E3 2012: Defiance hands-on

Defiance Artwork - 1047671

It feels like people have been asking for a great MMO shooter for years, now. Similarly, fans yearn for a day when video games and traditional media merge to create something spectacular. Defiance, a joint effort between Trion Worlds and Syfy, aims to answer both those wishes. It sounds a bit too good to be true, but after my hands-on at E3, I think they might just pull it off.

My demo began with a quest through a dingy cavern with 3 fellow members of the gaming press as my co-op companions. The structure itself is typical MMO-fare – killing random mobs, downing sub-bosses, collecting loot, and eventually downing the dungeon’s final boss. Defiance stands out, though, because the experience is wrapped around a third-person shooter. We weren’t mashing number keys or furiously clicking enemies hoping it will make our attacks stronger. We weren’t assigned character classes; the role we played in the instance was defined more by what weapons and equipment we wanted. We were treated to a traditional third-person shooter setup without compromise. The structure is familiar, but the gameplay still feels unique.

Most enemies we ran into would not go down to wild gunfire. They had weak spots that our smarter players spotted and focused on, making those fights more manageable. If an enemy chewed through our bullets like they were made of candy, we knew the fight was lost until we knew how to make them vulnerable. The weaknesses were typically conveyed through glowing parts of the aliens’ bodies – which can feel a bit too contrived but it adds just enough strategy to avoid monotonous combat. Additionally, the mobs and loot are balanced to the amount of players in the party. If you want the best loot, you may need to bring a few friends. You won’t have to fight over the rarest drops, though, as all loot is unique to the player that sees it.

After downing the boss, we were dumped into the open world but only for a brief moment. To our surprise, the sky grew dim and a sandstorm whipped into a frenzy before our eyes. This was part of Defiance’s dynamic events system. Whenever the developer desires, they can cue these multi-stage events which can provide great experience, loot, and camaraderie among dozens of players. We had stumbled onto the final stage of this event, and the fight was too tempting to pass up.

A massive alien monster attempted to crush us while spawning hideous minions at the center of our map’s beacons. Our objective was clear – we must destroy the alien and do it quickly. Unfortunately, we were unable to slay the beast within the time we were given, but the event did its job. It brought us all together to fight for the same cause without the need of an instance or grouping system. These dynamic events scale to player count and speed with which the players advance the stages, ensuring a balanced level of challenge no matter the situation. The tougher the event, the greater the rewards – just like the instances.

The last phase of my demo took place in the open world. The player is given the ability to spawn an ATV at any time immediately upon starting the game. Not having to run everywhere is a huge plus, especially in a game attempting a massive world. Riding around has benefits beyond speedy travel, however Completing time trials and hitting specific jumps in the world net the player an in-game achievement and a handful of experience. Achievements also earn perks that boost weapons and abilities when equipped.

I took on a mission to clear out a group of miners and took the opportunity to try out some new weapons. This mission felt like a typical MMO quest of killing ten boars for livers or whatever cliché you want to run with. Testing out my new loot, though, made the simplistic challenge more enjoyable. This was the only quest I saw during my time with the game, so I’m not sure how it represents the rest of the games’ quests. I imagine the storyline missions are more elaborate because story seems core to Defiance.

Until the end of the demo, it was easy for me to get caught up in playing the game and forget about the cross-media aspects of Defiance. The TV show, set to air on Syfy, takes place in St. Louis while the video game is set in San Francisco. Despite the separation of the settings, Defiance hopes to have a lot of crossover between the two media. The main character of the show, for example, will quest with players in the game before he moves to St. Louis and has his story told through the TV show. It’s ambitious, but it could lead to a truly unique and engrossing experience for fans of the world.

Defiance is trying to do a lot of complicated things at once, which has me a bit weary. Based on my time with the game, however, I can say the game side of the project is shaping up to be a fun MMO experience. I’m not sure it will convince gamers tired of the MMO formula that this type of game is back and better than ever, but it provides more than enough new style to satiate anyone looking for a massive action experience. Watch, play, and experience Defiance when it releases on XBOX 360, PC, and PS3 in April 2013.

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Erich Sherman
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