfall events, players can find mini-challenges scattered around. A timer will start, for example, and you’ll try to kill as many mutants as possible, and then see how your score matches with other players. My main concerns at the moment deal with variety, both with player creation/customization and enemies/events. It seems players have only a few choices to begin with, Male or Female, Human or Irathient, and four variations of starting outfits and weapons: “Veterans” start with an assault rifle, “Survivors” start with a sniper rifle, “Outlaws” start with a shotgun, and the “Engineer” starts with a light-machine gun. Any of these outfits can be purchased later, and all of the weapons can be found or purchased. So, really, you’re just picking how you appear in the first hour or so of gameplay. Real customization comes later, in the form of spending points on your “EGO” or Environmental Guardian Online system. The EGO is an alien AI program fused to your DNA. This gives players environmental awareness, such as mission tracking and enemy encounters, as well as special combat abilities. Choosing which abilities to unlock and upgrade make up the bulk of character customization in Defiance, although there is some weapon upgrading and modification as well. I would like to see more than just different hair colors to differentiate players, but maybe more options become available at later levels. Their website does mention a few more aliens, friendly and hostile, that I’ve yet to encounter, so hopefully there is more variety to come.
Defiance will not have a subscription fee, but they are planning to release purchasable DLC expansions. The developers recently commented that these expansions will include enough free content so friends can still play with each other. Maybe the expansions will have more mission content, free, for everyone, but those that pay extra will have new options for customization. Until then, I’ll be driving my little ATV around the countryside, looking for people to help and enemies to loot.