Is Viacom making a giant leap for gamer kind?
The Syfy network has taken criticism regarding some of its programming choices over the last few years (reality shows, intentionally cheesy movies, and WWE Smackdown) but this is also the network that created greater a bigger, badder Battlestar Galactica, along with series like Eureka, Alphas, and Warehouse 13.
Now, they’ve joined forces with fellow Viacom company Trion Worlds (makers of the fantasy MMORPG RIFT) to create Defiance. Developers have been working on the concept for five years and it may be one of the most hyped games for months with a huge campaign and corporate sponsors. So, what’s the big whoop?
Saying Defiance is a game and a TV series is a gross understatement. Trion’s concept is an epic MMORPG that will have synergy with Syfy’s weekly series of the same name. It’s not just a game based on a show; the two will be interconnected. Elements from future episodes will impact or effect future gameplay and vice versa. As an example, the results of a major battle or game incident could become part of the show’s mythos or at least mentioned in an episode. Conversely storylines, characters and tech from TV episodes could appear later in the game. This means that players could directly or indirectly have a voice in their own experience.
Mad Max with Aliens?
The setting for Defiance is 2046 in a world coming back, or barely limping along, after the major cataclysms of interplanetary war and massive terra-forming has nearly destroyed everything. So, you have a mix of futuristic and even alien along with some classic allusions to the Road Warrior – only instead of fighting over the next gallon of gas, you’re fighting over alien tech that is literally falling from the sky. Early live-action trailers seemed to re-enforce this image with packs of bikers and desert warriors riding into battle. Now, generously mix in baddies ranging from mutated humans and Hellbugs (imagine large red insects with a mouthful of shark’s teeth) all the way up to building-sized space monsters.
Some might say Defiance has thrown a lot of standards into a blender (Sci-Fi, Post-Apocalyptic, Old West, etc.), but they’re good ingredients. What’s left is the execution.
What’s an Ark Hunter?
To quickly sum up Defiance’s background (and there’s quite a bit), sometime very soon we will find out we’re not alone. A massive fleet of Votan Arkships arrive to colonize after their entire solar system went bye-bye some 5,000 years ago.
The Votan? They are a collection of seven, maybe eight, mostly humanoid alien races (like a less zealous Covenant from Halo) that banned together to build massive Arkships and flee for a new home. It took those 5,000 years in hypersleep to get here; only here is not the vacant paradise they thought it was. Votans and Humans tried to work out a deal, but things went south.
During the war that followed, many of the Votan Arkships crashed themselves into the planet. Apparently this was planned, since they contained technology to terra-form our world. Needless to say, in a very short time Earth got an alien makeover and most major cities were wiped out. However, an eventual truce was declared. And now, the remnants of both sides share a broken planet.
The Arkfall crash sites have become the new gold rush as fortune hunters look for precious alien tech. And that’s where you come in. Part mercenary, part scavenger and part prospector, you roam the reformed West Coast looking to make your fortune.
Defiance Game Play Crash Course
As for a quick run-through of what to expect, Defiance starts as many shooters do: by throwing you into the mix as soon as possible. In this case, your newly hired Ark Hunter is aboard a ship heading to the San Francisco Bay area (or what’s left of it). You meet some of the TV series characters right before you crash-land. They must have pilot issues in the future, considering how many Sci-Fi games start with a crash.
Character creation is quite streamlined, maybe too much so. Instead of giving you very detailed facial and body settings, you have a selection of noses, mouths, etc. to build yourself. I’m assuming this to offset potential lag issues from more complicated characters. But, it does cut down on the time needed to get strapped in and rolling.
You also choose from four career backgrounds (Survivor, Veteran, Machinist, and Outlaw) which dictate starting gear and then opt for what race/gender you are. It saddened me to find out that while the TV series talks of 7 alien races, you can only choose human or the tribal Irathient. Why? Was this also to keep things running tight? Or will other races be added later or as part of DLC?
Literally thrown into the world of Defiance, you now run through the quick tutorial on the fly. It’s what you would expect; basic movement, shooting, defense, load out etc. But, a word of advice – don’t stir up enemies and then go into a tutorial section. You may be stuck until the lesson is over but can still be attacked. A little frustrating. So, kill any enemies nearby before starting them.
That’s something else too. Since the starting area is fairly open, you could just go off wandering around and even getting into battles without finishing the tutorial but you won’t be able to move forward until you go back and finish them.
Super Ego Trip
Your hunter has a special implant given to you by your Von Bach Industries boss. It’s called EGO. It combines a ghostly girl image talking in your ear (ala Halo’s Cortana) and a selection of super powers that enhance your body. But, your stingy bosses only allow you to have one power (at least for now) of the four options. These EGO powers include similar shooter game abilities (Decoy, Blur, Cloak and Overpower) depending on if you like to run and gun or sneak and hide.
