I really admire the concept of Defiance. An MMO based on a television show that has an interlinking storyline where the show can impact the game and vice versa. Take that concept and set it against a futuristic setting where a war-torn and terraformed Earth is now home to seven other alien races with continuing alien attacks and you have the general idea of what you are getting into with Defiance.
Unfortunately from the get go, the game fails to deliver on its potential.
Through a couple of cutscenes you are poorly explained the game’s narrative as you take on the role of an Ark Hunter. Players are hired by Karl Von Bach, a CEO of a large technological company, to travel the Bay Area to find alien technology that has been left undiscovered or fallen into the wrong hands.
Searching Google can enlighten players further into the overall universe and backstory of the game and/or show if you wish to learn more about the world in which you are exploring. The name Defiance stems from the original war where Earth was terraformed as well as the small town that the TV show is based in; a location not explored or placed on the games map. The two forms of media, game and show, are already now only loosely tied together, being set in the same universe but in different locations and with different storylines and central characters.
The best starting point would be to talk about progression within the game and how you can level your character. This is a MMO after all, so levelling and grinding is to be expected. The main level system is based around your EGO rating. As you finish perks, missions or level you weapons you gain EGO points which can be spent on your abilities (let’s discuss them for a minute). As you progress and continue to increase your EGO rating you open up additional perk slots for your character as well as matchmaking content. Many are currently using the EGO rating as a players level which is crazy to think when the maximum unlockable perk slot currently announced is for an EGO rating of four thousand.
As you level you are awarded with EGO points which let you unlock and equip new abilities / perks to your character. The grid is massive and you can unlock certain abilities without equipping them if you want to find something that is not necessarily linked to your ‘main’ or ‘starting’ EGO power.
At the start of the game you are given a quick tutorial that lets you have a taste of each ability in action. These four abilities are: Overcharge (which increase weapon damage), Decoy (which sends a mirror image of you), Blur (a power that increases your movement speed), or Cloak (which makes you invisible). It is worth noting that all of these powers have a cooldown and most can be upgraded to a maximum of three times to increase their effect or active length.
As you have a wide array of skills to choose from with EGO point system and multiple paths you can take, there is no strict class system that many would expect from a MMO. Instead it lets the player choose the direction of their character and the customisation of how they want to play. There are four preset loadouts, such as Veteran (focused on LMG), Survivalist (Sniper), Outlaw (Shotgun and short range) or Machinist (HMG) but these classes only alter your outfit and starting weapon, both of which can be changed out almost instantly.
The basic mechanics of the game is that there are a variety of tasks a player can participate in; main missions (exploring the continued work you do for Von Bach and the storyline of your role as an Ark Hunter), Episode Missions (that tie into the TV series, which have currently been a prequel where you are introduced to the show’s protagonists), side missions (to earn some extra currency), Arkfalls (large dynamic events which give more uncommon loot), and Challenges which involve mini quests, such as vehicle time trials or small raids.
All of these are great but there is actually little variety in the tasks you undertake. I wasn’t really expecting the game to be revolutionary, but the only difference between a side mission and main mission is an occasional cutscene (and sometimes not even that). When the story has been poorly conceived, delivered and doesn’t have strong ties to the TV show that you are wanting to become invested in, this is a little bit problematic.
Despite being an MMO, the game plays as a third person shooter and the controls here work well. You have the usual default setup of left trigger aim, right trigger shoot, with a crouch, jump and run button to keep you in and out of combat as you wish, but the cover system is not great. Players are rarely able to hide and shoot from behind blocks as shots do not reach or are obstructed, finding that to effectively take down an enemy you have to walk into their field of vision and the path of bullets they are hammering your way.
The other thing about the controls that is worth mentioning is the jumping, which to me feels very light. When a player jumps, I can only liken it to being thrown into slow motion as it feels you are suspended in air for an age, as though you are stuck within a zero gravity space situation. Couple that with the fact you can jump from a massive cliff and take no fall damage, it really is something that withdraws a player from the game.
Talking about the controls and how they can be likened to an average third person shooter brings us nicely onto the graphics of Defiance. The animation in the cutscenes and the graphics overall in the game are good, but do not push the console or genre forward more than that. They are not groundbreaking and do not represent the tech capability some games have pushed the Xbox 360 to in recent years, but they are good enough to keep you believing in the characters. It is just a shame that with such vast potential on realising the world and the alien races within, that the graphics do not deliver on their potential. Part of me feels like I have to be somewhat forgiving on that though, as this is a game that has a multiplayer of up to 10,000+ according to the box, which is the only game within my large collection to have such an expansive multiplayer.
Moving on from the graphics, another noticeable improvement that could have been made to the environment would have been the sound. The voice acting is good but the environmental and background sounds do nothing to keep you involved or engrossed within the world. You have a little AI helper otherwise known as EGO (Environmental Guardian Online) who feels very much like a carbon copy of Halo’s Cortana. This character helps place things on the map or gives you back story on your mission but the sound and music is minimal and not noticeable. The worst thing is the semi dubstep that often kicks in when you go into a battle instance. Sounds good but falls slightly short in what I would want from the MMO experience.
When playing Defiance it actually feels a lot like Borderlands and the comparison of Ark Hunter and Vault Hunter is not lost on me. Neither is the Halo comparison with your EGO AI and Halo’s Cortana. Yet I cannot talk negatively about the game. Sure I had issues installing it and recently we had server outage due to a patch but the team are trying to update and improve the game which is only a good thing.
I find myself thinking about the game and wanting to play when I am not at my Xbox and I am enjoying exploring the world so it’s obviously doing something right. I just hope that now we have seen the first episode of the show (which in my opinion was a good start to a TV series) that this and the show continue and live up to their potential. This is a great starting block for what future MMO gaming and online gaming could be like on consoles and while some seasoned MMO players may be left wanting more, for me it’s enjoyable enough.