Your guide to ‘Defiance’: Understanding the systems and gameplay in Trion and Syfy’s new world


Those who patiently endured Trion Worlds’ rocky launch for Defiance got in early on what amounts to one of 2013’s best-kept secrets in gaming. The Syfy series-connected action game brings subscription-free MMORPG play to consoles (and PC), stripping out some of the complexity that you might see in a Guild Wars while still scratching at many of the most popular genre tropes in gaming right now. You’ve got an open world, a randomized and endless assortment of loot, character progression on multiple fronts, and massive multiplayer mix-ups of both the co-op and adversarial varieties.

To say that there’s a lot is an understatement. Even after playing for a week or more, and for hours at a time each day, you still might occasionally find yourself asking questions about one system or another. We’re going to address some of those questions here. There’s no surefire strategy for success in Defiance, but there are no guaranteed failures either. Everything is measured in degrees. Your best bet is to go in with as firm a grasp on the various systems as you can have. That’s why you’re here, after all. So read on.


Setup and installation

Prepare yourself now: before you even get to start playing Defiance, there’s an extended setup and installation process to work your way through. Expect it to take at least an hour, and possibly more depending on the strength of your Internet connection and your ability to multitask. First you’ll want to install the game on your platform of choice. Be aware: even if you install the actual disc, you’ll have additional content to download once you fire the game up for the first time. Get that whole process started and keeping checking back for continue prompts.

Defiance could change movies and TV for the betterWhile all of this is unfolding, open up your web browser and head to the official Defiance website (or follow this link) to create your Ark Hunter account. Follow the steps there and, once you’re all confirmed, your email is validated, and everything else, click the “My Ego” link in the menu bar at the top of the page. Now this next part is entirely optional, but a wise move if you’d like to give yourself an early boost in the game. Search the Internet for a list “Arkfall codes.” The folks at have assembled a great one. Scroll down on that page until you get to the long, looooong list of codes. 

Now comes the fun part.

What you want to do is enter 120 of those codes in on the My Ego website using the big text box in the center of the page. No lies: it’s going to take you some time. That’s why we got the whole game installation process started first. You are hopefully adept enough with copy/pasting and alt-tabbing between browser windows to do this efficiently. It goes quickly once you get into a rhythm. Entering all of those codes unlocks a healthy assortment of content, some of which must be redeemed from the in-game store after you start playing. The page breaks down what the rewards are for each code milestone, and the My Ego page also updates with each reward once you unlock it.


First steps

Your account is set and your game is installed, patched (you were checking occasionally to cycle past continue prompts, right?!), and ready to go. What next? First: fire that sucker up! You’ll need to do the usual sign-in nonsense, though console players take note that there’s an extra step of linking your game to your Defiance account. A prompt pops up during the initial setup with the code that you need to punch in on the PC side (hover the mouse cursor over the My Ego menu tab and click Link To Console), though you can check out that code any time in Defiance‘s settings menu.

Defiance MarinWe’re almost there! Once you’ve gotten into the game, power your way through the brief tutorial mission and get yourself to Mount Tam, the game’s starting point. From here, you’ll want to immediately start taking Main Mission quests (marked with a big, boxed-in exclamation point) until you get yourself a vehicle. It happens very early, and you’ll need that vehicle to speed your travels around the game’s post-apocalyptic Bay Area.

Before you do that though, if you took the time to enter all the codes and link your account, head to the in-game Defiance store. Once you are in the menu, you can redeem the items that you unlocked through your code-entering.  If your inventory fills up, the items will stay unredeemed until you have room, so there’s no rush. 

Once you’ve got your first set of wheels, you’re effectively ready to venture out into the larger world and soak it in at your leisure. Main Missions will continue to push the story forward, while also unlocking co-op missions for you to take on, setting you up with pieces of gear and providing some helpful boosts to your EGO Rating (more on that in a bit). Episode Missions tie to the Syfy TV series and will start updating weekly once the series kicks off on April 15. The first few introduce the characters of Nolan and Irisa, two of the stars of the show. If you plan to watch the show, you should play these missions first, as they are sort of a prequel to the show. Side missions of various types offer quick-hit challenges for smaller rewards, though some of these tie into Pursuits (in-game challenges) that further serve to boost your EGO Rating.


