Defiance PAX Prime Preview - Long on guns, short on MMO?
There had been a lot of mystery surrounding Defiance until earlier this summer, when the wizard’s curtain finally began to drop. The game we discovered behind it at E3 represented a decidedly futuristic take on aspects of Rift that helped make that game a success for Trion. Arkfalls are unmistakably a variant on rifts, though less about planar inhabitants and more about monstrous insectoids.
Heading into PAX Prime, another fold in the curtain has fallen, with Defiance playable on the show floor. While I knew going in that it was largely a third-person shooter, I wasn’t necessarily prepared for how far that particular envelope has been pushed. If Defiance had previously been described as “Rift with guns”, Trion has made great efforts to emphasize the shooter gameplay first and foremost.
In fact, a recent developer diary made note of the fact that “Defiance is a third-person shooter first and an MMO second.”
From what’s being shown at PAX that certainly rings true. In many ways you could almost think of Defiance as a more polished Tabula Rasa that met Gears of War somewhere in a dark alley to trade Halo war stories about Rifts.
If that sounds a bit confusing, don’t worry that’s somewhat intentional.
The MMO aspects of Defiance are nowhere to be seen in the show floor demo, which instead features a basic team death match map. The gameplay will be instantly familiar to console shooter fans, with a few twists on the formula to make it fit into the mythos of events happening within the Defiance storyline. While the main enemy in the game remains the alien invaders, players will be able to side with different factions that apparently have opposing views and objectives which in turn forms the basis of why a game about survival in the wake of an alien invasion has seemingly devolved into a competitive team-based shooter.
How this fits into the core MMO gameplay and progression wasn’t really discussed, though your characters will share persistent progression between PvE and PvP. On the one hand, that opens the doors for players to enjoy one aspect of the game and seamlessly transition into the other. On the flipside, MMOs have proven time and again that unless the parallel progression paths are in perfect synch, it can rapidly create a power imbalance especially in PvP. And whether imbalances are real or perceived, they're just as offputting either way.
From their presence at PAX, Defiance seems to be in something of an unfortunate personality crisis. While I can appreciate that Trion is intent on shining the spotlight on the game as a competitive shooter and can further appreciate that Trion can't give away much of the narrative due to the upcoming TV series, let's at least talk about game mechanics. And the game's showfloor presence doesn’t necessarily blend with the prior focused message of being an MMO shooter you’d want to stick with season in and season out, or one that’s intended to have direct tie-ins with the SyFy series.
Putting that thought on hold for a moment, I can at least report that the shooter gameplay is fairly solid at this point, and made a bit more interesting through the introduction of alien tech in the mix. For example, one weapon shoots some nasty looking spores on enemy players. If that player dies while the spores are still active, they’ll hatch and a number of aliens will emerge to track down their teammates. At one point the spores functioned somewhat like a DoT, but will currently only do minor damage to shields, so getting hit with them won’t necessarily be a leading cause of death, though you’ll want to make every effort to stay alive until they wear off.
Defiance will include a combination of more traditional team-based maps such as the death match being played at PAX, and some open. PvP maps that factor in the same faction system. How large these open PvP maps are, and whether or not they have any direct impact on the game’s PvE progression remains to be seen.
For a game that’s been billed from day one as a unique MMO with direct links to the television series, it’s still a bit confusing to try and mentally rectify that with the fact that Defiance is essentially a wholly online breed of the Gears / Halo console shooter variety. If the shooter gameplay proves to be solid enough to engage players, I supposed that won’t necessarily matter in the grand scheme of things. But for now, my main takeaway from PAX is that I’m left wondering whether there are enough PvE hooks remaining behind the wizard’s curtain to help give the game a worthwhile identity beyond a shared setting with the TV series.
The pilot of Defiance: Season One is scheduled to air in April 2013, with a near-simultaneous launch planned for the MMO. Ten Ton Hammer will continue to follow Defiance throughout the 6 months of development until launch, so keep it here for more Defiance chatter.