As Colin pointed out in his surprisingly thorough write up of “Landslide,” there haven’t been a lot of posts lately. One of the reasons for that is I’ve been spending my time not playing through a bunch of fun new video games, but instead focusing entirely on the trans-media event (my words, not their’s) that is Defiance. And since it’s a MMORPG and a TV show on the Science Fiction (or “SyFy”) network, I thought maybe you guys have no idea what this is. So I’ll tell you.
The most surprising thing about Defiance, the show and the game, is that it doesn’t suck. It should, right? I can’t remember anything exactly like this before, certainly not on this scale, but what was the best case of a story told through multiple media before? Enter the Matrix/The Matrix Reloaded? I guess the bar wasn’t that high, but I’ll be damned if everybody hasn’t stumbled thus far. But playing and watching Defiance, I keep thinking, yeah, this is all right.
I also think, wow, this is some old-school shit. The Defiance TV show feels a lot like an early Nineties sci fi show, with some of flair of modern cable drama, like Game of Thrones and maybe even a little of Battlestar Galactica. The characters are broad and campy and idealistic – the good guys are obviously good. And yet the show is really serialized, something those old shows would never have done. It’s willing to get dark on the regular and deal with slightly more complex issues. Let me explain.
In the future, a group of aliens show up. A whole bunch of different species have been looking for a new place to settle down, and they decided Earth looked pretty nice. They came in peace, but eventually shit went down, the planet got terraformed, a bunch of humans died, and there was a war. That war ended at Defiance, when the humans and aliens through down there weapons and agreed that killing each other was dumb. Joshua Nolan, our main character, was there.
Nolan is basically Han Solo, I mean, he’s just way cooler than everybody else in the show. Kind of a problem when your main character makes everyone else look bad, but we’re just a few episodes in and he’s starting to show a few cracks. In the double-stuffed first episode, he and his adopted alien daughter, Irisa, find themselves in St. Louis, now renamed Defiance, and decide to settle down. The city’s run by Mayor Amanda Rosewater, played by Julie Benz of Dexter who must be the go-to nice-but-boring white lady of television. Unlike much of the apocalyptic wasteland that is Earth, Defiance is a real, multicultural city, which the show draws from for its most interesting dilemas. Any show that has lead characters butting heads over ideological differences has my attention.
I wouldn’t necessarily call Defiance promising so far, but it has potential. I believe this is a show that could really hit its stride in a second or third season and be something I actually recommend people tune in to; which is nice, since it’s doing pretty well in the ratings and SyFy doesn’t have a lot of that going around. Similarly, the Defiance game almost as full of potential.
It’s obvious the game was rushed out to coincide with the show’s premiere. There are a lot of bugs, like bad, world breaking bugs, that I’ve run into these first few weeks. But they’re getting ironed out, and with a playerbase of a million, I want to believe developer Trion Worlds can turn this into a quality MMO. It already does a lot of things well.
First of all, it’s a third person shooter – there aren’t a lot of MMOTPS. Hell, there aren’t a lot of MMO shooters of any sort. And the combat is actually fun, like a real video game. So many times I’ve made concessions for a game’s combat because it was an MMO, but Defiance is solid enough on its own. You can shoot and roll and use neat powers. Not Mass Effect 3-level of awesome powers, mind you, but tactically useful powers, like the ability to turn invisible or send out a hologram decoy.
But really the game is Borderlands, in that you run around motivated more by the desire to get new weapons than anything else. There are a lot of weapon types out there, and favoring any one kind allows you to level up your skill with that class. Weapons themselves level too, but when you fill the experience bar, you unlock a random bonus and lose the ability to keep leveling that skill with that weapon. It’s a harsh tradeoff, but one that will keep you looking for new weapons all the time, even when you’ve found one you love.
You’d think one of the strengths of this game would be the writing, right? Well, no, not really. I wouldn’t go as far as to say the game is poorly written, but it’s drenched in cliches and broad characterization. Perhaps most weirdly, the game is set in the Bay Area, pretty far from St. Louis according to my brain if nothing else. So while both media share a world, don’t expect to spend a lot of time running around with your favorite characters from the show. Maybe that’s for the best.
Oh God, there’s so much to say about an MMO. Chunks of spaceships fall to earth in random events called Ark Falls were everybody can rush in and fight to claim loot, like rifts in Rift. It’s awesome. The leveling system is fine, you work your way around a grid, starting from the power you chose to begin with, eventually allowing you to unlock all four powers. However, you can only equip one power and a few talents at a time. There’s a salvaging system which I recommend you invest in, because you’ll need salvage to attach mods to your weapons. There are mounts, vehicles ranging from ATVs to cars to giant trucks, which are surprisingly fun to drive around in. There’s no gear outside of weapons, grenades, and shields; instead you can unlock outfits and hats for your characters.
Defiance has no monthly fee, but it does have microtransactions. So far, the only stuff that you can get with just real money are outfits, vehicles, and XP boosts, no big deal. But they are going to start rolling out proper DLC later, and we’ll have to see how much those add to truly understand if this is a good business model. Right now I think it’s fine.
So there’s a look at the madness that is Defiance, the world that I’ve been consumed in for a little while now. It’s all right. Not for everybody. But if anything I described above caught your eye, hey, maybe you should keep an eye on this. I defy you not to.