Reviews May 9, 2013

Defiance

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Reviewed By: Kenneth Seward Jr.
System: PC (Also on Xbox 360, PS3)
Genre: Third-Person Shooter/MMORPG
Rated: M
Players: 1 (Massive Online)
Cost: $59.99
Release Date: 04/02/2013
Publisher: Trion Worlds
Developer: Trion Worlds

Trion Worlds is one of the few video game companies to successfully bring out a subscription based MMORPG in recent years. Most of the other competitors (besides mainstays like WOW and EVE Online) were forced to take on a Free-to-Play model; though Trion’s Rift title is free to play till level twenty, it is still very much a subscription based game. They were able to take some old staples and blend them with new mechanics, creating something that felt fresh. Basically, they have a grasp on what it takes to make a MMO, a good MMO. This is one reason why I was so excited when I heard about their latest title, Defiance!

The other reason I was so excited was that Defiance would share its fictional  world with a live action TV show of the same name; Syfy would be producing the show while Trion Worlds tackled the game. Early press releases promised that both the show’s narrative and the game’s storyline would directly influence one another. Conceptually this was a big thing! Two forms of entertainment that can live separately from each other and at the same time, cohesively impact a shared overarching story? I’m not talking about a movie getting a licensed game. That’s an example that represents different media sharing a story but told at different times. Defiance’s story, both in-game and in the show, would evolve naturally, side by side. If done right, this could be the biggest advancement in gaming since…anything!

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The collective story is set in the near future. Aliens known as the Votans (a group made up of multiple alien races) came to Earth after their home worlds were destroyed. After making contact with humans, a series of negotiations took place on the terms of housing the visitors. Of course, things went awry, mainly due to a Voltan ambassador being assassinated, and a full scale war broke out. Known as the Pale Wars, the fighting went on until the Arkfall event; the Ark fleet (the alien’s fleet of ships) suddenly exploded, killing the Votans that had yet to make it down to Earth. Pieces of the fleet fell to Earth and changed the landscape using malfunctioning terraforming technology. The planet quickly turned into a hostile place for humans and Voltans. Before long, groups on both sides realized that they needed to work together in order to survive on this “new” planet despite the fact that their governing bodies wanted the war to continue. That’s when these groups defied their governments and fought back. After the fighting stopped, the remaining humans and Voltans declared a ceasefire. Defiance takes place years after that conflict.  

From this point forward, the TV show and game venture out own their own narratives. Before I get into how the show and game correlate, let’s talk about the gameplay. At the beginning of the game you are given the choice of being one of two races, a human and an Irathient (one of the Voltan races). From there you’ll decide on the sex, physical appearance and origin of your Ark Hunter. Unlike most MMO’s, your species and origin don’t limit who or what you can be class wise; they are there to give your character more depth and a sense of place or history. After a brief tutorial, you are free to pick your starting skills and grab a few weapons before jumping back into the story. Once out of the tutorial area, gamers will find themselves in what was once San Francisco. The environment has been altered, creating a familiar yet alien landscape. There are towns, military outposts, old mines and much more encompassed  in the ruins of the old city, strange growths, and other foreign land masses. The whole thing gives off an old western vibe…but you know, in the future.  This new San Fran is where the real game starts as gamers are sent off to their first mission icon.

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Though it has some of the trappings found in normal MMORPGs, Defiance is more focused on action based gameplay. Players can run, dodge, and shoot all in real time (no need to memorize a hotkey rotation). The result, for the most part, is a very engaging shooter. What’s interesting to note though, is that this game plays like a third-person, MMO-styled Borderlands. That’s not to say that Trion stole anything; it’s more like an evolution of new game staples. The sense of Déjà vu aside, Defiance is its own game with its own identity.  

