Time of Defiance puts a new spin on an old videogame genre. It could even be said that this game from UK developer, Nicely Crafted, is in a hybrid genre all its own; it is a massive multiplayer online real time strategy game. This game takes place in a persistent online world where the player begins as a fledgling empire and tries to expand its reach amongst dozens of other players.
Time of Defiance’s fundamental game play makes it an acquired taste. Whether you are online or not, your empire is fair game to any other player. The game plays out over a designated time ranging from a few days to 28 days. There are always several games running at once so you can join the one that best suits your time commitment and skill level. Special league games award points for finishing in the top ten empires, which are added up and displayed on the Nicely Crafted webpage. Given the length of one game, the pace is slower than all previous real time strategy games.
Constructing one Destroyer class warship takes 45 minutes. Sending the Destroyer from one edge of your empire to the other could take a few hours and may even require stopping to refuel. On average, a ship will take between 20 to 45 minutes to get from point to point.
The game takes place in the world of Nespanona. The players are members of a people called the Cog. Before the Cog came into power there was a mysterious race that possessed a much higher tech level. Their vehicles, Nespan relics, can be found randomly on the map and captured by players. Another race of people, the Shadoo, also existed. Shadoo buildings and vehicles can eventually be built by players who have bought the ability to access advanced Shadoo technology.
Rather than a planet or land map that the player systematically conquers region by region, Nespanona is a post-cataclysmic world that has fragmented into hovering islands. Islands take the place of the standard real time strategy game territory. These islands are held stationary by energy beams connecting them to the former planet’s core. Each of these planetary fragments contain varying amounts of resources, such as coal, wood, metal, stone, water, and moss. These resources are used to construct different types of buildings and vehicles. Moss is used as fuel for Nespan and Shadoo vehicles and as currency for purchasing vehicles from the Eighth House, the computer-controlled governing body of Nespanona.
For the right amount of moss the player can buy some really powerful hardware from the Eighth House. Among the vehicles are Super Transports that are able to move large quantities of resources, Nespan Probes that are fast and stealthy, Ballistic Missile Launchers that launch long distance attacks on enemy islands, Motherships that act as carriers for squadrons of fighters, and Battle Platforms which are very much like mobile islands. Battle Platforms can construct their own resource mines, vehicle constructors, ballistic missile launchers and other modules.
The basic goal of Time of Defiance is conquest. The player starts with control of one map square and a couple of islands within its boundaries. You also begin with a small fleet of ships. From these meager beginnings you will spread out your empire’s borders by colonizing new islands and constructing new bases. These island structures consist of headquarters, mines, resource storage silos, weapons platforms, warp gates, and devices used to beam resources island to island.
Your fleet will grow as well. Scout ships will seek out resource rich islands to colonize and probe borders of other players’ empires. Mining ships can be sent to collect resources from islands not worth fully colonizing. Transports are used to shuttle your valuable goods to production and banking facilities. Equally important are the empire’s warships. The smallest vessel is the Pioneer, which is an armed scout with small mining capabilities. The largest warship your vehicle constructor can build is the Destroyer. The Destroyer has immense range but requires a lot of coal for fuel. It is capable of firing a triple salvo of heavy missiles. There are several classes of warships between the Pioneer and Destroyer, each with its own level of weaponry, armor, and range.
The construction of new buildings and ships is very streamlined. The player simply clicks on a construction unit and selects what they want to build from the menu. Since this is a persistent world, the designers made it possible to automate all essential actions. Mines automatically unload to resource storage silos. Vessels can be ordered to auto-fuel at certain locations. Transports can be programmed to trade routes, taking on resources at mining points and offloading them at production or storage buildings. This gets rid of some of the pain of micromanaging an empire that could grow to hundreds of islands and over a thousand units by game’s end.
The fact that your empire continues to operate even when you are logged off makes strategy that much more important. If you hope to even slightly deter an invasion while you are offline, placing defensive weapons and warships on key islands is tantamount. It is also a good idea to make sure transports and mining fleets have a strong military escort. It is encouraged that you create diplomatic alliances with other emperors who can keep an eye on your empire while you are away. A nice touch by the developer is that you can receive emails notifying you of any attack while away from the game.
On the face, combat seems straightforward. A player can select a large fleet of warships and send them off to an enemy island and watch as they overwhelm the defenses. If you delve deeper into the complexities of the game you will realize attacking and defending require a lot of planning and anticipation of your enemy, if in fact the interloper has hostile intentions. Is that unknown Scout that popped up on your detectors just looking for new islands to colonize or is it a precursor to a major attack?
Part of the fun of this game is predicting your opponents’ moves and positioning your war fleets in anticipation. Groups of lightly armed but fast Small Warships usually make up quick reaction fleets that can get to any point in the sector swiftly. They slow or confuse the attacking fleet long enough for the heavy hitters to arrive. If the player has planned accordingly, a number of Transports carrying fuel and Mining ships will be nearby to keep the war fleet operational.
The decision to attack another empire is not one to be taken lightly. War fleets require vast amounts of fuel to keep moving and resources to repair and rearm. Many an attacker has initiated battle only to lose momentum as fuel ran short. Their once vast fleet would then be annihilated by defenders that had a secure supply line.
It is also possible for the emperor to buy intelligence from the Eighth House. This can be the score of a certain player, the location of a resource rich island, or warp coordinates. The latter can be used to plan sneak attacks on other empires. For the right amount of moss, you can find out where a specific player has a colonized island. Move a group of warships to a warp gate and punch in the coordinates to the enemy’s island and your fleet is teleported to that location.
Time of Defiance is not without fault. Being an online multiplayer game, there is a small subscription fee of about $6 a month. The graphical quality can be described as retro. Ships and buildings are visually unimpressive. There is hardly any audio save the occasional ship thruster or sound of machinery from a production building. Since the game world is persistent you will find other players that log in during the wee hours of the night, when everybody else is offline, to initiate an attack. The player may wake up to find their empire, which took hours to build up, decimated by a late night invasion.
Despite these negatives, Time of Defiance is a unique and charming game that motivates the player to become a better strategist in the world of Nespanona. The mechanics of the game make every decision critical from sending a probe into unknown territory or colonizing an island in the same sector as another player. The game software can be downloaded from the Nicely Crafted website and includes a free trial period. It can also be found in the bargain bin for under $10 at most electronic stores if you would like to have a retail hardcopy. It will be interesting to see what improvements Nicely Crafted will make on this solid and promising game in the future.