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Defiance is a massively multiplayer online shooter role playing game tv series thing. Coming soon to a Windows PC, XBOX 360, Playstation 3 and TV screen near you!
If nothing else, developer Trion Worlds gets credit for ambition. By itself, the game has very few (if any) direct competitors and coupled with the live action tv series, Defiance is a unique prospect.
Trion and the SyFy network are promising some very deep connections and interactions between the game and the show, including the potential for players to influence outcomes on the show. How often these crossover events take place and how large an impact they have is something that remains to be seen, of course.
Without having seen the tv show or experienced more than the introductory tv/game crossover, the game can only be fairly assessed based on what is playable now.
The core Defiance gameplay is that of a third person shooter with some light RPG elements sprinkled throughout. Players can choose from around ten basic weapon types, with two equippable at any one time. Swapping between them in combat is possible, even encouraged, especially if you select some relevant perks from the hefty range available. Weapons have variable statistics, with some doing more damage or having larger ammo capacity, or being semi- rather than fully automatic. Shotguns can be pump-action, able to be reloaded one shell at a time, a combat variant that reloads an entire magazine or the good old fashioned double-barrel. Then they can also shoot in a standard shotgun spread, a single solid slug or even launch a small grenade at your foes. Other weapon types offer varieties both expected and not, making it worthwhile to experiment with different loadouts.
All the weapons can additionally be modified to add new scopes, higher capacity or faster reloading magazines and more. Each of these modifications show on the weapon itself, adding some much needed personalisation to your gear, which is otherwise restricted to specific unlockable outfits and headgear from in-game achievements, missions or purchased with real money.
The character creation process is adequate, but unspectacular. You're certainly able to create a reasonably unique looking avatar for your adventures, but with only two playable races (human and the mostly-human-looking Irathients) you'll likely run into some similar looking players, if you care to look close enough. Mostly, I was too busy hooning across the landscape in my sweet blue dune buggy looking for that next Arkfall.
Arkfalls are one of the major elements players will find themselves losing hours to in Defiance. Travelling from a storyline mission's start point to the destination is often interrupted by the little red icon on your screen that indicates an Arkfall event. These are often a single Arkfall meteorite impact point, where you compete for the technological spoils with the game's distinctive hellbug enemies, ex-military mutants, AI scrap robots, crazy miners or bandits.
Sometimes, instead of a minor Arkfall, a major Arkfall event will begin. These start out with a half dozen smaller impact sites, all of the same enemy theme, which need to be defeated within a given time limit. Should players (single, group or random coalition of strangers) finish the minor Arkfalls in time they'll be "rewarded" with a very much tougher boss fight. Everyone will need to work together, both to pour fire on any weak points presented and to keep your fellow Ark hunters on their feet. The more people participating, the tougher the enemies become, making cooperation essential.
The rewards for completing an Arkfall feel a little meager at times, but the expectation seems to be that players will do multiple Arkfalls per session. With their ubiquitous nature it seems a reasonable expectation, but it'd still be nice to get a shiny piece of loot for your troubles.
Trion's making a point of calling their engine "pixel perfect" when it comes to aiming and it seems a fair claim. If an enemy is standing perfectly still and you shoot a sniper rifle just an onscreen-pixel off target, you won't hit them. This is an important inclusion for a legitimate shooter title and frankly impressive for an MMO.
Of course, being a cross-platform title, there is the option for some aim assistance, either for players using a controller or those who just don't have the precise aiming skill required. Personally I prefer to leave the aim assistance off, but the game handles the assistance quite well if you switch it on, never causing a crucial shot to miss because it decided you should aim elsewhere. It isn't perfect, but it should make the game much more playable for casual players, which is essential if they want to entice the TV audience across.
As you'd expect, Defiance also has some "dungeons" to explore with a group of friends, or strangers. They tend to be fairly linear affairs, progressing from the entryway through to the final boss encounter. Set battles along the way tend to be well placed with plenty of environmental objects to hide behind, barrels to shoot or gadgets to interact with. Move from cover to cover (or use your Stealth power) and switch off a turret's generator to clear the way forward or set some prisoners free to help you in a tough battle. Boss encounters are nicely varied, with some being straight "shoot him in the face" affairs and others requiring more clever tactics. Most are designed to be repeated (a random group finder is available for the socially challenged) but expect them to wear a little thin if you keep running through the same scenarios every time.
Player versus player scenarios are also available and they're... about what you'd expect. Go to a separate map and shoot at some other players for a bit instead of shooting at hellbugs. I'm sure this excites some people, but I am not among them.
What is interesting is the Shadow War PvP option. This is played in the regular world between participants who have chosen to sign on. So if the Shadow War zone is in an area where arkfalls can occur, it's entirely possible one will drop in the middle of your "match" and players not in the Shadow War might start fighting over the spoils there. Or you and the opposition might switch to fighting in and around the arkfall over any other objectives present.
At least, that's the theory. I wasn't lucky enough to see this in practice. But a sort of hybrid open world PvP that remains consensual, without the constraints of regular PvP matches is an interesting, if sometimes confusing, twist.
There's a lot to like about Defiance. The gameplay is well polished, the graphics are stunning and the system requirements on PC are remarkably reasonable. Cross-platform play on the same servers would have been a nice touch, but it's hardly a necessity.
The big question mark that hangs over the game is what happens if the tv show is cancelled? The game has legs enough that it could survive, but without the potential crossovers between the two will enough players stick around? And will Trion be capable of adjusting the plan to take it into account?
Only time will tell. It should, at the very least, have a solid three months while the initial 12 TV episodes air. Players will want to see the related in-game events unfold and viewers might get curious about the game if the messaging is solid enough.
Defiance is an entertaining game that deserves to do well, yet its fate may ultimately be decided in tv-land. It's unfortunate, but that's the risk they're taking by tying the two so tightly together. They could succeed beyond their wildest imaginings, or it could sink without a trace.
With no subscription fee gamers should certainly take the punt. Non-gamers who think the TV show sounds cool would be better advised to wait and see if they like the show enough to take the plunge. But then, non-gamers probably aren't reading game reviews on the internet, are they?