Defiance – Review

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Platform | Release Date
360, PS3, PC | April 2, 2013
Developed by Trion Worlds
Published by Trion Worlds

The Pitch:

Join a futuristic online open-world shooter where thousands of players scour a transformed Earth competing for alien technology.

Create a unique character and level up with diverse customization options. Hunt alone or with others as you improve your skills and unlock powerful modern and alien weapons that will help you survive the massive battles that await in this constantly evolving online world. Explore vast landscapes on a variety of vehicles and lead the charge in huge co-op battles and fierce multiplayer conflicts. Immerse yourself in the world of Defiance as the game impacts, and is impacted by, the Defiance TV series.

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I really don’t know why I sunk over 60 hours into Defiance. It’s a very monotonous game, neither invigorating nor offensive, with mildly entertaining combat mechanics and some cars. The world is a bland and generic landscape, devoid of character and full of standard sci-fi tropes.

From the very beginning, you’re able to go just about everywhere and kill everything. The concept of loot which is intrinsic to most MMOs is gone, and generally so is the sense of achievement. Sure you gain experience and some new abilities, but nothing ever feels progressive. Instead, the power you pick at the beginning of the game remains your most valuable asset and any guns you grab are only minor improvements. They never really feel like they do more damage except when having elemental powers. I presume this is to keep the player versus player aspects as even as possible, but its at the expense of any real power fantasy.

defiance-2The single area that’s cordoned off, San Francisco, turns out to be an even less interesting landscape that’s more difficult to navigate due to jagged geometry. You’ll open it up by progressing through the story, or by finding a friend to bring you to a fast travel location. Each new section brings with it same-y story missions that open same-y side missions. Go over here, kill those things, retrieve that object. Repeat for 50 hours. Even the bigger missions are just expanded variations on these themes.

At least the structure lends itself to something most MMOs don’t. With Defiance, you can literally jump in, play for 10 minutes, and complete a mission or two. It’s a strange dichotomy really as this aspect is very appealing. But when nothing actually gets accomplished except checking off a list in this short timeframe, what the hell is the point? Is this some Spec Ops style commentary on the ultimate futility of gaming, or just a game so afraid to take risks it becomes bogged down in mediocrity? I think the latter.

defiance-4Possibly the most ambitious sounding piece of Defiance isn’t implemented in any interesting way. Trion and Syfy have tried to establish some sort of relevance between the television show and game, but it feels like an afterthought instead of an intrinsic element. Sometimes after an episode airs you’ll get related content in the game. These are titled “Episode Missions” and are supposed to stick around for a limited time. The impetus here is to watch the show and complete the episode missions quickly before they go away. Problem is, Trion has committed that they won’t go away forever and has already allowed users who didn’t buy the game at launch to replay the episode missions that served as a prequel to the television show. So much for that bit of exclusivity to your character rewards.

I killed the bad guy, saved the Bay Area, and had little to show for it. Still, Defiance’s cathartic, inoffensive nature wasn’t totally without merit. It was fun from time to time and I don’t regret playing, I just wish in the end there was something more to it all.

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About Jim Hunter

Jim Hunter is Editor-in-Chief of Splitkick and host of the Rocket Jump podcast. He has three kids and is constantly cranky, but also highly awesome.
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