Developed by Trion Worlds, Defiance is based on a pre-existing franchise through a companion SyFy TV show. This helps set it apart from other MMOs at a time when the PC landscape is still dominated by old titans such as World of Warcraft and EVE Online.
Originally released in 2013, Defiance went free-to-play in 2014. Although SyFy cancelled the TV show in 2015, the game is still going strong. But, is it worth your time?
Unlike many other MMOs, the gameplay in Defiance is fast-paced. It plays more like a shooter rather than a traditional MMO, with games like Borderlands being an obvious influence. As a result, Defiance has a somewhat chaotic and fun approach, much like other looter shooters.
The basic gameplay system is one of defeating enemies and gathering up the loot they drop so you can become stronger. The problem is that Defiance essentially just falls into the trap of continuing this loop indefinitely. Unlike other titles, Defiance doesn’t have much to fall back on outside of this premise. Games such as Borderlands often have a strong narrative element and don’t just rely on the basic mechanics to provide the motivation to keep on playing.
Sure, it can be fun to just mow down hordes of enemies but a full game needs more. Facing the same type of enemies over and over again without any variety is tough enough. Doing so knowing that you will be doing the same thing afterwards, just in a more powerful form, is frustrating and depressing.
This lack of variety extends to your own character as well. There are only four classes to choose from. Even though they each have their very own distinctive ability, these don’t seem different enough to really justify further playthroughs. Player customization is also extremely limited, so much so that you can barely change anything about your appearance or the way you play the game.
Quests are just as disappointing. Everything revolves around getting to a specific area and then just holding it for a short period of time or interacting with an object at the press of a button. Even the larger public events don’t offer much more than just killing a lot of mobs before fighting a larger and stronger boss. In a time when many MMOs are including wide-ranging and complex mission structures, Defiance looks very much like a relic of the past.
Defiance starts out with a promising introduction that suggests there is going to be plenty of story to get to grips with. A cut scene explains who you are and what is going on, getting you acquainted with this post-apocalyptic world. Earth has suffered from some unknown cataclysmic event and the surface is all but destroyed. Ark Hunters, like yourself, now spend most of their time trying to find whatever leftover technology they can from the wastelands.
Unfortunately, the story elements seem to just fall away after this early promise. Despite all of the potential for a great narrative and background story, Defiance fails to utilize any of it. Alien races, doomsday scenarios, and the characters are given little-to-no backstories and do not develop as the plot progresses.
What the setting does provide is a great excuse to take a different approach to mounts than other MMOs. In keeping with the sci-fi story and post-apocalyptic wasteland location, players get around on ATVs. These vehicles are not only enjoyable to drive, they also provide some nifty gameplay opportunities when it comes to fighting large crowds. The “Mad Max” style vehicles certainly feel appropriate for the world and they work well.
Almost everything in Defiance looks like it is a year or two behind everything else. Textures and models certainly look dated and there is a distinct lack of detail to what appears on screen. Also, animations have a stiffness to them that stops movements from flowing as smoothly as you might like. Even on high settings, the draw distances don’t really improve and the rest of the visuals don’t get any better.
Similarly, the soundscape is just as uninspiring in terms of both the soundtrack and the effects you hear as you travel around the in-game world. Voice acting is one plus, with the performances being consistently good, even if they are far too brief and infrequent.
The core gameplay and setting of Defiance have a lot of potential. It certainly offers the chance for some mindless fun while shooting lots of bad guys.
However, you cannot help but feel this is a missed opportunity to create a truly great game. All the problems mean that most players are unlikely to want to invest too much time into what is a flawed game.