Massive multiplayer games have had a rough history when it comes to being science fiction based. It is as if they are always grasping for the straws of what is left over from the fantasy crowd. We’ve seen Anarchy Online come about and build a massive fan base for its time, but bleed out almost entirely, even after going free to play. Star Wars: The Old Republic was much the same – a concept that drew in millions, failed to hold them because of a lack of content. So is there ever going to be a sliver of hope for a science fiction MMO? Trion Worlds is trying to test that theory with Defiance.
Defiance is the newest online game from the studio that has brought us Rift, End of Nations, and Warface. In a very unique manner, Trion Worlds has allied with the Syfy Channel in order to create a dual wave of attack for your multimedia attention. Defiance is actually a game that ties in with a TV show that is currently airing its first season on the channel Mondays at 9:00 PM. It’s an interesting pairing when you get right down to it. The game launched two weeks prior to the television show, acting as a kick off point to get fans interested in the world. As a neat little kicker, the main characters of the series actually appear as NPCs you can interact (or at least share some quips) with throughout different parts of your character’s journey. As time goes on, Defiance connects deeper with the TV show. Even recently, a character from the show that was being shipped to prison has become a character you can interact with. Defiance does its best to draw you deep into the story. In all honestly, you get the most out of it by playing the game and watching the show.
Stealing a page from Guild Wars, Defiance is also a game that is free to play once you make the initial purchase. No monthly fees are needed. You can supplement your cash flow by buying currency or hasten your experience or faction gains by purchasing bonuses. Most things can be bought with in-game resources and scrip (the currency of the land) as well. Certain vehicles, outfits, and titles are only available in the marketplace. Thankfully, most of the limitations are only cosmetic. Defiance isn’t another pay-to-win game.
Now, I’ve been a fan of Trion Worlds for some time. Rift was a game that I absolutely loved and was a champion for, for some time. So, please forgive me if I draw some parallels between Defiance and their first major MMO accomplishment for a moment. When you scratch the surface of Defiance, you can’t help but notice that it looks like there is something resembling Rift underneath. The combat feels much the same. The quests are definitely alike. Spontaneous events even happen like they do in Rift. It is almost as if a new science fiction skin was applied over its fantasy sheen. If it weren’t for the character interactions, the fewer choices in character races, and the nonexistence of classes, one might not even be able to tell the difference if you glance over the science fiction portion.
There are a few aspects of Defiance that really get me scratching my head. Perhaps the most glaring issue has to be with character creation. It is as if variety just wasn’t important. Only two races, Humans and Irathients, are available to play. This is a little odd, considering there are several races that belong under the classification of being Votans. It is even odder when you consider that most of them have been seen in the television series. Perhaps this is a play for in-game purchase in the future or something that will be planned for DLC. It wouldn’t be unheard of, especially when you consider that a season pass was announced. On that note, picking between the four “classes” serves no purpose at this time. Scuttlebutt on the Internet is that they will later play into your character’s story. However, at this time all they offer is a different costume.
But where Defiance leaves a little to be desired in the character department, it gets three things right in a big way. The game clocks in as both minimal and simple to play, but also makes a note to keep a focus on the details. For instance, from a distance it doesn’t look like the different uniforms and animations have much of anything to them. Looking closer, you can begin to see the words in a glowing sheriff’s badge, the puckering from a quick stitch job, or even the weapon loading animations of their futuristic weapons built on current day designs. Defiance’s user interface is also extremely minimal. Looking at the HUD, you have all the important things you would need – health, ammo, weapon, and a mini-map. The chat box is transparent. Only one quest item pops up at a time. Even achievements are confined to a small pop-up when they happen. Different loadouts that can be changed on the fly also keep you in the action. Admittedly, trying to sell off gear that is equipped in one you aren’t using can be a tad annoying though.
Defiance is quick to hop into and out of, as it doesn’t leave you messing with a bunch of different quests, inventory battling, or pointless wandering. Perhaps one of the best things Defiance could have done to attract a casual gamer was give them one quest to focus on at a time. Rather than creating a list of quests to try to plan your route around to initiate a quest, all you need to do is go to a corresponding quest point on the map and interact with a person or object. All available quests are shown on the map, with the ability to select a waypoint in order to travel right to it. Missing as well are the flight paths between major quest hubs. Instead, once you find one, you only need to double click on it to return using fast travel. Smaller sub activities like racing and horde-style high score contests dot the landscape as well. This isn’t including the random Arkfall events that collect players in a zone on the map with one purpose: destroy everything to scrip and glory.
For as many randomized gatherings that take place in Defiance, it definitely lacks a sense of social cohesion that is experienced in many MMOs. During the time the review took place, I cannot recall more than two direct things said to me, nor do players really go out of their way to interact with one another. Many times in instances I’ve died only to be left there because everyone else moved away or was only worried about themselves. Healers are few and far between outside of the Arkfalls, but this might be due in part to the weapon required for healing being misunderstood. Going back to the minimal chat box, it is quickly noticed that it fades quickly and isn’t utilized more than to announce the shifting of your spawn point.
If you were concerned about instanced zones, there is no need to worry. Defiance has different co-op levels, both PVE and PVP, for whatever suits your needs. PVE instances are extremely quick to queue, as they are scaled by the EGO rankings (levels) of the players in the groups. As you level, more of these areas are unlocked and take at least 20 minutes to complete. The other side of instances, PVP, seems to be a little neglected in Defiance - not as a fault in the developers, but just an overall lack of interest in it. Perhaps it is in my point of view, but the PVE aspect of the game so overshadows the PVP that I find it hard to want to do any player-killing when I log in.
Skills are handled in an interesting way as well. Players are equipped with EGO, an interactive system that is attached to the brain. This handles navigation, story progression through interaction with its hologram representation, and even some humor. In Defiance, rather than select a typical tech tree, alternate advancement points, or talent trees, you select a primary ability and built upon it with skills around the same square area. Skills such as invisibility or weapon damage enhancement are used as starting points to make your Ark hunter a badass. While you will have to put points into some dump skills to get to some other further away from your primary skill, Defiance doesn’t limit you to only one thing. It is all a matter of how much you are willing to grind out experience.
Bringing back the leveling of weapon skills is something that I welcomed as well. As you use different weapons, you rank up, leading to bonuses with those weapon types. Critical chances, damage, and other statistics can go up as you grow in rank. Defiance also allows you to level the weapons themselves as they kill mobs or heal players. Once the experience bar is filled, a new bonus stat is unlocked for that weapon only. The down side is that once you fill the bar of that weapon, you no longer can gain experience towards the rank of that weapon type. When a gun is maxed, it is just better to move on to the next one is you run across.
The gaming market has been craving a game that ties in across different media for some time. Defiance takes that approach of viewers being able to be absorbed in the world of a pretty good science fiction television show created by Rockne S. O’Bannon (creator of Farscape). By making Defiance a simple and fun game that anyone can jump into, the appeal should be there for all sorts of gamers. However, science fiction continues to be a hard sell for video games, especially MMOs. Should that worry you about Defiance? Not really. It’ll just mean that the weak social aspect of the game will only grow worse over time. Fortunately, Trion Worlds is behind the project, which means they will do their damndest to listen to their user base and improve the experience. So Ark Hunter, strap into your roller and speed towards the next falling star.
Game provided by Trion Worlds for review.