Defiance: An Experiment Doomed To Fail?
The game itself is a Rift-like experience; in-game storylines are activated whenever a new ‘Ark’ crashes on earth, similar to how Rift’s Rifts affect that game. All player factions then converge on the wreckage and seek to gain control of whatever weapons, resources or other assorted advantages can be found. Players assume the role of either humans or aliens and battle for control of whatever resources the Ark has brought down with it. The demo focused on PvP, story-free combat, but even in limited form it was a blast. The game will be class-free, with a high degree of character customization allowing players to select from specific specialties as they level up rather than being locked into a single chain of abilities.
Even so, the specializations generally fall into your standard gaming class classifications. (A support specialization unlocks the ability to heal, or steal life from your enemies, for instance.) Each specialization has a unique power associated with it, unique weapons and combat moves. I played as a Shocker, essentially an engineer unit who uses a combination of alien biotech and human weapons, and does its best work from a distance. And credit where credit is due, the character does some frankly awesome things, for example the gun that shoots what looks like glowing-yellow sticky bombs that turn out to be alien egg-implantation devices. Once attached to your enemy, the yellow orbs begin to grow until the cause the victim to explode in a bloody shower of alien bugs. It’s awesome.
While I was informed players will be able to choose from a variety of human and alien characters and specialization upon launch, only humans were available at the demo. (so, you know, it’s possible either that the eventually-added alien classes will break the game, or plain suck.) We should assume that characters were extremely buffed for the PAX demo, because I seriously don’t normally do as well as I did with a game I’ve never played before. But even with that caveat, combat felt balanced, fast paced, and varied. If you prefer a cover-based approach, you’re covered. If you prefer running and shooting, ditto. If you’re a kill-from-a-distance, a magic user, or even a troll, you’ll probably be able to exploit some aspect of Defiance to your liking.
But Yes, It Is An Insane Idea
So, Defiance is a perfectly fun shooter with a few interesting ideas. But as I said, it isn’t just a game, it’s an MMO that is also a TV Show, and therein lie the seeds of its (potential) destruction.
It’s an MMO. I probably don’t need to tell you what an incredibly dicey time this is for the genre as a whole. Game after game has been forced to go free to play, and even a brand name as strong as Star Wars couldn’t save The Old Republic from being forced into a F2P model. Of course, fantasy MMOs tend to do better than science fiction, and Defiance isn’t Rift. Add to this the fact that Trion still hasn’t decided whether or not Defiance will be subscription or F2P (all reps would tell me is that ‘they’re examining all options’), and you’ve got a potentially great game resting on a very shaky foundation.
The TV show matters. The launch of the game will occur 2 weeks before the TV show debuts, and the first unifying storyline will involve the two main characters from the show (human Jeb Nolan and his alien sidekick Irisa) as mission-generating characters within the game. At the end of the two week period, Jeb and Irisa will leave San Francisco for St. Louis (where the series takes place), and the first episode will apparently cover their journey eastward. As I mentioned above, events in the show will be affected by in-game events, and will affect the game in return. How this will work is still unknown. Presumably, events in the show will have greater impact than events in the game; I can’t imagine SyFy would agree to fund a TV show that was more than superficially dependent on external media they don’t own in order to make sense. I’m guessing vague references to shared concepts present in the gamefor the show, with specific references and even missions related to people and events in the show for the game. But that’s assuming the show works, or even comes out.
We are talking about SyFy. Let’s be honest: Since its ridiculous 2009 rebranding, SyFy has had a decidedly mixed record. The network has 5 ‘original series’ currently in production, though most of them are joint ventures between the network and Canadian production houses. And one of them – Lost Girl – is simply licensed outright. The network also has a history of ruthlessly meddling in its programs, famously killing Farscape for no good reason and being the reason for some of Battlestar Galactica’s worst episodes. The network prefers airing reality TV shows (there are an astonishing 15 at present!), or terrible, low-budge movies.
There’s also SyFy’s lack of skill handling their properties that do work. Lost Girl, for example, is a definite success for the network. It owned its Monday evening time slot compared to other basic cable channels. So what did SyFy do? Move it to Fridays, AKA the death slot. The show is too successful in Canada for the change to damage it Stateside, but it’s a bizarre choice by the network. Consider that Defiance hasn’t yet received an official premier date, and you can’t help but worry that SyFy support for the show will be soft, at best.
Could it work? I don’t mean to villify SyFy here. The network has previously experimented with games + TV programming via Red Faction: Origins. That film drew good (for the network) viewership and received a favorable, if anemic response. But it couldn’t help Red Faction: Armageddon, which flopped so hard it killed the Red Faction video game series. Of course, Armageddon was a terrible game, and Defiance may end up being great. But tying the game so closely to an ongoing TV series causes one’s spider sense to go off.
Still, I’m intrigued. This is a marvelously crazy idea, and we need more of those. I absolutely love the ambition of a project like this – Seriously, Trion Worlds is demonstrating serious gonads here – especially in the current market that is exceptionally allergic to new IP. No, I don’t much like MMOs, but I enjoyed the demo quite a bit, and I’ll definitely be paying attention to its development. If only to watch it crash and burn
Game Front is on-site at PAX Prime all weekend (Aug 31-Sep 2), bringing you daily news, hands-on previews, interviews and pictures. Stay tuned for more PC gaming-focused coverage!