Defiance does set itself apart from other games when it comes to the lethality of its weapons. When it comes to taking and giving damage in a game like this, it’s expected that there is a swapping of numbers; this gun can cause such and such amount of damage based on what it is shooting at and its number of hit points. For the most part, even if you have a weapon with better “stats” than your enemy, its destructive capabilities come down to a roll of the dice. Defiance has this system in place, but it is much more lenient than in other titles (even Borderlands). Getting hit with a shotgun up close will cause most enemies to violently fly backwards…as if they got hit with a shotgun from close range. Of course, not all enemies are susceptible to this type of thing; stronger foes can take hundreds of head-shots before biting the dust.  On the other hand, it feels good have a sense of realism alongside the RPG elements!

Speaking of weapons, Defiance has a ton of them. Most of which are guns that gamers should be pretty familiar with. The game features sniper rifles, shotguns, light machine guns, rocket launchers, grenade launchers, and an assortment of alien weaponry to name a few. Each has a list of comparable stats to determine how useful they are. How quickly you can reload, the fire rate, minimal and maximum damage output, element effects (like shooting poison tipped bullets) are just some of the things to look out for. Going further, some weapons can be enhanced via mods. A gun’s accuracy can be improved with the right tools for instance.

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Outside of the more mundane armaments are some more unique options. Some of which are one-use-only type deals, like a gauntlet that shields the player while dishing out pain via earthshaking punches or a large mini-gun with a virtual targeting system. Others are interesting guns that can change up the flow of battle with their unorthodox way of dealing damge. One of the most unique weapons I had the pleasure of using (not just in Defiance but in any game) is the Injector. After hitting an enemy with five successive shots, large growths will appear on their body. These growths house these parasites that burst from their flesh causing significant damage. If that wasn’t enough, the parasites will then attack their host and any other nearby enemies. It’s a cool weapon that is quite brutal in design; it even freaks me out when I use it sometimes.

The damage-dealing capability of your character is not dependent on weapons alone, there are also the Environmental Guardian Online (EGO) abilities. There are four active ones: Blur, Cloak, Decoy, and Overcharge. Blur allows you to run at very high speeds, so fast that your melee attacks do more damage when you run up on an opponent than by striking at a walking pace. Cloak makes you invisible for a limited amount of time  or till you attack. What’s cool is that once activated, it will automatically re-cloak after an attack if there is still time left on the ability; you can shoot and disappear before anyone knows what happened. Decoy sends out a fake version of you for enemies to target. Hitting the action button again will cause you to teleport to where the decoy was positioned. Overcharged increases the damage of the active weapons you carry  and at higher levels can instantly reload your guns.

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There are passive abilities too. Placed on a grid next to the active abilities they are linked with, they can be upgraded independently of the others. For instance, one passive ability provides more critical damage if you are standing still, which works well with the cloak ability (or a sniper rifle if you have one). All and all, Defiance has a decent amount of defensive and offensive options to set gamers apart from one another. Though you won’t find specific roles to take on or a vast array of skills and perks like in other MMO’s, what’s offered here isn’t too shabby.

When it comes to the action elements, on the base level, Defiance is really fun. Being an RPG though, there is a lot more to it than just shooting things. Getting back to the story now, a big part of the game’s appeal comes from the idea of the shared narrative. Like I said before, the ability to impact the show through events in the game and vice versa is an awesome bullet point to have on the back of the box. It would seem as if Trion Worlds was taking a big risk when you think about it. A person dying on the show would no longer be available for the game. If a landmark gets destroyed in game, then the cast on the show would be able to reflect on that event. Things would always be changing…at least that’s what I thought. Unfortunately, after playing through the entire story arc I found that there isn’t much of a relationship between the two forms of media. Besides one early mission (and a brief cutscene) we don’t see any of the characters from the show. Everything happens in a bubble even though they share the same universe. As for the game impacting the show, it just started so I don’t see that happening for a while (maybe during the season finale). But the game could have had more of a connection as that was what was being pushed before launch!  

