Why go to space when you can have the aliens come to you?
The story of Defiance, both in the game and the show is, in a very broad nutshell, a space western. Only everything is taking place on a heavily terraformed Earth.
In the game, the story follows your adventures as an Arkhunter helping our Mr. Von Bach hunt down lost Ark Tech in the San Francisco bay area. Along the way you will meet all sorts of characters, most of which I found quite interesting or genuinely entertaining. Cass, on the other hand, I wanted to duct tape up, since I found her about as annoying as Navi. Once Cass was mostly out of the picture, though, I was enjoying all of my time following the main story with Copper and Von Bach while we hunted down his lost Ark Tech.
While the main story does provide plenty of information as to what exactly is going on in the current events for the San Francisco bay area, it doesn't really do much to let you know what happened in the past to make things the way they are. Those mysteries are primarily covered by finding hidden recordings in the game's open world, which serve to give glimpses into the the world's past. There are also achievements tied to enemy groups, which gives players an intel video giving information on the corresponding group of enemies. Still, there's no codex or anything in the game proper for those of us that like lore and finding out as much as we can about the world, but I guess that's why wikis exist.
But how is the game tied to the show? Well, it is but it isn't. At least for now. This is because the first season of the show had to be made before the game was even released, so we won't be hearing too much about events in the game happening in the first season - at least, that's how it looks to me. The second season is when I'm sure we'll start seeing happenings from the game affect the show. The events of the TV show do affect the game, however. When Defiance aired last night it was Armistice day: April 15th, so it was also Armistice day in the game world. There were other events in the show that I would rather not spoil for those of you that haven't seen it yet, but so far the only connection between the two worlds are a celebration of Armistice Day and a slew of new data recorders with more precious lore! Still, it's early in both the game and the show's life, so we'll see how the relationship between them develops over time.
If you're curious about the show but don't have cable, you can catch the Pilot episode on the Sy-Fy page here. It's two hours of awesome. I loved it.
There's not a lot to do here, which was a bit disappointing, but to be fair I was spoiled by Aion and APB's character creation tools that kept me busy for hours. Still, the tools given are average. Players currently have a choice between two of the races in Defiance: humans and the Irathient. From there, players chose between different faces, hair styles, scars and tattoos. It's pretty basic, but it's enough to get a decent look going for your character. I, however, stuffed my character's head in a helmet the second I got the chance, since the particular look I went for was so common.
But what about class choices? MMOs always have class choices! Not really in this game. There are four starting kits to choose from that dictate your starting outfit and primary weapon. The mechanist, survivalist, outlaw and soldier. These don't affect what you can do in the game at all, since every single class can have any one of the skills available in the game and use any of the weapons, so don't worry about which kit you pick at the start! Just pick whichever has an outfit or weapon that you like! You can always change these around later.
An EGO can be a good thing!
Like I've mentioned earlier, Defiance offers players a great deal of freedom in the way they build their character, unlike other MMOs. There are no classes in this game, only the player's personal preferences on how they play. There are so many different passive abilities in Defiance's skill grid that you can build any playstyle you could possibly want. Some abilities flat out improve the gunplay of the game while others improve the game's active abilities, which are activated through the Ark Hunters EGO. A sort of heads-up display implant that lets Ark Hunters do all sorts of things, like know when they're dying, come back from death and use their EGO abilities.
Unfortunately, there are only four EGO abilities in the game, and while they are all incredibly useful, especially when improved through leveling up the ability or supporting passives, none of them really have any flash to them. They all felt so bland that, unless I was in a pinch or working on an achievement, I wasn't using my EGO abilities very often. It's like they took the Borderlands skill system, blew it wide open, and removed all of the interesting things. On the bright side, it looks like you can get every single last one of the abilities in the game and cap them out, judging from some of the achievements in game.
If I had to ask one thing of Trion, it's that we need more flash in our EGO abilities. Turrets, drones. Air support or off-map artillery support. Just anything that looks more impressive than turning invisible, glowing blue while you run around really fast or glowing orange while you hit harder and ignore recoil. These abilities are all invaluably useful...but they're just very basic.
I punched a hell bug in the throat once... It wasn't very pleasant.
