Defiance Hands-On: If RIFT Were A Sci-Fi FPS

Trion’s new MMO Defiance is turning heads with its SyFy TV show tie-in, but what has piqued my interest most about it is its fusion of FPS combat in a massively multiplayer sci-fi world. At E3 2012, I got some hands-on time with the upcoming game to see for myself whether the result would be a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup or just a piece of chocolate with peanut butter spread on it.

My play experience began with a run through Defiance’s equivalent of an MMO “dungeon,” which felt similar to a co-op FPS level: a linear romp through industrial rooms and corridors while running, shooting, and tossing grenades. Certain enemies and boss monsters had vulnerable spots to hit, like gas tanks on their backs, which added some flavor to the mix, but overall, it was very, “been there; done that.”

Having successfully completed the dungeon, I emerged into the open world. Things were about to get interesting.

I’ve played a couple dozen MMORPGs, and my main issue with the genre is the combat. Auto-targeting and cycling through cooldowns doesn’t make for engaging or rewarding combat, in my experience. I enjoyed Star Wars: The Old Republic as a whole, but auto-targeting takes all the fun out of firing a blaster. This is where Defiance shines.

I drove around Defiance’s open world on my trusty steed vehicle, squashing giant alien bugs against my bumper — which I suspect will never get old. A random event caught my attention — an alien invasion, similar to the rift events in Trion’s MMORPG. I drove off-road at full speed, ramping off hill slopes and getting some serious air time.

As I neared the invasion, other players were arriving on scene as well. We got to work.

A variety of weapon types kept my options open: assault rifle, shotgun, sniper rifle, and even a zany gun that fired alien parasites that attacked nearby enemies. That last option was too ridiculous to pass up, and I had buckets of fun killing aliens with their own kind.

Once we cleaned up the first invasion zone, another objective appeared on the map, and we headed for it, each of us trying to one-up each other with crazier ramp jumps or by finding the quickest route. Stopping the second invasion was much like the first, but this led to the final invasion phase, with an appropriately epic boss battle that involved destroying various weak points before getting to the squishy soft parts.

For this fight, I swapped to my sniper rifle, keeping my distance and moving from cover to cover between enemy volleys. Vanquishing the alien threat felt like a satisfying accomplishment, because my contribution didn’t consist of managing cooldowns, but of direct aiming and skill. It took everything I love from the FPS genre and put it into a massively multiplayer, persistent, open world.

It’s clear that Trion is applying lessons learned from Rift to Defiance, as some of the fantasy MMORPG’s best elements are at play in the sci-fi MMOFPS. I’d like to see more variety in enemy types — I got the impression enemies are either giant bugs or gun-totting humanoids — but so far, Defiance is looking like a game that will make MMO grinding fun.

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