The world of videogames is an industry built upon copy-cat culture. Once a unique idea becomes popular, said idea is bled dry until only those willing to put their own spin on it remain.
Copying a style of gameplay or borrowing bits isn’t necessarily a bad thing providing the company lifting them knows what they’re doing. Saint’s Row is a prime example of taking an idea (Grand Theft Auto) and building upon it, whereas games like 187 Ride or Die show how to plagiarize a gameplay mechanic without adding anything worthwhile.
The downside of borrowing inspiration from elsewhere is when you do your own thing, it’s magnified tenfold, and if your ideas aren’t up to snuff, they’ll sink faster than an over-priced ship heading towards an iceberg.
Defiance takes inspiration from a plethora of great games. Then bores you to tears with a bare-bones world that lacks any real sense of accomplishment or direction.
Defiance starts with a brief cut-scene about the history of Defiance before asking the player to create an Ark Hunter – a mercenary for hire in search of riches. From the off, there are two race options, Human and Irathient – Irathient being one of the five different alien Votan races in Defiance – with each offering a male or female option. There’s also a choice of four different outfits each with a different starter weapon: assault, sniper, shotgun, and light machine gun.
Customization options range from selecting a facial structure, hairstyle, and eye color, to designer scars, war paint and tattoos.
Making an interesting character is easy enough, but once you get past the tutorial and into the world, it turns out 90% of the player-made characters look identical. It isn’t a bad thing per se, but the lack of customization features makes characters feel like a cheap knockoff or some sort of estranged sibling.
Okay, so at the start of any massively multiplayer online game characters will look similar. Surely it’s only a matter of time until you get some new gear and this problem rectifies itself naturally? It doesn’t. There are four head-gears to be purchased from vendors, and other outfits and head-gear are rewards for missions or challenges. After spending twenty plus hours on the main questline, there are a whopping five outfits to choose from…
I have a vivid memory of starting out in World of Warcraft. As a noob with no idea of what’s going on or how to play, the area I was in became besieged by high level players working for the opposition. My group of new players were getting killed in one hit and it wasn’t fun. Then, from out of nowhere, came an army of elves in massive armor (with capes!) riding mounts, to save the day.
This little anecdote happens to most MMO players in some form. The point here is that new players see experienced players and want to be like them and look like them. Defiance is a game where no one looks bad-ass because every player has at least ten clones. Yes, there is more to games than looking good, but having a unique avatar gives the player a sense of ownership. It’s my character in this world, as opposed to a character Defiance has loaned me to play with; which is how it feels when there’s only five outfits to acquire (seven including episode rewards).
This issue, a lack of content, is something that is continuous throughout Defiance and when there is ample content, it’s the same thing again and again.
The story starts aboard a stratocarrier spaceship, the EMS New Freedom. It’s here we meet the player’s employer Karl Von Bach and learn of an expedition to help Von Back find something of importance. Within moments, the EMS New Freedom comes under fire and forced into a crash landing. It’s then up to the player to find Von Back and discover what being an Ark Hunter entails.
For the most part, the story is sufficient; with the third act bordering on interesting. There’s a few moments of storytelling brilliance but these moments are undermined by obvious plot devices intentionally added to prolong the story instead of feeling like a natural obstacle the player must overcome.
Defiance’s main questline has the player battling bandits from Borderlands, an army of cyborgs styled on Zero from Borderlands 2, while traversing terrain in a vehicle that’s style and handling is visually similar to a certain game involving Vault Hunters (FYI: I was talking about Borderlands).
Alright, copy-catting can be a good thing, I get that, and in the case of Defiance, it works. Although fans of Borderlands will see the similarities, Defiance does a good job of delivering its own take on these stolen ideas.
Missions will consist of holding square to hack/deactivate/activate a conduit, storming a stronghold, defending something, driving someone about, or defeating reinforcements. That’s it. No, really, every mission follows this formula.