PVE! The focus of the Defiance! Here, in the San Francisco bay area, players can put their skills to the test against the dangers of Defiance. Raiders, mutants, hell bugs, all seek to end the Ark Hunter's existence while they go about their business.
I was pleasantly surprised to find that Defiance actually handled like a shooter. In the past, most MMOs that replaced your average fantasy weapons with modern and even sci-fi ones rarely played any differently from one another. It was still 'pick a target, hit a key and watch your skills go off'. Very few titles dared to or even managed to get gun play working on the scale of an MMO. The last one I even saw try to do this was Tabula Rasa, which Defiance reminded me very much of. Unlike Tabula Rasa, however, the shooter mechanics are incredibly solid and feel on par with any other third person shooter on the market out there.
The AI on the other hand is kind of hit or miss. Humanoid opponents mostly behave as expected: taking cover, throwing grenades, trying to flank the player and outmanoeuvre them whenever they can - but every now and then they decide to ignore cover. While this makes the AI look terribly dumb, one has to take into consideration that most humanoid opponents are raiders of some variety or mutants whose minds haven't exactly remained intact through their mutations; it's something I can let slide. Some of the encounters in the open world don't exactly provide much cover for that matter so the AI is left with the choice of 'sit there and shoot at the player' or 'charge and shoot at the player'.
Out in the open world there are also the game's iconic Ark Falls, where the alien arks, cargo, or fragments fall from orbit onto earth and start causing chaos in the general area they crashed down upon. There are ark falls for each of the current enemy factions and vary from major to small Ark Falls. Unfortunately these are generally hell bug ark falls, and they consist of either 'kill wave after wave of enemy' or 'destroy the ark fall'. The major ark falls tend to have huge bosses, which are fun, but they are still pretty straightforward to kill, and the more players that are around the tougher the opponents get. They subscribe to the damage sponge school of things, so you won't be seeing too many more enemies.
Instances on the other hand are a much more focused experience for a group of four than the open world. While linear, they do tend to have more enemies, and things like mini-bosses showing up to start knocking players around and generally giving them a hard time. At the end of each of these instances there is always a boss. Don't let the first instance boss fool you with its boringness, since he's just a blue Bioman with a lot more durability. They do get bigger, angrier and more interesting.
I still would love to see these monstrosities roaming around in the open world, however. If I had to complain about anything in the open world it's that the world feels dead. Sure there are plenty of 'dynamic' events happening in the world, but they always take place in the same preset areas. You never see bands of raiders, EMC, or survivors roaming the landscape, going about their lives and running into each other to start up these events. Despite being called dynamic events they are all heavily scripted, but this is hardly different from any other MMO out there. Even in my favorite MMO shooter, Tabula Rasa, the dynamic events consisted of players fighting against the AI for control of fortresses. However these guys showed up on drop ships and drop pods in massive numbers so, even if it was a scripted event, it was always fun to have an epic last stand or lead a charge into a heavily defended enemy base that the player has to take from the AI. Defiance, unfortunately, doesn't have any of these, but it's early in the game's life and more content will be added. According to the game's story, the west coast was a place that people just could not get to easily so, at least for now, it makes sense that there aren't any big towns or fortresses for players to fight over.
Beyond following the main story, side quests and generally roaming around for something to fill full of bullets, lasers or deadly parasites, Defiance offers plenty of other distractions. Challenges litter the landscape, so players can show off their skills. Skills like being the best machinegunner around, or the best racer. At the end of these challenges your score is taken to the global leader boards, and if you make it to the top three, the whole world will see it each time they want to try their hand at these challenges. There are also plenty of achievements tied to challenges, exploration, and performing well in Defiance that unlock titles and new outfits.
Sometimes you just want to shoot your fellow Ark Hunters.
Need a break from searching for precious alien loot? Well just open up your EGO and go into PVP matchmaking where you can find other players who want to shoot each other in the face! Currently there are three game modes available, Team Death Match, Capture and Hold, and Shadow War.
Team Death Match and Capture and Hold are pretty straight forward. Capture and hold all of the points and kill any ark hunters that are out to stop you and your team and maybe capture some important locations while you're at it. These maps are usually built pretty tightly so they are dominated by Close Quarters Combat weapons like SMGs and Shotguns. LMGs, on the other hand, are a bit out of luck because the perks related to their effectiveness were nerfed into the ground. These perks are all of the ones that increase your durability when standing still and crouching, and they also give extra damage mitigation if your shield breaks. Being a stationary target is just never a good idea in these game modes unless you're a sniper in a very, very safe place.
