Defiance review: MMO meets sandbox

If you're in the mood for a free-flowing shooter with the novelty of being surrounded by dozens of other players, then Defiance is a decent pick, but if you're the type of gamer who craves either a good story or an active player community then this one is not for you.


"So...what am I supposed to be doing?"

More than any other thought, this was the phrase that echoed through my mind during just about every moment of Defiance when I wasn't actively pursuing a quest. It's an MMO, but it doesn't include most of the tropes we've come to expect from the genre. Namely: a goal. In place of traditional elements like social interaction and leveling, we get a shooter sandbox that is extremely laissez faire about what you do with your time. Whether that's a good thing or not depends on what kind of player you are.

As a huge fan of exploring digital worlds in MMOs, I spent much of my time cruising around the fairly small world of Defiance exploring what the game world had to offer. However, the game world is fairly bland so I'd jump into a few throwaway quests about rescuing five medics or activating a radio tower, but throughout the game I felt a complete absence of a guiding hand. There is no indication of what the point of Defiance is. Maybe that's it though. Maybe Defiance is just an open world play set. It's a ball of clay that players can use as they wish, but with all the inherent limitations of simple, unformed clay.

Trion has been talking a big game when it comes to Defiance. Their company line is that it would be a groundbreaking cross-medium world that would link Defiance the television show and Defiance the online world in exciting ways. However, the reality is nothing quite so grandiose. Basically, Defiance will include episodic story-based missions that give a nod to the events of the show.

From what we've seen of the story the game currently offers, we're not entirely optimistic about where these missions will go. The game's characters only show up rarely, but are unlikable and devoid of any personality beyond the snarky guy, the serious guy, and the smarmy guy. Meanwhile the paper-thin storyline doesn't involve the player in any way more significant than making you someone's lackey for a short while. The result left me feeling like the odd man out--the way a courtroom security guard must feel. There are stories here, but it's tough to care when you're just the muscle. I'm sure this alien technology you discovered is fascinating, but you don't pay me to care about the details. Just tell me who to shoot.

While Defiance fails at story and characterization, it picks up the slack with its solid core gameplay that is reminiscent of a third-person Borderlands by way of Trion's previous (highly underappreciated) MMO, Rift: Planes of Telara.

Unlike other MMO shooters, such as Tabula Rasa and Global Agenda, all the action here is in real-time. There are no skills to exhaust, no global cooldowns, and no automatic hits. This is third person shooting like you'd find it in any action game, and for the most part it feels pretty good in the moment-to-moment battles.

It's buoyed largely by a fun Borderlands-esque system that ensures you're constantly getting unique weapons like electric shotguns or sub-machine guns that shoot flaming bullets. The breadth of possibilities isn't nearly as vast as Borderlands, but there's an irresistible pull that comes from getting a cool new weapon. You must go try it out.

The real trouble with Defiance is that the core gameplay is all it has. The progression that you'd expect to find in an MMO (level up to tackle more difficult dungeons and cooler content) and the story you'd expect from a shooter are gone in Defiance.

It straddles the line between an MMO and an open world sandbox game. It's an online-only world with hundreds of other players running about, but there's next to zero social interaction. In the entire time I played Defiance in preparation for this review I never once spoke with another player, which gives the game a lonely, crowded feeling like a nightclub where everyone is dancing alone.

The one moment when the isolation breaks is during the Arkfall events which are essentially the same thing as rifts in Rift: Planes of Telara. In these events, a giant piece of alien technology or a boss monster emerges in the world and dozens of players swarm the site, whacking it like a giant pinata until it spews loot.

These moments are fun, but can become a problem when swarmed by dozens of other players. The enemies in an Arkfall seem to scale in difficulty according to how many players are present. So if there are too many people there then your bullets might as well be ping pong balls.

Apart from the episodic story missions the only lasting allure is PvP. While PvP is occasionally fun, it won't hold most people's interest for very long as the main modes feature only two maps, and there are some glaring balance concerns.

