Reviewing Trion Worlds’ MMO Defiance for Xbox 360.
Driving along what was a highway–more like spotty pieces of concrete placed orderly between the dusty grounds of terraformed earth–heading towards the Golden Gate Bridge, two guards laid helpless as a Hellbug cavalcade approached their buggie. The fearless Ark Hunter I am, I stylishly popped off my ATV and rescued the guardsmen from certain doom. But with help from bystanders, also riding crimson ATVs, also sporting the Survivalist uniform, also proficient in the art of assault rifle shooting, we collected our scrip and parted ways. Welcome to Defiance.
Developer Trion Worlds advertised Defiance as an “open world shooter”, but beyond that veil lies a competent and now-working MMO third-person shooter. It’s a compelling genre twist for what could be considered a bland sci-fi premise–humanity and alien-folk learning to coexist. Interestingly, coinciding with the MMO is a SyFy TV series (also aptly named Defiance) that digs heartily into the universe, while the MMO skims lightly on details. Both Syfy and Trion have said you don’t need to indulge in both, but the TV series just three episodes in has done a more concrete job of helping viewers comprehend the various intricacies of the seven Votan races than the game.
Every newcomer to Defiance begins as an Ark Hunter, a plunderer of arkfalls. After the Human-Votan conflict, colloquially known as the Pale Wars, ruins of the massive alien armada still orbit Earth. Occasionally one plummets to the planet’s surface and Ark Hunters converge on its location hoping to discover riches. What they find, instead, is otherworldly fauna that lash out, and the collection of Ark Hunters cooperatively massacre the creature and its army. Trion Worlds copied the idea from its other game Rift, and because of the success in Rift it’s hard to say that’s surprising. But it fits, and makes the fun driving mechanics and exploration more valuable to the player’s experience overall.
The TV series is set on the ruins of St. Louis, and in the MMO players battle in and around the Bay Area and downtown San Francisco. Only so much of the city remains after the arkfalls radically terraformed Earth, introducing Votan flora and fauna into environments and making life generally miserable. The “Wild West” feel is perfectly prevalent, befitting the survivalist tones of living in Defiance. Especially when first crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, which can’t be done until later in the story, as the wavy brown hills converge with dilapidated buildings that will resonate with apocalypse fans.
Story in an MMO is often relegated to inspire player exploration, not to encapsulate audiences in a universe. There are exceptions to this rule, but frankly Defiance isn’t one. The amount of shortcomings distracts from everything else, and players are left to assume a lot especially in dealing with the less-discussed Votan races. Bad dialogue is plentiful, cutscenes feature stale character models; one bright spot is the voice acting, somewhat emoting the harshness of this world.
Multiplayer is Defiance‘s greatest strength. In offering deathmatch sessions and Shadow War’s open world PvP, the game comfortably reels in console players. But that, in turn, alienates its PC player base because of clunky menus specifically designed to be accessed on console. Shadow War follows Battlefield‘s Conquest mode, cutting off a section of San Francisco wherein players battle for control of points. It’s addicting and best shows off the chaotic play. Strange within an MMO, the Defiance community at least on Xbox Live rarely uses chat, so the social options are a nice touch.
Defiance is far from a perfect game. Slow loading textures, weapons disappearing on your avatar, a busy and disorganized inventory screen, and other slight annoyances hinder the experience. But not so much that these things wouldn’t justify a purchase. Early reviews berated the game as broken and wrought with glitches. Trion Worlds has predominantly fixed most of the pressing issues plaguing the game, with patches continuously updating on minor aspects. MMOs are fickle creatures.
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