Shadow War on the other hand is really just Capture and Hold out in the open world map rather than an instanced one. These matches support far more players than their instanced counterparts and, since they take place out in the open world, they aren't focused entirely around close quarters combat, which has quickly made this my favorite PvP mode. Interestingly enough, as the battle goes on the number of points to capture increases - doubles as I recall - giving the losing team a chance to gain enough territory to catch up and even make a come back.
The interesting thing about Shadow War is that it takes place out in the open world where all of the PvE happens, even if it's still going through matchmaking. The wild creatures and humanoids that inhabit the landscape will be in the area, and if you run into any of them at a point they will be all too eager to take you out. These can help or hinder players for obvious reasons. The AI isn't too picky about who it attacks. If they see you first, chances are they aren't going to leave you alone, even if the enemy attacks them, so they become more of a hassle than anything. It would have been great to see the AI actually take part in the Shadow War, taking objectives, actively fighting players for control of the battlefield, but they seem to be there for the express purpose of being an annoyance. PvE players can also be seen roaming the battle field and they have cost me plenty of ammo from reflexive fire. Since players can kill each other quite quickly, chances are no one is going to stop and ask who that shadowy figure in the distance is if it has no friendly marker over its head. On the bright side, as much as they can distract you they can distract other players too, so there's that, I guess!
Shadow War is also the only PvP mode so far that allows for vehicles to join in on the fun. For the most part it's just ATVs but as the battle rages on players may stumble across a Cerberus - the only vehicle in-game at the moment that can carry three players and comes with weapon systems. Shadow War is also the only place where you will see a Cerberus for now, though I can understand why, with the lack of AI enemies having vehicles of their own and huge beasts roaming the landscape.
Other than the lack of anything really special about Shadow War, the biggest issue I have with it is that I can't go in with a group of friends. We all have to disband our group and queue up, hoping to get tossed into the same match and team. I haven't tried going into other game modes grouped, but if it's the same as with Shadow War then that's not a great thing in my opinion. I understand that some people get annoyed by pre-made groups, but lets be honest here, playing a game with friends is better than playing solo and a premade group isn't a guaranteed win, not by a long shot. It just offers coordination! But, maybe this isn't intentional and it will be fixed in due time, then I can take my band of silly Ark Hunters out to glorious battle!
Tools of the trade.
But what's a shooter without guns?
All of the standard weapon types you see in any shooter are in Defiance along with different variants. The different manufacturers in the game have their own look to their weapons and among each manufacturer there are variants of all of these weapons to fit your playsytle. Do more headshot damage, shoot faster, get more accurate as you shoot... Wait is this Borderlands all over again?
Kind of! You won't find a billion different weapons but you can more or less find the same type of weapons you would in Borderlands right here in Defiance. They don't get more powerful as you level up though; not directly, anyway. Defiance being a mostly skill-based game will rarely give you one weapon that's better than another. As you level up in EGO, however, you find higher quality weapons and a higher chance of finding rare weapons. These higher quality tools of the trade come with more unlocked weapon slots and unique stats of their own. These stat bonuses seem to be totally random, so don't be surprised if you find an orange quality sniper rifle with bonuses for melee damage. Once a player gains enough experience with a weapon it'll also gain another random bonus, which can unfortunately be a pointless buff that does not fit the way the weapon is made to be used, or the way you use it. Makes me wish I could wipe the XP from it and level it up again so I could try getting a better buff.
No need to worry if you found a weapon you love that has no weapon slots. For an ever-increasing cost of ark tech, players can unlock mod slots for their weapons. You can't pick whice slot unlocks, but you can unlock all four of the possible slots on all weapons. It just gets more expensive with each unlock and the quality of the weapon. With all the mod slots unlocked, players can modify their weapons to their heart's content, changing their appearance as they go. Unfortunately, if you want to remove just one mod from your weapon, the game does not allow for that. Instead it will strip your weapon of all of its mods or destroy the weapon for the sake of saving the mods, depending on which it is that you're looking for. Terrible and nonsensical as this sounds to me, I'm sure this makes sense to someone who wants to make some sort of economy in Defiance.