Defiance's faults are a lot more forgivable though because you're not being asked to pay a subscription fee, and there's nothing else like it on consoles right now. The novelty alone might be worth it for some players, but Defiance struggles in the long term. Without a story or sense of progression it is all too easy to imagine Defiance collecting dust after a few play sessions. [4]

This Defiance review is based on a digital PC version of the game provided by the publisher. The game is also available for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

From The Chatty
  • reply
    April 12, 2013 10:00 AM

    Andrew Groen posted a new article, Defiance review: MMO meets sandbox.

    If you're in the mood for a free-flowing shooter with the novelty of being surrounded by dozens of other players, then Defiance is a decent pick, but if you're the type of gamer who craves either a good story or an active player community then this one is not for you.

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      April 12, 2013 10:51 AM

      While I agree with the lack of story/connection to your character (you never "speak" nor even have a voice) you forget to mention quite a few other items.

      You say there are no "skills to exhaust," but there are quite a few actually. As you progress through the game you unlock EGO points that are needed to unlock a variety of skills (never counted, but upwards of 40). And while the game asks you to pick one of 4 categories in the tutorial (speed, cloak, extra dmg or decoy) you can eventually unlock them all as you rank up.

      You also forget to mention your weapon and vehicle progression. The more you use a certain type (lmg, smg, sniper, rocket, grenades, or drive a certain type of vehicle) it increases in stats, either increased dmg, less recoil, faster speed, more boosts etc. Then there are also the mods you can loot/buy to craft into your weapon slots.

      You only mention Arkfalls but there are also Shadow Wars which puts you on opposing teams (think it's 64vs64) and is a king of the hill type mode on the main game map (in addition to the other PvP instances).

      And as you progress through the game you also unlock about a dozen co-op maps which all seem to be exclusive locations (not rehashed maps from the main world). You can either group up with friends, or get matched up with other individuals in qeue.

      There's also clan support, but that indeed does not seem to have been fleshed out too well at the moment. The chat does suck (tiny window, times out way too fast, is confusing).

      And if you feel like cruising the world (once you get to San Francisco the environment totally changes btw) you have several dozen challenges you can compete in (racing, shootouts etc) which then link to achievements you unlock, granting you new outfits, mods, weapons, vehicles, credits and so forth).

      There are also daily and weekly contracts you can complete, giving you access to weapons otherwise not found throughout the game (as in weapons with extra stats/mods).

      It does need some work however, so hopefully the patch on the 15th will give us some more content to play with.

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        April 12, 2013 1:03 PM

        Nice try Dahanese!

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          April 12, 2013 1:25 PM

          jeez, just because I have a different opinion and point out a few things you suspect me of being a Trionworlds employee. And yes, I had to google "Dahanese" to know what/who you meant...

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      April 12, 2013 11:03 AM

      I played this for about 45 minutes and never want to touch it again.

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        April 12, 2013 11:11 AM

        And you know what, totally understandable. I would hate to have been a console player at launch, the launch has been quite disastrous for them from what I read in the forums.

        Andrew hit it on the head when he compared it to Borderlands, and it is, thus far, quite an MMO for individuals. It does not advocate a group/community feeling. Not sure what, or if at all, they can change that feeling.

        Maybe that's why I have enjoyed it thus far :)

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          April 12, 2013 12:04 PM

          I think that's definitely why I'm enjoying it. :)

          I'm playing on 360 - the first day or two was problematic, but they got things vastly improved very quickly. There's still an occasional server crash, but I played for 4-5 hours yesterday and didn't have one yet.

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        April 12, 2013 12:36 PM

        I made it a bit longer, about 3 hours and I had to stop out of sheer boredom. There is nothing compelling about the gameplay. Andrew hit it on the head, there is no story, and for bing a sandbox that's fine but I never felt my character gained anything. I loved Rift, I loved the world events, the arkfalls in contrast were truly and utterly boring. There is no tactics, no skill, no coordination needed to play this game.

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          April 12, 2013 6:46 PM

          Did you by chance play the Competitive or Shadow War modes?

          It demands more skill, tactics and coordination then you'd think.

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            April 12, 2013 6:58 PM

            Shadow war was interesting but cloak and shotgun/noob tubing got boring fast. Not going to debate the tactic as it makes sense given the tools, but nothing competitive about that.

