Defiance 2050 is a current generation revisit to the original sci-fi MMO experience, Defiance. Under the debris and rubble of a post-war and terraformed Earth, we found a third-person shooter and looter that plays smoother than it looks, invites a constant return to its world, and is honestly hard to put down. Here is our review.
Reviewed on Xbox One, also available on PC, PS4
In the Wake of a Battle-Worn Past
Defiance 2050 takes place in a futuristic and terraformed San Francisco Bay Area, 15 years after the Pale Wars between Earth and a loose alliance of alien races known as the Votanis Collective. The Votans lost their solar system and came to earth in hopes of a new planet to inhabit, only to find it already domiciled by humans. Shortly after cohabitation was attempted, it failed due to ever increasing friction and discourse between the extraterrestrial Votanis Collective and the humans – thus, war broke out. In Defiance 2050, the war has since ended, and humans and Votans are still forced to live together. You, the player, exist in this world as an infamous “Ark Hunter,” essentially a professional warrior and scavenger employed by a squirmy industrialist, Karl Von Bach, to scour the Bay Area for advanced and expensive alien technology.
The game does a good enough job setting up the story of Defiance and your role as an Ark Hunter. The story is told through cutscenes, dialogue, collectible intel, side missions and more. So, if you want to head knee-deep into the lore behind the Pale Wars and VC, the opportunity is there – but it very quickly becomes relevant that the focus of the game is you and your freedom to tell your own story. Trion Worlds has done a great job creating an entire universe from the ground up for you to explore, but being an MMO third-person shooter, the story likely won’t be the focus of your time in-game. Although I do appreciate the amount of liberty and decision-making power the game gave me right away, Defiance 2050 could have benefitted from deeper storytelling in its opening missions and scenes to really set the tone of the game.
While Defiance 2050 does seem to flow in the same vein of most other sci-fi stories today (aliens and humans meet somewhere in the universe, peace falls out, war ensues, etc.) it instead takes a rather unique and less travelled approach in that the story takes place entirely on Earth. Instead of taking you through a hard to digest adventure across unknown planets and entire worlds of new culture, Defiance 2050 explores how extraterrestrial conflict might affect our home that we’ve come to know and love, Earth.
One of the more distinct features of Defiance 2050 are its Arkfalls. Arkfalls consist of wreckage from the Votan ships that exploded in space and periodically pull into our atmosphere, falling to Earth. The meteor-like clusters hit the earth, and Ark Hunters race to the points of impact in order to farm the rare and valuable alien technology buried within. While primarily a gameplay feature, I thought this was a great yet subtle way Trion Worlds explored the way Earth has changed in the wake of a past war, without bogging the player down with unneeded dialogue.
Operating under the free-to-play market, Defiance 2050 will feature constant content feature updates and dynamic events, resulting in an always evolving story with new features around every corner. Simply put, if Trion Worlds capitalizes on this promise, the game will never end. Already, the game has released great post-launch support, with live twitch streams that reward players with exclusive gear and cosmetics.
Smooth to the Touch
Where Defiance 2050 truly shines is the fluidity of its deep yet subtle gameplay mechanics. This is what hooked me to the original Defiance, and it’s what’s keeping me around today. Defiance 2050 is a third person shooter with upgradeable weapons, armor, grenades, and a defining skill tree, powered by the EGO. Ark Hunters are equipped with an extraterrestrial AI implant, the Environmental Guardian Online (EGO), that fuses with the body and unlocks newfound powers for the player while providing on-the-fly mission intel and updates. Firing and recoil mechanics work just as one would anticipate, shots that hit the target produce damage counters on the enemies (which is always a plus in my book – though you can opt to turn them off), and critical kills rack up more experience. While this type of gunplay is expected across most shooter titles in today’s gaming market, the way Defiance 2050 combines these smooth and expected mechanics with its EGO skill powers feels fluid and effortless. Running the assault class, I found so much joy in activating my EGO blur to sprint away from enemies, activate my self-stim to boost my health back to full, and jump right back into the action, buffing my SMG last minute to finish the fight.
Traversing the Bay Area is just as fun as the combat. You start out equipped with a quad, an all-terrain four-wheeler with boost. As you complete challenges (pursuits) around the bay area, such as time trials or jumping distances, you can unlock more vehicles, including a roller, so you can haul around your friends too. Pursuits as a whole are quite intuitive in Defiance 2050, and always give you something to do, ranging anywhere from vehicle pursuits, to killing enemies with a specific weapon-type, or visiting certain locations around the Bay Area. In fact, both a blessing and a burden of the game is its ever-abundant surplus of things to do in the open world. Too many times I would set a waypoint to the next primary mission only to spend half an hour distracted by pursuits, side missions, and the abundance of Arkfalls around the map, before ever reaching my destination.
