The Marin region featured a bunch of story and side quests that could be taken up as you located them around the map, and there also seemed to be some dynamic objectives that popped up when entering certain areas, like clearing a hellbug ambush that had attacked an NPC caravan. At one point, a map marker led several of us to a world boss battle involving a gigantic hellbug hellion, which was epic, and presented a series of rankings and rewards after completion.
When there are enough players in an area, the game will spawn a "Shadow War," which is basically a PvP hotspot with objectives in the open world. You can hotjoin a Shadow War from right within the menu, so when the option arose, I naturally jumped in to take the fight to my once-comrades, and found the experience to be pretty frantic. I especially liked the fact that PvE mobs will still be at their posts in these areas, so you're likely to contend with monsters and brigands as well as other players in Shadow Wars.
I also joined a few other players in Defiance's Motherlode dungeon, an underground instance that supports up to four people. It was mostly linear in design but had several heated firefights and some fun destructible objects that added to the mayhem, and offered a nice contained counterpoint to the open world objectives.
The game has a very well-designed radial menu system which gives you quick access to your loadouts, map, and inventory, a huge enhancements and abilities list, social features like friends, clan, and chat, and much more. From this menu you can also easily join instances, battlegrounds, and world PvP like Shadow Wars, and I must say, the intuitiveness of Defiance's radial menu can actually help you understand the game's features by neatly putting them all out there side-by-side.
For all of Defiance's intuitive design choices and fun gameplay, there are a few issues that I noticed with the early build that we were playing. I found the open world areas to be a little buggy, with items and creatures clipping through the geometry, and there was noticeable texture popping, especially when speeding through zones in a vehicle. The framerate also seemed to be erratic, although the game's performance turned out to be much better in the Motherlode instance without dozens of players around. The good news is that these are relatively minor issues which can likely be solved by the time that open beta and launch come around, and may be reflective of some fine-tuning needed to optimize the game for older 360 hardware. I'm very interested to see how the game runs on PC, and would like to see it have that Trion level of polish by release.
Finally, there are two other games that came up for me as we were playing through our preview that are worth mentioning: Halo and Tabula Rasa. The art design, at least in the Marin region, was vaguely reminiscent of sci-fi-fantasy tropes that we see in games like the Halo series, but was distinct enough to exhibit its own new personality. Likewise, the open world, third-person co-op missions made me think of what Tabula Rasa could have been, although the comparison is more applicable to the game's design than to its implementation. Whereas Tabula Rasa was ahead of its time, Defiance has the potential and developer support to make a huge and long-lasting impact on the MMO scene. Furthermore, even in its alpha state, it has the best implementation of an open world online game on consoles that I've seen so far, and it works.
Overall, I enjoyed trying out Defiance, and am looking forward to playing more of Trion Worlds' game as it moves towards beta and release. Defiance is set to launch in April of 2013, and I'm interested in finding out more about how the Trion team is going to monetize the game, as well as what they have in store for instanced PvP, raids, and - so help me - collections and achievements. I'm also looking forward to checking out the TV series, and seeing how they implement its crossover within the MMO and vice versa.
Thanks again to the Trion Worlds team for showing us around Defiance!