It’s a rare thing for an intellectual property to deliver a quality product across several mediums. Whether it’s film, television, game, or graphic novel, one medium is native, and the others are merely extensions, spin-offs, and tie-ins – hastily designed and brought to market to capitalise on brand recognition and fleeting fandom.
But get it right, and it’s a transmedia product, an intellectual property conceived to exist on several mediums, all contributing equally to the universe, and all feeding off of one another. This is what Defiance hopes to be.
A collaboration between TV channel SyFy and game developer Trion Worlds, Defiance is a sci-fi product slated for near-simultaneous release on TV, consoles and PC.
The TV series boasts creative talent from shows such as Battlestar Galactica, and the game borrows generously from Trion’s benchmark title, Rift.
The intention is for the events that unfold in each medium to affect the future of the world of Defiance across all mediums. Player-shaped events in the game world will shape future seasons of the TV show and vice versa, say Trion and SyFy.
In the near-future, an armada appears in Earth’s atmosphere. These are the Votan, eight distinct alien races from a distant, decaying galaxy. The Votan waited in orbit for six long years as protracted negotiations with Earth’s governments drew on without close. Finally, as their supplies began to run low, the Votan went to war with the humans, but a mysterious force began to destroy their vast armada and the terraforming tools it contained.
As these fragments, called Arkfalls, dropped (and continue to drop) to Earth, the world began to change. Alliances fractured and reformed, human worked with alien, and old animosities between the Votan races reignited.
Now, 33 years on, the various species that all call Earth home must band together if they hope to survive amidst the ruins of Earth’s old civilisation.
Defiance is an FPS with group mechanics set in a persistent world. The first instalment of the game is a prequel to the first series of the television show. Players will design and control an Arkfall hunter – a human or an Irathient, one of the eight Votan races.
There are four archetypal classes to choose from: Soldier, Survivalist, Outlaw and Machinist. Players next choose one of four primary abilities: decoy, overcharge, blur and cloak. An expansive skill tree allows players to connect the dots across the grid towards other primary abilities.
Much of the gameplay follows the dynamics of MMOs. Players converge on an area, gather quests from a central hub of static NPCs, venture into the wild to complete these sometimes arbitrary tasks, and return to the hub for rewards such as loot and additional experience.
A primary questline keeps the narrative beats ticking along, while a variety of challenge and inessential quests provide some distracting variety. As ought to be expected, there are also instanced areas featuring tougher mobs, and set encounters.
The game also borrows the primary feature of Rift: large-scale player-versus-environment encounters wherein groups of players must all band together and work to take down a huge mob. It requires more coordination than the assembled press was able to bring to bear, but we’re told the rewards for achieving this task are worth the investment.
Player versus Player occurs in outdoor areas that aren’t instanced, meaning additional, appropriately match-made players can converge on the area and choose whether or not to participate. The mode shown to press was a form of Conquest carried out over a small area, and it threw up no surprises in the formula.
In general, there’s much work to be done on Trion’s Defiance before it’s ready for gamers. In the build we played, assets loaded slowly and sometimes not at all, quests triggered incorrectly, enemy units responded erratically, and the user interface was suboptimal.
There will be no subscription fees, but it remains to be seen if SyFy and Trion can manage microtransactions with the delicate balancing they demand.
On consoles, the graphics also take a perceptible dip downwards. Trion has already promised a substantial day one patch but at this stage, it will need to over-deliver on it.
That shouldn’t indicate the game doesn’t have significant potential. When its creaking components come together, Defiance can sing.
Its transmedia potential shouldn’t be overlooked either. We can't say much about the TV series due to a strict NDA, but we can tell you we’ve seen the pilot episode and it promises to gather a significant cult following and a rightful place on the pop culture convention circuit.
The allure of a persistent world for fans to populate, support, and engage with suggests that in time, Trion’s game could very well prove out. We’ll find out when the game is released on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 early in April.