Speaking of an economy and other social aspects...
Defiance doesn't have a lot to offer.
Auction houses? Nope. A story that actually involves your group, even if it's just to stand around as silent heroes in the background? None of the cutscenes will include your group members. Instanced story mission? Single player only, even though some of these can get hectic enough that it would be helpful to have a team with you to save the bit of scrip the game takes out of you whenever you die. Even talking to other players was a hassle because of how console-focused the design of the UI was. You will rarely ever see anyone using zone or local chat, regardless of whether you're trying to coordinate with someone or save them from a swarm of enemies. Still, I loved just how messy Ark Falls can get, watching a blob of players suddenly being knocked back by Hellbug Monarch or whatever manner of large creature decided to fall from the sky or come hunting for loot.
The only real social aspects of Defiance is the ability to group up or join a clan. Clans don't seem to have any perks or anything special about them at the moment besides being a large gathering of people you can group up with. Then again, players can buy XP, Scrip, and drop boosts from the cash shop for their clans and groups as well as themselves, so if your clan has someone buying these boosts, that's the only real reason to be in one other than a sense of community.
A strange new earth.
Graphically, Defiance isn't the prettiest, most amazing looking game out there, but it does make up for it in style - at least in my book. Starting with the characters, they do have a variety of different outfits they can wear, for the most part looking drastically different from each other. There are a few retextured versions here and there but not so many that it gets hilariously repetitive and flat out dull. Enemies as well look incredibly distinct. Raiders, Mutants, 99ers and my favorite enemies, the Dark matter, all have their own unique look. Hellbugs on the other hand are a little bit on the comical side of monster design, but you won't think they're so funny looking when they're trying to eat your face off. Wildlife needs a serious expansion though, as Hellbugs are the only wild beasts you will encounter on your adventures.
I would even say that the environments are beautifully alien, but as it's currently limited to the San Francisco bay area everything looks the same after a while, at least before you hit the city. That being said, I did enjoy seeing the ruined world and how everything had changed through terraforming, the introduction of alien life to the world and the way people survive on this alien Earth. Hopefully the future will provide far more varied environments for players to explore. Graphical improvements would also be nice, even if just for the PC if the consoles can't handle it. PC players need some love after having to get used to the clunky and obviously console focused UI.
Defiance requires no subscription to play.
So how does Defiance make its money? By following the Guild Wars model of business! Players pay for their copy of Defiance and from then on the game is theirs to play for as long as the servers exist. From there payment for any extra content is optional, such as new races and expansions for the game, which will come with their own content. I have also heard that any expansion that has to do with the main story or the show will come for free, and so far it seems that way after the release of the show.
There is also the cash shop, which provides all manner of convenience items and some vehicles with alternate skins. The part that keeps grabbing my attention, however, is the outfits and headgear section. I'm a sucker for awesome-looking costumes. But don't worry! You don't have to buy any of these things to progress, have a cool ride or look cool. All of the vehicles in the cash shop you can get in game; they may have different skins to those in the cash shop, but not better performance. As for outfits, it's kind of the same story: players will find them through completing quests or completing the game's many achievement chains. My personal favorite, the EMC Heavy Trooper, a big and stompy suit of power armor. It even has stompy-sounding footsteps, which is a nice touch most games leave out.
Is it worth it to become an Ark Hunter?
While Defiance does suffer from feeling rushed a bit out the door and being a console-focused development, I did still greatly enjoy the time I spent in it. Whether I was playing alone or with friends, I enjoyed exploring the world, looking for recordings that held precious lore and trying to find hidden stores around the world. It still surprises me every now and then when I'm exploring the countryside and find a dynamic event I never encountered before, or an Ark Fall decides it's going to crash land right on top of me. Then there's the interesting relationship between the game and the show, and how both help paint a better picture of the world of Defiance.
With Trion hard at work at adding new content, improving the game and an awesome first episode of the TV series, I am quite excited for the future of this game. If you enjoyed the TV series or are just looking for a different kind of MMO, Defiance is certainly worth checking out. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some ark tech to hunt.