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        April 12, 2013 3:20 PM


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      April 12, 2013 1:15 PM

      If the show is as good as I hope it will be, I might give it a shot.

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        April 12, 2013 6:51 PM

        I saw the premiere. It's pretty awful.

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      April 12, 2013 1:47 PM

      I'm enjoying the crap out of it! so there!

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        April 12, 2013 3:20 PM


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          April 12, 2013 3:56 PM

          the variety. & some other things

          1) Things to do in the game (and I'm probably missing some stuff): Main Quest, Episode Quest (Based on things from the TV show), Side Quests, PVE open world, PVP deathmatch, CO-OP maps, Time trials (racing from point to point on the map), Horde Trials, etc

          2) GUNS: lots of these, from pistols to rocket launchers, and some alien shit too. Almost every gun can be modified with stuff. Some guns do special damage, etc. Very borderlands feel, in that almost every weapon seems different

          3) It's an "Action" MMO. The pace during firefights is very frantic. I dont feel like I'm just running around waiting for the cooldown on my favorite 3 actions, to hit the button again. You actually have to shoot at stuff!

          4) Quads/Trucks/Cars/Buggies - They give you a 'mount' almost right out the gate. They are fun to drive, and they each handle a little different.

          5) No monthly fee. In other MMOS I always felt like I was throwing money away when I wasnt playing.

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            April 12, 2013 7:10 PM

            I will agree that there was some kind of quest/mission/trial every ten feet!

            Guns are no where near as fun nor unique as Borderlands. You're going to get different mods, different elemental attacks, but the mods offer like 0.01% accuracy, 0.4% kickback... The creativity is no where near borderlands quality. Borderlands I got shotguns flying out of my hands on reloads, bouncing bullets off walls, truly innovative stuff. Unless there is something 10+ hours in to the game I didn't see, weapons were actually quite unremarkable. Never once did need to use a mod as the game was so easy I didn't need the assist of a 0.1% reload speed. In fact I needed the challenge, I riped all my mods out and used my starter weapons RWAR!!!! I'm just kidding!

            Yeah... you actually have to shoot stuff, I agree. After all it is a shooting game.

            Mount. true.

            No monthly fee, true again. I don't think they could charge a monthly fee, people would drop out like crazy if they did.

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              April 13, 2013 12:43 AM

              you will see some crazy weapon drops as your EGO level goes up, but yeah i don't know if they could change it up that much unless they scale the difficulty of the mission based on your gear....then that just defeats the purpose. Or you make the content get really, really hard as the game goes on and then you force players to grind for gear.

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      April 12, 2013 8:11 PM


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      April 13, 2013 12:40 AM

      ok review, but there are a few mistakes. Firstly there is character progression in "skills". You unlock level proficiencies in the weapon you are using and the benefits end up being quite large. Ontop of that the higher EGO rating you are the better the weapons that will drop. The damage numbers don't really change, but its all the secondary stats and synergy mods that can make weapons insanely good.

      There is more to pvp than just deathmatch, there is another mode that is 64 player and more like battlefield with a series of cap points in the map you fight over.

      There are also co-op missions (dungeons). I think there are currently 7 of them in the game (i havent finished them all) and they are pretty fun.

      I don't really blame the reviewer for missing this stuff though, as a huge fault of the game is that there is basically no tutorial. For instance the game doesn't tell you if you max out the XP on a weapon (yes weapons level aswell) you stop earning skill xp until you use another.

      Also if you watch the first 14mins of the show which is online, you will see there are direct references to events you would not know about unless you played the game.

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      April 13, 2013 12:48 AM

      I see lots of comparison with Borderlands, not with Fallout 3 or STALKER, which is too bad - as much fun as I had in BL, it is not "sandboxy" enough for my personal taste. Maybe it works for others.

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      April 13, 2013 7:34 AM awesome. Best MMO out. Defiance...hmmm...seems boring but I'll give it a lot more time until I give up. I think if after 100 hours it still has no real pull then I'll let it go. But Rift...just amazing. If Elder Scrolls Online is half as good I'll play it for a thousand hours.

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