Hands-On with Defiance - Blowing up Bugs and All-Terrain Antics

It may still be early in development but this MMOFPS is shaping up to be some bug-in-your-teeth fun.
Trion Worlds weighed in against the other MMOFPS games this year at E3 with Defiance. It was our first chance to play the game. We had relatively limited information to go on from the year or so past after its initial announcement but we met with Trick Dempsey of Trion to give the game a good old fashioned try-out.

So what do we know about the game? As far as shooters go this one foams with the Trion touch. Gamers will be thrust into a shared universe with the upcoming Syfy show of the same name, starring folks like Julie Benz (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel), Grant Bowler (Blue Heelers), Tony Curran (Gladiator), and Jaime Murray (The Deaths of Ian Stone). How the game will relate to the television series has been somewhat ambiguous so we asked Trion's Trick Dempsey how the worlds would relate to each other.

Race through Defiance on a trusty vehicle "Events that happen on the show you will hear about on your radio in game, for example" Dempsey explained. "Characters that appear on the show won't make regular appearances in game, but you may catch stories of them here and there." Furthermore, last year we uncovered that it's not out of the realm of possibility that exceptional players in the game may get a name mention in the show. A word to the wise: Don't name your character something ridiculous or profane if you want your 5 minutes of fame.

The world in which Defiance takes place is a post-war San Francisco Bay area. There has been some alien (or supernatural?) invasion and the world is unlikely to resemble the 'Frisco Bay you may know today. "But there will be definite identifiable landmarks," Dempsey pointed out.

Much of the gameplay seems to be open-ended. There are certainly missions and a story arc players can follow but with our hands-on we skipped all that and got into the heat of battle and set out on our own expeditions. So, in the spirit of the great explorers like Magellan we set off on our four wheeler to find the next great adventure.

What's that I said? Yes, there are four wheelers and other vehicles in the game. Given the large, seamless game map travel by foot would get tedious after a short time. There are plenty of points of interest though (which appear handily on your minimap) so it's unlikely you'll spend a ton of time just driving from place to place. Think of it in line with motor vehicle transport in games like Borderlands or Rage. As an extra MMO-perk you won't need to remember where you parked. If you lose track of your vehicle just summon it from where you are like any loyal steed in other popular games.

 In a seamless world such as the one developed for Defiance player population will make or break the world. As we raced across the map this thought began to frighten me a little. Since we were in a demo there were never more than two or three other players on the screen.

"This place could be rather boring if there weren't other players around at all times," I blurted out, rather candidly.

"That's true," Trick replied, "but in Defiance all players of the same platform will share the same world." So think of Defiance as less Lord of the Rings Online, and more EVE, with one big shared server. As mentioned too, plans to have the game playable between all three platforms (PC, PS3 and Xbox) seem to have fallen through. This isn't as much a failure in technology as it is a continued failure of Microsoft and Sony being willing to play nicely together in terms of licensing.

As we fought some baddies with guns Trick then pointed out that something was highlighted on our map just over the horizon, and that we should go check it out. We figured he probably knows what he's talking about so we left our enemies behind in search of new enemies and excitement. We roared over hills and leapt over shrubbery we approached a giant rift-type event with bugs spilling out all over the land, causing certain chaos in their wake of destruction. This was our first viewing of an Arkfall.
A Defiance Arkfall

A first glimpse of a Defiance Arkfall

Arkfalls will be familiar to Rift players as they are very similar. A fallen piece of an alien ship allows other-worldly beings to invade the Bay area. And we're not talking about crazed Giants fans tipping over cop cars. These are literal aliens from another world. Managing Editor Reuben Waters fought valiantly against the onslaught of extraterrestrial evils with his pod gun, but inevitably he fell victim to bigger meaner bugs. Trick then recommended he try an actual projectile weapon, which was met with resounding success. A semi automatic apparently does much more damage to insects than trying to chuck syringes at them.

Confidence built by his own private doomsday, Reuben triggered the next phase of battle which was an even bigger, uglier bug. This one had giant crab-like legs that could cut a man in half. Bullets were bouncing off his hardened shell so it was clear there was some trick to this mini boss. Soon, he found there was a tiny glowing gland in each of the creature's "armpits." Shooting those enough would cause one of the legs to explode away from the body, and eventually leave the creature susceptible to mortal blows.

The scripts in these battles are fun. Again, we had to envision these fights with more people as playing with just a couple of others in the booth didn't have the same sort of epic battle feel it would if there were, say, 50 people with guns blazing. The arkfalls, like the rifts in Rift, scale in difficulty with the amount of players and have time limits to unlock the next phase. Should you fail to meet the time limit the event simply ends and you're once again on your four-wheeler racing to find more action.

The controls are straight forward and can easily be played on either a controller or a mouse and keyboard. Apart from the occasional jerky animation the firing and movement actions were responsive.

Overall Defiance is shaping up to be a game to watch, at the very least, while under development. It is unlikely we'll be able to get a real feel for the full game until it's further along, with more content in game to try out, and more players playing. For now it seems a bit on the empty side but that's to be expected with a game that hasn't hit closed beta yet. What sets this game apart from the other MMO shooters we saw this year is its relation to the television show, the one-giant-shared server, and the seemingly harmonic marriage between shooters and hallmarks of Trion World's current flagship, Rift.

We'll be watching for this one at later events this year, rest assured of that.

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