EGO boosting and character building

Character creation is simple. The choices that you’re presented with at the start of the game doesn’t have any functional impact on your play. You’re choosing cosmetic features, nothing more. So just look at the four class choices and decide which character you’d like to spend 100+ hours looking at the backside of, since that’s really what this part of the process boils down to. Once you’re in the game proper, you can start worrying about improving your place in the world.

defiance game concept art img1

Getting your EGO Rating up is a big priority for every player, and something that you’ll definitely want to prioritize early on. It’s basically your experience level, with EGO dictating how many perks you can have active at once and how much you can level up your four main EGO Powers, among other things. Again, main story missions offer the biggest rewards for the smallest investment here. If you’re playing Defiance with friends then you’ll likely find yourself doing the secondary stuff when you’re in a group; for solo play sessions, just stick to the main story. Especially when you’re just starting out.

The tutorial mission introduces you to EGO Powers, with an opportunity to try each one of them out before you settle on one. There’s no best or worst here; each power suits different types of playstyles. What’s important is understanding how the EGO Grid – effectively, Defiance‘s skill tree – functions. The grid is divided into four quadrants with small perk squares concentrating around the four, larger EGO Power squares. You’ll pick one to start out with and then invest points in perks, both to improve them and to expand across the grid.

Every time you spend a point to unlock a perk, any adjacent square (no diagonals) immediately becomes available for purchase as well. There’s a difference in Defiance between spending a point to unlock a perk and actually equipping it in one of your perk slots. You can always see what you’ve got equipped on the loadout page; it’s worth noting that each loadout can have a different EGO Power and perks equipped along with the rest of your gear. More of these loadouts unlock as your EGO Rating grows.

defiance game screenshot 3You should also be aware that even though the perks on your grid may be locked, you can still highlight them to see what they are. Try to plot out the most efficient path across the EGO Grid to the perks that you want to make use of. There’s a perk for the Overcharge skill, for example, that cuts down on its cooldown time. It’s not immediately adjacent to the Overcharge EGO Power, however, so you’ll need to unlock your way across the grid in order to get it.

Finally we’ve got Pursuits. These are challenges that cover virtually anything you can do in the game, from exploration to side mission completion to leveling up a weapon skill to completing co-op missions and massively multiplayer Arkfall events. They’re a little bit buried in the menus though. Console players need to open either the map or the loadout view, then press and hold LT/L2 to bring up a radial menu. From here, you can access the settings menu, the in-game store, and various other info centers, including one that runs through all of the game’s Pursuits. These challenges often come with big EGO rewards attached, but they’re the sort of thing you either need to be aware of and actively chip away at over time, or just hope you complete them as you play.


Weapons, gear, and modding

Defiance has a stronger focus on twitch-style action than most MMORPGs. The game plays like any other third-person shooter, albeit one with a diverse mix of weapons and weapon effects that cater to an assortment of approaches. Every piece of gear that you collect is color-coded according to its rarity, with the progression (worst to best) moving from white to green to blue to purple to orange. Rare doesn’t always mean better, however; look at the stats of what you collect and – more importantly – try it out. Some might prefer bolt-action sniper rifles to semi-autos, or SMGs to assault rifles. Your choices will generally be tailored to the way that you want to play.

defiance game weapon spread rocket launchersThat said, there are still some general rules that apply in most cases. More often than not, your goal with shields will be to find one with a quick recharge delay. Respark shields are the best for this, with most starting to recharge after just three seconds. Recharge rate is important too; you’ll see some shields with a three-second charge delay but a 10-percent charge rate. Aim a little higher. Resparks again provide a good balance, often bolstering the three-second delay with a 40-percent charge rate.

defiance game weapon sawed off shotgunsWith weapons, use what feels comfortable but be aware that the more you use a weapon, the more experience you earn for that type of weapon. Defiance might feel like a twitch-based shooter, but numbers are crunched behind the scenes that are influenced by your skill with the weapon in question. In fact, there is an option to turn the damage numbers on and off. When they are on, each hit of an enemy will register with a number value. Most enemies have specific weak spots, so beyond just having more info, it’s good to turn the numbers on in the options to see where you are doing the most damage. It’s a good idea to spread yourself out a bit and play with a variety, spread across a couple of loadouts. Not only does it boost your skill levels more evenly, the progress also feeds into various Pursuit challenges.

