When I was asked to play through Trion Worlds’s MMORPG...TPS, Defiance, I was admittedly skeptical. The game was developed side-by-side with a SyFy original series of the same name. I have never been a fan of the misspelled channel or anything that it has put out and am not afraid to admit that I went into my playthrough of Defiance with a negative bias and a desire to scoff at everything the game did wrong. Perhaps not so surprisingly for some of you, the game is actually loads of fun and forced me to swallow my sci-fi elitism more times than I care to admit.
The following is just a taste of some of the fun I had in Defiance’s Bay Area. We’ll take a look at the giant Grand Theft Auto-esque world map, the missions and random events you will experience there, give a brief rundown of PvP, and wrap up with some closing comments. Sound good to you? I hope so, because it’s happening regardless.
You begin Defiance and your life as an Ark Hunter by choosing one of two races: Human or Irathient. One of those races is a very well known species that you will likely be familiar with, while the other looks like that very same species, but with a weirder nose and some crazy hair color options. Once you’ve decided on your race, your next option is to choose an “origin”, which boils down to your starting gun and outfit. From there you’re just a plane crash and a tutorial away from running and gunning all over the Bay.
As an Ark Hunter, you work for megacorporation Von Bach Industries hunting down pieces of alien technology that periodically rain down upon the Earth. The profession is something of a cross between a storm chaser and a bounty hunter with a little bit of treasure seeker thrown in to give everything a rich Harrison Ford glaize. One of the major perks of being an Ark Hunter is that you are outfitted with all manner of technological wonders, the most important of which is your EGO power.
Defiance keeps things simple by offering you only four active abilities (or EGO powers) to choose from: Overpower makes you do more damage for a time while also automatically reloading your gun. Blur increases your movement speed and melee damage. Activating Cloak turns you momentarily invisible (great for PvP) while Decoy creates a hologram of your character to distract your enemies (also great for PvP). Experience points earn your Ark Hunter an EGO point to pump into your EGO power or other passive abilities with the possibility of unlocking the other EGO powers over time.
In addition to the four active abilities, you have a slew of passive abilities to unlock and improve as you progress from fledgling ark enthusiast to ark obsessed superpower. All of your abilities are located on a grid, with powers being accessed through the unlocking of other abilities surrounding them. This means that if you start with Overpower as your active, like I did, you have access to all of the passive abilities surrounding Overpower. From there, you can continue to unlock abilities on the grid until you have carved a path to another active ability and unlock that. However, I found that one ability was enough for me, given the variety of guns available.
Once you’re done with the character creation and the following tutorial you are introduced to the world and your role as one of many Ark Hunters. Similar to open-world titles like Grand Theft Auto and Assassin’s Creed you’ll find that there is a primary story thread to follow, a copse of side missions, challenges galore, and tons of random encounters awaiting you in the Bay and they’re all marked on your map. Unlike those other games, however, you will find hundreds of other players to keep you company, as well as a string of missions that runs alongside the SyFy show and its cast. You also get a quad to ride around on almost immediately and that’s not too shabby.
Missions and side missions are your standard questing fair and there isn’t much to say about them that would surprise you. You’ll be given various destinations to drive to and once there you will fight some baddies and click some things. Many of these encounters end in mini-boss fights that are pretty fun, but really nothing jaw-droppingly original. When the mission is complete you’ll be rewarded with some in-game cash, experience points, and gear.
You’ll also find varying challenges, such as races and weapon challenges, all of which reward you with goodies based on how well you do. There is even a leaderboard for each challenge, giving players that chance to stake their claim to fame as the Bay’s best. What really kept me doing missions and challenges, however, is the fact that both feed into what the game calls “Pursuits” which are basically achievements earned for doing all the missions or challenges in an area. Or exploring the entire area. Or running dungeons to completion. You get the idea. Some Pursuits even reward you with in-game titles, outfits, and hats. I’m a sucker for hats.
All of this is pretty standard MMO-fare, but what really sets Defiance apart is the arkfalls - giant boss fights that can occur at any time, anywhere on the map, regardless of what quest you might be in the middle of. Arkfalls are marked on your map, meaning that once one starts, players everywhere will be racing to that location. Unfortunately, with the arkfalls come the hellbugs - nasty creatures ranging in size from house-cats to skyscrapers.
