by Christopher Coke
reviewed on PC
Defiance is something of an anomaly in the MMO space. It is at once massively multiplayer, a third-person Shooter, and an Action-RPG in the vein of Borderlands. Its setting and story are also tied to a Syfy network television show that could markedly increase the game's depth. Defiance is also daring. As the first MMO to launch simultaneously on PC and consoles, it claims a first for the genre. In short, the game ventures into unproven yet well inspired territory. The question, then, is whether Defiance ever actually develops into something unique and worth returning to. The answer is yes but with some caveats.
You play the role of an Arkhunter: a souped up, AI-enabled treasure hunter. Your “goal” is to search out alien technology to help return the world to its former, pre-alien invasion state. Very little is explained as the game opens. All you know is that you are returning to Earth on a space freighter and are shot down. But from where and by who? You meet a scientist with an “Ark Core” and he explains that it will help him restore the planet, but how it will do so is left a mystery. When you crash land, the pieces start to come together, but ever so slowly.
As you progress through the game's story missions, the shroud begins to lift but it feels drip fed and late. The narrative in Defiance attempts to emulate the bread crumb model of television delivery, flush with mission-based cutscenes and full voice acting, but without background it feels hackneyed.
Not Your Average Shooter
On the surface, Defiance looks much like any other sci-fi shooter. Your travel by foot, ATV, or car, meeting soldiers and survivors in a terra-formed and nearly unrecognizable San Francisco Bay. You kill mutant soldiers and Hellbugs and, if you're anything like me, occasionally take your vehicle on a bit of a tear and launch yourself from hillsides. Then the RPG-inspired and elemental-tinged weapons appear, and you begin to notice the masses of other people chipping away at missions, and the similarities begin to shed.
Defiance’s two key selling points are its vast array of weaponry and its dynamic content. As you venture through the game, you will come across firearms ranging from pistols to LMGs and grenade launchers. Many of these have special attributes such as damage-over-time modifiers or stuns. The “infector” for instance, is an automatic pistol that causes parasites to burst from fallen enemies. My current favorite, is a shotgun that electrocutes my enemies, snaring them for a few extra blasts.
Arkfalls are the most prominent form of dynamic content. Similar to RIFT's rifts. In these random public events, rocks fall from the sky and waves of enemies swarm forth culminating in a final boss battle. At the end of these, all participants are ranked on a leaderboard and rewarded by contribution. Sometimes Arkfalls come in sets throughout a region requiring that you defeat several in a row. As you venture through the world, you may come across other, more subdued events, such as saving a group of ranchers from raiders or an EMT vehicle from a mutant ambush.
Classes? Nope! Levels? Kind of…
At its core, Defiance follows a traditional MMO progression model, notably lacking levels and classes. Completing missions earns experience and money which are then used to upgrade and outfit your character. In lieu of rating players by level, Defiance uses something called an EGO rating with which you unlock perks. In practice this system is simply levels by another name. Players still receive power boosts at regular intervals. Perks can also have a profound impact each player's aptitude on the battlefield.
A level-less system requires that the world adapts to each player’s readiness. Defiance scores points here, as the mission flow allows the player to feel more challenged over time. Enemies scale in difficulty based on the amount of players nearby. A party of four will face much more challenging encounters than someone flying solo and since players don't need to group to trigger this effect, cooperation is naturally reinforced. When the game does adapt but players refuse to cooperate, the difficulty spikes can occasionally become frustrating.
The implementation of the ability system has worked out much better than [I]Defiance's somewhat contrived EGO rating. Players are free to use any weapon they choose and every ability is available for purchase for every character. Just because you begin the game with intentions for combat doesn't mean you can't change course and invest in stealth or defense. These choices can also be undone at any time in return for in-game currency. Players married to the holy trinity of tank, healer, and DPS might be disappointed but the game does not rely heavily on defined roles.
Excellent gun play with lots of variety, fun co-op play and PvP.
Obviously ported UI, quite a few bugs.