We've all had the idea: make a triple-A, massively multiplayer online game, give it action-packed third-person shooter gameplay, put it out on PC, Xbox 360, and PS3 and tie it in with an upcoming science-fiction TV series to be aired on Syfy.
Ok, so none of us have had that idea, except for Trion Worlds, who will be bringing their ambitious MMOTPS, Defiance, to PCs and consoles this coming spring. The Redwood City-based developer invited us for an afternoon of previews at the Presidio of San Francisco, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge - a highly suggestive venue, considering the game's location of the near-future Bay Area. Our tour was guided by Senior Vice President of Development Nicholas Beliaeff and several other members of the Trion team, and I got to dabble with more than a few of Defiance's game modes.
We first got to hear about some of the game's basics, many of which you're probably already aware: Defiance is a third-person shooter based on massively multiplayer open world gameplay, with quests, dungeons, PvP, guild and social features, huge co-op battles, and an evolving online world. Based in a sci-fi, near-future setting, the game and show follow groups of human and alien survivors working together to build and rebuild Earth.
We then took a brief look at an in-game cinematic sequence from the game in comparison to the pilot trailer for the show, and got to see some of the continuity between the two. The game and the show are visually complementary, and share vehicles, characters, story, and settings - although the Syfy series will be based in St. Louis, rather than San Francisco.
Jumping into the gameplay, we were given the chance to create characters and take some of Defiance's gameplay modes for a spin. Character creation was relatively robust for such an early build of the game, offering the two races of Human and Irathient, four Ark Hunter "Origins," which unlock special abilities for your character from the get-go, and several cosmetic customization options. I chose to be an Irathient, because aliens. I then picked the Survivalist Origin, rather than the other three of Machinist, Outlaw, and Soldier, so that I could toy around with the Cloak stealth ability.
The feel of Defiance's gameplay is most easily described as a third-person shooter with similar trappings and features as you'd find in an MMO. In our preview, I was playing the 360 version, and the game felt wholly natural on a gamepad, with mostly responsive controls and shooting elements. Defiance also has a couple of key additions to your everyday shooting controls, such as the abilities to perform an evasive roll or spawn a vehicle at any time in the open world. Additionally, while the gameplay is fun and fluid, mobs will take quite considerably more damage than you'll find in a traditional FPS or TPS, lending to Defiance's MMO feel and pedigree.
The zone we were playing in - set in the Marin region north of San Francisco - sported a science-fiction-fantasy environment with a distinctly post-apocalyptic vibe, and had an expansive open world feel to it. The region's map was littered with quests and objectives, and allowed players to fast travel to different locations or add custom waypoints, which would then show up on the game's minimap with route markings.
Upon entering the zone, we were encouraged to wander around for a bit to get our bearings, and I joined an open co-op mission to protect a group of mercenaries and clear out a mine. I then took to my all-terrain vehicle and explored the landscape, happening upon a mission marker that started a quest to race through checkpoints in the hills and fields around Sausalito. Although I was driving a very basic ATV, the racing's controls in this build were admittedly not as responsive as I would have liked, but the race itself was reasonably exhilarating. I was also pleasantly surprised to encounter this type of non-normative quest in an MMO.
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