Although they may coexist in the same fictional universe, you’d be hard-pressed to spot the connection between Trion Worlds’ ambitious MMO and its accompanying SyFy series, at least judging by the pilot episode. Set in the not too distant future, this fresh cross-media IP explores an Earth ravaged by years of failed negotiations between humans and the Votan collective, an amalgam of displaced alien races from across the galaxy.
With their homeworlds destroyed by an interstellar collision, the Votan came to in Earth in search of peace and security. However, not everyone was particularly keen on their settlement; tensions began to rise and eventually lead to a breakdown between the factions, ultimately spiralling into all-out war.
What ended the conflict was an event known as the “Arkfall”, an explosion that wiped out the Votan’s Ark Fleet. As debris fell from the stars, so too did the aliens’ terraforming technology, mutating the Earth and populating it with with species cultivated from across the galaxy.[videoyoutube]Though the Votan and humans would eventually broker peace, they must now endure this new age and work together to reclaim and rebuild the planet. Defiance fosters an original, refreshing angle on the sci-fi genre that doesn’t fall into its many conventional pitfalls.
For the most part the action follows war veteran Jeb Nolan (Grant Bowler) and his alien partner Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas), an unlikely pair of self-proclaimed Ark Hunters. Although the Arkfall has come and gone, Votan technology is still scattered across the planet and makes for an extremely profitable commodity. Like most Ark Hunters, Jeb and Irisa are looking for their big break to set them up for life and, as luck would have it, within the first ten minutes they strike the motherload.
However their luck is short-lived, as an encounter with raiders forces them to bury their payload in the wilderness. As events take a turn for the worse, Jeb and Irisa are saved by band of locals who take them back to their settlement, Defiance.
It’s here that viewers are introduced to the bulk of the show’s cast, as well as its emerging story arcs. While the new Mayor (Julie Benz) struggles to find support among her people, a feud between competing rivals is about to come to a head as something much more sinister looms in the background. Though certain characters and story beats take precedence over others, there is plenty here to digest, even if things feel a tad washed out and underdeveloped in a few places.
The real problem, at least for those interested in both the series and the game, is that St. Louis and San Francisco, the setting for the show and the game respectively, feel worlds apart. Apart from the occasional, disjointed cameo by Jeb and Irisa, there is little linking the TV show and MMO beyond the universe in which they are set. While not a deal-breaker by any means, it does raise the question of why Trion and SyFy aren’t fully capitalising on their cross-media strategy.
With that said, Defiance has the potential to become a flagship series for SyFy. The acting may not be up to the same standard as the show’s CGI sequences and underlying concepts, but it holds up nonetheless. The pilot has also done well in establishing mysteries and inner conflicts, drawing the viewer’s attention away from what could have been a singular, one-dimensional storyline.
Perhaps most surprising of all is how often the Votan races are featured. Although the majority of the main characters are human, presumably to make them more relatable, the Irathient, Indogene and Castithan all grab plenty of screen time.
Strangely the same can’t be said of the game. Despite video games being the perfect medium for bringing these alien species to life, we see very little of them. It’s an odd decision, and hopefully one that will change down the line.
Defiance’s promises of synergy have yet to be realised but given the nature of the two platforms (an ongoing TV series and MMO) there’s still everything to play for. However, on its own the TV series has real potential, and could be genuinely interesting if properly nurtured.
Keep an eye out later today for our look at the MMO component of Defiance.