The world is a different place in Syfy Channel’s new TV show Defiance and for the first time ever watchers will be able to insert themselves into the world with an MMO provided by Trion Worlds. As a game, Defiance is a modern MMOTPS with strong RPG and themepark elements delivered by the need to connect the game to the TV show—and we can see that this isn’t totally a bad thing, but it’s led to some design decisions that may make the game less-than-worthy of its $60 price tag.
Playing Defiance can be a fun experience, it involves actual cinematics, a lot of range to cover, a multitude of guns and battles—with mutants and bugs to kill—as well as amazingly awesome dynamic events a la Trion Worlds Rift experience. The arkfalls in this game can really take your breath away (although playing through 8-10 in a day can really blunt the experience.)
There’s a definite audience, real cooperative gameplay and a coop map, as well as PvP matches as well. As a game, it’s extremely mature and it has been launched for Xbox, PS3, and PC—as a result, the UI shows some fraying around the edges (especially for the PC) because it plays too much to consoles and ignores what PC gamers want out of their UI.
Time to strap on your guns and delve into ark hunting with our first impression of Trion Worlds’s Defiance below!
Graphics and Sound: Trion Worlds has crafted yet-another-Triple-A MMO
We already know that Trion Worlds is a capable developer with the production and release of pay-to-play MMO, Rift, and Defiance is no exception. The graphics, sound, mechanics, and gameplay, all exist in the upper-tier of the MMO market and while they’re not high fidelity they’re more than amazing visuals and sound FX when it comes to play. There’s a lot of different things to love about how the game portrays and displays itself right down to tiny details such as amazing skyscapes during arkfalls.
At first glance, the textures in Defiance are okay for the type of game that it is (not great, but they look like they’re console-ready, not so great for PC levels). We’re looking at a landscape devastated by a terraforming war—the waste of San Francisco is littered with the wreckage of old freeways, concrete husks of buildings, and overgrown with odd wildlife and flora that looks alien and twisted. Somewhere on this map might even be the ruin of the Golden Gate Bridge. Although, the landscape from there is a little bit boring; it’s a fun world to explore and look at but once I saw enough of it, I didn’t feel like looking any more.
There’s a few different locales in the first map (including areas with odd crystals) that I found, but largely it’s a hilly badlands covered with strange plants, interesting rock formations, and hellbugs.
Animations feel alright, although with one caveat: something is seriously wrong with jumping. Most MMO players have gotten used to the “moon jump” that RPG avatars tend to make, and Defiance goes one step beyond this by producing an extremely uncanny leap that just looks strange. However, that said the game does include jumping so that’s in its benefit. Character walking is okay, and the outfits that can be worn provide a certain amount of variance with other player avatars.
When fighting there’s two types of enemy: humanoid (mutants) and hellbugs. The humanoids vary very slightly between burly, ugly guys with two axes, thin scrawny mutants with guns, and huge-beefy Heavy Weapon Guys. Then there’s the bugs—every game has bugs, but these are hellbugs. These creatures have a black carapace with red highlights, spiky bits everywhere, and a mouth full of teeth that wants to take a bite out of the unwary ark hunter. Most of the are just size-ups from skitterlings, to warriors, to matriarchs; then there’s flying hellbugs that look like wasps and cough up globs of biological explosive.
The hellbug animations are pretty decent and make for a very functional visual when fighting them (and they detonate in a fireball when killed.)
Special FX probably are what sets apart the game for me in most cases. In fact, when completing an arkfall this is what I look forward to. Particular weapons, and certain arkfall completions, generate very bright lights—arkfalls in particular have crystals “explode” into radiant columns of scintillating light that provides a bright bloom effect that is actually enjoyable to watch happen. Upon completing one of these events its like being treated to a short fireworks display.
The sounds of Defiance feel consistent with everything they’re connected to. The pitter-patter and gurgle of skitterlings and the rattle of gunfire. Each of the guns does provide its own sound effect, often fitting to the fire rate and type of gun—although I’d love to see the game have 5-6 different sounds for reloading (so that I don’t need to listen to the same one each time.)
In the beta, the music also had an issue where there were songs with some “gunfire” sounds in them. I’m not sure that I’ve heard it again now that the game has launched. This is a problem because sometimes during firefights I’ve cleared out an entire area; the radar is clear and I feel fairly safe as I’m searching for more mutants; but the music keeps making machine gun noises that cause my paranoia to hitch up again.
