The Syfy Channel has been attempting to merge the realms of television and video games for the past few years. Their first attempt was with the Red Faction series, releasing the network original movie Red Faction: Origins in 2011. Origins was intended to bridge the gap between Guerrilla and its sequel Armageddon, both of which were mediocre critically and financially. This time around, the Syfy Channel has bolder plans: attempting to put together an MMO and an episodic television series that intertwine and change one another.
From the minds of television’s Battlestar Galactica and Caprica, and Rift developers Trion Worlds comes the open-world third-person shooter MMO, Defiance. Set in the year 2046, Defiance brings an oddly unique take on a bleak, dystopian future. A collection of refugee aliens have immigrated to Earth seeking sanctuary, yet inevitably cause war and environmental catastrophe.
You take on the role of an Ark Hunter searching for pieces of lost technology. Instead of being located in St. Louis like the show, for whatever reason, you’re stuck in the San Francisco Bay area. A planet-wide terraforming accident has caused a catastrophic change to the terrain, making the entire world seem completely foreign. You work for an important tech industry mogul looking to learn the secrets to terraforming.
Most of the characters in Defiance feel generic, bland, and generally uninteresting. The archetypes are all here: rogue, law man, scientist, and engineer. There isn’t a single character in the game that feels fully fleshed out or unique. There’s too much imitation and not enough originality. Races fit in the same mold; knocked off from various other sci-fi and fantasy franchises. You have Ferangi, Vulcan, and Borg, along with many other troped-up species.
The voice acting is absolutely atrocious. It’s truly difficult to understand exactly how it could be so bad. Characters from the television show are voiced by their real-life actor counterparts; apparently, though, they only cared about getting their paychecks. Whoever was providing them direction obviously had no idea what they were doing. It’s some of the worst voice acting you’ll hear from a AAA title ever, though, to be honest, the actors don’t have a lot to work with. The writing is on on par with the most juvenile Star Trek fan-fiction ever written. After the success of Battlestar Galactica, it must be a network mandate to create hip gibberish swearwords in the vein of “Frak”. The writers actually thought it would be a good idea to turn the word “shit” into “Shtako”. There aren’t enough fingers and toes in the world count the amount of times this catchphrase/made-up garbage word is ham-fisted into the game’s dialogue. It’s the kind of thing that will make you cringe at just how pedantic it feels.
Gameplay in Defiance is a lot like that found in Borderlands. You carry two weapons and have one ability power, which you can select from a skill tree. There are only four actual abilities in the game, however, with the rest of the tree comprised of passive skills that augment abilities or style of play. When it comes to the passive skills, they will definitely leave you wanting more and never quite make you feel like you have actually progressed.
Instead of levels, Defiance uses a skill point and power rating system to relay a sense of progression. Certain weapons and abilities require certain Ego power ratings to be equipped. Progression is fast—if not a bit too fast—and rarely do you ever actually feel like you’ve become more powerful. It’s discouraging, to say the least, but at the same time, enemies never quite feel like they’re getting stronger either.
Loot works much the same as it does in other MMOs, with a few notable exceptions. Items gain experience and can level up along with your character. For the most part, this works fairly well and adds maybe the biggest sense of progression. You can find items from enemies you kill or special loot boxes you can buy from a vendor using an in-game currency or through a micro-transaction. Unfortunately, though, there isn’t a whole lot of variety in look or feel from weapon to weapon.
Now let’s talk a little about the AI. Or maybe we should say lack thereof. In typical MMO fashion, enemies try to take the most direct route until you’re in their attack range. Occasionally, they’ll hop left or right in an attempt to avoid your attacks, which is entirely predictable and not difficult to deal with. The only real difficulty in combat is managing the number of enemies, some of which will infinitely spawn from preset places throughout the world until certain conditions are met, or enemies that have specific weak points that are hard to hit. It’s a lot like being inside World of Warcraft, except you have to aim and shoot instead of pressing 1 – 2 – 3.
The missions—which may as well be called quests—are also quite disappointing. They’re just rehashes of the same old formula we’ve seen in countless other MMOs over the past 10 years. They’re just dull and lack any imagination or creativity. You’ll still kill 10 rats, run back and forth from point A to point B, run errands, fetch items, and do everyone’s favorite thing in all video games: escort missions. It’s enough to make you enter a coma from complete boredom. It’s only saving grace is the public Arkfall missions that take place randomly in the game world.
While the missions and gameplay feel completely dated, the world does feel alive. Even when there aren’t human players around, the NPCs and wildlife do a fantastic job of giving the game a lively atmosphere. There are times when you actually feel as if you’re immersed within the world. At least until somebody starts delivering dialogue, and then you’ll begin to feel as if you’re actually watching the Syfy Channel.
The best content in the game is arguably its instanced co-op dungeons. Crawling through story rich environments with friends or random people can be very rewarding and satisfying, and it is definitely something that they need to concentrate more on in the future. There just aren’t enough really good ones right now.
Defiance is definitely a game that’s designed for consoles first, and the PC is almost an afterthought. The game’s social features are buried behind many layers of context-sensitive menus that navigate poorly using a mouse and keyboard. It’s so bad that no one even bothers using chat.
Like most MMO’s, Defiance makes an attempt at Player-versus-Player. There are small-scale 8v8 and 6v6 battleground-style maps featuring everything you would expect from an instanced arena death-match. The big draw, though, is its Shadow War mode, in which up to 64 players fight for control of specific points of control in the actual game world. Balance is pretty poorly executed and is almost an entire afterthought. With the game designed the way it is, it devolves into a stealth shotgun war.
It remains to be seen whether or not the show will be successful. Early word from critics has not been exactly positive, which raises many questions. What happens to the game if the show is canceled? Will the Syfy Channel try and force the series to go on as long as possible? It’s not likely, since there’s so much money tied into this endeavor from so many places by so many entities. Then again, this is a network that canceled its most popular series ever simply because they didn’t have full control over the IP. We’ll see if it works… We’ll see.
This review is based on a retail copy of the PC version of Defiance developed and distributed by Trion Worlds.
- Link Between the Show and the Game is Great
- Instanced Co-op Dungeons
- Missions and Gameplay Feel Dated
- Quest Structure is Uninspired