Born Into The Grave – Defiance Review
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3.
The Battle of Defiance: one of the last battles between an alien collective known as the Votan and the human race. You are an Arkhunter, a scavenger who seeks out rare pieces of technology that fall from the ruins of the orbiting alien fleet (known as Arkfalls).
Your latest job takes you to the remains of San Francisco, where this great battle took place. But since the accidental and incidental terraforming of Earth into a world that was once alien to all species who are now residing in it, the City by the Bay is no longer recognizable. Sent here to assist Karl Von Bach with his expedition to San Francisco, the Earth Republic Stratocarrier, New Freedom, that is transporting you and your team crashes into the mountains after being attacked by unknown forces. Von Bach is now missing, the ship is in ruins, and your mission has changed from one of exploration to survival.
Defiance is a massive multiplayer online third-person shooter developed by Trion Worlds, creators of the MMO Rift. The game parallels the world set up by the new SyFy television series of the same name, created by Farscape creator Rockne S. O’Bannon. While a retail title, Defiance follows a lot of the same trends set by “freemium” MMOs with micro-transactions to purchase additional equipment and perks using an in-game currency knows as Bits. While some might think that charging your customers to play a game and then filling it to the brim with micro-transactions should be a capital offense, it’s certainly not the worst thing they did with this game.
Players will be able to build their own custom character from a number of options. Male and female forms of both Humans and the Irathient alien species can be created, and you can select from a handful of choices for faces and skin colors. You can then further build your character’s features by selecting his/her origin story and archetype, which is a base level of look for your character. The origin apparently gives you some kind of background story for your character, but has no outcome or influence on the gameplay like selecting a class-type or story line did in Mass Effect. Afterwards, you can select bone structure, Nose, Mouth, Skin color and more to create a unique-looking avatar for your in-game persona. Once complete, you’ll begin your training as an Arkhunter and get familiarized with the use of the EGO implants.
The premise of the game is fairly straightforward: you are essentially a mercenary that’s tasked with taking care of odd jobs across the landscape in return for goods and cold, hard cash to upgrade your weapons and equipment. Successful completion of tasks, as well as killing any Hellbugs, mutants, or other unpleasant things trying to kill you also nets you experience points that help raise your attributes. You also earn EGO units to allot to perks. EGO is your Enhanced Guardian Online device that gives you certain skills to use in the field, as well as coming equipped with an artificial intelligence who talks to you throughout the game.
At the beginning of the game, you’ll be prompted to select from one of four EGO powers to use: Cloak, Overcharge, Decoy, and Blur. Cloak renders you invisible for a short period of time, while Overcharge gives you a damage boost to your weapons. Decoy creates a holographic projection of yourself to distract enemies with, and Blur boosts your movement speed by 50% and increases the amount of melee damage done. Perks are laid out for you in the EGO grid in the character menus where you selected your power-up from. Using EGO units unlocks and can bolster the skill, or can be applied to the different perks that are associated with the power. Literally dozens of perks are available to unlock, and additional ones can be added to your load out as you progress with the game, although you’ll only start with one or two slots to begin with.
Along with perks and powers provided by your EGO unit, you can equip a primary and secondary weapon, grenades, shields, and a vehicle to aid you in those long journeys between waypoints. Since there is no character class system, players aren’t limited to the types of weapons that they can carry.
Weapon and equipment upgrades can be found as drops from completing missions or side quests. Aside from the main mission quests, there are a variety of tasks that gamers can take on to further the story or gain experience. A prominent side quest type is the Episode Missions, which give you some back story to the tale of Joshua Nolan and Irisa Nyira, the two main characters in the Defiance television series. Other missions include Arkfalls, which are events that occur in the game when a chunk of debris from the orbiting Ark Belt falls to earth. These events require you to clear out a number of aliens known as Hellbugs for rewards. Time Trials and Hot Shot missions pit you against the clock, as well as other players’ best scores, while other general side missions will just have you complete an objective or save bystanders from a mutant attack.
The world of Defiance is a shared instance, meaning that as you explore the surrounding areas, you’ll encounter other gamers playing in real time. You can choose to assist them in their quests, or perhaps they’ll assist you in yours. For many events, you’ll find a number of players working towards the same goal, especially when an Arkfall event occurs, as the rewards are pretty substantial. It is quite a sight to see 30-40 players raining down on a batch of Hellbugs and giving them what for en masse. Even with large numbers, you’ll still be working pretty hard to get some of these infestations cleared, which makes the rewards even sweeter once your foes have been taken down. But it’s not the destination — it’s the journey where all of the problems occur.
