What is this...? A brand new third person shooter MMO that has launched across PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 which is tied back to a brand new sci-fi TV series, coincidentally also called Defiance. Geeks rejoice, you can watch the show and then play the game - should you be so inclined you could also likely buy the action figures if it’s remotely successful. For now we shall concentrate on the game itself and we begin with the fiction. Earth is left devastated by a war with an alien race (who just wanted somewhere to live) and the majority of the remaining inhabitants have mutated. If you imagine for a moment, Mad Max, Rage and Fallout 3 then you would be getting close. There is nothing here that is particularly groundbreaking and it has pretty much all been done before in various guises but it’s serviceable and to a degree works quite well.
The entire introduction to the game is sadly a little hammy, showcasing little charm with stereotypical marine characters and a scientist who believes himself to the be the most intelligent man alive. A poorly delivered threadbare script played out within cutscenes which have so much screen tear the Aliens Colonial Marines teams are high-fiving, the game starts with a whimper rather than a bang. Perhaps expectations were increased as a result of the tie in to a big budget TV series, one would assume that the writing would be of a standard befitting the tie in - sadly it is dreadful. Do not be put off though, there is fun to be had here and very few cutscenes to have to endure once you get into the game.
The game holds your hand rather nicely through the very early stages, pulling you from point to point, desperately trying to explain the myriad of game mechanics available as well as touching upon some of the more complex systems. At its heart it’s a fairly simple third person shooter containing narrative driven quests as well as side quests, random activities and other quest based variations such as contracts. Being an MMO which is effectively moving across from the complex world of PC based MMOs then there is a ton of stuff to take in and sadly quite a bit of it poorly explained. Fair to say that the one core criticism of the title (and likely easily fixed with a little patch) is the amount of assistance that the game gives you at key times. For example, only when you hit a certain EGO (XP) level can you open ‘contracts’ and as a player this information is valuable as not only can some good money be made by performing these actions but for cheev hunters, there are quite a few contract cheevs. Subtly informing the player that this is coming up would be really handy and encourage further play but it’s not played upon at all, even some sort of small indication would have been nice to see.
EGO is your main driver for levelling within Defiance and after selecting your main ‘perk’ focus (EGO skill) you unlock EGO points as you play. These can be used to upgrade (threefold) various perks which are linked to the main EGO skill which you began the adventure with. Skill trees basically, reasonably explained albeit briefly and slightly underwhelming in the minute to minute gameplay. Nothing matches the random craziness, or even the effectiveness of the majority of the Borderlands 2 skill trees.
Again, harping on about the beginning of the game some more, graphically it begins a little sketchy. MMOs as a rule don’t look particularly amazing (unless you count Guild Wars 2 on a beast of a PC) and this lack of graphical polish is evident here, however as you progress and get further and further into the game, graphically it starts to shine a little. Arkfalls stand out visually and sees up to one hundred players fighting a mammoth beast and as you uncover newer environments, they look infinitely better than what is presented at the start of the game. This really reinforces what you will find to be a running theme with Defiance, stick with it and it is really worth it.
The game definitely leaves you with a poor first impression. Even if you come onboard a few weeks after launch, ignoring those initial server connection issues, the game doesn’t do itself a huge amount of favours early on but as mentioned do not let this put you off. You take the role of an Arkhunter, a genetically enhanced bounty hunter type of person wielding a variety of big guns and some special perk powers. Comparisons to Borderlands begin here and can be found many, many times in the proceeding countless hours that are in Defiance. Quests, side quests, activities, loot, driving buggies and shooting people in the face are plentiful throughout the world of Defiance and the map is quite literally awash with stuff to do. Freedom is the order of the day within Defiance and whilst some might see the weak attempt at a single player narrative a negative, it could be argued that this is in fact a huge positive. You can do what you want, when you want and are only really required to partake in the core story missions if you want to know how it all pans out. There is a huge list of side quests on offer as well as activities such as time trials (your sand buggy is awesome for reference) and rampages (surprisingly killing everything) to get stuck into, all of which provide you with EGO points, money (scrit) and loot. The freedom to come and go as you please not only makes Defiance the least story driven and personal MMO you will play but it gives it a pick up and play feel that is very rare in the world of RPGs and MMOs. Minute to minute play is simplistic to the core but still really fun, sure it has complex systems and overly complicated mechanics but with gun in hand and literally hundreds of quest opportunities it can be a complete blast.
Into the mix come numerous random events and the huge multiplayer events known as Arkfalls. As you drive around on your extremely cool quad bike (other vehicles are available) the rather large map is awash with activities and side quests meaning that it will be you who runs out of steam way before the game does. That however is where the pick up and play nature comes into its own. If you do grow weary of the fetch quests or the activities, leave it for a bit, play something else - jumping back in is completely painless and always remember that this is an MMO. MMOs get patched continuously, they get frequent new content and will inevitably evolve in time.
The Arkfall events are by far and away the most impressive events found within the game. Randomly generated, usually involving several mini bosses and a huge screen filling big boss, all players on the server can join in. Appearing on your map as red highlighted events (you cannot miss them), players will rush to complete them as they are time limited. The rewards are dished out for the ‘top’ contributors to the event so you do not have the luxury of turning up and watching. These huge battles can contain up to one hundred players against a single enemy and for the most part it is glorious chaos. Ammo is never an issue when playing Defiance and guns improve through modifications (purchased through specific vendors on the map) so your ability to get amongst it exists pretty much from the beginning of the game. Also as there are a vast amount of weapons and weapon modifications strewn throughout the world the Arkfalls can act as a showcase for the cool gun you recently modded, found or simply purchased. Ultimately Arkfalls give console players something which they very rarely get to be involved in, huge multiplayer PvE events - sure it’s a shame that the 360 version all goes a bit mental when there is that much happening at once on the screen, sound drops, guns disappear from hands and there can be lag but nothing is game breaking and these events remain unique and fun.
This isn’t the end of the PvE content either, as you play you unlock custom co-op maps for you and a team of friends and/or like minded players to tackle. As with the single player experience, the structured mission based tasks contain fairly severe difficulty spikes so be wary. Breezing around on your quad performing side missions is one thing but the main ‘acts’ can be very tricky. The co-op experience is certainly a big bonus and is arguably the pick of the bunch content-wise in the package. Solid and damn good fun with friends but kind of odd that they are unlocked after many hours of single player fun rather than just accessible from the off.
To add to the raft of PvE content is a series of fairly underwhelming PvP modes. Standard multiplayer is in there as well as something called Shadow War. The latter is by far the most interesting and sees groups of players fighting over objectives and territory throughout the map. What is quite nice about these modes is that they too can appear on your single player map and can be joined/started just like a normal mission.
Despite the ropey opening few hours Defiance settles into its rhythm very nicely and becomes a game that is so easily picked up and played you cannot help but fall for it a little. Yes for every positive there are at least two negatives but ultimately it’s light, fun and most of all an experience that console players currently do not have. Never write an MMO off because of first week issues and you’d be a fool to think that Defiance wasn’t going to get better.