Welcome to the new age.
Maybe I am just an easy touch for advertising campaigns, but every time I hear “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons on the radio (and it does seem to be on the radio a lot), I want to grab a controller and go hunting for Arktech in Trion Worlds’ open world MMO shooter Defiance. This can partly be blamed on the TV ad for the game that had Imagine Dragons’ song blaring whilst player controlled Ark Hunters rushed en masse towards their prize. It can also be blamed on the fact that the game is actually rather good.
This may come as a surprise for many gamers. Massively multiplayer online games are few and far between on the home consoles, preferring to set up home on the PC, and when they do turn up, the console crowd are generally disappointed with the level of repetition that is evident in most games of this genre. And, of course, the fact that Defiance is trying something new by being tied into a TV show by Syfy is enough to get a gamers defences up. “Something new? It must be witchcraft! Burn the developers at the stake!”.
But the facts speak for themselves. Defiance is a very good MMO, even on the home consoles. There is a certain amount of expectation that comes with launching an MMO, both on PC and on the home consoles. Firstly, the game will suffer from launch day woes, and will likely be packed full of bugs. Secondly, the game is not going to be cutting edge in it the visual department. And thirdly, the missions will be repetitive.
These are common factors in most MMOs and, in this respect at least, Defiance has been very successful. The game managed to upset many players with its fair share of troubles at launch, and even now is still generous with its bugs and glitches. The game doesn’t look great either, although the wide open world is nice to look at as you are whizzing past on your quad bike. And the main missions may well dress up their purpose with a back story and some character, but will still involve, for the most part, going somewhere and shooting something (or usually lots of somethings). Maybe the formula is alien to console gamers because it is not their usual fare, but for fans of the MMO genre it should be another day at the office.
There is plenty about Defiance though that takes it beyond these three simple facts. Defiance is an open world shooter that allows the player the freedom to go where they want and do what they want within a pretty massive game world, once they have gotten through the perky tutorial at least. It is based on Earth, but it is an Earth that has been changed through war with aliens and terraforming, making it both familiar and different. There is an almost Mad Max feel to the setting, with bandits and mutants roaming the countryside while the player explores in their ATV.
There is plenty to do in this open world beyond just following the story. The player takes on the role of an Ark Hunter, a tough-as-nails type who has decided to spend their time collecting alien technology for cash. So beyond the initial story, which sees the player tied to some scientist guy who happens to lose a really powerful piece of Arktech, there are side missions which involve clearing out enemies, or racing the in-game vehicles from point to point. There are plenty of opportunities for co-operative missions and even a healthy chunk of player vs player action. And then there are the Arkfall events in which the alien tech, and the ever-annoying Hellbugs, fall to Earth and players in the vicinity all gather to kick ass and reap the rewards. These events are pretty damn amazing, with up to 100 players on the screen, running around in a controlled sort of chaos as they fight with massive alien bugs.
The game is pretty straight forward, not that the tutorial gives that impression. The player’s character is genetically enhanced, giving them access to some abilities that the regular Joes can only dream of. It is the introduction of these skills, in which the player gets to try out each one individually whilst within a controlled zone (which is not controlled and keeps being attacked by outside forces), that gives an unfavourable impression of the game on the whole. It is too chaotic for a tutorial, and too dull to be anything more than off-putting. But sticking with it will reward the player with not only their choice of skills, which include the ability to become invisible, move really fast or create a clone of themselves to attract enemy attention, but also the freedom to put this regrettable experience in the past and start exploring this impressive world properly.
Once the player gets past the early stages of the game, and I cannot emphasize enough how tedious, generic and unappealing they are, everything gets a whole lot better and the player will be encouraged to return by gathering EGO (Defiance’s version of experience) to further modify their classless character with perks that revolve around their chosen ability, and a huge amount of equipment. Weapons, armour, shield generators, grenades – there are so many to discover in the game, and they can all be upgraded or broken down for handy scrap. Every type of player will be able to find their perfect weapon here, with everything from rocket launchers and assault rifles, to shotguns and sniper rifles being offered in many different forms. The loot levels in Defiance are high.
Defiance has been promoted as being a “transmedia” event, in that events in the game will affect the TV show, and vice versa. So far, there has not been a lot of that to be seen. The game and the show are set in two different places within the Defiance world, so the cross overs so far have been minimal, with the exception of the main characters from the show occasionally popping up within the game. However, as with all MMOs, things change over time and the best time to have the game affect the show would be in between seasons considering that the show is filmed months in advance. It really is too early to tell if the “transmedia” experience will be successful, but with a whole lot of DLC planned for the game, I am hopeful.
Defiance is pretty much exactly as I expected. It is an MMO shooter and with that comes a lot of expectations, both good and bad, that have been fulfilled. Core console gamers who have never picked up an MMO in their lives may well find the going tedious and repetitive, but for the millions of gamers out there who regularly play MMOs, this will be the norm. The shooter mechanic works well and the setting is impressively big and filled with stuff to do. And this is only the beginning – games like this evolve over time. So, Defiance is off to a good start and will only get better. Let’s go find some Arktech!