PAX Prime 2012: 'Defiance' is a Shooter in an MMO Wrapper (Hands-on Preview)

A member of the Trion Worlds team took some time out during PAX Prime to give me some hands-on time with one of the Conflict maps for the upcoming MMO/shooter/Syfy Tv show tie-in, Defiance. The PvP mode is straight up standard over-the-shoulder run and gun action, but what surprised me is how heavily Trion Worlds is putting the emphasis on this aspect of the game.

The team's goal was to make a shooter first that just happens to be set in a persistent world that's closely linked with an ongoing TV series. Even with the focus on creating a great pick up and play third-person shooter, those are still a lot of ambitions to serve.

So based on my time with the 6v6 deathmatch map on the PAX Prime show floor, did Trion Worlds nail it?

The first big takeaway that I got from Defiance is that it's not Gears, or at least it doesn't handle like Epic's shooter. Your characters move a bit faster and the emphasis seems to be on strafing and verticality (at least in the wrecked industrial map that I played). And that frenetic feel kind of adds to the charm (even if I wasn't overly-excited about the environments).

The MMO takes place in San Francisco, placing you in a postapocalyptic environment following a cataclysm that leads several alien species (collectively known as the Votans) to end up living on Earth. Some of the technology from their ship continues to orbit the Earth in clusters called "Arks" and taking on the role of an Ark Hunter in the game, your path to survival and even riches to by tracking down this tech. In the fiction of the PvP map, you're a member of one of two teams vying for a contract from arms manufacturer Echelon who want some of the sweet xenotech for themselves and need some strong bodies out there to gather it for them.

On the face of it, Defiance's shooter elements have the general shape and feel of any other shooter with character progression. And that's actually kind of the key difference between this and most of the MMO landscape: Trion is trying to make Call of Duty, not WoW, emphasizing progression that offers a host of abilities without drilling too deep into the individual specialities. The Trion rep I spoke to wanted to be clear that his team's central goal with Defiance's PvP was creating a shooter where you couldn't simply level your way up to omnipotence, instead focusing on allowing players to develop a host of different play styles without allowing them to become over-powered.

In addition to that, you can build up your loadout with your primary and secondary weapons which are a blend of human and offworld technology (my favorite was a gun that shot out spikes which would trigger explosive eggs to erupt from an unfortunate enemy's body), along with grenades and special abilities like the ability to increase your speed or become invisible as long as you aren't shooting an opponent.

Again, it all feels very comfortable, for a regular shooter fan, but the big question mark is how it will feel wandering the open world and interacting with the community there (part of Trion's ambition is to use the MMO framework as a way to create a community around the shooter). I'm likewise curious about the instanced content which will consist of co-op maps that will play out like a linear shooter.

Will Trion Worlds be able to pull all of these disparate elements together when the game launches next year? We'll see when it hits the 360, PS3, and PC next April.

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