News, Views, and Reviews
If you loved playing Fallout 3, but wished you could play it with your friends, Defiance might be the game for you. If you loved playing Borderlands with your friends (or strangers) and wished you could play with hundreds of people, Defiance is definitely the game for you. Defiance takes place on Earth, after it has been terraformed and colonized by seven new alien species, so it uses a “realistic” graphic style, like Fallout. But there are alien creatures to fight, “powers” and tons of weapons to choose from, and off-road vehicles to cruise around in, so it’s like Borderlands. Defiance is also a little like Rift (also made by Trion Worlds) and Guild Wars 2 (made by Arena Net) in that players can spontaneously assist each other, with regular quests or during the massive group events that periodically occur, without worrying about being in a party. Make no mistake: Defiance is a third-person shooting game, so player skill (and a decent internet connection) is definitely required. It just happens to be a shooting game in a persistent world, shared with hundreds of other players, and shared with a SyFy Network TV show.
The premise is ambitious: 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. 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. Humans and aliens try to rebuild cities and create new lives for themselves. 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.
Players assume the role of an Ark Hunter, someone that ekes out a living by fighting hostile creatures and attempts to salvage the alien minerals and technology that occasionally fall from the sky. If you’re looking for a lot of role-playing options, prepare to be disappointed. 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. An “outfit” is everything from the neck down, and additional “headgear” can be equipped for more personalization. In the hours I’ve played, I’ve come across several new outfits from quests and merchants. These can be swapped quickly in the menu, and offer no stat bonuses. There are no benefits from choosing Human or Irathient, either.
Real customization comes 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. There are four EGO powers to choose from, and those choices more or less establish the four different “classes” in the game, for lack of a better word.
The four EGO powers are:
BLUR – increase movement speed. Upgrade options include gaining some invulnerability to damage or a boost to melee damage.
CLOAK – renders the player invisible as long as they aren’t attacking or being attacked. Upgrading cloak can boost shield regeneration.
DECOY – project a holographic image to fool enemies. Upgraded decoys sustain more damage or can even detonate.
OVERCHARGE – increase weapon damage. Higher ranks of overcharge can increase its duration by dealing damage.
Unlike a typical “spec tree” found in most MMOs, the EGO powers are all aligned on a grid. Each surrounding “perk” is unlocked simply by unlocking a perk adjacent to it. Players will initially have only the perks nearest the EGO power they chose available, but they can branch off and try to unlock the perks near one of the other EGO powers. These perks include things like increasing the duration of the EGO power, increasing melee damage, recharging shields or reloading weapons, leeching power from enemies, and so on. As players “level up” they unlock alternative loadouts, so they can have a set of weapons (and EGO perks) equipped in one loadout, and quickly swap to another loadout, even in combat.
As I’ve said, this is primarily a shooting game, so all that really matters is lots of weapons and lots of enemies. There are currently FOURTEEN different weapon types to choose from. One of the weapons called the “BMG” or “Bio-Magnetic Gun” can heal players, so those interested in playing a “healer” or “medic” class can use that – they just aren’t stuck in that role forever. In fact, between weapon and loadout swapping, players can quickly switch roles as the need arises. Currently, one of my loadouts is an assault rifle/sniper combo, with a lower powered shield that recharges quickly. My “back up” loadout has a BMG/rocket launcher combo, and a higher powered, slowly recharging shield, that’s more effective during the bigger “Arkfall” events. The more I appreciate this flexibility, the less I mourn for the lack of choices found in character creation.