You will be able to boost these powers and receive awards for how you use them. Getting and using EGO abilities could be a pretty big deal, I’m surprised they weren’t handled with more reverence, instead of just automatically getting one right out of the chute or nonchalantly enhancing it.
What to Do? What to Do?
Kudos to Trion for creating a wealth of opportunity if anything else. Opening up your map, you will see a layout of quests, side quests, challenges, Co-Op maps, and PvP opportunities.
The main quests will likely be ongoing since they will coincide with the series. I am curious if they will continue to make new cinematics as the seasons of the show go on.
I’m primarily old school and attempted to methodically walk through the main story, but temptation lies at every turn. And by that I mean, you could be tooling down the road on your quest, but suddenly come across other players in a firefight with some nasties, or you might come across an abandoned vehicle or some NPCs. An Arkfall could occur not too far away and knowing some goodies await may sway you to detour.
Arkfalls are meant to be a central feature. As meteor storms hit from out of nowhere, pieces of alien craft will crash to Earth. These events bring out the scavengers and Ark Hunters but also, they attract Hellbugs (lovely ‘little’ critters) and other baddies. Major co-op battles ensue until the artifacts have all been broken down and claimed. Arkfalls happen fairly often, so you could just spend most, if not all your time treasure hunting.
For PvP, in addition to death matches there is Shadow War. You become part of a team competing for an Arkfall. The winning team is paid off in special credits for special gear and upgrades.
Once you finish a section of the main quest, you will be able to short cut back to that location on the map. And the map is in broken up into areas, each section with its own unique opportunities, so having short cuts will be a big time saver.
Wasteland Shopping Spree
Despite the devastation of the old Earth, survivors don’t seem to want for much. Likely alien tech has helped prevent food and water shortages, so the game can focus on getting rich and finding the best stuff.
Located throughout the regions are merchant stands. They look more like large vending machines for buying and selling weapons, gear, vehicles and modifications.
And there is a lot of everything, especially guns. You could spend quite a bit of time browsing, selling off found items, or modifying your gear. There are a lot of basic weapon types and models, most of which can be upgraded in some fashion.
One frustrating note though. Most objects only allow for 1-3 modification slots, so only buy mods you know will work. If your pistol can only upgrade barrels or sights, then buying a new stock mod is a waste of scrip. But, fear not – because in many cases you can upgrade the amount or types of mods your favorite boomstick can use.
Can’t Get Away from Hellbugs
Like the skittering annoyances that pop up in the wastelands, no game is bug-free. Defiance however does a pretty good job of spraying for pests upfront. During my Beta test, I experienced no lag and had fast start ups. Aside from the learning curve of figuring out the menu screens, I was able to do most things I wanted to in game. And most of the critical comments from PC testers were in regard to the User Interface, but it appears that the UI is modeled the same for PC, X-box and PS3.
Some things did bite me on the butt once or twice. The Scavenge menu is a bit frustrating when it comes to using weapons mods, but I think most of that was trying to figure which mods actually worked for the guns I had.
Also, on two separate missions I had to redo part of them. I would finish the mission, even watch the cinematic only to find out it didn’t take. A little frustrating or maybe it was payback for me taking out a baddie in a humorous fashion. (Hint: I was smacking a baddie off a roof only to have him pop back up over and over.)
Another issue for me and I’m sure for others is the chat window in the lower-right. It’s only a single line. Which means you have to bring up the Chat Menu to read a conversation, which can get you killed. Also, to be able to chat openly is a two-step process.
Past and Future Tense
After five years of development and months of ads and hype, Trion and Syfy will unleash Defiance on April 2nd. I suspect there will be an initial rush as the series debuts (April 15th) and players want to see what the hubbub’s about. The challenge for Trion is keeping folks coming back.
Trion’s previous game, RIFT, was fairly well-received (not bad for their first game out) and there are some similarities if you’ve played it. Both are visually captivating. Both are richly detailed. Both have large open worlds and have random events occurring in-game. Critics of RIFT said it lacked some originality among other fantasy MMORPGs. But, while RIFT was similar to World of Warcraft, Defiance felt to me more like Ubisoft’s Far Cry 2. And I loved playing Far Cry 2.
A brief Beta test was just not enough time for me to explore Defiance’s offerings, but what I did get a taste of was enough to make me want to go back for more. And since there’s no monthly fee, I’m likely going to be strapping in for more Arkfalls.
Look me up if you’re out plugging Hellbugs or wanna grab a drink at The Crater.