When it comes to ambition, Defiance is never short in supply. Developed by Trion Worlds, the same team behind End of Nations and RIFT, Defiance will be the first game to launch alongside its very own, interconnected TV series.
The world of Defiance is based around human and alien characters on a futuristic depiction of Earth racked by years of interstellar warfare. While the TV show’s hardly brimming with A-list actors or saturated with over-the-top CGI effects, it does have promise.
It’s not just the game’s links to a TV show that makes it ambitious though. When Defiance goes live next week it will be the first true massively multiplayer online first person shooter to grace current-gen hardware.
Though CCP’s DUST 514 has flown the MMOFPS banner for some time now, its instanced matchmaking is a distilled form of what most hardcore gamers would define as a “massively multiplayer” experience. Defiance, on the other hand, embraces these cherished conventions with a vast open world and quest system, much like Hi-Rez Studios’ Global Agenda.
Starting out with a few basic weapons and supplies, Defiance immediately has players fending for themselves in this harsh new world. Unlike most MMOs, this initial stage of character development is free from the traditional class-based system, though users do have the option to enlist as either a human or Votan avatar.
Defining your character’s playstyle comes a little later in the game, once players have performed tasks to gain experience. With each passing level comes EGO points which can then be exchanged to unlock various abilities and perks. Weapon types and vehicles can also be upgraded if used frequently enough, creating an organic experience system that rewards players continuously.
It may sound a little bewildering but at its core Defiance is similar to most third person shooters on the market, at least in terms of gameplay. The only difference is that you are situated within an open world inhabited by hundreds of other players.
The result is a sense of seamless connectivity. For instance, you may be speeding along on your ATV only to find a fellow player bogged down by mutants which could then lead to a full-blown adventure. It’s special moments like these that have defined the MMO genre for more than a decade and separate Defiance from games such as DUST 514 and Blacklight: Retribution.
Sadly, gameplay is also where Defiance starts to show one of its weaknesses. Though tight and responsive at first, the shooting just feels a little… off. Headshots don’t always seem to register, with enemies rarely flinching or showing any signs of feedback when struck by a barrage of gunfire. However, as an MMO and not a cinematic third person shooter this is something players will have to accept.
Something much harder to overlook is how Defiance’s array of perks and abilities fail to enhance gameplay. Available in four different variations, these powers allow players to spawn decoys, sprint towards enemies, overcharge their weapons or turn invisible. They sound fun on paper but just don’t translate well into actual gameplay.
As the only means to distinguish between two different character archetypes, they just aren’t up to scratch and the game’s perks (passive abilities) do little to help. Just imagine playing Mass Effect with the option to select one power and one power only. The verdict; it wouldn’t be half as fun.
With that said, Defiance still exhibits a cohesive structure and one packed with plenty of content. Quests are in ample supply and can take the form of racing/shooting challenges as well as on-the-fly instances. Even more abundant is the amount of loot found whilst adventuring in the game’s torn landscapes, giving Defiance a slight Borderlands vibe. Not all of it will be useful however, and this is where the game’s salvaging system and vendors come into play.
Other MMO-like features are also evident, especially after wandering from the game’s starting area. Accessible via the game’s quick and innovative menu system, group instances make an appearance. Limited to four players during the beta, these narrative-driven missions pit teams against swarms of deadly enemies and bosses as they try to beat certain objectives.
More unique to Defiance is the game’s Arkfall events. Spread throughout the game world, these hotzones appear randomly and bear similarities to the Rifts found in RIFT. Though not quite as fleshed out, they allow huge swathes of players to band together to tackle incoming enemies, usually culminating in a huge boss battle.
Sporting a cocktail of interesting ideas, Trion’s genre-bending console debut is far from perfect yet shows glimmers of hope. With an accompanying TV series to colour in the narrative and a strong cluster of multiplayer mechanics it could prove revolutionary for those who yet to an experience an MMO. However, if Trion isn’t able to amend the game’s small pack of fundamental flaws, Defiance could easily come tumbling down.
Article based on the PS3 Beta. Defiance launches for PS3, PC and Xbox 360 on April 2nd.