After spending hours shooting hundreds of the same copy-pasted mutated thugs and alien bugs, I’m confident in saying that I have no idea why Defiance 2050 exists. The original Defiance MMO shooter, released in 2013, wasn’t impressive even five years ago. But it had potential. Fast forward to today and Trion Worlds has released a free-to-play successor that sounds a lot like a sequel until you login and start playing. From what I’ve seen, this is almost entirely the same game with a coat of already chipping paint on top. What’s immensely frustrating is that, despite just basically being a remaster, absolutely none of your progression, cosmetics, items, or characters are carried over.
When Defiance first launched it was a creative experiment in which an MMO world would have direct influence over an on-air TV show on the Syfy Channel. The connections between the show and game were never strong enough to really amount to anything, but it was a clever premise. The show only lasted three seasons before getting canned though the original MMO is still active—even after this relaunch, which is a bit awkward to say the least.
Been there, defied that
In Defiance 2050 you take on the role of an Ark Hunter tasked with hunting down mutated thugs, ferocious alien scum, and upgrading your gear across a ruined California wasteland. Combat plays out like a standard third-person shooter with an over-the-shoulder camera angle, but it’s all in a seamless, persistent MMO world.
When I say that Defiance 2050 more or less seems to be the exact same game as the original, I’m not being hyperbolic. I played and reviewed that game five years ago and I have a serious case of déjà vu with this one. The story, controls, and art style are the same with the latter sporting only minor polygon count upgrades and a negligible texture enhancement. Hell, even a lot of the bugs are the same. In fact, the two primary characters from the show, Irisa and Joshua Nolan, are featured in the plot in the same way they were before. As far as I can tell the voice acting and writing all seems to be the same too. And vehicles still have that floaty, weightless responsiveness like I'm driving on ice all the time. The only differences that I can find are that the TV show is officially not connected anymore (even though the characters are still there) and they’ve adjusted the progression system to be all class-based.
The actual shooting itself feels responsive in the sense that I was able to shoot the things I clicked on, but it’s all just so sluggish and unremarkable. Ducking in and out of cover on the fly, switching weapons, and even using your class skills lacks that kinetic thrill of much newer MMO-style shooters, and weapons lack that vital sense of feedback. Clicking to shoot a shotgun versus a pistol shouldn’t feel virtually identical in a game that relies on shooting so heavily.
Near the end of one mission there was a single enemy left in the area, so I walked up behind him and shot him in the back of the head—twice—with no response. On the third and final shot his character model clipped through a wall and got stuck. Then it just vanished entirely. I ended up seeing this a lot more than I’d have liked, especially considering almost all of the missions are the same sort of defend this thing, kill this many enemies, or go interact with that thing while getting attacked by those guys. It’s disappointing that, for a relaunch of a game where you spend the vast majority of your time running and gunning, Defiance 2050 still can’t get the basics right.
Character classes are relatively varied, which helps. I went with the Assault class, since it’s a jack-of-all-trades archetype with all-around skills. The Assault class’ starting ability is a bog-standard speed boost that lets me move and attack faster. Boring. Most of the skill trees are just full of passive buffs to different weapon attacks with a few active abilities sprinkled in between. Other than Assault, starting classes consist of a long-range Assassin with an invisibility cloak, bruising Guardians with shields and shockwaves, and the Combat Medic, who focuses on healing and buffing allies.
When you first start playing Defiance 2050 you can only pick a single class—the others are then locked behind a paywall or through hours of grinding in-game for future characters. You can unlock all four starter classes with the “Starter Class Pack” for $20. If you want to unlock the other three classes you didn’t pick but don’t want to spend money, then buckle up for a grind. Each new class you unlock will cost 250 Reputation Points. The only way to get Reputation Points is by completing 'Pursuits' like random world events and various in-game challenges, which only net a few points each, or by completing recurring Contracts. Either way you’re gonna need to invest several weeks, if not months, of time just to unlock the classes you didn’t pick when making your first character without spending money.
New premium classes are already being added to the game as well, such as the Demolitionist that focuses on explosive weapons and summoning minions. It costs $20 just for this one class which feels a bit ridiculous considering the whole Starter Pack is the same price. The Crusader isn’t out yet (coming this fall) but it’s described as a primarily melee-focused class, wielding a giant hammer. Both of the newer classes are earnable via grinding just like the Starter Classes as well. During my time with the game the cash shop elements didn’t seem gratuitous in the sense that I needed to spend money, but they were advertised heavily before and after playing as well as in the corner of my HUD. I didn’t feel like I was missing out on much by not paying, but I also wasn’t knee deep in the end-game content—where that kind of thing tends to become more egregious.
Once you hit the level cap and start grinding just for better gear, it gets a little stingier. Many dungeons and group events will drop chests at the end that can only be opened with Ark Keys. You gain Ark Keys through the main story gradually and can earn them by completing Daily Contracts through Ark Hunter bounties, but due to their daily nature that’s all arbitrarily limited. The only other way to open chests that contain the most rare loot is by paying real money.
Ark hunting for a silver lining
Though far from an original concept in 2018, one of the best bits of Defiance 2050 is the Ark drops. At any time an Ark crystal can appear anywhere on the map and spawn a bunch of aliens. Nearby players are incentivized to head there, creating these big, large-scale emergent scenarios that are always dynamic and different. Similar to World Events in Guild Wars 2, Anchors and Geysers in The Elder Scrolls Online, or even actual Rifts from Trion’s other MMO, Rift.
But Trion Worlds seems to have buried their head in the sand over the last half decade because since the original Defiance came out we’ve been treated to the likes of Warframe, two Destiny games, as well as The Division. We’re not exactly aching for looter shooters anymore and all of those do pretty much everything that Defiance 2050 tries to do but better, with more fleshed out worlds, thriving communities, deep end-game content, and tons of customization and loot that provides a steady stream of rewards. The only real differentiator is that at its core, Defiance 2050 is an MMO with a persistent world and lots of players to run into at any given time, but I’m not sure that matters when players barely speak or acknowledge one another’s presence. The other evening I played for multiple hours without even seeing a single message in zone chat.
Now that Defiance 2050 isn't shackled by the Syfy TV show, Trion has free reign to take the story and setting in whatever direction it sees fit. So if you’re still playing the original Defiance, it’s basically the same game other than the underlying progression system being different but over time, as more things are added to Defiance 2050, the original game will likely get left behind or taken offline altogether.
One of the major focuses of this relaunch was supposedly to upgrade the underlying framework and update it for modern gaming PCs, as well as the PS4 and Xbox One, but I’m having trouble seeing much of a difference. Character animations feel clunky and stiff, aiming your gun doesn’t feel responsive, all the weapons feel the same, and enemy AI is extremely basic. What we have here is a thinly-veiled reskin that’s masquerading as a relaunch for modern game consoles. The PC audience is just along for the ride, but you’ve got to check all of your baggage and experience at the gate before entering.