From a gameplay perspective, Trion Worlds brings a lot to the table for a console-based MMO shooter. Gigantic shared instances with real-time events for everyone to partake in is something that gamers have been wanting on the console for ages. At its core, the game is simply a shooter with quests to take on, but with a lot of ARPG elements added for the role-playing nut. Earning experience levels up your character and unlocks additional abilities as you go on your merry way, while monsters drop cash and other loot for you to equip, breakdown into materials or sell outright. Different merchants across the landscape have a plethora of wares to offer, but it’s really the monster loot that gives you the best stuff.
Skill and XP boosts are available to help you power-level quicker – for a price. Simply head on over to the Defiance store with your Bits (in-game currency paid for with real-world money) and stack some boosts to get to those higher levels faster. Along with boosts, you can purchase vehicles, outfits, additional inventory slots, or lock boxes that contain random stashes of gear.
PvP matchmaking, too, is available for those looking for something more competitive. Simply access the matchmaking menu from anywhere in the world by hitting the Start or Select buttons, and then pulling the left trigger. Three game types are available to players: Competitive, Co-Op, and Shadow War. Competitive is essentially team deathmatch. While enticing, there are currently only two maps to choose from which will quickly reduce the fun factor to nearly zero in a relatively short amount of time. The Cooperative mode, which is more of a mission-based instanced game type where you must complete a specific objective while wading through masses of enemies, is a lot more enjoyable – even if your options are far more limited. The best game type, however, is Shadow War by far. This game type is a massive team vs. team mode where you must fight for, and defend, Arkfall points on the map. Areas are massive, and the carnage is constant. Additional rewards come to you in the way of Echelon Credits, which can be used to purchase specialized gear at the Echelon dealers found throughout the Bay.
Unfortunately, the game can be a complete and total nightmare, riddled with bugs galore, both graphically and from a physics perspective. Getting stuck in walls is a fairly common occurrence in the game. Sometimes leaving your character be for a minute will allow them to jiggle loose from their invisible confines, but most often in these situations you’re reduced to warping to the closest map travel point to try again. However, the more absurd bugs tend to populate when you’re driving your vehicles around. For inexplicable reasons your trike might decide to go sideways on you, or even better yet, just decide that the six inch step is just too steep to drive over. Even more exciting is when you’re cruising the open road and your vehicle just comes to a dead stop for no reason… and then all of a sudden a barrier appears right before your eyes! My favorite, better yet, is when entire sections of a mountain side just fail to render, with boulders and trees floating in space over an open sky below the ground.
Even if you get onto a good bug-free streak, other annoyances start popping up. First of all, there are no damage penalties for jumping off of high up areas, nor is there really a penalty for dying with the exception of paying a small fee. You just hold down a button and up you pop, back to full health and shields why your enemies still have their wounds. These things make you wonder why you even have a health or shield bar, when it’s no big deal to kick the bucket.
The writing is lackluster as well. Your character takes a backseat to the secondary characters in the Defiance universe with no lines of dialogue and not much more than a brooding expression on your face at all times. The television series’ main characters, Joshua Nolan and Irisa Nyira, allow you to tag along on their adventures leading up to the television series’ launch, but you essentially take on a supporting role for their missions – nothing more than a hired gun-hand to help them along the way. Playing the role of the silent brooder in some games may work, but for an MMO, on a vast adventure that takes place across a massive swath of land, it gets pretty boring. Even Master Chief would occasionally quip with Cortana, but your AI knockoff only gets the cold shoulder.
For a game that was announced over two years ago, Defiance really feels like a game that was slapped together in the last six months. Considering the great work that Trion has managed with Rift, it’s unfortunate that we get stuck with something like this for our first MMO outing on the console. It’s entirely conceivable that, like with many PC MMOs, we’ll see gradual improvements with future title updates, but I’m not holding my breath. It will, however, be interesting to see how many people are still enjoying this parallel world before the first season of its companion television series comes to a close. Until then, you can find me back in the Dust 514 servers.
Defiance receives a 2.5/5.0.
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