Defiance Gamescom 2011 Preview -- Can A Game Satisfy Both MMO and Shooter Fans?By Sinan Kubba - Posted Aug 24, 2011
I like Trion. Rift has been a successful and refreshing MMORPG which has helped to shift the design philosophy of MMOs forward. Their ambition in following that up with a free-to-play MMORTS is impressive, and there's no doubting the confidence of the Californian publisher and developer. I do have to wonder, though, if with Defiance their ambition might be leading them towards insanity.
It's not that the game seems too ambitious, but more that it might have too many ambitions. It would be a big enough achievement to pull off a successful open-world persistent shooter MMO with no loading screens. Heck, it would be an achievement to just pull off a successful MMOFPS where the attraction isn't that it's free-to-play. But of course that's not even close to enough for Trion. Ignoring the oh-so-troubled history of MMOs on consoles, Defiance will be coming out for PS3, Xbox 360, and PC, and will feature cross-platform play. If only that was the kicker.
No, the humdinger takes us back to 2008, when Trion and the Syfy TV network announced a project which would combine a sci-fi TV show with a MMO. Three years later that game was revealed at this year's E3 and it was Defiance. That's right: a cross-platform open-world MMOFPS with a TV show.
So look, let's put the TV show thing to one side for now and focus on the game. Trion showcased their latest build to me in a live demo which featured PS3 and an Xbox 360 versions running in Cologne, all in conjunction with members of the Trion team playing in studios back home in Texas and San Diego.
The game is set in San Francisco -- the show in St Louis -- in the near future. Alien colonization of Earth has gone awry with the planet left only partially terraformed due to a radiation disaster. Now humans and aliens must rebuild the Earth together, or not so together as the case may be.
The demo features our global band of Trion players tasked with dealing with a local alien infestation. I see the squad dressed in shiny, bulky body armor, and it immediately makes me think of Mass Effect. Similarly, the forest around the players is full of lush color, with weird large purple plants set against an oddly light yellow sky. These aren't the closed-off environments of a Mass Effect, though, and nor is it set on an alien planet. This is the open environment of planet Earth, a point hammered home by a sign in the far distance shaped like a dinosaur, bearing the neon yellow words TAR PIT.
The demo is brief, but I can see that it seems to play like a regular twin-stick cover-based shooter like Gears of War. The combat shown to us, in which the squad deals with some crab-like critters and then later some larger cyborg baddies, is kept fairly basic, but Trion assure us that players will be to earn powers throughout the game as they progress their character. The powers mentioned were invisibility, creating holograms decoys, and super-charging armor.
Rift fans won't be stunned by the derivative nature of Defiance, nor are Trion particularly abashed by it. They want their game to evoke Mass Effect, Halo, Gears of War, and so on, and they want their game to play those games. They want to provide accessibility to an audience that remains largely untapped by the MMO sector. One example of familiarity is shown to us in a player using a turret. The view switches seamlessly to FPS as he clears a bridge up ahead for his teammates to cross.
To Trion's credit, at a glance and even at this early stage the latency of Defiance looks reasonable, but it's hard to judge when the controller isn't in my hands. Enemy reactions look a little off, and the precision in the shooting maybe not quite there yet, but this is speculative on my part.
I mention it only to underline the point that a lot of core shooter fans will be looking at Defiance and thinking about how annoyed they get with the lag of their TVs and Call of Duty servers, let alone the anticipated delays of a huge persistent open-world MMOs. Again, there must be some confidence in Trion if they're showing live global cross-platform demos at this stage, well, confidence or insanity.
The demo ends with an Arkfall, when a huge alien shard drops out of the sky. This, like the rifts of Rift, is a dynamic event taking place over timed stages. And why not, the rifts made for quick and simple events involving huge amounts of players. Like with the missions in the game, the command to take down the Arkfall simply appears on the screen, and all players in the squad get the quest. In Defiance, though, other species will fight with players for control of the Arkfall, and that does sound like an interesting twist. In our demo, eventually the players do enough damage to the shard to open it up and unlock stage 2. Unfortunately, stage 2 involves the shard opening up to reveal a behemoth of a creature, and that's where the demo ends.
On that note, then, let's look at the TV show side. Essentially the show and the game are separate windows into the same world, with the show depicting the drama of aliens and humans trying to cohabit after their war. Where it all gets a little unclear is how TV show and game will occasionally interact with each other. If there's a big change in the show, like an earthquake or new technology being discovered, that will be reflected in the game. It's interesting, although I'm not sure it's something MMO fans have been hankering for, but it's interesting nonetheless.
Honestly, it comes down to whether or not Trion can achieve their goals with the game itself, and while it's a huge task, there is an experienced team at the MMO developer and publisher who know exactly what they're taking on. To truly be a great game, though, Defiance can't just be a competent MMOFPS; it must be competitive with other shooters too.