defiance game weapon infectorsEventually you’ll start to see some purple and orange weapons. These will often be your keepers. Sometimes, you’ll get one early and use it for many hours after that. Most weapons have an EGO rating that dictates the level you need to be at in order to use them, but that isn’t always an indication of how powerful it is. A purple-grade pistol with an EGO rating of 40 might outclass items that you’re picking up with EGO ratings of 500 and higher – it is random.

defiance game weapon bolt action sniper rifles

Most weapons can be modded in a total of four possible slots: sights, magazine, barrel, and stock. Typically the weapons you pick up come with only one or two of these slots available; to add more, you have to go into the Salvage Matrix (one tab over from the loadout menu) and pay in earned Ark Salvage (currency denoted by a green icon) to add – at random – one of the missing slots. Save your Ark Salvage for the weapons you really want to boost, the keepers. Save your green-or-better mods too.

defiance game weapon rocket launchers

Mods come in two varieties. Standard ones simply provide a boost in one category or another. Then there are Synergy mods, which have some extra effects attached. They’ve all got names, such as “Run-and-Gun” or “Brutal.” Equip four mods of the same Synergy type into a weapon’s four slots and you’ll get more bonus effects. This is much more of a mid- and late-game concern, but it’s something to keep in mind. Mods can be removed from weapons, but always at a cost and always with you having to choose between losing either the mods or the weapon that they were attached to. With your keeper weapons, load them up with lower-level mods until you have a full Synergy set, then strip out the mods and apply the new ones.

Mods can be found as loot or purchased in select stores, but Lock Boxes offer the quickest route to filling out a Synergy set. Near virtually any store that you encounter in the game you’ll see a silver, egg-shaped box with a small, unchanging selection of items up for sale. Ark Salvage can be converted here into Keycodes (1,000 gets you 1), and Keycodes – which can be obtained in a variety of ways – can be spent on the other items that you find here. Tier 1-4 Lock Boxes spit out varying amounts of gear; early players have determined that Tier 3 offers the best value among them. There’s also a fifth Synergy Mod Cache lock box that spits out an assortment of Synergy mods every time. Go for these once you get your keeper weapons in place.


Massively multiplayer

While much of the above advice relates to your own personal advancement through the game, Defiance is a massively multiplayer RPG. A handful of Main Missions require you to go it alone, but the bulk of the game can be played with friends and strangers both. Purple icons on the minimap denote other players (green/blue for group members and clan mates). There’s no PvP in the open world and all loot that you see dropping is specific to you, so cooperative play sort of just… happens. If you and a random stranger happen to find yourselves in the same area doing the same mission, be happy. Two guns are better than one, and anyone can revive a downed player (though friendly AI bots won’t).

defiance game screenshot 1The easiest multiplayer-focused activities to participate in are Arkfalls. These are massive challenge zones – marked on the map by a red icon and a red circle of influence – that operate on a timer. There are some nice rewards to be had if all participating players complete the given Arkfall challenges and beat the final boss within the given stretch of time. Arkfalls pop up randomly but frequently, so don’t stress if you see one show up as you’re heading to a mission. You’ll generally find that one or more Arkfalls are active in the world at any given time.

Co-op missions offer more of a discrete challenge on a much smaller scale. These are all four-player outings, which means that if your group consists of only two or three players you’ll be joined by one or more randoms via matchmaking. Additional co-op missions unlock as you progress through the story, though only the group leader needs to have the desired mission unlocked.

DefianceLet’s talk about those groups. Press right on the D-pad (for those using gamepad controls, obviously) to call up an on-screen social menu that allows you to see who is online among your friends, what other human players are nearby, and access separate co-op and adversarial multiplayer content. Create a group by drilling down to a specific friend’s name and selecting “Group Invite” from the associated menu. You can also warp directly to any friends who are playing using the “Go To Friend” option. Grouping up is necessary before taking on a co-op mission or multiplayer match with friends.

Adversarial multiplayer comes in two flavors in Defiance: standard small-team battles and Shadow War. The small-team stuff should be immediately familiar to anyone who has played an online shooter before. You run around on a small map and shoot everyone who isn’t on your team. Shadow War operates on a much grander scale, maxing out at 64v64 matches. In this latter game type you can earn Echelon Credits, which can then be spent on the superior gear available in special stores.

Defiance is a huge, sprawling game with a lot of moving parts and this guide is by no means an exhaustive account. Got tips of your own? Let us know! Share them now in the comments!

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