Terminator: Dark Fate - Defiance Review

February 28, 2024


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I bloody love the Terminator film series. All six of the movies in it have badass main characters, cool action sequences, interesting stories, and strangely depressing but human themes. The latter is the most important aspect of the franchise, though, because it’s what sets it apart from the likes of the Rambo sequels and Die Hard, and is also what makes Terminator: Dark Fate - Defiance more than a generic video game set in an established universe. Because although the title isn’t wholly unique, and copies plenty of aspects of other games in the genre while also suffering from some of the same issues, and although its storyline is severely lacklustre, it does a phenomenal job at conveying the depressing realities of being a resistance fighter in the near future. And, at risk of stating the obvious, it also allows you to blow up terminators with artillery cannons instead of blasting them with lever-action shotguns, which will forever be enjoyable.

The premise of Terminator: Dark Fate - Defiance is, I’ll be honest, kind of strange. It’s not a shooter or a narrative-driven action title, but instead a real-time strategy game that’s more-or-less akin to Wargame: Red Dragon. After a handful of tutorial levels, including one set during the titular Judgement Day, you’re given control a militia force and tasked with taking down Legion (the artificial intelligence that more-or-less commands all of the time-travelling robots in the franchise) in the Western United States after they hunted humans almost to the point of extinction. To do this, you need to navigate a quasi-open world in a tactical menu, help out the other factions that are trying to fight for their survival against the world-ending AI, complete a dozen or so main story quests, and, of course, command your troops from an overhead view in real time when you’re in combat.

Nice night for a walk, eh?

The first thing on that list is what truly makes it different from the swaths of other RTSs on the market, and sadly, this is the most frustrating element of the title. Managing your forces when you’re not in the middle of a battle quickly becomes a pain, because you need to always ensure that they have enough supplies to survive, and ammunition before you go take on the world-ending robots. It doesn’t take long for you to amass a massive army filled with infantry soldiers, technicals, and even tanks, and it also doesn’t take long for you to run out of the required gear to keep them in fighting shape. You have to spend an annoying amount of time deforming and reforming units so you don’t run out of gear, and occasionally even need to let some of your soldiers leave your party, neither one of which is either fun or makes a whole lot of sense given the game’s lore.

Thankfully, when you aren’t staring at tactical screen or allocating ammunition, Terminator: Dark Fate - Defiance is a substantially enjoyable experience. Battles almost always play out across huge maps with multiple objectives, at least one human faction, and, of course, an awful lot of mechanoids that can easily ruin your day. You need to be careful about where you send your militia, take advantage of each unit type’s different attributes, and pay close attention to how you’re expending your limit amounts of bullets and fuel. Even if you do all those things perfectly, though, it’s impossible to make it through a combat encounter without losing at least a few troops, both because your enemies are expectedly ruthless and because of some neat mechanics like how buildings can get destroyed or how vehicle parts can degrade when they’re shot at. When everything goes according to your plans, which it rarely does, it feels like you’re truly in command of a resistance force that needs to use hit-and-run tactics while scavenging weapons off of their foes and occasionally leaving soldiers to cover their frequent retreats. When things go off the rails, the game is still fun, but that’s mostly because it’s grimly satisfying to see your people take pop shots and then get killed thanks to the game’s astoundingly good graphics and sound design.

If I’ve learned anything in life, it’s to never trust a dude who wears aviators after the world’s ended.

However, the issue with all this is that Terminator: Dark Fate - Defiance makes the same mistakes that most real-time strategy games do. This is to say that you generally have to manage too many troops at any given time, the title’s narrative is severely undercooked, and the game is often a bit too difficult for its own good. None of these are deal-breakers, and in truth, none of them have all that much of an effect on the overall game quality. You can pause and unpause the game at will to effectively order your soldiers around, nobody enjoys Terminator because of its writing, and you can save scum when it looks like you’re about to fail an objective. It would’ve been nice to not have to worry about any of the aforementioned issues, though, because they do help sour an experience that is remarkably good otherwise.

Thankfully, Terminator: Dark Fate - Defiance does make up for its shortcomings by having a skirmish mode at launch, the ability to duke it out in 1v1 and 2v2 online battles, and by being a remarkably solid strategy game. It isn’t one for everyone, as its difficultly is a bit overbearing and the need to manage your troops when you’re not in combat is annoying. If you aren’t remotely invested in the Terminator franchise, too, you probably won’t get quite as much enjoyment out of the title as people who do. If you are, though, or you’re looking for a unique take on the tried-and-true RTS military genre…well, it may not be worth giving its developer your clothes, your boots and your motorcycle, but it is worth giving them $40/£34.

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Terminator: Dark Fate - Defiance isn’t without its issues, but its unique setting and gameplay mechanics set it apart from other strategy titles.‍
Derek Johnson

Somebody once told me the world was going to roll me, and they were right. I love games that let me take good-looking screenshots and ones that make me depressed, so long as the game doesn't overstay its welcome.