Interestingly, Defiance doesn’t adhere to standard “leveling up” mechanics in other RPGs. As you play, and gather better equipment, you’re just given an over-all score that reflects you and your equipment’s capabilities. As this score rises, more story and side missions appear on the map, and more character customization options become available like custom loadouts or EGO “perk” slots. Right away, players are given an ATV that they can instantly summon, mount, and drive around. After some play time, faster ATVs and other vehicles become available for purchase. Personally, I’m driving around in a red Dodge Challenger, that was part of a pre-order promotion. The point is, players can quickly move about the map, completing story missions or finding side missions, or engaging in Arkfall events as they wish. There are optional challenges dotted across the map, like vehicle races or waves of enemies to defeat, to earn medals and even a place on the leaderboards. There is even the “Shadow War” or instanced PvP matchmaking, for those that want a team deathmatch experience. Matchmaking is also the portal for entering “co-op missions” which are essentially dungeons, played with a group, like in other MMOs. Most of the missions can be accepted and completed via the EGO system, which eliminates a lot of the back-and-forth nature of most MMOs. So far, there isn’t a lot of variety in these missions. Clear objective after objective, guarded by so many enemies, kill them, find the object(s), kill more enemies, complete. The story missions include “cut scenes” that flesh out that story, and sometimes even include a story NPC that tags along. These can be a little more inventive, with auto-turrets to shut down or other things to sabotage, and can also be more challenging. It’s usually a good idea, then, to complete some side missions or other activities between story missions.
Controls, Graphics, and Sound
I suppose I’ve devoted a lot of attention to the experience of playing the Defiance game without really focusing on the fundamentals of controls, graphics, and sound. Defiance is really, really good looking, as evidenced by these screen shots. I said it’s going for a more “realistic” approach to the graphics, as opposed to the cartoonish style of borderlands, or even the stylized appearance of Bioshock Infinite. But, it’s not all barren wastelands like in Fallout, rather, its combination of natural and alien overgrowth is quite striking. The advantage of “realism” is that it will match the presentation of the TV show. The disadvantage, as demonstrated by countless games gone before, is that “realism” doesn’t age well. I suppose that’s something Trion Worlds (the developer) will have to worry about, years from now. For now, Defiance looks fantastic. The player models are large and detailed, and even the terrain has nice textures, right down to the detailed rubble. The underbrush doesn’t move when you walk through it, but Defiance isn’t shooting for the graphic fidelity of something like Crysis 3. It’s more important for huge numbers of enemies and players to occupy the screen at once, with no lag, and in my experience, Defiance hits that goal. I can’t vouch for the PS3 or Xbox versions, and it’s important to note that PC performance will vary by machine. Traditional MMOs tend to scale well to lower end systems, and can more or less get away with it because of the nature of combat in those types of games. But Defiance is a shooting MMO, so if you’re system can’t handle it, it’s not going to be fun to play. At all. PC players can use KB/M or controllers, and I’m quite content with my controller.
Sound is a little mixed, as some of the themes are a little too repetitious and bombastic. Build to that climax, but don’t stay there! The sound effects are great, and the voice acting is competent, if a little generic. If anything, I haven’t focused on the fundamentals that much because they ARE good. Nothing to worry about, here. My main concern, after playing in three betas, is how repetitive or boring will this become? I suppose the answer to that is relative. I haven’t felt bored, yet, as the game seems to feature a steady progression of new places and new enemy types to encounter. Ultimately, and I’m going to keep saying this, Defiance is a shooting game. Players aren’t going to find a lot of mission variety. But, I’ve heard of players re-playing games like Borderlands two, three, or even four times. How many hours do players compete online in games like Halo or Call of Duty? That’s repetitive, but it’s still fun. Defiance is fun. There is no “single player” portion as it’s an MMO, although I’ve yet felt the need to party up with anyone. I imagine those that play with their friends will have a blast with Defiance. It’s a virtual, persistent world, populated with hundreds of players. It contains all those things I discussed in my Single VS Multi-Player blog: immersion, player freedom and control, great graphics and sound, infinite replay value, unpredictable challenges, customization, single player, and competitive and cooperative multi-player. With no subscription fee to worry about, Defiance is an MMO – and a shooting game – I can easily recommend.
Defiance is available, April 2nd, for PC, PS3, and Xbox 360. It is rated ‘M’ for Mature for: Blood, Drug Reference, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, and Violence.
Defiance (the TV show) premieres Monday, April 15th, at 9/8C on the SyFy network.