Defiance is a videogame experience unlike any other on Xbox 360. Final Fantasy XI made an early play for the massively multiplayer online (MMO) crown soon after launch and the likes of Chrome Hounds came and went without ever truly fulfilling their potential. Defiance however, is a videogame that promises to do all that these titles offer and much more besides; all of which comes before you factor in its relationship with the television show of the same name.
Shooting straight into the action after a few moments buried in character creation, the opening storyline of the videogame bleeds in your character without much on the way of gentle passage but it does give you a reason to meet the television show characters prior to them taking a lead role. So that’s Enter the Matrix’s idea put to work in such a fashion that it’s actually enjoyable not to be the lead, then. The character creation process begins with your choice of either a human or voltan warrior, and their gender, but as the storyline states that the two species have come together in the hope of surviving this isn’t a case of choosing good or bad, this is part of the class system. A light customisation system then has you alter the aesthetic to create one of hundreds – not tens of thousands as is often expected – possible combinations.
The character you create here is important by way of being the basis upon which your Defiance experience will be founded, but the limited aesthetic options are less of a concern when you acknowledge the huge amount of clothing and accessory options that exist within the videogame itself. This is arguably one of Defiance’s greatest strengths: there is so much in the way of firearm, ammo, shields, grenades, vehicles and accessory types that no two players will ever find themselves relying on the exact same combat strategy.
Defiance plays like a science-fiction Diablo in that many of its hours will be spent taking out bad guys and collecting loot, hoping that the rewards will be satisfactory for the time invested in earning them. The difficulty balancing that allows inexperienced players to join worn warriors is to be commended as it allows the former to become a greater force capable of playing on a near-equal footing in a short amount of time.
Outside of the immediate and direct combat Defiance is no more a cerebral affair, nut does give the player enough freedom to encourage the belief that it is. The main campaign is just one string to Defiance’s impressively large bow, with emergent bug hunts, mini-games and specially designed co-operative missions that take place away from the main gameplay area being compliments to the core structure. Furthermore, Defiance features competitive multiplayer gameplay in the form of its Shadow War system. An underappreciated addition to the experience, Shadow War fights take place between two teams on the exact same map as the rest of the videogame – it’s entirely possible to run through the middle of a Shadow War en route to your next mission – with players competing in a typical base capture style of gameplay. It’s hardly innovative design, but aside from the connection to its television brother Defiance isn’t intending to be a new experience: it’s the culmination of the best ideas of the many titles that have inspired it.
There’s the rub, of course, as while Defiance is a very enjoyable videogame it’s easy to feel that it’s many disparate gameplay modes don’t fit together into a cohesive experience. With enough time to fill in the gals and polish the overall experience Defiance could well have been something very special, but as it stands it does lots of things well but nothing spectacularly. Trion Worlds have designed a videogame that fulfils all of its ambitions, but fails to offer any reason as to why it stopped at the same point that titles released over six years ago also did.