Following a strong pilot, the second episode of Defiance is a much more condensed, intimate affair. With the series’ main story arc beginning to unfold, viewers are given a clearer insight into the shows’ cast of characters; how they interact and what possibly motivates them.
With the Volge invasion repelled, things in Defiance are starting to get back to normal, though some of its residents have hatchets to bury. After tracking down a deserter, the increasingly unpopular Datak Tarr (Tony Curran) is determined to restore the honour of his race. However, before his torturous Castithan ritual can be complete, he encounters Josh Nolan (Grant Bowler), the town’s newly-appointed Lawkeeper.
As expected, the two parties collide but are soon called off by Defiance’s mayor, Amanda (Julie Benz) who agrees to uphold Datak’s right to partake in his people’s customs. Though Nolan relents in his pursuit of Datak his partner, Irisa, has other plans…
The way in which these first scenes are conducted highlights one of the series’ apparent strengths. Instead of having alien races milling in the periphery as a means of aesthetic diversity, Defiance characterizes them, outlining their history and cultural nuances in a way that feels organic and unobtrusive. When establishing a science fiction series, especially without a string of existing novels to lean on, its imperative that viewers are shown at least some degree of depth and Defiance does just that.
Elsewhere, Ben, the Indogene saboteur who instigated the Volge invasion, is seeking to destroy Defiance again, and has disappeared into the depths of Old St. Louis. In hot pursuit, Nolan and the McCawley miners try to piece together Ben’s latest plan whilst hunting him underground. It’s here that viewers are introduced to some of series’ most idyllic vistas; The St. Louis we know today has been completely buried, lending itself to some eerie yet awe-inspiring shots.
As episode two resolves its two primary sub-plots, others have certainly begun to take root, feeding into the series’ over-arcing mystery. In summary, it definitely succeeds in raising the bar and dispelling uncertainties some will have had about Defiance. The show’s characters may have seemed somewhat two-dimensional during the pilot but are starting develop and will hopefully grow on viewers as we approach mid-season.
As discussed last week, Defiance – the video game – is built upon a strong, ambitious premise but, after ten or so hours, some of its weaknesses are beginning to show. Its action gameplay does well to mimic the conventions of a modern-day third person shooter but suffers from repetitive quest design and occasional wooden enemy AI. The story Defiance is trying to convey also falls flat on its face at times with a small, forgettable pool of characters coaxing players into performing mundane tasks.
Still, there is something good about Defiance, something which propels it from the grasp of mediocrity, at least for some players.
One main contributor is the way navigation is handled. In traditional MMORPGs, especially those which favour fantasy settings, you will often find yourself walking just about everywhere, at least for a good few hours. After hitting a certain level mounts usually become available and, after shelling out an often-hefty sum, players will earn themselves a marginal boost in movement speed.
In a weird way it added to the genre’s sense of adventure; roaming through foreign, hostile lands knowing that a wrong turn could lead to gruesome death. However, as year’s have passed, we gamer’s prefer everything to be less complicated and more streamlined, for better or worse.
Defiance adheres to this trend perfectly, despite its overall map size being considerably smaller than that of games like Everquest and World of Warcraft. Instead of rifling through your coffers to pay for a worn-out mule, players are given their own ATV within the first few tutorial missions. Equipped with a boost function, you can effectively zip around the Bay Area and discover the majority of its landmarks without even getting stuck into the main quest line.
The inclusion of vehicles has also allowed Trion Worlds to install a number of race missions across its virtual expanse of land. Though restricted to time-trial events they’re still fun, at least when they’re working. Having actual competitive, player versus player races would have been fun too, but would only add to the game’s shopping list of bugs and glitches.
That’s not to say Defiance is completely devoid of any multiplayer interaction. In fact, there are numerous ways in which to play the game either with friends or strangers.
The first and most widely featured of these are Arkfalls. No doubt inspired by Trions’ previous title, RIFT, these multiplayer instances are scattered just about everywhere and can house a seemingly unlimited number of players. Available in several varieties, each Arkfall comes tagged with a mission that needs to be accomplished within a certain span of time.
For example, one Arkfall tasks players with gunning down several waves of Raiders, whereas another has Ark Hunters ravaging a Hellbug hive. Despite having an interesting concept, their execution is no way near as involving or intricate as RIFT’s open world events. All you’re doing is pointing your gun in one direction and waiting until your ammo supply dries up over and over with little in the way of challenge or enjoyment. After one or two, some players will simply turn up to the Arkfall site only to put their controllers down and wait for the XP drop.
Luckily, Defiance’s co-op missions fare much better. Donning the conventional four-man format, these story-driven dungeon romps offer controlled doses of fun.
Though you’re essentially doing the same as you would whilst solo-questing, there’s something about having three comrades that alleviates a number of the game’s pressing issues, especially if your squaddies happen to be friends. Punctuated with objectives and the occasional boss battle, they’re easily one the game’s more refined areas that will continue to expand in future expansions.
Defiance’s third instalment takes a diversion from the series’ central story arc with brilliant effect. Instead of pursuing the show’s underlying plot thread – and exhausting it prematurely – episode three dishes up a standalone tale that succeeds in character refinement and sci-fi set piece action.
It all starts with the disappearance and subsequent slaughtering of a Defiance local. What appears to be an isolated case soon expands with another resident brutally killed by mutant insectoids that MMO players will recognise as the Hellbugs. However, as Nolan and Irisa soon discover, these attacks aren’t the forces of nature at work; someone is manipulating the Hellbugs to do their dirty work and to make things worse a gang of Irathient bikers have come wheeling into town.
This latter tangent of the episode is played to full effect, not only highlighting Defiance’s relationship with the slightly-backwards Votan race but expanding Irisa’s character as well. Given her muted brooding in the past its good to see Irisa finally taking centre stage with a number of sub-plots that will no doubt continue to impact the rest of the series.
Even the feud between the Tarrs and McCawleys has some highlights. In previous episodes, Alak and Christie’s doomed romance has seemed like an disjointed offshoot from the rest of the sci-fi action. However, with a little help from Castithan hard-ass Datak Tarr, these scenes weren’t half as cringe-worthy as in the past.
Episode three is perhaps the best balanced and engaging of the entire series so far. Where there’s plenty of action there is also meaningful interactions between characters and satisfactory nods towards bigger things waiting to happen. What these “bigger things” exactly are however will determine how long-term success of the ambitious TV series.