Despite the promises made at the start of the current-generation, massively multiplayer online (MMO) videogames have not seen the greatest success on consoles. The Xbox 360 still benefits from the ongoing update schedule for Final Fantasy XI and a handful of action titles purport to offer player numbers in the double figures, but very few present thousands. So here we are, in the final throws on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3’s lifespan, we find ourselves faced with Defiance: a videogame that’s set to become more than the sum of it’s parts.
At its heart Defiance is an MMO action videogame: a third-person shooter set in a role-playing game (RPG) structure. And it does well to pull this off, convincing in its mission structure, freedom to explore and character customisation. More than this however, the world of Defiance is tied to the upcoming television show of the same name. Trion Worlds and SyFy promise a direction connection between videogame and television series: events in one will see changes occur in the other. Exactly how this will play out is not yet known as the television series hasn’t yet reached the point of connection, so Electronic Theatre’s review will be based on the videogame experience alone. After all, that’s what you read this publication for.
After a lengthy installation and patch update process, lasting roughly twenty five and forty minutes respectively, Defiance heads straight to the character creation screen. ‘This is an MMO, therefore you already know how to play MMOs’ Defiance states in defiance of its console audience. Anyone adopting Defiance is likely to have enough knowledge of videogames to create a reasonable character without too much of a worry, but a good MMO character? It’s a very different story creating a key fighter or team leader to take on artificial intelligence (AI) enemies when you’re the only person in the world than it is to create one capable of doing the same with forty others with you, or fighting against you.
And this is the experience that Defiance can offer. The videogame has wonderful depth in all of its many gameplay assets, but it’s the modes and events which see your small coupling or team meet with several others all working towards the same goal. Each group was on a different mission, each had a different objective, but the arrival of this screen-filling hell bug has called you to arms and your differences have been set aside: this is kill-or-be-killed, and the human’s aren’t going without a fight.
The combat itself is only ever slightly more complicated than Earth Defence Force 2027, but that works in Defiance’s favour. Despite adding a cover system, a huge variety of enemy tactics and an overwhelming assortment of firearms Defiance’s gunplay remains fast-paced and engrossing. It’s more Tomb Raider than it is Gears of War, but with an inventory that puts both to shame.
The core experience of Defiance is one which at its best sees you working in a small team for common goals. Challenges are structured into the typical core story missions and optional objectives, all of which are open to soloists or groups of players. Defiance adapts the difficulty to the team it is presented with rather than putting up barriers for entry. Of course there are limits, a level five character messing with a pack of level forties is never going to have an easy ride, but there is enough leniencies to spread yourselves several levels apart and still have a similar experience.
The available gameplay options are perhaps Defiance’s most impressive asset, with core story missions coupled by strict dungeon crawling co-operative set-asides and emergent gameplay in the main world. In addition there’s the competitive gameplay: Shadow War. These mass fights see players joining huge teams and kicking back against one another on typical base capture style missions. It’s a welcome addition and one which is supposedly more closely tied to the television show than any other, but sadly Shadow Wars are not quite as popular as one might hope. Perhaps it was the decision to relegate them to an option on the player menu (hidden deeply on the d-pad options) that gives players the feeling that the competitive gameplay modes are an afterthought, despite the fact that they are in fact – when working as intended – one of the areas in which Defiance shines most brightly.
Defiance isn’t about to break any new boundaries in terms of visual quality, but the fact that it manages to render hundreds of customised players and a wide variety of enemy troops of all shapes and sizes is commendable. The voice acting fluctuates between world class and frankly appalling, while the soundtrack is a subtle compliment to the action that falls short of being a highlight of Defiance’s presentation simply by sticking to closely to the establishing videogame template.
While MMO videogames haven’t lived up to their potential on current-generation consoles, Defiance is a good attempt to prove they could be done. Has this arrived four or five years ago it would’ve been hailed as the future of current-generation gaming, but 2013 has brought some astounding titles that are far and above anything the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 have yet delivered, and sadly next to these experiences Defiance simply doesn’t make enough of an impact to warrant the attention it demands. Should you find yourself with a group of likeminded friends willing to jump into Defiance’s world as a team it’s highly likely that you’ll find dozens of hours of enjoyment wrapped-up in its huge campaign, but those who find themselves playing solo will invariably be met with a much more shallow experience.