In a world where we’re being bombarded by constant hype about AI, getting to mow down some chrome-plated baddies is kind of cathartic. Playing through the first several missions of Terminator: Dark Fate – Defiance, I found myself leading a ragtag band of human survivors trying to evade hostile machines in a slightly clunky but overall competent squad-based RTS. And there are some interesting ideas glimmering in the gaps beneath its synthetic flesh.
A bit of wiki diving revealed that Definace is set in something called the “Dark Fate” timeline, which was apparently established as an alternate reality through time travel shenanigans in the 2019 film of that name. I grew up on the classic Terminator films, but I haven’t kept up with any of the newer stuff, so I don’t know why Skynet is called “Legion” now or who any of these characters are. But the premise is still pretty straightforward: the machines rose up and decided to wipe out humanity, and the few of us that are left need to band together for survival.
Terminator Dark Fate Defiance Screens
Commanding a resistance group called The Founders, I was put in charge of a small number of vehicles and infantry squads that are each specialized for different roles, and can be equipped with special weapons found on the battlefield, similar to Company of Heroes. You have your standard infantry guys with rifles, snipers, rangers, this dude’s kitted-out pickup truck, and occasionally heavier hardware like tanks.
There isn’t a full cover system, but units can be told to go prone to avoid damage, which takes the terrain into account somewhat. Hiding in grass is more effective than in the middle of the road, for example. You can also station units in buildings, which provide different levels of defense and can accommodate varying numbers of troops based on how damaged they are, changing throughout a battle. The machines don’t really make use of this, though. I suppose because they can just send an unlimited number of expendable warriors at you, they pretty much attack in a straight line with no regard for their own preservation. That meant fighting against other humans was often more interesting.
LOCK AND LOAD
There are a couple things that set Dark Fate Defiance apart from Company of Heroes, though. For one, every round of ammunition is tracked individually, and squads will often have different weapons that use different calibers. Basic infantry squads usually come with rifles that fire 5.56 and a light machine gun that fires 7.62, for example, that are each suited to different purposes and can’t share ammo. Squad AI is usually pretty good about switching to the weapon that is best for whatever they’re currently fighting, but you can manually command them to throw everything at a single target.
Resupplies in missions can be limited and hard to come by, so careful management of ammo and fuel is essential. Squads that take too much damage can lose members, reducing their combat ability, and it’s usually not possible to replace those losses within a mission. Casualties carry over from one mission to the next, too, along with squad experience. Eventually, you’ll get the option to bring a squad back up to full strength between missions. But even that requires manpower, which is a limited resource. It definitely feels like managing a persistent resistance force, which is pretty cool.
For the first three missions, this isn’t a huge consideration. But after that, the campaign opens up onto a strategic map that also introduces the concept of each fighter consuming supplies every day. These can be gained by completing missions, and are also used to refill your ammo. There seems to be a fairly rich, challenging survival story brewing here, where every bullet and every fighter must be carefully managed. But the demo ended before I got too deep into it.
COME WITH ME IF YOU WANT TO LIVE
I was fairly impressed by the mission design, as well. One early deployment involves defending various sectors of a Founder base from wave after wave of machine attacks, before slowly being forced back to an evac point and trying to save as much as you can. Another felt almost like an RPG mission, giving me the full run of a large area to do quests for various locals, including a significant branching choice of who to side with: the local resistance or a greedy warlord. Especially once I came to realize how scarce resources and fresh recruits were going to be, I found that these engagements really encouraged me to make the most of everything and everyone I could scrounge up. And that’s a compelling twist on an RTS campaign.
The story so far is a little bit haphazard and fuzzy. The tutorial begins with an Atlanta cop somehow becoming the leader of what remains of the US military just because he said so, and they definitely hang a lampshade on it. Like, “Yeah, we know this is kind of silly, but don’t worry about it. It’s not important.” The dialogue writing is just okay, the characters are a bit one-note, and the scenario, aside from simply trying to survive, hasn’t presented me with a lot of compelling reasons to want to see what happens next. But at least I’m having fun.
You’ll be able to defy your own dark fate when Terminator: Dark Fate – Defiance rolls off the assembly line on February 21.