Earth Defense Force isn’t the type of series to grow stagnant. Even in its fifth release at the end of last year, the series took a dark shift into gritty reboot territory, telling a darker, less heroic tale as you defend Earth from all sides. So it comes as a shock when the newest release, Iron Rain, takes everything about the series I thought would never change through all the rebooting and completely proves my ass wrong.
From more cosmetic freedom to a complete shift in the way you approach missions, Yuke’s did a lot to make yet another fully fresh EDF game fans and newcomers will be excited to experience.
1. The Future is Grim
Taking place in 2033, well after the first encounter, most of the Earth has been overrun and drained. The Earth Defense Force is now a small ragtag army focused solely on protecting their benefactors and not much else.
Situations are dire, battles are life or death, and the once large cities are filled with dunes, debris, and every conceivable sign of warfare. Even surviving humans have turned to raiding, targeting the EDF for their resources. The bright and colorful mindless shooter that EDF once was is dead, and Iron Rain flaunts the rotting carcass as a sign of things to come.
2. A Big Focus on You
For the first time in series history, you can create your own character. With all the face and body presets, along with hair options, it doesn’t take long to create a soldier that looks just like you (or Hatsune Miku, I don’t know you, do whatever you want).
Once you unlock new clothes and accessories, it’s hard to not get addicted to customizing yourself to the fullest to be the best soldier you can be. To accentuate this, the camera is brought in closer than it ever has, panning past your face before opting for an over the shoulder view rather than the centered view series veterans have grown accustomed to for ultimate intimacy. This is your chance to finally join the EDF and be everything you ever hoped for. Even a Wing Diver.
3. Classes Are A Thing of the Past
In your daddy’s EDF, classes would determine your weapon loadouts, mobility options, and your overall appearance. You want to be a Wing Diver? Then you have to be the skimpy girl whose weight can be supported by the jetpack, no ifs ands or butts. In Iron Rain, they introduced the new PA-Gear system: An exo-suit made to represent all the classes in EDF5. It can be upgraded individually, applied to your character no matter the build or gender, and you can use any weapon you want. Nothing is quite as liberating as playing as a 200lb male Wing Diver using a slug-based shotgun. Enemies stood no chance as I swooped in and took them out one blast at a time.
On top of all these crazy changes, Yuke’s went ahead and added the Overdrive system. Usable once per mission, you can go into Overdrive by pressing both sticks in and promptly tear through everything in your path. Health regenerates, you move faster, you have infinite energy for flying/dashing/dodging, weapons reload and fire at twice the rate, and you’re generally an unstoppable beast. This is the thing that separates 5 from Iron Rain, and it’s the primary crux of this game’s story.
4. No More Collecting Weapons/Armor
One of the most annoying parts of EDF endgames is the grinding. With random loot drops, you could waste hours at a time getting nothing but duplicates, sometimes without a single armor drop to upgrade your health. Iron Rain now has a gem system. Rather than big silly boxes, enemies now drop gems upon defeat.
Aliens drop Red Gems, Insects drop Yellow Gems, and Mechs drop Yellow Gems. Treasured as a valuable resource (and the primary power source of your Overdrive according to the plot), gems are used in this post-apocalypse as currency for buying all sorts of things. Primarily, weapons and gear. Weapons are now unlocked as the story progresses, available in the store with the quirky new droid shopkeeper who’s just there to help. Early on, all the weapons seem affordable through normal gameplay. Without a class restriction and the pace at which the game is providing me with money and gems, it seems grinding will be cut down exponentially compared to prior games in the series so we can focus on completion and tackling higher difficulties. For me, that’s a very good thing.
5. There’s a Story (With Characters and All)
EDF5 had a greater focus on lore and worldbuilding as they rebooted the series. Your player character felt like it was actually yourself experiencing the start of the alien invasion in this modern world. With that lore established (and obviously torn down), Iron Rain takes time to delve into characterization and plot.
You’re a member of Blast Team, sent to protect the guys paying the bills. You are Closer, the Overdrive wielding badass who took down an entire mothership before seemingly dying, only to be revived and put on this elite team of badasses. They have families and backstories, and are constantly filling your ear with exposition. They’ll comment on your performance on the menu screen, interact with EDF commanders and scientists, and play a crucial role when it comes time to side with the aforementioned raiders. Lore building is as strong as the last game, but the new focus on characters kept me way more interested in what was happening behind all the mindless shooting.
Earth Defense Force: Iron Rain is shaping up to be a new standard for the series. With bold new changes like removing the class system and adding human enemies, I’m excited to see where the newest red-haired stepchild of the EDF series ranks when the game launches on April 11th. It’s definitely hit a note with me and I’m rooting for its success.