News, Views, and Reviews
Several months ago, when I first heard of the game and TV show Defiance, I thought it was a neat idea. I like science fiction and I like video games, especially MMOs. With any news of such an ambitious project, I try to remain cautiously optimistic. There are so many ways that either the show, the game, or both, could fail terribly. Leading up to the game’s release, and having a chance to participate in several of the beta-weekend events, my optimism grew and my feelings of caution shrank. Pleased with my gaming experience, I pre-ordered the special collector’s edition of the game, and weeks later, that’s a decision I do not regret.
One down, one to go; how would the show fare? The day the game launched, the SyFy Network put up a 15 minute teaser of the Pilot episode. I watched it, enjoyed it, and tried to remain cautiously optimistic. Two weeks later, and nearly 100 hours of game play behind me, I finally got to watch the full episode.
Yet another week of game play has past, and I’ve watched the second episode, so it’s time for a more informed review of both. For both the TV show and the game, my cautionary feelings have all but subsided, my optimism is still high, and it has exceeded my expectations. There’s still a measure of unmet potential, and perhaps a chance for one or both to fail terribly, but so far, I couldn’t be happier.
One of my earlier criticisms of the game – which was unfortunately echoed across some fairly unfair reviews in the media – is that it seems pretty shallow. At first. Having played Defiance for over three weeks now, I can look back and see how many made that mistake; the depth and complexity is not readily apparent. The gradual escalation of enemy types and AI, weapons, EGO powers, etc. is almost TOO gradual. I even remarked in my review that character creation didn’t offer a lot of options. I didn’t realize how addicting it would be to chase down challenges and complete “pursuits” and unlock special outfits. Yes, these outfits don’t do anything other than give you bragging rights, but that’s awesome! I commented that the real choices came later, as you customized your EGO powers and their accompanying perks. My character’s EGO level is now over 800 and I can really appreciate the depth of that EGO grid. I have four loadouts now, that I can switch even in combat, and I’ve spent a lot of time customizing each one. One loadout is about speed, melee, and shotguns: I’ve equipped the “Blur” power and some perks that increase it’s duration, give me an extra speed boost when I take damage, and regenerate my shields for every melee kill. Another loadout is all about big guns and explosions: using the “Overcharge” power and perks that cause more damage for additional enemies in explosions, recharge my grenade faster per kill, and provide extra health and shield regeneration. Just because I can, I’ve given the “Blur” loadout a “raider” type outfit, and the “Overcharge” loadout has a heavy armor outfit.
These choices may seem cosmetic, but I really appreciate that. I keep saying it, but this is a shooting game, which should emphasize player skill over forcing players to “grind” for superior weapons. There is a range of weapons and loot to worry about, but the best way to increase your damage with a certain weapon type is to USE it, and level up those appropriate skills. When I queue up for a Team Death Match, I have confidence that I will win or lose based on my skills, and not some arbitrary high “level” or “weapon gear score.” It’s the same for the special “co-op missions” that can also be joined from a queue menu. Sure, higher EGO players will have more perks equipped, and possibly higher powered weapons and shields, but so far, I’ve yet to feel unmatched because of them.
Further, I appreciate the open world and the ability to help other players in their quests or be helped in mine. Just by random luck. There is no “share quest” option, but there doesn’t need to be one. You don’t even have to join a party to benefit from other players. Defiance reminds me so much of Guild Wars 2 (my current favorite MMO) in these aspects. I’m perfectly capable of logging in and just GOING somewhere to find something to do. I can pursue a story mission, side mission, or any of the rampage or race challenges.
However, the real appeal of Defiance is the world it shares with the TV show, and that is represented in some very good story missions. Again, they may seem shallow at first, but the tension has slowly escalated, and the characters have really grown on me. My adventures began as a random Ark Hunter crash landing in the San Francisco Bay area, but now I have a dire need to acquire some dangerous Arkfall technology before someone uses it to cause untold devastation. Real sci-fi-meets-western-frontier-hero stuff.
Clearly, the Pilot episode had a lot of ground to cover: it had to introduce the main characters and the setting, bring viewers up to speed on the history of the Votans and the Pale Wars, and establish the city of Defiance and its inhabitants. Some of those characterizations seemed two-dimensional, and some of the dialogue felt forced. There’s only so many ways you can cleverly hide important exposition like “this town is occupied by several alien types that don’t get a long with each other” without it feeling forced. Still, the main character was very capable of carrying the show, and the seeds were sown for further plot and character development.
The second episode really capitalizes on all of those seeds. Now that the audience is familiar with the setting, we can sit back and find out what the characters are up to. If the rest of the show can match this second episode, I think it will have nothing to worry about. At least this episode seemed very focused on one central theme: how important is the past? Cultures clash as the Castithans (the white skinned and haired aliens) stubbornly perform some seemingly barbaric customs. A father has to choose between honoring the death of his son or providing for his living children. A Castithan noble chooses to maintain his society’s caste system, even though he used to belong to the lowest caste. Even Irisa, the youngest of the cast (as far as we can tell), has to choose between settling in a dump like Defiance or pursuing her dreams of something better. These tough choices brilliantly compliment the setting of the show. How important is the past? Should people cling to their heritage, even at the risk of a better future?
In addition to these heady topics, we also get some answers to those “hooks” left from the first episode, even though those answers bring up more questions. Clearly, Defiance is using a serialized story format, with the beginning of the second episode tying directly to the end of the Pilot episode. To uncover more mysteries, tune in next week!
Defiance (the TV show) airs at 9/8C on the SyFy network. Episodes can also be viewed on SyFy.com. It is rated “TV14″ for DLSV.