Fans of Massively Multiplayer Online games, or MMOs, have had slim pickings on consoles since, well, always. It’s unfortunate, because there’s a massive audience that only plays games on their consoles, so a lot of gamers are missing out on the unique gaming experience that only MMOs can deliver.
Trion Worlds aims to remedy that with their MMO shooter Defiance, which ties into the SyFy TV series of the same name. It’s a third person shooter with light RPG elements set in a post-apocalyptic, post-alien invaded Earth. There’s a moderately rich backstory, filled with multiple alien races, though you wouldn’t know it playing this game.
I don’t know whether Trion didn’t think it was important or if they assumed we would glean the story details when we watched the TV series, because this game offers very little in terms of what’s going on. No short cut-scene at the beginning of the game, Star Wars-like running text, nothing. You’re thrown into the world, clueless and confused.
I suppose it’s a good thing this game isn’t all that deep. The first 4-5 hours of the game are the worst, as you’re forced to learn the basics and rules that govern the world of Defiance. You’ll soon discover that a startling majority of the world’s inhabitants have no personality and that blandness includes the enemies. They get more interesting as the game wears on, but I can only fight so many mutant-zombie people and weird crab bugs before I start losing interest.
An MMO is only as good as its quests, and Defiance has many of those. The main quests can be fun, especially if you have some friends to play with. The Arkfall missions were my favorite, because they’re random and they tend to lure in a lot of players. Mechanically, they’re not all that interesting, as their objectives tend to range from “kill all of X” to “destroy X while being attacked by X.” The fact that they’re random and on a larger scale is what makes them most appealing.
Then there are the side quests. Granted, they’re optional, but I think it’s safe to say that absolutely no creativity and very little time was invested into making these anything but brief endurance tests. They’re everything that’s wrong with MMO quests, as almost all of them are comprised of “go here, hold this button/key, then go here, fight this, etc.” They divulge a bit more of the fiction, but that’s about it.
Defiance is like a poor man’s Borderlands. It’s not necessarily the fairest comparison, I know, because this is an MMO, so there are only so many details Trion can throw into the world before it buckles under the weight. Defiance is of a significantly larger scale, with many players in it at any given time, too. I say that because there are elements of Gearbox’s shooter that try and awkwardly find a home in this game.
The weapons, for example, are something that could’ve been done so much better than they were. There’s a loot aspect to this game that isn’t ever fully fleshed out. You can find loot, and some of it is good, but none of the weapons you find are terribly unique. Instead, they usually have special elemental ammunition or impressive stats.
Thankfully, Trion makes up for this by letting you customize your weapons by modifying them with attachments. These attachments can range from sights to stocks to special abilities, and they’re a nice touch if you find a weapon you’d like to keep, but you need it to pack a little more of a punch.
The more you use, say, an SMG, the further your SMG skill progresses. However, each gun only offers a certain amount of experience to any given stat, so once you’ve used the same gun long enough, it actually stops aiding your skill. On one hand this motivates you to experiment with multiple weapons, while on the other, it really makes no sense.
I know this is tied into the TV series, but Defiance would’ve benefited greatly with a more original color palette. There are lots of browns and greys, and much of the world is just ugly. There were entire stretches of land that had very little trees, shrubbery, buildings, or really anything going on. It was just empty. I should mention I played this on the Xbox 360, so the PC version undoubtedly looks better, but when a title released in 2013 looks like a PS2 title, that’s a problem.
I feel like I’m really pooing on this game, so let’s talk about something Defiance did really well: the EGO system. Basically, you level up and gain new skills, but you’re not assigned a specific level. This means someone who has invested 30 or more hours into the game can still easily play with a newcomer. The Secret World did this, too, and I hope more MMO developers incorporate this into their games. I rarely play as often as my friends do, so being able to hop in and not feel like I’m too far behind is more likely to keep me playing.
The skills themselves are largely passive. You have little tiered bonuses that improve your accuracy while crouching or standing still. They can affect how much damage you do in certain situations, like whether you’re moving or above an enemy.
The active skills – or EGO powers – are a little more interesting, though they’ll be fully familiar to fans of the genre. You have Decoy, which sends out a mirror of yourself running in one direction, and you can press your special ability key/button again to teleport to it. There’s also Blur, which temporarily increases your movement speed, the damage-boosting Overcharge, and Cloak.
The world of Defiance is big, and unfortunately, that means it’s full of bugs. Some are nastier than others – I spent roughly ten minutes fighting a boss I probably shouldn’t have engaged, whittling away at its ample health meter when it suddenly disappeared. I looked around, ready to pump a few more bullets into it to finish the job when I noticed it had teleported back to its spawn point with full health. I was maybe 50 feet from where I first encountered it, too.
Others are smaller issues, like dumb AI or world/texture popping. I often saw enemies get stuck on the environment, die while standing in place, teleport, etc. I also witnessed a lot of textures slowly loading into the environment and bits of the world appear suddenly in front of me. Hopefully, most of these issues will be remedied shortly.
Defiance isn’t a bad game, it’s just not all that fun to play. Driving around its big world on a beat up buggy, teaming up to defeat a particularly tough boss, and the main story are all highlights of my time with the game. It’s just too bad that more time wasn’t invested into making the world, side quests, characters, or loot a little more interesting; otherwise this could’ve been a solid console MMO. As it is, I don’t see the audience for this putting up with it for very long.
Reviewed By: Adam Dodd
Publisher: Trion Worlds
This review is based on a copy of Defiance for the Xbox 360 provided by Trion Worlds.