Preview: Defiance aims to blend game and television into one universe
Flash back to the early 2000s when, fresh off of the Y2K scare, science fiction equated to post-apocalyptic Earths where neon colored rave-hair and tribal paint were all the rage. Well it would seem that we’re right back in that world with Trion’s Defiance. And that’s certainly not a bad thing.
Defiance is the upcoming MMO shooter set in the same universe as the upcoming Syfy original series of the same name. Set on a terraformed Earth in the not-so distant future, Defiance centers around the conflict between the humans and Voltan, the alien mutants. The game’s two playable races, humans and the Irathient, in particular have banded together to fight for Earth.
At the start of the game players choose their character’s race and gender, and are given a wide array of customizable options. All of these options are pre-determined, from face models to hairstyles, and fit the look of the show well. Further options such as facepaint and body size help to differentiate characters, though given that this is an MMO, and the number of options available, there will no doubt be a significant number of similar looking characters running around on a single server. There is no job system but instead an ‘origin’ system that determines your character’s background story as well, oddly, your outfit. Weapons are also quite customizable, with players being able to scavenge for new parts.
Players are hired by CEO Karl Von Bach as ‘Ark Hunters’ and dropped, quite literally, into the San Francisco Bay Area to retrieve alien technology for use in the war. Arkfalls occur in the game when abandoned spacecrafts fall to the ground and attract both players and mutant enemies. After crash landing at the north end of the expansive world map, players are introduced to their digital companion character, EGO. Character-wise EGO is the Kortana of Defiance, the player’s connection to the their superiors, while also functioning as a mission hub and the player’s skill tree.
The EGO system is reminiscent, surprisingly, of the License Board from Final Fantasy XII. Players can choose from a number of early unlockable skills, and after paying the appropriate cost for a given skill will unlock it and trigger all of the surrounding abilities and make them available for purchase. Different skills lean toward different styles of play, from stealth to run and gun, and appear on opposite ends of the board. While this system encourages players to focus primarily on one skill set, the size of the board (at least as it existed in the demo) suggests that mastering everything isn’t off the table completely for those who would prefer to master them all.
I do have to say that the abilities are all very unique and not what you’d expect from a shooter. Whether I am creating a virtual doppelganger of myself to distract enemies or moving in super speed to catch them off guard, the EGO abilities broke up the monotony of standard FPS gameplay in refreshingly creative ways. There’s a fantasy RPG element to gameplay and character growth that makes Defiance stand out from the pack. The game never forgets that it is a shooter, but also doesn’t let it’s primary genre hold it back from trying new things. Some abilities are executed more effectively than others, but at least they’re trying something new in a genre that desperately needs it.
The world of Defiance is an intriguing one, and its early 2000s-reminiscent style is actually quite charming. The terraformed Bay Area felt familiar and yet alien all at once. Overall I had few complaints about the aesthetic of the game. Visually things got a little rough around the edges, but given that this is an MMO and it’s not the final build I can’t be too mad. I must also admit that I played the game on the 360 and when I peaked at other consoles it looked significantly better. To Defiance’s credit, though, there is a lot of action going on at any given moment which eats up a bunch of the processing power. On top of that the game world is truly massive, with lots of room for exploration. My only complaint on that note would be how empty these big maps would feel when only a few other players were on at a given time. It just got lonely was all.
When other players were around the game really came to life. Whether we were all guarding a reactor or defending a human base while others rescued a human soldier, it is clear that the co-op gameplay is this game’s bread and butter. There’s no real party system like in an MMORPG but players can form teams and take on missions together. I have to admit that while wandering around the tutorial areas as a single player I wasn’t too impressed, but upon joining a bunch of real people found myself suddenly engaged, energetic, and highly entertained. When not taking on missions together players can also participate in challenges and competitions with others. Seeking out other players to play with was easy as well; just a few simple menu clicks.
It must be said that at the end of the day the most exciting thing about Defiance is the crossover with the Syfy television series, set to premiere in April. Without giving anything away, the show is genuinely entertaining and bit of a new take on the genre, and the game supports it well and vice versa. The show’s main characters even show up to say hello (impeccably rendered, I might add). I’ll be curious to see how much the show and the game will interact as time goes on: Will there be stories that happen simultaneously between the two? Will we learn things about the show that we can only find in the game? Will the game set up big revelations for the show? There is a lot of exciting potential to be had here that hasn’t been done like this before. Normally you get a game or a show and a cheap attempt at a cash-in, but with Defiance you’re getting two equally solid products that work to complement one another. That alone is reason enough to give it a try.
So whether you’re a fan of crazy rave-hair. RPG-esque shooters, or are hankering for a new tv-fandom to join, you will most definitely want to give Trion’s Defiance a shot when it arrives in stores on April 2, 2013.