8 / 10 Banzai!s
From Trion Worlds, the recently founded American Developer which seems to specialize in MMOs, brings us Defiance, a sci-fi third person shooter MMORPG for the Playstation 3, Xbox 360, and PC. But this is more than just a game – it’s also a TV show!
Defiance takes place in a future San Francisco Bay Area, which has been both ravaged by war and terraformed by aliens. In back-story, a group of different alien races – collectively called Votans – came to Earth looking for a new home and began changing the environment to suit their tastes, unaware that the planet was populated with people. After having seen so many alien-invasion films, the humans took the Votan’s terraforming as a threat, and started a war. This went on for a number of years, until both humans and Votans decided to put their differences aside and give peace a chance.
Players have limited customization, though outfits can either be earned or purchased later in the game. Rather than classes, you select one of four special abilities to begin with, but gain the others as your character levels-up. Weapons and vehicles also level-up as you continue to use them.
Like most MMOs, the map of the San Francisco Bay Area is littered with quests to fulfill, time trials and races, merchants, and the occasional “Arkfall” in which pieces of an alien ship have fallen to Earth, allowing for a vast collection of XP and new weapons while fighting off creatures along side the gathered online players. In addition, both co-op campaigns and competitive arenas are available for your enjoyment.
What makes Defiance unique is that it’s fueled by a TV show by the same name. The program, airing originally on the Syfy channel, takes place in St. Louis during the same time as the game, and the two cross over each other. Characters in the show may leave St. Louis and wind up in San Francisco in the game, becoming a participant in a quest. Meanwhile, the top player will get to have their name mentioned as a real character in next season’s show.
What I Liked:
I have to admit, what first attracted me to the game was how it crossed-over with an ongoing TV show. Yes, it’s a gimmick. And yes, it’s pretty cool that they thought of it. There’s titles like Dragon Age and The Elder Scrolls which contain a lot of backstory that can add an extra layer of depth and interest to the game’s plot – that is, if you feel like picking the books off the shelf and reading them off your screen. But Defiance took that a step further, and instead just made a whole new sci-fi program. You get a better feel for the setting, the different alien races, the politics happening behind the curtain, just by sitting back and watching the show as it better orients you in the setting of the game. And if that’s not cool enough, the two stories – game and TV show – cross paths with one another.
I’ll give an example. I watched one episode in which a woman tried to destroy the town by using pheromones to attract alien-like creatures. She was caught, her plan foiled, but she escaped prisonment by leaving St. Louis. The next day, I loaded up the game and there she was in San Francisco, as a character in a quest. Now, I didn’t need to see the show in order to understand why she was here, but knowing her backstory simply made the quest all that more interesting. In a nutshell, the game and TV show fuel each other.
But like Tetris, it’s hard to be specific about what I like about this game, other than it’s addicting. It’s fun to run around and shoot stuff – which is the majority of the game. You can team up with other online players, or simply do things on your own. The Arkfalls, which are both randomly timed and randomly placed on your map, is a good spot to recruit people into your group and share in the XP. Or join a Shadow War – another random event – in which you help your team defeat enemy players.
Everything you do in the game somehow affects the improvement of your character. From driving around, to shooting mutants and raiders with different weapons, to killing certain types of enemies to fulfill your goals. The weapons and vehicles themselves level-up as well, which you can modify and enhance. There’s certainly a lot to do in this game, and while so far I’ve put in a good 60+ hours, I’m still not bored. Unlike, ahem, DC Universe Online.
The graphics are great for an MMORPG, and again – unlike DC Universe Online – the setting is richly coloured with strange terraformed landscapes, ravaged cities, farmlands, lakes, and military instillations – and all with warp-points on your map. In many ways, it feels a lot like playing an online version of Oblivion.
What I Didn’t Like:
Granted, it must be hard to keep things running smoothly when you’ve got hundreds of players all on one map. And for the most part, while I’m on my own, everything runs honkey-dory. But once you’re in the vicinity of other players, suddenly the map or your inventory takes a while to upload – and that’s a problem, considering there’s no pause button on an online game. Imagine both your weapons are out of ammo, so you hit start to bring up your inventory and change weapons, but you have to wait almost 20 seconds, and meanwhile you’re getting shot at. Yikes!
These bugs get worse as your screen fills with other online players. During an Arkfall, you might have about 20 or 30 people running around shooting enemies. Suddenly you can’t change your weapons. Holding the square button over an ammunition depo doesn’t work, and then there’s a horrible screeching coming through your speakers which never stops until the Arkfall is destroyed and all the action subsides.
As far as freezes, I’ve only had this happen once. Granted, I’ve played worse. Fallout: New Vegas and Terminator: Salvation, to name a few. But those weren’t Massive Multiplayers. So yes, I’ll give Defiance some leeway with its bugs. But running around with an empty pistol because you can’t change your weapons does tend to take the fun out of an Arkfall event.
Defiance is a fun online action-shooter with plenty to do and lots to improve your character on. It’s also a nice little pick-up-and-play game with quick loading time, allowing you to shoot a couple bad guys or complete a mini-quest before rushing off to work or school. Plus there’s a TV show to fuel the story of the game, with fun cross-overs. There’s hundreds of missions waiting to be completed, creatures and cyborgs waiting to be blown away, and online players to give you a hand. Yes, there are some bugs – but hopefully these will be patched in the near future.
And who knows? Maybe you’ll become the top player and wind-up appearing in Season Two of the Defiance TV show.