Once you’ve played Defiance for a few hours, you’ve seen everything the story has to offer in terms of gameplay. After five hours in, you’ll be bored. It’s the same thing again and again and again. The more you play, the more you keep expecting something to happen, waiting for the game to throw you a curveball, but it never comes. Just more of the same.
So why play the main questline or side-quests? I honestly don’t know. There are five outfits up for grabs. Five outfits for twenty hours of repetition doesn’t feel like a fair trade, though. Maybe it’s to get different weapons? Nah, you can get weapons from enemies throughout the world.
The game doesn’t give you any reason to play the main storyline other than ‘Because’. It’s a missed opportunity that could have kept players coming back for more. As it is, paying £39.99 for a twenty-hour campaign that’s built on repetition, just isn’t worth it.
What’s frustrating is there are a few moments when the story really pops. Driving over a bridge that’s being bombed is exhilarating but only lasts about ten seconds. The final boss fight is brilliant: it’s so cheap that it forces the player’s tactics to evolve from ‘just hold down the trigger’ to careful planning and judging when to fire.
Alas, these are just two moments over twenty-hours. It’s simply just not acceptable by today’s standard.
To recap: There’s a lack of content, and where there is content, it’s the same objectives on repeat.
My gut is telling me to be worried. There’s already a season pass up for purchase. Is the season pass new content, or content that the main game is desperately in need of that’s been pulled to resell at a later date? I don’t know, the fact that in-game items like armor cost around £10 per set, ignites a worry that Defiance is nothing more than another cash-grab: make the most amount of profit with the least amount of effort…
It infuriates me, there’s moments of real promise that had more money been spent on development instead of advertising, Defiance could really shine and be a force to be reckoned with.
Aspects like EGO implants are areas that scream ‘Missed opportunity’.
Players are equipped with an EGO implant which bestows special abilities: Blur makes the player lightning-fast, Decoy sends out a copy of the player for enemies to attack, Cloak makes the player invisible, and Overcharge raises the player’s attack power – and looks like an omni-tool from Mass Effect.
No power makes you godlike, but as they level up – and you buy perks to increase their effectiveness – they do help turn the tide of battle. Using Blur to charge a target then run for cover while giggling like a schoolgirl as you retreat is immensely satisfying, and with how useless the shield system is, can often get the player out of near death situations.
The problem is that these powers aren’t enough of a reason to play the game – they’ve been done elsewhere, and better. They’re cool, no doubt. But they’re not gripping enough to keep players playing in the long run.
Another area I would have killed for the developers at Trion Worlds to have sunk more time into, and expanded, is side diversions like Ark Hunting.
Ark Hunting is where Defiance is at its best.
An arkfall is when a giant slab of rock falls from the sky. What’s so interesting about a giant rock? Well, there’s loot to be found in them and scrip (the in-game currency) to be made. The fun part being that everyone knows this and everyone wants what you’re after; resulting in a chaotic free-for-all involving enemies against fifty-plus players.
Arkfalls are great fun, but the only reward they yield is weapons, shields, and experience. I can’t help but worry that after a time, player’s will want to move onto something else; something else being a handful of co-op missions, an unbalanced PvP system, or the campaign… It’s easy to see Defiance as a passing fad rather than an MMO you can sink a portion of your life into.
In the first hours, Defiance is satisfying. After the first hours, Defiance is disappointing.
I don’t know what went wrong. Hiccups like sound skipping like a broken record when the world gets busy or lag messing up hit detection, I can deal with. But dealing with no sense of accomplishment and bland missions, there’s no excuse.
Defiance could have been something groundbreaking, and does deserve praise for the shooting mechanics and visuals, which are top notch. But, it all falls apart when you play it for the long haul.
Defiance had potential, you can see that. The thing is, I don’t like paying for potential. I like paying for a finished product.
“Watch the show, play the game, change the world.” I’ll watch the show, but I won’t play the game until they change its world.