The lack of a true connection and impact between the story of the show and of the game diminished my excitement for it. It didn’t help  that the main campaign was boring either. All of the quests basically add up to the same things repeated over and over. Your options are to cover an NPC while they fix something, rescue kidnapped NPCs, clear out a group of enemies, or activate/shutdown a computer terminal or defense system of some sort. Sprinkle in a couple of boss fights (some that are actually entertaining) and that’s it; protect, rescue, clear, activate or deactivate. Even some of the locations are repeated; every dungeon-like interior had roughly the same layout. It took so long for something truly interesting to happen and when it did, the story was over. Well, over till the inevitable expansion is released. 

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Side missions feature the usual “kill this many enemies” or “collect this many things” options...which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It doesn’t greatly improve he lackluster campaign though. The good news is that the world is littered with stuff to do; pulling up the map will quickly illustrate this fact via the different glowing icons. Besides the main and side quests, the map pinpoints the locations of challenges, events, and points of interest. There are even co-op missions that you can cue up (like instances in other MMOs) that offer a good time for four players. The challenges do allow for more variety, ranging from vehicle races to Horde mode=like in encounters, in which you will be forced to defend yourself using a particular weapon. Doing well in a challenge will net you more experience points and a possible position on the corresponding leaderboard.  Events, namely Arkfalls, help shake things up as well. Similar to Trion Worlds’ other title Rift, Arkfalls are dynamic events that happen randomly. An Ark will fall from orbit and land somewhere on the map. Once it lands, gamers will have a limited amount of time to harvest whatever goodies the Ark may have brought with it.

Some Arkfalls attract waves of enemies who would like to claim the ark for themselves. They’ll need to be dispatched before you can snatch up any of the tech held inside. Sometime multiple arks will fall in a given area. When this happens it’s possible to attract some of the larger than life boss creatures, requiring a decent amount of players to take down. Anyone who wants to take on the creature can do so by driving over to the area and joining in. These events are cool cooperative experiences that aren’t scripted like the rest of the game. My only issue here is that, like many of the main story elements, they tend to repeat themselves. Granted, the game hasn’t been out that long and I’m sure there will be more variations of Arkfalls that’ll be patched in later.

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There really is just too much to talk about with this game. I haven’t even mentioned the PvP options, though that’s mainly because I didn’t enjoy them. There are different match types that you can jump into, ranging from team deathmatch to a conquest-type mode called Shadow War. Most of them feature the same type of competitive gameplay seen in most of today’s shooters.  The prizes you can get from playing Shadow War are great but overall, it’s nothing special. I feel that the competitive stuff takes away from what makes Defiance a fun game; the cooperative action based third person gameplay is much more of a rewarding experience. When you are playing competitively, there are no interesting creatures to fight or crazy NPCs to interact with. It’s just random gamers fighting each other.   

Graphically, Defiance looks great. Though the world is vast, having the visuals turned up doesn’t slow down the action at all. My only gripe here is that the characters mouths don’t sync well with their words during cutscenes. That said, the fact that the story is told via cutscenes and not giant dialog boxes is pretty great in and of itself. The sound department faired a little better; I really enjoyed the loud blasts and deep “booms” coming from gun fire and explosions. Also the voice acting was done well; I like how the cast wove in alien phrases every now and then. In terms of music, aside from being a little repetitive, the sound track was good as well.

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Defiance is a good game. My expectations were high so it understandable if I’m a little disappointed with the end product; Trion played it much safer than I’d hoped. That said, this is a MMO; updates and expansions are bound to make it an even more enjoyable experience. Does it have longevity? Well, it’s been a month and people are still playing…just not for the story!

Gameplay: 7
Defiance is a fun shooter. I wish it had better core story and less repetitive missions though.   

Graphics: 9
Most of everything looks great. There is some clipping here and there but nothing worth really mentioning.  

Sound: 8
The voice and music should be well received!    

What’s New: 10
The idea of a game and TV show contributing to one story is huge. So far though, it hasn’t been implemented enough to warrant much excitement.  

Replay Value: 7
Repetition can kill a game if what you are doing isn’t fun. And while some could argue that the act of shooting things will always be fun at some level, it doesn’t take away the feeling of “been there, done that”. Defiance will need updates to keep gamers coming back.

Final Score:

8.2