Defiance Review: No Risk, No Reward

My initial reaction to Defiance was one of boredom and mediocrity. In spite of this, I gave it some more time to percolate and impress me, both as a game and as an “experience.” I fooled around with co-op missions, did a few major Arkfalls (public quests), and played a few rounds of PvP. It was nice not feeling pressured by a subscription to keep grinding and playing, but my patience with Defiance’s issues didn’t last for long. The overall mechanics of the game didn’t change significantly from my first impression, but the time spent fooling around with the other systems allowed me to mull over exactly how I felt about Defiance.

The more I thought, and the more I played, the more I began to dislike Defiance. I finally came to an important realization: Defiance is not an average game, as I originally said in my impression. It’s plain bad.

Platforms: PC (Reviewed), Playstation 3, Xbox 360
Developer: Trion Worlds
Publisher: Syfy, Trion Worlds
Released: April 2, 2013
MSRP: $59.99

Defiance takes place on a ravaged Earth. Arks full of alien refugees appeared over the planet in 2013, throwing the world’s governments into political turmoil. Attempts were made by humans and aliens live peacefully were made, but tensions escalated until an alien ambassador was assassinated by a xenophobic supremacist. The result was a war that devoured countless human and alien lives, and the only thing that caused it to stop was a massive disaster that destroyed the arks and caused them to rain onto the planet, releasing rogue terraforming technology and killing plenty of people. Earth now lies in ruins, with aliens and humans scrabbling among the wreckage and eking out relatively normal — minus all the weird nonsense happening to the planet — lifestyle.

While Defiance the show takes place in St. Louis, the game takes place around the San Francisco Bay Area, and is set in numerous open-world zones. These zones are connected to each other in countless ways, which makes Defiance one large world rather than a series of discrete chunks. The chunks are there, to be clear, but they are far less obvious than in other MMOs where the areas are inexplicably surrounded by mountain ranges. Your goal is to go from the zone of Mount Tam on the north tip of the map down to the Bay Area (and San Francisco) down at the bottom of the map.

What impact does this have on Defiance the game? Almost none. The story is told piecemeal — a necessity given the open-world nature of Defiance — and it attempts to go the route of Star Wars: The Old Republic and inject human drama into an MMO. I’ll say it right now: open-world MMOs are not designed for that sort of thing.

Defiance constantly struggles with the desire to tie itself to the show while giving players the ability to create their own stories, and the result is that neither aspect is done well. The open-world bits drag down the story bits, and vice versa. Developer Trion Worlds should have made the tie-in and story an afterthought and focused more on open-world behavior like public quests, events, and maybe even territory. Much like the EVE Online True Stories project, Trion had a chance to allow players to create backstory that would help shape the setting, both in the game and in other media like the TV show. Instead, they went for total narrative control.

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