Xbox defiance-hands-on

Published on February 24th, 2013 | by Richard Motokovsky

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Defiance – Hands On

This may seem like a hyperbolic proclamation, but the gaming world really won’t be the same after Defiance launches this April. The transmedia collaboration between the Californian developer turned publisher and the Sy-fy channel is certainly the most ambitious project of the year, with a massively multiplayer online game and a big budget TV show tying into the same science-fiction universe which sees a near-future Earth irrevocably colonized by a host of different alien races.

This isn’t your typical invasion storyline though, as the blue and green planet’s variety of domestic governments struggle to negotiate a deal to make a permanent home for the new arrivals, with the aliens kindly bargaining their advanced technology while the humans weigh up the value of their land. Inevitably negotiations between the visiting ‘Voltans’ and ‘The Man’ break down, causing a war to break out over the Earth’s future. This decades-long stalemate comes to a head as the aliens’ orbiting ‘Arcs’ are mysteriously sabotaged, crashing onto the Earth’s surface irreversibly colonizing the land, causing massive seismic rifts and dramatic geographical changes.

Sounds like the pulpy sci-fi of old right? Absolutely, and gamers will have a key part in the ensuing fallout of these vastly different organisms all suddenly sharing the same biosphere. Both the game and the show will focus on different locations and slightly different times in this exciting new futuristic universe, key characters and events will weave seamlessly between both media entities. Crucially that doesn’t mean you have to be invested in both though, as the game has more than enough intriguing content and features to warrant its own existence. Essentially Defiance follows a somewhat familiar shooter MMO framework, with players able to select their own weapon loadouts and explore a huge open-world largely at their own leisure.

There aren’t any rigid class restraints, so players can equip which weapon they fancy, be it an ground-shuddering rocket-launcher or a stubbornly precise sniper rifle – the choice, as they say, is yours. There is a grand campaign-arc to progress your customization silent protagonist through, with a bunch of different story missions spread throughout the open world with fully-voiced cut-scenes, but really Defiance is all about third-person all-action combat carnage on a hitherto unprecedented scale. You see, servers can cater for hundreds of different players simultaneously, so while you’re clearing out a base during a story or mission, it’s very likely you’ll be joined by dozens of other players, with the number of enemies and challenge ramping up to accommodate the increased number of participants.

The core gameplay feels very organic with live action targeting and loot all proving a key part of the experience, much like a regular third-person action game. At the same time Defiance also boasts core MMO traits like leveling up, XP accumulation, visual customization and bulking out a big skill tree. The result of blending these different systems results in a very accessible, immediately satisfying experience which gets more complex as you specialize your character.

Events pad out the open world and range from fighting back sudden invasions by red insectoid monsters known as ‘hellbugs’ to taking down enemy strongholds held by deranged human ‘Raiders’ driven crazy by the recent alien resettlement. The sci-fi context for all this madness is fleshed out in dialogue and key lore locations in the environment, but thankfully it’s not forced onto the player like it would be in Mass Effect, instead it just adds a degree of color and resonance to your actions.

First and foremost Defiance puts all its stock in the multiplayer arena, be it teaming up with dozens of friends to tackle missions and events or taking part in the competitive side of things. At any time players can enrol in either Battleground or Shadow Run match types – the first of which is simply team deathmatch and takes place in special instanced maps catering for 12 players, whereas the second capture point-esque mode occurs in the open world, with the map growing larger and larger accommodating more points as new players join the game. Both modes allow player actions to feel as though they are important in the grand scheme, but for us Shadow Run proved more enjoyable, just because the player limit could bloat to beyond 40 players. That to us is where Defiance is at its absolute best with chaotic carnage overwhelming your senses, as vehicles, NPCs and gunfire rattle off from seemingly every direction.

Overall, Defiance is a very well designed, intelligent game where player convenience is prized more highly than perhaps anything else. The ability to spawn in a vehicle at any time is a prime example of this, allowing players to quickly travel between events on their mini-map to story missions, point-to-point races or that intriguing bit of scenery placed temptingly on the horizon.

This focus on accessibility is undoubtedly due to this release’s presence on both consoles and PC, and it’s much better as a result. The controls feel tight and responsive, whether playing with a keyboard and mouse or a gamepad, and the online framework is split between platforms, so one subset of the audience won’t have an advantage over the other.

Despite boasting an MMO-like multiplayer structure, Defiance won’t require players to commit to a monthly fee. Instead players will have permanent access to servers as soon as they purchase a copy of the game – following a trail blazed by Guild Wars and The Secret World. New content like weapons, skins, vanity items and expansions will be available post-launch.

All signs point to Defiance being around for years to come. Part MMO, part third-person shooter, Defiance is a multi-faceted experience which we suspect will take many by surprise when it launches in April. TV show be damned, Defiance the game is worth recommending all on its own.

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