The Average Gamer

Defiance Review (PC)

Defiance - Miner vs The Law
The best thing about games is their ability to let you live out fantasies. I mean sure, they can also help you empathise with other people. They can provide insight into the complexities of city-building and they can show you how a long-term strategy can really pay off. But most importantly, they let you live other lives. Better lives. Fantasy lives more interesting than the daily grind of 40+ hours a week to pay far too much of your wage to a landlord who thinks your creaky boiler is “good enough”.

Defiance - Hellbug MonarchHas it always been your fantasy to be a bit-part character as the backdrop to someone else’s epic sci-fi fantasy? Then Defiance is the game for you.

Sharing a world with the TV show of the same name, Defiance promised a new way of telling stories. The setting comes with the rich tapestry of a near-future Earth in which eight alien races have unwillingly crash-landed and everyone has to make the best of a situation that nobody wanted. It’s a shame that the MMO shooter’s stories all follow a familiar thread:

  • Someone tells you to find a thing.
  • You go find a thing.
  • You shoot it.

There are plenty of non-story missions as well. Every character has their own instantly-spawning vehicle and a huge range of weapons to choose from. You can jump into any number of wave-attack modes, take part in hot-shot challenges that limit you to a certain weapon type, or race your buggies around time trials.

Defiance - VehicleThe PvE shooting is excellent fun, requiring a keen awareness of your surroundings and quick dodging skills if you want to stay alive. There’s plenty of it, too. A little too much, in fact.

It seems like every 50 metres, you’re falling over another set of Earth Republic (E-Rep) medics who’ve been taken hostage by raiders for no reason at all, or a clutch of hellbug pheromones drawing the baby skitters and accompanying warriors to a random patch in the road. Or an arkfall. Or a group of nightmarish cyborg ex-miners. You can see why the residents of Defiance itself rarely leave the city.

You can resurrect yourself with a reasonable cooldown timer, but there’s a fee of 180 scrip (the main currency) if you die faster than your resurrection power recharges. Given that most side-quests pay 200 scrip, plus a weapon you can probably sell for another 100, this doesn’t give much leeway. When your mission’s battle is scant metres away, or even on top of, a randomly spawned environmental conflict, scrip becomes a tiresome grind.

You could, of course, get around this by adventuring with a friend to resuscitate you and I’d highly recommend that you do. All this really achieves though, is that there are now two of you fighting a battle scaled up for two, which still overlaps with another battle scaled up for two. Better to do the arkfalls and hope they don’t bug out, leaving you with no reward.

Adventuring with a friend comes with its own frustrations as well. Even though many quests are repeatable, you can’t share them with your group. Instead, one of you trails along behind the other, helping to dispatch enemies for no good reason. You can’t even share waypoints, so accompanying a friend means you’re basically travelling blind.

The other problem you’ll run into with friends is that Defiance uses seamless instances (known as “phases”) and hasn’t quite got the hang of grouping. You’ll wade into battle, guns blazing only to look around and realise that your companion is simply gone. S/he will be fighting the exactly the same battle but in a different phase. There’s a menu command to switch to your group member’s phase but it doesn’t always work and it shouldn’t be required.

[NOTE: I spoke to Trion about the phasing issue during E3 and they are working on it, but a fix hasn’t been found yet. They seem to find it difficult to replicate, though Nick and I experience it on at least an hourly basis.]

Defiance - No Ammo

The one part of the game with real depth is the weapons and crafting. There’s a complex system of modifications and upgrades here. Depending on the rarity of your weapon (or the amount of in-game currency you have, which comes in at least three flavours), you can pack it full of mods that add extra damage types, improve accuracy and so on. Even this, however, is marred by a terrible interface and lack of tutorial. The useful features are all there but hidden behind unexplained icons and the range of options becomes overwhelming. You can only equip two weapons, so specialisation is encouraged but you still find your inventory filling up with rubbish and no easy way to sort the wheat from the chaff.

Defiance suffers from not really knowing what it wants to be. There’s a little here for everyone but most of it feels superficial. Its key selling point was the link between the TV show and the game. Here’s a recording I made of the second batch of “episode missions” as they call them, which shows just how much involvement you, as a character, have in the storyline.

If you watch the TV show, these missions follow Rynn from when she left Defiance/St Louis at the end of season 1, episode 5 – The Serpent’s Egg.

You’re basically a grunt who does all the shooting while the real story happens to other people. I do like hearing the story as a recording while I travel from point to point. It keeps the long drive engaging, but there’s still no relationship being built between me and any of the characters in the game world. Trion Worlds/SyFy’s decision to keep our avatars mute is disappointing and it takes me out of the story, rather than letting me project onto it.

Defiance - Wind TurbineDespite all the niggles, I still really enjoy the game. The weapon varieties keep battles interesting, the vehicles and fast-travel points let you whizz about the map quite easily and there’s plenty to do, with a few story missions sprinkled about for when you tire of the mindless shooting. Other than the up-front purchase, there’s no fee to pay and most real-money items are either cosmetic or can be acquired through playing. The Defiance game is worth dropping a bit of spare cash on, which is more than I can say for the TV show.

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