You level up your player by obtaining experience which unlocks points to spend on your skill-tree, but a lot more goes into leveling up your power rating, which directly impacts the quality and power of the weapon drops you’ll get in-game. Your overall power rating is calculated from a whole array of factors, including the power level of your weapons, shield, and grenades. After snagging a strong weapon, you can then upgrade it even further by “enhancing” it with weapon salvage you have found – this will further increase the power level of your weapon, and in turn, your overall power rating. Understanding this formula will help you to consistently push your power level, as well as the power level of future weapon and gear drops, making the loot that much better. This mechanic played a huge factor in my enjoyment of the game. That being said, the explanation of both power level and weapon enhancements was all but absent from Defiance 2050 – and that’s too bad because, had it been explained more directly in-game, it likely would have pushed many new players over the “new to the game, too much to learn” ledge that often keeps players out of deeper more mechanical titles such as this one.
The gameplay really is what makes Defiance 2050 feel so smooth, and the new class systems and weapon enhancements play perfectly into the player’s arsenal as they scour the Earth for rare gear and hidden secrets.
Visually, Defiance 2050 makes all the right choices. The terraformed earth landmarks are a wonder to see, all of the locations across the map portray the scene of a run-down yet extraterrestrial-enhanced Bay area, the mutants and hellbugs are creepy and fun to take out, and during the brightest parts of the built in day-night cycle, the visuals really tend to pop, especially thanks to the facelift Defiance 2050 received over its original predecessor.
Far too often though, all of the aforementioned visual features seem trapped behind a bit too dark and starchy environment that fails to display the dense structure of organic life one could expect on a current generation console. The game does look much better on PC, but overall, it is behind its competitors visually, leaving it a bit dated. Is it to the level of severity that it affects your enjoyment or submersion into all the world of Defiance 2050 it has to offer? Absolutely not. When you first jump in you’ll likely take notice that is isn’t God of War, only to later dismiss it shortly thereafter while you go loot and shoot with your squad.
You are not Alone
If you decide to jump into Defiance 2050 and sprint through the campaign missions without another glance at the extended world around you, you will still undoubtedly run into another Ark Hunter or two (or ten or fifty) on your travels, thanks to the persistent and ever-connected servers Defiance 2050 boasts as an MMO. This is key for the game because it breathes an extra layer of life to the world and gives you the hopeful feeling that you are not alone in this uphill fight for a better life in the Bay area. Even if you are solely completing campaign missions, other players can and will assist you (or vice versa) with taking down a group of mutants or searching objective points, and the game even pops up a quick stat scoreboard at the end of the mission, letting you know how you did amidst your fellow ark hunters. But where the MMO experience really flexes its muscle is in its arkfalls.
When an Arkfall lands near your position, your EGO diligently notifies you of its impending point of impact, and as if it were second nature, you call in your quad, hit the boost, and head straight for the waypoint. As the horizon breaks and you near the vast plague of hellbugs or other similarly dreadful creatures emerging around the meteor impact, you then realize that any sense of order previously maintained is now about to break.
Dozens of other Ark Hunters coming strolling in all around you, and the bullets and grenades begin to rain. This is the iconic Defiance 2050 experience, and it’s when the connected world around you really comes to life. Working collaboratively with unknown comrades around you, you take down several waves of relentless enemies, growing in size. When the dust finally settles and the battle is won, you race to the point of impact to claim your ark chest of rare loot, along with the ammo and loot drops that sprinkle the ground around you.
There are other multiplayer features as well, including a vast list of co-op missions, competitive game modes such as Team Deathmatch and Capture and Hold, as well as a collaborative mode where you fight hordes of aliens and mutants together. Unfortunately, Defiance 2050 has launched with server stability issues for some players, however, and I did get kicked from the server a couple times myself while trying to enjoy each of these multiplayer features. A quick glance at the Defiance 2050 twitter account will show you just how hard at work Trion Worlds is to resolve these issues, though, and a great deal of progress has already been made since I started writing this review – to the extent that I have not experienced any issues within the last several days.
Defiance 2050 is an unparalleled free-to-play MMO experience that is addicting, ever-evolving, and is simply hard to put down. The gunplay is smooth and fluid, character customization and weapon upgrades provide the right amount of depth and variety, the vast MMO vibe comes in full force at the base of an Arkfall, and the post-war terraformed Earth is ripe for exploration and loot excavation. Held back slightly by dated visuals and server stability issues, Defiance 2050 is absolutely worth a play and adds some much needed variety to the free-to-play market.