Defiance reviewed (PC): A promising concept that needs more time


By on April 11, 2013 at 10:39 am

A couple years ago, a developer called Trion Worlds, made up of a bunch of industry veterans with $100 million in investment capital from China, put out a fantasy MMO called RIFT. RIFT was actually really good. It had a wonderfully flexible class system, a highly fleshed-out world that emphasized exploration in interesting ways, and dynamic content in the form of, well, rifts.

This context is important, because despite the solid shooting action in Trion’s most recent title, Defiance has in large part forgone what made RIFT great.

Unlike RIFT‘s traditional MMO mechanics and fantasy world, Defiance is a third-person-shooter set in a post-apocalyptic, futuristic version of the Bay Area, a place I actually lived in for much of Defiance‘s development. Despite the faster-paced style of gameplay and the unique, real-world (kind of) setting, Defiance‘s true draw is the TV show tie-in, which Trion Worlds says will make mention of events in the game and vice versa.

Indeed, seeing the computer-generated version of Grant Bowler on “Episode” missions is pretty novel, though with the show yet to air as of publication, their characters hold no impact, and very little backstory is ever given to really make me care. The storylines in Defiance (the game) are generally very hokey across the board, in fact, and with Episode and Storyline missions running in tandem, it’s possible for the chronology of events to get screwy.

I did a series of quests for a character called Cooper, for example, and then in an Episode mission I was introduced to him for the first time. So if story is really important to you, maybe hold off on picking this up at least until the show starts to air.

On the other hand, if you want a pretty neat MMO shooter, you could do worse than Defiance. There is a reasonable variety of enemies, the AI — while not mind-blowing — will definitely challenge you at times, and there’s a surprising amount of content for a game with no subscription requirement. More impressive, though, is the range and variety of weapons.

There are your standard pistols, SMGs, shotguns, rocket launchers etc… which serve as overarching weapon classes, but within each of these, individual weapons can act completely differently. One shotgun might discharge two shells in quick succession before needing to be reloaded, while another might have fifteen rounds that have a great amount of scatter. A grenade-launcher might require you to manually detonate the grenades, or they might explode on contact, or they might bounce like crazy, or they might release a cloud of smaller grenades. Each new weapon feels like a new weapon, and that’s very impressive.

So it’s a shame that, outside of the shooting, Defiance feels quite shallow. There are racing side-missions that can feel kind of clumsy, but other than that, there’s nothing really driving you to explore this terraformed-version of Marin. There aren’t loads of little secrets littered across the land. There are a couple, and they even play BioShock-style audio when you find them, but they’re so few and far between that the world of Defiance often feels very empty between shootouts.

But if you don’t much care about things that don’t involve killing, there’s plenty. Lots of official missions are scattered across the world, and even just going to a ruined structure or a pulled-over truck is likely to pull you into a sort of mini-mission. It’s quite a lot like Guild Wars 2, in that stuff is always happening all over the place, and you can jump in and shoot some dudes or leave it be.

Defiance‘s one carry-over from RIFT, if you can really call it that, are the Arkfalls. They’re events that strike specific locations in the world and put a global marker on the map, encouraging you to check it out. Players tend to flock to these because, like RIFT‘s rifts, there are very good rewards available, and they often lead to neat global boss-encounters. When these massive player clusters happen, though, Defiance‘s servers sometimes struggle to keep up.

Luckily there is instanced group content too. Runs tend to be in the 15 minute range and have at least one boss encounter, with some loot at the end. The dynamic here is very similar to the solo-instances you tend to play through in the main story missions, except tuned for extra players. Player classes — which, like Borderlands, tend to revolve around a single ability — aren’t really taken into account.

There’s no tank/healer/damage dealer trinity, though you can sort of skill your character out to fill a specific role if you want. But beware — while RIFT let you switch roles on the fly virtually for free, changing your character in Defiance comes with a hefty currency cost.

Unfortunately, even during the best of Defiance‘s content, there are regular and very frustrating bugs. The client will crash for numerous reasons, characters will endlessly repeat dialogue, and if you tab-out of the game while driving, sometimes you’ll tab back in to see your car flying through the air impossibly. One of the most frustrating and regularly occurring bugs causes your character to be interrupted when doing almost any action a couple times a second, until you go to the menu.

That menu, and the entire user-interface, by the way, is clearly built with the console versions in mind. Buttons for equipping perks or destroying items are hidden down the bottom, there are nonsense radial menus, and chat is heavily de-emphasised. This is set to change soon, but for now it’s going to be frustrating for PC gamers to work through.

If the idea of a show and a game growing in tandem excites you, or you’re desperate for a new multiplayer shooter, it might be worth checking Defiance out. But maybe give it a couple weeks to find its feet and let the first episode or two of the show air first. Defiance has promise, but it needs a little more work.


  • Quite a lot of content.
  • Some of it is even sorta dynamic.
  • No subscription required!
  • A surprisingly large number of varied weapons.
  • Plenty of emphasis on shooting bad dudes.


  • Little emphasis on stuff that doesn’t involve shooting or driving.
  • More bugs in the game code than on the battlefield (and there are a LOT of bugs on the battlefield).
  • The story will make you grimace.
  • Definitely feels ill-suited to the keyboard/mouse setup at times.

Product for this review supplied by Trion Worlds.

4 comments (Leave your own)

Uhhhh, no review section on the PvP aspect?


A couple years ago, a developer called Trion Worlds, made up of a bunch of industry veterans with $100 million in investment capital from China, put out a fantasy MMO called RIFT.

Correction: With the noteworthy exception of Bertelsmann AG, most of Trion’s major investors are in the US. You can find a list, here:


I personally love this game.
As for the story i found it quite interesting and for me it wasn’t to hard to follow even if i did some quests in the ‘wrong’ order.
The in game chat (text) is most diffidently lacking and i cant wait for an update, as for the voice, well it got better (i use mumble anyway).
PVP can be quite awesome at times especially the shadow wars which can involve up to 64 peeps on each side in open world combat.
As for bugs, yeah there is a few annoying ones, certain items in the world you have have difficulty interacting with (Audio logs) and on some occasions the vehicles will spack out abit.
The lack of a crafting system wast abit of a disappointment though.

I should mention that ive finished most content available atm and have achieved a current EGO rating of 1200 and have not suffered from any form of CTD or error so my experience with the game is very biased that way.

Still over all a good review.


I’m in a similar boat, no major issues thus far apart from UI spread across the entire 3 screen surround setup I’m running on.

This game reminds me of fast food, lacking in substance but still enjoyable. If you have gone 30 seconds without coming across another horde of enemies to shoot, there’s probably something wrong that a relog might fix… ; )

Once you get the handle of exploiting weakspots, content that previously took ages can be done very fast. Prime example are hellbug monarchs which took me forever to kill the first one. After working out the timing of the moves where it would expose it’s weak points, I can get one down now in under a minute.

Not much power creep in game. Guns can be modded to be moderately more powerful in combination with your skills but I’ve never felt “safe” like I would at level 40 wandering in a level 5 area in WoW for example.

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