It was 2013 when they arrived, and that’s when everything began to change. The Votan were a collective of Alien refugees in search of a new home, having recently suffered the destruction of their own star system to a stellar phenomenon. Together the remaining survivors from each of the eight inhabiting species joined as one and set course towards Earth in the hope of starting anew. However, the caravan had not anticipated that the planet would be inhabited, and to no surprise they were met with hostility and suspicion upon arrival.
Over time, an arrangement was agreed upon between both governments that allowed for some of the Votan to begin a limited colonisation, but there were still millions in orbit who remained suspended in a state of hypersleep. 10 years passed by, and slowly tension continued to rise between both sides until one day a rogue human supremacist assassinated the Votan ambassador on live television, and sparked a disastrous global conflict between Humans and Aliens known as the “Pale Wars”. This dreadful battle waged relentlessly for seven years until an apocalyptic event known as the “Arkfall” occurred, in which a mysterious explosion detonated the entire Votan fleet in space, killing millions and accidentally releasing alien terraformer technology onto the planet.
The world as everyone knew it was now gone, and in its stead remained an alien landscape that was neither Human or Votan. With so few governments still in existence, many who survived the Arkfall were forced to band together in order to survive, and unfortunately space travel was out of the question as the majority of Votan technology remains in an artificial “Ark belt” in Earth’s orbit. Occasionally small scale “Arkfalls” will still descend to Earth, and whilst this is considered a dangerous hazard by most, it also serves as a lucrative opportunity for those who call themselves “Ark Hunters” to recover valuable technology. This is the role players will be stepping into.
Defiance is a MMO/Third Person Shooter that is also designed to be a “transmedia” gaming experience. The basic concept behind this idea is that new content will be added into the game each week to reflect what’s been happening in the TV Series of the same name. This certainly proved to be an intriguing idea with the initial “Episode Missions” that tie the game narrative directly into the beginning of the Pilot. However, we also wanted to learn how this idea would progress over time, and to our disappointment there have been no additional missions added to the game, but rather some lanterns for the players to light in commemoration of the Pale Wars. It’s possible this could still evolve over time, but right now the concept is not looking as promising as we had hoped.
For the purpose of this review we are specifically focusing on the Xbox 360 version as there have only been a handful of MMO titles to make an appearance on Xbox Live, and we felt this justified a clear investigation into how well the genre would translate outside of the PC Community. The most important thing to take into account when purchasing the game for Xbox 360 is that you will need at least 10GB of free space in order to install the game and accommodate future updates moving forward. This may prove quite painful for those who still own a 20GB launch console, and to make matters more complicated, you will also be required to download a large majority of the game despite being provided with a physical disc. We recommend you put a couple of hours aside for setup.
When Defiance has finished installing & updating, the player will then be presented with the option to customise their own character and begin the game. The creation process offers a basic feature set that includes choosing a species, origin story and customising physical appearance. It’s acceptable for what it is, but it won’t contribute anything further to the rest of the game. The player will then sit through a series of cut-scenes that will introduce them to the game world as well as to a few key characters, some of which feature in the TV Series. It’s possible things are just different in the San Fransisco Bay Area, but the contrast in tone between the two narratives is quite obvious. This is not necessarily a bad thing for the game, but it does contradict the entire transmedia goal also.
With all that being said, a potentially failed attempt at transmedia doesn’t necessarily mean this is a poor game, and if anything we can say with confidence that Defiance is certainly a unique experience. The game’s differences with other MMO’s will become apparent from the beginning as players will notice there are no levels in Defiance, but rather all experience that is gathered throughout the game will be spent on what’s known as EGO Powers. EGO is an AI companion much like Cortana from the Halo series that allows the player to start out by specialising in one of four different special abilities. Experience is then continuously accumulated to unlock EGO points that can subsequently be spent on obtaining additional perks & powers. It is certainly an interesting concept for player development, but you will also struggle to notice any significant improvements with each individual unlock.
The other main focus in Defiance is very similar to the Borderlands series, in as much that weapons and equipment will also play a large part in the experience. As you fight your way through the game, players will be constantly collecting new gear to customise their loadout, modify weapons or sell for scrip. This means there is never a shortage of new toys to experiment with, and yet this mechanic still manages to underwhelm at the same time. The difficulty curve in Defiance will scale out based on how many players are in the immediate area, which does keep things exciting from an MMO perspective. However, the damage difference between individual weapons is so minute that there just isn’t that exciting sense of growth or satisfaction you expect from an RPG.
