The concept behind Defiance is an interesting one. It’s a third person shooter/MMO hybrid that’s been in development alongside the upcoming Syfy show of the same name. Both share the same post-apocalyptic setting where after years of war with a collective of alien species known as the Votan, the Earth have been irreversibly changed. On the surface, it sounds like a good set, and the promise of crossover with an ongoing TV series isn’t something we’ve seen much of in the past. Sadly, the final product doesn’t live up to its own potential.
In Defiance, you play as an ark hunter, an individual who makes a living in recovering lost technologies from the Votan’s derelict ships. After your expedition to San Francisco goes awry and you’re ditched into a hostile wilderness filled with mutant soldiers and giant angry hellbugs, you’re drawn into a hunt for a powerful piece of alien technology that could potentially change the world for the better. While the story isn’t too clichéd, it does follow a few common sci-fi themes you’ve probably seen before. The gameplay doesn’t feel very exceptional, either, and if you’ve played a shooter before, Defiance will feel instantly familiar and perhaps a little worn out. On the plus side, this does mean that you won’t have to worry about dealing with a steep learning curve to figure out how combat works or how you can upgrade your weapons, but there are very few mechanics that make Defiance feel different from other titles in the genre.
Creating a character in Defiance is also an underwhelming experience. In a setting where there are purported to be multiple diverse alien species, your choices are limited to either human beings or the humanoid Irathients. The four classes (and I say that in the loosest sense of the word) you can choose from only affect some of your starting gear and the aesthetic choices you’ll have once the game gets rolling. The only real choice you have over your character’s abilities is when you pick from one of four differing combat powers, such as an invisibility cloak that allows you to sneak around, or the option to overcharge your weapons to deal extra damage. The combat power you pick for your character will also unlock an initial set of passive stat bonuses related to that power, although you’ll be able to branch out and choose perks from across the board as you level up. Regardless of these choices, though, your character is capable of equipping all of the weapons and gear you’ll find in the game.
Besides the story missions, Defiance features a host of side missions and repeatable challenges littered across the game world, so you’re never short on things to do. Several of the extra missions offer up bits of backstory to help flesh out the world you’re exploring, but unfortunately most can be completed in just a few minutes and don’t offer much satisfaction. Far too many follow the same formula of interacting with a trio of items, be they power generators or hidden caches, and they’ll often take you back to an area you’ve already visited several times. Because of how little effort it takes to complete many of the side missions, they don’t feel like busywork, but you’ll quickly become annoyed at how homogenous they are.
Another disappointment is the handful of “episode” missions, which center on your character’s interaction with two of the main characters from the Defiance TV show, Nolan and Irisa. At first glance, you’ll get the impression that these missions are a major crossover between the two mediums. But after getting a sneak peek at Defiance‘s pilot episode, the reality is these quests don’t do more than offer up a bare bones explanation of how the pair ended up traveling from the game’s location of San Francisco to the TV series’ location of St. Louis. Other than a name drop or two, there’s no other connection, and much like the side quests, the episode missions are over far too quickly.
Defiance does take a page out of Guild Wars 2‘s playbook in how you share the game world with other players. In some cases, when you enter a mission area where players have already started its corresponding quest, the game will still give you credit for helping so you don’t have to wait for it to reset. On top of that, you’ll also earn a chunk of XP from enemies you’ve damaged in combat even if someone else lands the killing blow, so you don’t have to worry too much about anyone stealing your kill. It’s a nice touch that ensures you never have to break your flow to wait for the game to catch up.
Along with its more lackluster elements, Defiance isn’t free of technical issues either. Weapon models will sometimes take a while to load in, once in a while enemies will slide across the map instead of invoking their attack or movement animations, and a few times after a receiving a radio transmission from an NPC, my character’s hand would hilariously remain fixed next to their earpiece. The worst bug you might encounter is when the map or inventory screens take several minutes to load. Game-breaking bugs are thankfully rare, but like the problems with formulaic missions and lack of variety in your character’s design, these glitches just reinforce the feeling that the game in its current state is unpolished.
The most fun you’ll have in Defiance will be during the Arkfall events. At random intervals in certain parts of the game world, pieces of the Votan’s starships still floating in orbit will crash down to Earth in the form of a giant glowing crystal. Players who check out the crystals can participate in either trying to blast apart them apart or defend them from enemies within a set time period, and these sequences are the best way to nab tons of experience, resources, and sometimes high quality loot. The larger Arkfall events, which involve an all out war between dozens of players trying to gun down a monstrous bug creature and its minions, can devolve into a seriously chaotic clusterfuck with all the bullets, grenades and laser beams flying around. Still, there’s something kind of cool about the chaos of a semi-organized group of players all working towards the same goal.
Bottom Line: Defiance is a middle-of-the road third-person shooter that never seems to fully capitalize on its alien-filled, post apocalyptic setting.
Recommendation: If you’re really looking to play a sci-fi shooter, there are worse choices out there, but you’ll probably want to hold off to see if you like Defiance the TV series before jumping into Defiance the game.[rating=2.5]
This review is based on the PlayStation 3 version of the game.
Developer: Trion Worlds
Publisher: Trion Worlds
Platform(s): PC, PS3, Xbox 360