Defiance Hands-on Preview -- A Transmedia Obsession in the Making?By Adam Rosenberg - Posted Oct 24, 2012
Defiance is aiming to be your next, great RPG timesuck. The console- and PC-bound release serves up an entirely new sci-fi universe--complete with tie-in Syfy series--in the context of a third-person action/RPG that mixes reflex-based shooting with number-crunching stat-boosting and color-coded loot drops. There's a little Diablo, a little Borderlands, and a little Guild Wars 2, all wrapped inside of an MMO-style framework that offers plenty of original flavor.
The setting for the game and the TV series both is a near-future, post-invasion Earth. The alien Votan race came to our planet after their solar system was destroyed, not realizing that they'd be contending with an indigenous population. When no suitable compromise could be reached, a war broke out.
Unfortunately, downed alien ships ended up releasing terraforming into the Earth's atmosphere, rendering the planet unsafe for one and all. Many of the remaining humans and Votans came together in the aftermath of the conflict to carve out a safe place to live.
The Syfy series focuses on the remains of St. Louis while the game sets its sights on California's Bay Area. Expect to see crossover narratives tying the two together. In one example, an early in-game mission sees players working with Jeb Nolan and his sidekick Irisa--two of the TV series' main characters--as they work to get their hands on a powerful gem. While it's not clear what the artifact does, it apparently plays an important role in the pilot episode of the series. Trion Worlds and Syfy are cooking up other crossovers as well.
The game plays like your standard third-person action console title with RPG elements thrown in. You'll earn XP and level up as you play, unlocking passive buffs and abilities such as cloaking, decoy, or sprint, all of which evolve to include additional effects as you plug more points into them. While numbers and stats are a big part of what's happening behind the scenes in Defiance, your ability to damage targets depends entirely on lining up your crosshairs and firing.
Even after my brief hands-on, I came to enjoy the element of real-time action mixed with the depth and character management of an RPG. You're depending on your reflexes in combat, but you're also juggling that with loot drops and inventory management. It's hard to say how the balance holds up over long periods of play, but the demo certainly paints a compelling picture.
Only a small chunk of what looks to be a massive open world was playable during my demo. Even that small area required the use of vehicles to get around efficiently. Fortunately, all characters have a vehicle equipment slot, allowing them to call up a ride from any location with the push of a button, whether it's a button that's on your keyboard or on your gamepad.
The big question that remains for now is price. Defiance is technically an MMORPG, with plans to support hundreds of players per server. While this element is being taken advantage of to offer up dynamic event-style missions (think Guild Wars 2) and other MMO-style play, it also means that fans might be looking at something more than a simple one-time purchase. Trion Worlds isn't saying yet.
I'll need to spend some more time with Defiance to see how much the world and the challenges it presents you with expand, but my first hands-on impression is definitely a positive one. There are still many months to go before the game's April 2013 release, so we'll hopefully have more to share with you down the road.