In the event of a giant “major arkfall” players will be tasked with destroying crystals which have crashed onto the map. These crystals are surrounded by hordes of hellbugs which you will have to fight off as you try to destroy each crystal. Once all the crystals are destroyed you’ll be treated to a world boss called a “hellion”. You’ll begin by shooting all of the hellion’s glowing mouths until it finally stops spewing plasma at you. From there a flying creature will eject from the top of the hellion and start attacking players. Once this enraged bug takes enough damage it will return to the hellion and spawn a different type of big bug called a “monarch”. Kill the monarch and the flying “symbiote” returns. Do this one more time and eventually the hellion will explode and take all of the hellbugs with it. The whole event is a lesson in madness.
Players who take part in arkfalls are rewarded with gear, experience, and credits, as well as “keycodes”. These keycodes, which can be earned in missions and dungeons as well, can be traded in to vendors for lockboxes containing powerful gear. That same gear can be broken down to a unique currency and used to purchase even more keycodes, making for a very “Circle of Life” feel. It was in one of these lockboxes that I found a pretty sweet sniper rifle that shot lightning bolts. Because if there’s one thing that Defiance offers its players, it’s a wide variety of guns.
In my time with Defiance I swapped from an assault rifle, to a sniper rifle, to a shotgun, to a light machine gun, to a submachine gun, to an semi-auto sniper rifle that shot lightning, to a shield-restoring laser-emitter-thing, to a revolver the size of my forearm, to a- you see where I’m going here. The game has a lot of guns and that’s one of the biggest lures of adventuring in the Bay: what gun am I going to find next?
Whatever amazing guns you may find will come with you over to Defiance’s PvP, be it the instanced team deathmatch or the opt-in open world “Shadow War”. I expected that nixing PvP-specific gear would create an unbalanced competitive environment, but I was pleasantly surprised with how easily new players were able to go toe-to-toe with the more serious Ark Hunters, regardless of gear.
The instanced PvP matches are pretty straight forward. You have a 6 v 6 map and an 8 v 8 map, both of which stick to team deathmatch rules, with the first team to 50 kills claiming victory. Win or lose, all players walk away with experience points and some pocket change. I don’t know that PvP is a viable means to player progression at present, but it’s a nice break when exploring the Bay gets a little tiresome. Hell, in Shadow War you can fight other players and explore the Bay. Gotta love a two-fer. Similar to the instanced matches, players have to queue for Shadow War matches. This prevents an Age of Conan level of nonsense ensuing with players butchering each other at all times and nothing ever getting done. Once a Shadow War match begins, players are warped to a spawn point somewhere on the world map and tasked with taking and holding different beacons. Of course, being out in the world means that while you’re busily trying to capture a point you may be welcomed to an arkfall dropping directly on your face and your life being swamped with an unimaginable amount of chaos. The ducking and dodging of enemy bullets in tandem with the struggle to not be overrun by nightmarish hellspawn is simply glorious.
While overall I found that my experience with Defiance was made better through teaming up with other players to run dungeons, chase arkfalls, and explore the world, I found actually communicating with said other players to be something of a nightmare. Contrary to popular belief the PC version of the game does have a chat client. A horrible...horrible chat client, but one that is there and available for use if you’re willing to put in the effort. More often than not I would type a message into the chat log, hit “Enter” and nothing would happen. Which would have been peachy, if the message didn’t usually read “Dear God! The hellbugs! Save m-...”
The borked chat program is not the only prominent bug I ran into, either. At one point I logged into the game only to find my player standing in a blaring white purgatory and several times I was dropped from the servers upon completing PvP matches. Not to mention that the UI is akin to a folk story other UI’s tell their children to scare them into having proper menus, but when you get down to the running, gunning, and stomping of scary space creatures, Defiance is sitting on good foundations. With so much to do in the Bay, no subscription fees to speak of, and the show airing on April 15th on SyFy, I think that this is one to keep an eye on. As is the case with all freshmen MMOs, these next few weeks will be trying and while only time will tell, I think that if Trion can work the kinks out, Defiance is going to have a solid shelf life.
Good luck out there, Ark Hunters!
EDIT: As I was opening my e-mail to submit this article, I received a mass e-mail from Trion Worlds letting players know that they have been awarded a unique title and some free boosts for anyone playing the game at present. A nice gesture to say that they understand the current client is a little hellacious. Looks like someone over there is paying attention.
Review by: Jeff Ellis | Reviewed on: PC