Earth is broken. The use of Ark technology has twisted it beyond the point of recognizability. Though the intro to Defiance explicitly sets the game in the ruins of the Bay Area, it might as well take place on “Sci-Fi Planet 2256”. You don’t care about that. Earth, schmearth, let me blow things up and get sweet, sweet lewt.
You are an Ark Hunter, a sort of freelancing treasure hunter-cum-mercenary. Your boss is Karl Von Bach, designer of weapons so extraordinary he’s filled a few planets’ worth of graveyards. Not satisfied, he’s brought a host of you back to Earth in search of Arktech remnants, ostensibly to remake the Earth with the very power that destroyed it. I kinda believe him, even if he is a douchebag, and I’m curious to see where the moderately entertaining story goes.
In between main story missions, there are a lot of things to do in Defiance. It is an open, frequently too vast world. While the game guides you to key missions directly on the HUD, the vast majority of quest objectives are placed directly on the map giving you the choice to accept them or simply drive past on your
mount vehicle. Once initially completed, you can replay all non-story missions to your heart’s content whether to grind or to help a player doing it for the first time.
Questing reminds me a lot of Guild Wars 2 but with less variety. Like traditional MMOs, you have to manually accept quests, but they’re scattered all over the map and not stuck in obvious hub locations. On completion, quests rarely require being turned in to get credit. All combat is shared. Any player driving by can stop and help you out, and occasionally I’ve run with players for nearly an hour from quest to quest by happenstance. Some quests use phased objects which you have to trigger but for the most part anyone can chip in and advance progression.
From time to time, you’ll see “Arkfalls” on the map. If you’re close enough to one, they will display on your HUD. These crazy combat scenarios are well worth pursuing for the loot rewards alone, but I enjoy the absolute insanity they provide during peak population. The PC version can support hundreds of players in the vicinity and never slow down or begin to lag, impressive for an MMO in its infancy.
None of this matters if the core gameplay sucks, and Defiance bridges the gap between shooter and MMO very carefully. You have precisely 1 activatable power at a time, from 4 possible choices built around damage, support, and stealth paradigms. Alongside that are equippable and upgradable perks purchased as you gain levels. I’m getting hints of roles players could specialize in, but everyone’s still going to do a lot of shooting.
As a shooter, it occupies a weird space, being a third-person but not based around the all-too-familiar Gears-style cover mechanic. Cover can save your life, but don’t forget you’re playing an MMO. Kiting and dodge-roll evasion are far more important skills to master. Resist the temptation to run-and-gun, because tougher encounters make positioning and tactical flanking critical. My only wish is that characters could automatically sprint, because the default movement speed is abysmally slow and beyond useless.
Complaints aside the shooting feels solid, and the encounters are quite varied despite a limited stock of enemy types in the early hours of the game. I laughed my head off every time my Scattergun shot a mutant back thirty feet, practically shouted when I took down a particularly tough boss, and my eyes gleamed when I got my first elemental weapon. Yes, fighting bullet sponges becomes a numbers game, but I find myself frequently repeating the most mundane quests just because I like the combat. If I’m helping out a stranger, even better.
Randomly exploring the world offers little gameplay benefit but I’ve occasionally driven off in a random direction just to see what I could find. While the textures aren’t much to look at compared to current PC titles, the art direction is a pleasingly different take on post-apocalyptica, with the most colorful things being the most mutated. I’ve begun discovering a number of random missions which aren’t marked on the map that you simply come across as you drive by, giving the world a much-need boost in liveliness.
Outside of an enjoyable romp in a co-op dungeon with a seamless matchmaking system, I’ve spent my time in Defiance alone. Finding a friend, even if you know their name initially appears to be impossible until I was told both players have to be logged in for the search to work. The text and voice chat systems are completely broken. From an experienced company like Trion, that’s disappointing, though PC gamers are used to resorting to third-party VOIP clients. It’s a broken, yet lovable game, but player bases are only so patient. Unless Trion fixes the chat system soon, players hoping to build a clan and meet people through the game are screwed and may give up entirely. The interface is confusing enough it took me 5 minutes to figure out how to log out.
As an effectively anonymous co-operative open-world shooter, it’s a ton of fun. I plan sticking with it for the long haul, and hope that the chat features get fixed before players jump ship. It’s hard to recommend at $60 given the social problems but the vast open-world shoot, loot, and quest loop may appeal to players who want a less frenetic version of Borderlands. The game is paced like an MMO but even single-player shooter fans can find something to like. For those unsure, wait for future updates.