The year is 2013 and Trion Worlds is preparing for the launch of its most ambitious project yet: a transmedia superweapon with its sights set on conquering the game industry and beyond. That project was Defiance, a space western MMO with its own Syfy sci-fi tie-in TV show. Fast-forward one year and the game was already eyeing the free-to-play market in hopes of growing its dwindling playerbase. In 2015, the Defiance TV show was canned after ratings plummeted during its subsequent seasons. The buzz had all but died down and Defiance found itself lost in the annals of history. Battered but not beaten, the resilient game switched gears and abandoned its lofty, idealistic goals in pursuit of a more modest space to call its own. Now the year is 2018 and Defiance 2050, Trion’s “reimagined” Defiance game, makes its debut as a new and improved, free-to-play game with the goal of expanding beyond its previously small territory.
I was a beta tester for the original Defiance, and I can’t say that I was particularly impressed. My opinion didn’t change when I tried it a second time following its free-to-play release. It was, at best, a barebones MMO that offered nothing new but the gimmick of being a third-person shooter. Defiance 2050 reworks some of the original’s major systems, but is that enough to satiate the starving MMO community? The simple answer is no; absolutely not. Defiance 2050 is a generic, outdated experience that offers nothing of value; another release to add on to the pile of flavorless MMOs that have been plaguing the industry for years.
The game begins aboard a giant vessel flying over the futuristic San Francisco Bay Area. Here, I’m presented the opportunity to customize my character and choose one of the new starting classes: assassin, guardian, medic, and assault. After a series of cutscenes, the vessel is brought down by baddies, forcing me and my motley crew of poorly-written characters to eject to safety. Cass, the potty-mouthed action girl archetype, graciously rescues me upon my landing. She gets me back on my feet, but not before unleashing a slew of alien profanities that sound more like swear word workarounds than believable alien lingo. She really sets the precedent for the quality of writing to come. The developers try their damndest to cram lore down players’ throats with every single piece of dialogue, yet it all feels so forced. Between the pitiful attempts at world-building and the slang terms that sound more English than alien, Defiance 2050 makes a conscious decision to inject cringe-worthy, out of place sexual jokes to give players a break from such “serious” storytelling. I’ll give them credit, it does improve over the course of the story, but at no point would I ever consider it “good.”
Having taken the express route to the Bay Area, I could now begin my journey across this vast, sci-fi wasteland. Decimated during the Battle of Defiance, the game’s map is comprised of cheaply build settlements, rolling dirt hills, scattered debris, and a wealth of mutants, raiders, and deviants hungry for my blood and money. At first glance, this lawless land doesn’t quite look like the sort of place I’d want to spend my hours traversing. I can now say that after reaching the end-game, those exact feelings have only been amplified. Vehicular travel is introduced early on in the story, giving players access to the Defiance 2050 equivalent of the Mako from the first Mass Effect. Both off-road and on-road options throw vehicles down a path paved with unnecessarily steep hills and obstacles that take precision driving to overcome. Unfortunately, taming these metal beasts proves impossible, which makes turning about the most challenging thing in this entire game.
When I’m not driving from quest marker to quest marker, standard boots on the ground gunplay makes up the majority of field time. Character loadouts can hold two weapons and a whopping three skills determined by their class’ restrictive skill tree. Each class can be leveled to 25, while EGO level is capped at 50. EGO is the standard character level but serves no purpose aside from gating content. What does matter is the character’s power level, determined by averaging the individual power levels of their equipped weapons, shield, and grenade. It would be unwise to tackle a pack of mobs 500 power levels your superior but I did it anyway. If anything, it added that hint of excitement that the rest of the game failed to provide me. Snipers, shotguns, and rocket launchers dominate in combat; I was able to mop the floor against substantially tougher mobs with a couple well placed headshots. Furthermore, the enemy AI is as simple as it gets, and could be found either waiting in line for a beating or running straight towards me.
Competitive PvP is where the flaws in combat truly stand out. Powerful rocket launchers single-handedly break the PvP with their capacity to one-shot any player. Normalized PvP doesn’t mean anything when the strongest weapons still reign supreme by a huge margin. On top of broken weapons, the maps are bland copies of pre-existing areas in the game world, fitted with an absolutely unpredictable and underdeveloped spawn system. To add onto the list, enemy players have tags and health bars that can often be seen through walls, the matches offer no interesting gameplay opportunities and modes, and players aren’t even allowed to battle as their custom character. I can’t label this mode as anything else but tacked-on, but it still serves as a nice break from Defiance 2050’s repetitive gameplay—if I can actually find a match. It seems like no one is actively playing this mode; it’s taken me, without fail, at least 30-40 minutes to find a single match of competitive PvP every single time.
The goal of the game is to pump up your power level to its absolute limit. Eventually, progress will plateau and players will have to dive deep into the game’s upgrade system if they want to continue their power crawl. Weapons collected match the character’s power level, so stagnant power level means stagnant weapon power levels. By looting enemies, completing events scattered around the map, and clearing co-op dungeons, players can amass a steady supply of salvage. Players can then sacrifice their hard-earned salvage to enhance a weapon until it reaches its max level. Levelling weapons gives access to special points that can be allocated in any of the three bonus weapon stats. Beyond enhancing, weapon mods of different rarities can be attached for an additional boost. Sounds easy, but here’s the twist: unlocking mod slots, removing mods, or rerolling bonus stats requires a resource called Caeruleum Cores. Cores can be obtained via quests and the same means mentioned before, but they don’t come in large quantities. Ark Keys, used for the opening chests at the end of co-op dungeons and larger Arkfall events, can obtained at a rate of two per day by completing daily contracts. That’s right, the reward chest that players look forward to in almost every MMO is trapped behind a daily limit. To even reach this daily limit, players are also required to be at max EGO level. Additionally, salvage and mods are separated by weapon type, meaning the pieces obtained may not necessarily fit the bill. RNG is a huge factor in prolonging the endless grind that makes up the bulk of Defiance 2050.
