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Defiance review: MMO shooter offers a bold, but broken, new world

Solid foundations, but work needs to be done

Trion Worlds has balls. It's trying to do so many things with Defiance that it's near impossible not to take notice. This is a massively multiplayer online third-person shooter (a MMOTPS, then) set in a persistent world filled with thousands of players, and it's busy charting a perilous path through the murky MMO waters of infamously rigid Xbox Live and PSN online spaces.

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Oh, and it's also on traditional PC platforms too, of course. Oh, and it's tied into a multi-million dollar Hollywood-produced TV series of the same name, sharing locations, characters, weapons, vehicles, clothing, events and, significantly, storylines. So why does it still feel underwhelming?

You play the role of an Ark Hunter; a kind of 22nd Century Crocodile Dundee

Set in a violently terraformed future San Francisco, Defiance gives us a dystopic playground in which aliens have landed and there'll be no phoning home, thank you very much. The Votan, as they are called, are here to stay and while some, like the playable slant-nosed Irathients, are agreeable, others, like the tellingly-named Hellbugs, are less so. You play the role of an Ark Hunter, a 22nd century Crocodile Dundee, sent out into the new world to loot resources from giant, crystalline, bug-spouting rock spires that occasionally pop up in the landscape.

There are two story branches to follow: that of the game and that of the show. The first has your oddly silent avatar follow the escapades of your employer, Von Bach, poking sticks at ArkTech in a highly scientific (read: jibber jabber nonsensical) attempt at fixing the ravaged world.

The other, more arresting, story arcs come in the form of Episode Missions. These take cues directly from the TV show, and involve its more fully developed characters. How these will evolve with the flow of the series is still unknown. Aside from these stories there are also hundreds of events, time trials and challenges littered around a sizable map.

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EGO-CENTRIC

Typical quests involve disarming bombs, hacking terminals, freeing hostages or examining dead bodies. Essentially this means reaching an area, clearing it of enemies and then holding a button over an objective marker. It's a bog standard quest offering, but one element which adds a bit of Bombay mix into this poorly disguised pub grub is the fantastic variety of the arsenal.

Weapons can be infused with elemental effects and a Halo-esque two weapon limit forces you to consider your loadout carefully. A deadbolt electro-sniper rifle and plasma-modded machine gun combo may be all well and good for when you're blazing across open ground towards a distant Arkfall. But head into a bunker, complete with rushing mobs, and you'll quickly find yourself wishing for that pump-action scattergun you sold off for easy scrip (the game's currency).

Other major choices to make come in the form of EGO powers. These can be activated off the back of a cool down and fuel your chosen gameplay style. Blur gives you a burst of speed and allows for meatier rushed melee attacks, which proves great for balls-to-the-wall types.

Out and out snipers can turn invisible with the Cloak skill, while Decoy and Overcharge send out holograms or power up your ammo respectively. As well as these there are myriad other passive abilities and buffs to peruse with each level gained.

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This depth of choice during your character's development undermines your start up decision, however. From the get-go you can choose to be a Veteran, a Survivalist, an Outlaw or a Machinist, but regardless of which you go for, the choice feels about as heavy as Gok Wan's man bag, affecting little other than your avatar's fashion sense.

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