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Now that the Defiance beta has branched out to the PlayStation 3, I've had the opportunity to sink quite a few hours into Trion's upcoming third-person shooter MMO (PS3, PC, Xbox 360). The developer also lifted all NDA restrictions, meaning that anyone who has had the opportunity to play the game can now talk about their experiences with a clear conscience. In short, I'm here to tell you that Defiance has been a blast.
Keep in mind that we're still talking about a beta here, so my access to many of the game's features was pretty limited. Whole sections of the in-game menu were locked off and I only had the opportunity to mess around with one (pretty big) section of the map, a couple dozen missions and a metric ton of side quests and random events. I've also taken three of the game's vehicles out for a test drive and pumped an untold number of bullets into all manner of mutants and giant bugs with a large variety of the game's weaponry.
In my 10 or so hours with the beta, I've experienced my fair share of bugs and hiccups. Cutscenes and voice overs sometimes start at the wrong time or don't quite sync up. Very little of the game's systems are explained, leaving me to figure the vast majority of things out for myself. Some missions would end and, following the cutscene, I'd spawn a good 50 feet off of the map and fall back to the surface unharmed. Just yesterday, my shotguns mysteriously disappeared from my inventory. I bring these instances up not because they are necessarily worth mentioning when talking about a beta, but because I wanted you to know that this is about the extent of any negatives I've experienced while playing. In short: Defiance, so far, has been a surprisingly smooth run and, most importantly, a lot of fun.
Players take on the role of Ark Hunters, mercenaries who have been hired to help locate alien technology spread all across the San Francisco area. Rather than dive too deep into the backstory, I'll simply direct you to the game/TV show's official website. As a quick rundown, the Defiance game takes place in the same universe as the upcoming show for Syfy in which humans and an alien race are living under an unsteady truce, fighting common enemies that evolved as a result of their earlier wars.
As an Ark Hunter, my missions in the beta primarily consisted of trying to track down the doctor who hired me while helping the military mow through missions they can't spare the troops to tackle. The majority of the beta's missions were standard shooter fare, sending me to clear out entire areas, boot up a series of radio towers, protect troops from invading mutants, etc. Some were straightforward run and gun affairs while other missions evolved on the fly, altering my objectives along the way. Being an MMO, however, I loved that any other players in the area could jump into my mission and lend a hand, or vice versa. It wasn't uncommon to find myself perched on a rooftop supplying sniper support while two other players fought enemies and turned on computer terminals on the ground. It's fluid and it makes the world come to life. It's also a plus that said world features a nice degree of detail with loads of sprawling hills and structures (both intact and crumbling) for me to interact with. Defiance has a good degree of verticality, meaning rather than just facing enemies on the ground, you can receive or return fire from inside building, out of windows, up on the roof, down in a ditch, etc.
But more important than the standard missions are the wealth of opportunities to keep having fun lying around every corner. Defiance respects the player's time by offering a sizable variety of extra activities to jump into. On your way to a mission, you may come across a mobile store that needs protecting or a group of soldiers who need help pushing back an insect threat, all optional. There are also mini games spread all over the place, allowing you to activate a special activity to compete with other players through leader boards. Accept one of these missions, for instance, and you'll be equipped with a super-charged shotgun and the task of killing as many mutants as humanly possible before their growing numbers overwhelm you. Another might drop you in a jeep and have you race to the finish line.
There are also randomly spawning events called Ark Falls that pop up from time to time, instances that allow any nearby players to jump in and lend a hand against some of the beta's most challenging enemies, frequently culminating with a larger-than-life boss taking on 10-20 players at a time.
And none of this even touches on the game's PVP options, standard shooter events like team deathmatch and the like that I simply haven't had the time to dive into yet.
What Trion has done with Defiance is wrap all of this shooting goodness into a robust MMO package. A friend and I were able to party up, jump into the same vehicle, text chat (voice is off in the beta) and murder bugs together with relative ease. Systems are also in place for clans in the final build, meaning it should be easy to stay connected with your friends. Characters have several customization options, you can buy, sell and loot all kinds of goodies, and all of the usual stat trees, purchasable buffs, crafting, etc. you would expect out of an MMO is present and accounted for.
Whether or not Defiance will find the audience it's looking for remains to be seen. Tying the game into a show that Syfy is pushing really, really hard certainly can't hurt. And while those who watch the show will likely be bombarded by advertisements for the game, I, for one, am now ready to give the show a try based solely on the strength of the game's beta. I didn't expect a tie-in to a TV show, especially an MMO third-person shooter, to be anything more than a quick cash grab. I'm happy that the Defiance beta is proving me wrong.