For all the impatient gamers out there itching to lighten their wallets, leave the tedium to the free players and take a deep dive into Defiance 2050’s cash shop. There, the game offers Ark Keys, rare mods for weapons, and even salvage for upgrading them. Big spenders will easily enhance and upgrade new weapons to their limits in a matter of moments. This may be a PvE-centric game, but the monetization alone may be enough to turn away players. Aside from the more controversial items listed, the shop also offers vehicles, cosmetics, inventory expansion, and boosts for various currencies and experience.
Despite the numerous content updates for the original Defiance, several popular additions have yet to make it to the new game. In its current state, content pales in comparison to its predecessor. In the interim, my end-game consisted of scouring the map for major Arkfalls to complete, running my co-op dungeons, and completing my daily/weekly contracts to boost my reputation and resources. Every other side event dotted on Defiance’s underwhelming map offers no real incentive to complete them—they’re no more than generic kill or fetch quests that offer negligible rewards.
The dungeons of Defiance 2050 fair no better than its drab open world, featuring the same braindead enemies and similar interaction prompts between bouts of shooting. Shoot, open a door, shoot, disable turrets, shoot, and repeat. Every dungeon features a similar layout of ugly corridors and generic sci-fi music with the most interesting component, the boss, located at the end. Like the hellbug and mechanical superbosses found at the end of the largest Arkfall events, these fights remind you of what this game could have been. The bosses are intimidating, possess actual movesets, and require some semblance of strategy to topple. Sadly, they also highlight the weakness of the game’s unfortunate class system. Medics are by far the most effective class with the guardian lagging behind in second place. Their impact are noticeable, whereas every other class offers no worthwhile benefits for your team. Even more uncreative are the co-op arenas, where players fight waves of enemies to improve their scores and rewards.
Arkfalls are the undisputed winners of most entertaining content in Defiance 2050. Don’t get me wrong, they’re still the same kill-fests that punctuate the rest of the experience, but there’s always something exciting about communities rallying together to annihilate a common threat. For the largest of Arkfalls, you can expect to see dozens of players facing off against a colossal foe and its minions. Admittedly, the bosses are once again nothing to gawk at, but the thrill of having fifty players dump lead into a single foe while supporting each other with skills and revives is a comforting sight. Yet, there’s always something in this game that puts a damper on whatever I do. In Arkfalls, it’s the vehicles. Many players have taken to riding their seemingly-indestructible vehicles around the Arkfall zone, one-shotting every single mob that spawns. Not only does this make it near impossible to see, it scoffs at the very idea of challenge. Some good news: reports indicate that the development team is planning to patch this out in the near future.
Completing a majority of these activities satisfy daily and weekly bounty hunter contracts, rewarding reputation and other special currencies required for the acquisition of special gear. Pursuit points, given to those who clear pursuits/achievements, is yet another currency that gives players access to new vehicles and classes. Everything is costly, so players should prepare for intense farming and grinding. Unless, of course, they’ve got some disposable income lying around.
What I expected to find in any other MMO, I found iterated here in its most banal form. Defiance 2050 has definitely taken notes from popular cooperative shooters, namely Destiny and Borderlands. The game has implemented its own version of Destiny’s progression system, stripping all enjoyment from the grind and replacing it with new ways to incorporate the cash shop. The game reeks of Borderlands’ influence from the simplistic skill trees, the clones of Borderlands enemies, the space-western setting, the loot, UI, and more. Unfortunately, Defiance 2050 forgets the importance of charm, vibrancy, interesting weapons, and engaging writing—all things that the game wrongfully neglects or bastardizes. The lone skill in every Borderlands class went a long way, evolving over time and complemented by meaningful passive abilities. Defiance 2050 generously allows three skills from a choice of six per class, but after maxing three classes, I’ve discovered that their combined functionality doesn’t even compare to Borderlands’ one skill.
To make matters worse, the game is infested with a host of bugs, glitches, lag, and server issues. If mundane gameplay wasn’t bad enough, Defiance 2050 is completely unreliable. Far too many times have I restarted instances due to the game’s inability to register that an objective had been completed, or that an enemy was killed. Visual bugs make the dreary San Francisco wasteland even harder to look at, and lag made traversing it borderline impossible.
Even with reworked systems, Defiance 2050 feels and plays exactly like the original, with the added bonus of new bugs. Standards are higher than ever, and a game like this will continue to underperform without significant improvements. With outdated visuals, a lackluster world, unappetizing combat, and a monotonous gameplay loop, Defiance 2050 fulfills every requirement needed to be classified as a throwaway MMO.
Trion Worlds’ “reimagined” Defiance does little to fix the crippled MMO and instead, uses the opportunity to try and capture a new audience with the same bland experience of yesteryear. Defiance 2050 has nothing to leverage but its free-to-play status, nothing to separate itself from the competition, and nothing of quality for new players to latch onto.