From the beginning of the game players will be presented with a massively open world in which they have the freedom to choose their own path. The game features a main questline that presents it’s own unique narrative, a brief series of episode missions that tie in with the TV series, and of course lots of additional side quests, challenges and random encounters to take on inbetween the chaos. However, there are also dynamic events known as “Ark Falls” that occur regularly, and are designed to draw in players from all across the world so that they can fight together for massive rewards. It’s an exciting concept, and whilst it ultimately suffers from repetitiveness, we still felt as if it successfully captured an almost Dark Souls essence of team work, and we appreciated that.
The special thing about Defiance is that despite being an MMO, it will not force the player into partying with an immediate group of other people. Should you choose to play segments or even the entire game on your own, it is still not really possible to play alone as there are often other people who are close by and playing through the exact same mission. You don’t need to know the people around you, and players will simply work together because it is mutually beneficial. This mechanic allows the game to integrate co-operative play into the experience in a simple and seamless fashion, which also provides a satisfying essence of team work for everyone involved.
Unfortunately, it’s very important to note that some of the games core ideas work differently when comparing the Xbox 360 version against the PC. The social nature of the game is simply not as good on Xbox Live, and this in part due to the fact that there are just not enough people playing. It’s disappointing that Area Chat is turned off by default, and it’s clear a lot of people are also caught up in their own private chat parties. It certainly makes for a lonely experience by comparison, and as the main questline progresses you could find yourself playing a lot more missions on your own. The Xbox version is also labeled as being better with Kinect, which ultimately comes together as a ridiculously long series of voice commands that are not very practical. Don’t waste your time.
Ultimately, the longevity of an MMO will also rely heavily on the quality of gameplay, and at the time of this review we would best describe this as a work in progress. The gameplay holds a rugged charm that has the potential to be addictive, but it’s just too hard for combat to remain engaging when you are consistently fighting against so many technical bugs. The AI just isn’t very smart either, and as the game becomes more difficult it’s evidently just a case of increased stats and greater numbers. By the time we had reached the end of the main questline it felt as if the gunplay had become cheap, and without many other players in the area it quickly turned monotonous.
If you were to take all the bugs out of the equation and focus specifically on the core mechanics behind the game you would see just how much potential is being held back. It’s not a case of the gameplay being terrible, Defiance just needs a little TLC and it’s evident that the developers are working hard to provide patches as quickly as possible. It should be mentioned that we noticed significant improvements after the first major patch was released and this gives us a fantastic indication of how the game could improve over time. However, we still managed to have a lot of fun with the game, and being able to spawn your own vehicle is a convenience we greatly enjoyed. It’s just a lot of little things that got in the way, but what MMO hasn’t started out with problems?
Graphically speaking, Defiance is remarkably average with the Xbox 360 version in particular suffering from regular screen tearing and object pop-ins. It’s fortunate that this was addressed in a recent patch, but it’s still far away from winning any acclaim. The game world ultimately feels large and empty, and sadly comes across as drab and uninspired by comparison to the TV Series. It’s a good thing that the musical score fits the tone so well, and it was a nice treat to include the fantastic theme from the show. However, the game also manages to deliver some of the most cringe worthy dialogue in recent memory. Sure, the voice acting is passable, and we should acknowledge the plethora of cut-scenes not usually common with an MMO, but the script just isn’t that well written.
The narrative in the game isn’t awful by any means, but it unfortunately doesn’t fit very well with the themes and tone of the TV series it’s supposed to be connected with. It’s not an original story, but it does still manage to deliver on a few genuine moments that will keep the player entertained. If anything, it’s actually the connection with the show that damages the way we perceived what was going on in the game, and that doesn’t serve the whole concept of transmedia very well. Ultimately, we just ended up playing as another generic Space Marine, and that’s not we wanted to see from Defiance. In fact, we often had a lot more fun pursuing side quests, challenges, and joining in on the competitive multiplayer than we did playing through the cookie cutter missions of the main questline. It’s not a bad sign for the longevity of the game, but it’s also not what the developers had hoped for.
Defiance is a transmedia experiment that promised players a massively multiplayer world that would co-exist in real time with a television counterpart of the same name. However, at the time of writing this review there have been two episodes aired and a major patch release, and so far the game has failed to deliver on this premise. If anything, the experience is only being hurt by its connection with the show, but it’s still early days, and there still lies the potential for this promise to be fulfilled. The game itself has a rugged charm that can be addictive at times, but it’s also full of technical problems. Unfortunately, the console versions have a lot more issues, so if you want the best experience possible, we recommend you play on PC. In time, it’s possible the game could grow to become a competitive place holder in the genre, but it’s not likely the potential of transmedia will be realised with Defiance.