Terminator: Dark Fate – Defiance

Kyle Reese's Pieces

Terminator: Dark Fate – Defiance defies the odds by being a surprisingly good real-time strategy RPG hybrid.

Although I’m something of a Terminator: Salvation apologist, there hasn’t really been a good Terminator film since the 90s. This was true for the games as well up until the recent Terminator: Resistance, which was a pretty solid, if janky, first-person shooter with choices and RPG mechanics. Now we have Terminator: Dark Fate – Defiance, which manages to pull off something similar, but in completely different genres. It’s easy to look at the screenshots and think of real-time strategy, but once you’re through the tutorials, this becomes more of a squad-based RPG that’s way more fun than I was expecting.

After a few tutorials that throw a lot of systems at you — to the point where I’m pretty sure I was on the verge of failing the tutorial missions — you take on the role of Alex Church. Church is a man thrust into a command position amongst The Founders, a force of former soldiers who are still trying to fight off the machines after Judgement Day brought humanity to near extinction. Over the course of the game, Church will lead his forces south, trying to discover why the machines are taking live prisoners rather than killing everyone on sight, making decisions that could change everything.

Terminator: Dark Fate - Defiance
Early missions teach you the ropes well enough, helping you find suitable chokepoints to use to fight off enemies. You’ll need to think for yourself a lot more once the real game kicks in.

The tutorial kind of implies that this is a tactical RTS game, where positioning and unit choice are key to success. You need to give your infantry cover by putting them in buildings or having them go to ground, and make sure units are attacking the correct target. No point in small arms fire being dedicated to a tank when you have a rocket squad nearby. You’ll even need to ensure guns have enough ammo and vehicles have enough fuel to move, forcing you to deal with commands on multiple fronts as you bring supply trucks forward to keep your troops fighting fit. Those trucks won’t even move unless you’ve put a unit that can drive in it. 

It’s really quite involved, and I hugely appreciated the option to pause the game and issue commands before unpausing and watching the action play out. There’s not really any base management to deal with, unless it’s an actual mission objective, so everything is focussed on how you manage your units across expansive maps and between missions.

Now, I said that the tutorials imply this is an RTS game, and in a way it is. But this is also an RPG game with a huge number in your party. Once the game opens up, you’ll find that you need to meet various characters around the stage, completing objectives for them against other factions. Who you side with has very real consequences, often leading to new allies and enemies that persist from mission to mission, as well as new vehicles, units, and supplies for you to scavenge. Interestingly, if you lose a unit during a mission, even a hero character, it’s gone for good. You might be able to find a replacement to commandeer in the future, but losing a tank during a battle is utterly galling, so plan well.

Terminator: Dark Fate - Defiance
You aren’t just fighting machines. Sometimes other human factions are just as dangerous.

It’s worth noting at this point that Terminator: Dark Fate – Defiance is hard. Really hard. Even on the easiest setting, which is recommended when you start up, you’ll lose a lot of missions and a lot of troops in the early going. I’m not ashamed to say that I restarted some missions a couple of times to try and come out with a more favourable outcome than having half my force left lying on the battlefield. Often you’ll find that a mission is almost a puzzle in which you need to do things in a specific order. In fact, some maps give you a very small force and want you to solve multiple sub-objectives before heading for the main one. Do them in the wrong order and you might find yourself in trouble quicker than you’d think. I enjoyed the actual thought that I had to put into missions, but beware that this game does not respect your time. Even with the generous autosaves, you’ll screw up a lot, sometimes without even realising it for some time. 

The story is pretty solid near-future Terminator fare, and the voice acting is much better than I expected, with the exception of Balzano who comes across as a bit of a stereotype with poorly delivered lines. The music deserves praise as well, even if you will hear a lot of the same tracks. Classic understated sci-fi beats accompany the menus, whilst calm, western tones announce your arrival at a desert outpost before the pumping battle music hits. In visual terms, this is pretty solid too. It’s nothing too taxing, but you’ll be able to pick out your units well enough, especially thanks to the pause command option, and most things are clearly presented. I really liked the effect of plasma shots careening across a darkened landscape. 

Terminator: Dark Fate - Defiance
Those who’ve played the Tortuga mission may have PTSD flashbacks here.

I feel the difficulty will be off-putting to some, but this is a very good RPG in RTS clothing that feels like it fits right into the Terminator narrative. Genre veterans looking for a stiff challenge will find one here and I’d expect would have a fun time with Terminator: Dark Fate – Defiance. It’s not perfect, with a control scheme that I found needed some getting used to and the occasional pathfinding issue, but make good use of quicksaves and you’ll eliminate those problems quickly.

Terminator: Dark Fate – Defiance is available now on PC.

You might also like
Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.