Gameplay and Mechanics: MMORPG TPS shooter with tied to a TV show storyline horizion-to-horizon
The gameplay and mechanics of Defiance for new users can be split into two important elements: the shooter side and the class-system. The RPG-shooter side is fairly standard with a little bit of vehicle driving, and themepark delivery of quests and cinematics; but I’d like to cover how Trion Worlds chose to approach classes for this game first.
There are currently two races (human and irathient, a Votan race) but choosing one or the other doesn’t do very much more than provide an aesthetic change currently. The class system is built off of a particular EGO Power (or a capability engaged by the player) the four powers are: Blur, Overcharge, Decoy, and Cloak. Blur is basically a high-speed motion ability that adds a massive damage bonus to melee; Overcharge adds a lot of damage to gun shots and melee damage (and has a neat orange flash); Decoy produces a fake-self so that you can run-and-gun while badguys attack the decoy; and Cloak is a brief stealth that provides a massive ambush bonus when active and attacking from behind.
Each of these EGO powers can only be loaded one at a time and also introduce the player to the skill-system (or called “perks”) all of which are passive and can be unlocked starting around their first EGO power from the “EGO Grid.” Perks provide things such as sped up EGO power recovery, more loot from explosive kills, increased toughness or speed when shield breaks, etc.
EGO powers, perks, and guns all synergize with a “loadout” system. A loadout is basically two guns, an EGO power, and a set of perks—as well as headgear and outfit which don’t affect gameplay at all—and these loadouts can be changed at any time. They’re good for helping the player choose how to approach an encounter (or in my case, when I run out of ammo in my rocket-launcher and grenade-launcher.)
The shooter aspect of the game comes with a subtle not-so-shooter element in that all the guns don’t feel quite right. Every one of them either has more recoil or less accuracy than it seems like they should and they’re all very clunky or not smooth firing—however, they’re all recognizable gun classes from most shooter games: assault rifles, sniper rifles, SMGs, machine guns, pistols, revolvers, grenade- and rocket-launchers, etc. Add two new interesting weapon types with BMGs (bio-magnetic guns) that heal people and chain damage and infectors (that shoot pustules!) which can be used to cover the enemy in white boils that erupt into bugs once the foe dies…
The quest-system is built extremely themeparkish, with main missions to drive the player around the map—all of which trigger well scripted and voiced cinematics—and episode missions that are tied into the characters from the TV show. This part of Defiance is the most MMORPG part of the entire game and does not deviate much from the industry as a standard.
Finally there is a Rift-style dynamic event system in the “arkfalls.” These are large group events where players arrive to destroy an ark crystal, a mutated hellbug hive, or fight off bugs or mutants and destroy a crystal. Some of these events span huge areas with multiple falls and a lot of players come to them to earn in-game currency as well as special weapons and items for completing them. These events end in spectacular FX similar to fireworks displays.
Buy-to-Play: A $60 on-box price tag combined with a cash shop to entice microtransactions
Not much to say here: Defiance costs $60 on the box.
In the game there’s cash shop that enables players to buy into a microtransaction currency that gives players quality-of-life boosts including XP, scrip (in-game currency), talent XP, and so forth. No doubt there’s also sales for aesthetic in game items such as hats, outfits, and other costume elements. Already codes are available that give more of these and they will likely be handed out to players watching the Syfy Channel TV show.
Conclusion: Defiance is a costly buy-to-play MMO but it has a great deal of hype and a large audience
This intersection of Syfy Channel and Trion Worlds has generated a very well-built game with some glaring flaws. Defiance is a brilliant case study in a game built around a TV show and it’s very nice looking, can be fun to play, but suffers from a number of social issues that are hard to escape from—such as the difficulty actually socializing in the game (The Social Failure of Syfy Channel and Trion Worlds MMO Defiance by Kyt Dotson via SiliconANGLE.)
So far, the game has drawn a wide audience in spite of launch-issues and has a lot of interesting mechanics that they’re trying out. In particular the episodic-content with the attempt to deliver a cinematic experience coupled with the dynamic-event nature of arkfalls.
Players willing to shell out the $60 will probably not be disappointed in the solo-capability of this game; and there certainly are strong elements of cooperative play added. Trion Worlds has only had a week to get a handle on the launch issues and they may yet fix some of the UI and social problems that arise in the future. It runs on PC, PS3, and Xbox and that means that no matter what gaming system you have you can get in on it.
Watching the show alongside playing the game will also probably bring in a great deal of fulfillment. So while this game doesn’t exactly deserve a rubber-stamp as the best MMO yet, it’s not so terrible that it must be avoided. Right now Defiance is a middle-of-the-road product from an excellent developer with a strong backing from a powerful media company.
Take it or leave it, Defiance will be a strong experiment in this sort of combination to watch.