Terminator: Dark Fate – Defiance demo | Argh, my brainworms

Terminator: Dark Fate - Defiance - a Terminator with a Taliban headband

On a normal day, I’m very dismissive of movie-franchise games. However, Terminator: Dark Fate – Defiance comes from Slitherine, so it can’t be that bad. I even got the demo sent my way in advance. And soon, I broke my brain in half.

Shooting evil robits

You know it’s the wrong timeline since the environment isn’t just piles of human skulls

The game follows the timeline established in the Terminator: Dark Fate movie. Sure, Legion is a bad title for the Skynet replacement, but at least we’re not dealing John Connor The Nanobot-Terminator anymore (I just read about Genisys on Wikipedia and am worse for it). In the demo, we got to control the Founders, which are the weirdly-named survivors of the US military. They’re carrying the on the good fight twenty years after Judgement Day with some suitable updates to the vehicles and weapons you know from today.

In gameplay, Terminator: Dark Fate – Defiance is akin to a more hardcore version Men of War. There will be no base building and probably no recruiting troops in the mission. What you take with you is what you get.

Terminator: Dark Fate - Defiance - Unit encyclopedia showing a mean four-man Engineer unit
Those Engineers look like they mean business!

You won’t be controlling individual troops or microing their inventories. However, squads have ammo reserves split among weapon systems – and they can pick special weapons off the ground. They can change formation to suit the tactical situation and can (have to) be ordered to go prone to become harder to hit. Most attacks are likely to wound rather than kill troops, and they can patch themselves up if left idle. Lost squad members, however, are irreplaceable in battle.

Vehicles have armor facings and systems can be damaged and disabled. Crew can jump out and repair them. However, they won’t be able to repair damage done to armor. So, over the course of the battle, even an Abrams can become a lot more brittle. What’s more, crew members can be lost even to something as simple as an unbuttoned commander catching a stray shit with his dome.

Terminator: Dark Fate - Defiance - a battle screenshot with a sidebar registering at least three units losing members.
As you can see in the window on the lower left, the Abrams isn’t having the best time.

Granted, this should all look a little different for Legion or other Terminator: Dark Fate – Defiance factions. For one, Legion doesn’t seem to have vehicle crews. If a giant robot loses a limb, that’s it. On the other hand, Legion forces, at least in the campaign, are unlikely to care much about troop survival. And that’s not just due to their AI just feeding wave after wave of transports and exosuits straight into your battle line.

While not that well represented in the demo, troops will likely accompany you from one mission to another, earning levels, gaining skills, and letting you play around with their weapons and armor. Ever wanted a Bradley with a plasma cannon and ceramic armor to protect it? That’s something the game promises you.

The reviewer’s brain snaps

OK, it’s time for me to reveal my cards. The number 1 reason I chose to write about the Terminator: Dark Fate – Defiance demo is because it reminds me too much of Warfare, a 2008 RTS where you controlled American forces to beat a Taliban-backed coup in Saudi Arabia. Yes, that sounds somehow more insane of a premise than Terminator.

Terminator: Dark Fate - Defiance - A underground tunnel with a line of dots signifying that mines are being laid there.
Even the mine-laying mechanics are the same. And look, a cloud of smoke cover!

I beat that stupid game. I even tried making an LP of it (TW: me trying to do video in 2014). So when I say that infantry combat is similar down to the point where Ranger unit equipment is the same, when I write about vehicle mechanics only differing in the fact that you (probably) can’t steal Legion vehicles to take to the next mission, when I am reminded of the same braindead AI, I’m not making shit up.

Yet I clearly should be because Warfare was made by some Russians in 2008, and we’re talking about a Slitherine game revealed 15 years later. What’s even more perplexing is that Warfare isn’t the only game that used that engine – Syrian Warfare is the 2017 pro-Assad RTS seemingly sharing a lot of the mechanics. This thing is so weird, I just wrote an email to Cats Who Play, the devs of Syrian Warfare, to see what they can tell me about it. I had previously asked my PR contact in Slitherine to ping the Terminator: Dark Fate – Defiance devs but I haven’t heard anything since. UPDATE: Slitherine confirmed that this is the same engine that Cats Who Play developed (or, at the very least, used) – but it’s just that. The game itself is being developed internally.

Terminator: Dark Fate - Defiance - a dirt bridge over a brook, with a futuristic ATGM team and a regular Humwee crossing over.
The Javelin fires the same way in both games: the missiles goes up a little, takes a very sharp turn, and completes the rest of the trip in a straight line. Less of a “top-down” and more of a “slight-incline” attack.

Terminator: Dark Fate – Defiance x Warfare

Now, the Warfare engine is cool enough, but it had some issues then and it has some issues now. Mainly, the issue is that AI doesn’t exist – even in 2008, the missions relied heavily on scripting, with enemy units seemingly only reacting to you once you reach a trigger or aggro range. It never did anything remotely smart. Same thing is apparent in Terminator: Dark Fate – Defiance.

Another thing is that morale as a system doesn’t exist. Sure, the primitive Legion exoskeletons don’t really have hopes and dreams – or self-preservation instinct. But you’d hope the human soldiers of the Founders and other factions would. But nope, tanks and infantry will be equally happy to stand there under the most withering fire, never flinching, never retreating.

Terminator: Dark Fate - Defiance - end mission score screen. I have killed 555 enemy Infantry and destroyed 123 vehicles in half an hour
You wouldn’t see those kill numbers in a game where the AI did anything to minimize troop casualties.

At least Terminator: Dark Fate – Defiance demo inherited Warfare’s predilection to give every unit smoke grenades!

There are also a few other quirks of the system present, like RPGs having unerring flight paths. Once fired, it will continue straight without deviations – you could probably dance vehicles out of their way, but man, that would put even more micro into the game.

OK, backing off from Warfare comparisons, I will say that Terminator: Dark Fate – Defiance demo makes the game look nice enough. Despite what the awful early trailers made you believe, you won’t be fighting in strictly gray urban wastelands. There will be grassy areas and deserts.

The unit designs are mostly fine as well, I really like the futuristic exo-skeleton Founder troops, straight from 15 minutes into the future. What I dislike are the Legion transports. They’re what you get if you ask a 5 year old to draw a van, made that drawing 3D and stuck six Lego wheels to the sides. It looks even worse in the armed version as it artlessly sticks a turret on the hood. The heavily armed version sticks another turret on the roof. Horrendous!

Demo good

That’s all immaterial though. I will be playing Terminator: Dark Fate – Defiance when it comes out as long as I’m furnished with a review copy. Perhaps I won’t be able to do the most fun thing there was to do in Warfare: stealing enemy vehicles you’re not supposed to have. But I assume that units now having actual skills and the player being allowed to toy with their loadouts are going to make up for it. That and the game having an actual plot!

2 thoughts on “Terminator: Dark Fate – Defiance demo | Argh, my brainworms

  1. The descriptions are making me think about Soldiers of Anarchy from 2002. A kind of post apocalyptic take on an inventory management heavy RTS adjacent game (like the Men of Wars to come). And that is enough to make me want to check out the demo.

    1. Oh man, I tried playing that as a kid, but ultimately on read an LP on LParchive. Maybe it’s better that way!

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