Defiance PvP hands-on preview

I crouch atop a rusting industrial rig, scanning among the cargo containers below for signs of movement. A streak my enemy's green jumpsuit flickers beneath me, and I quickly scope in to line up my shot. But before I can pull the trigger, another shooter takes advantage of my moment of carelessness to blast a few needles into my face. The resulting boils attract a small army of headcrab-like alien fiends to my position and they promptly chew my face off. I can tell it's going to be a long day in post-apocalyptic San Francisco.

Defiance is a unique MMO project from Trion, developers of Rift. Set on Earth after an alien invasion, it's centered on reflex-based shooter mechanics (no invisible "dice rolls"), and was designed from the ground up to tie-in with a Syfy live-action show set in the same universe. I got a chance to jump into one of the instanced PvP "Conflict" maps, which are being revealed today at Gamescom.

Players in Defiance are Ark Hunters, scavenger mercenaries that scrounge up alien tech to sell to their benefactors - who have taken to hiring multiple teams for the same jobs to create some healthy competition. This is the premise behind the PvP, which will include both open-world, "session-based" conflict and the instanced format I got to check out. It seemed more or less like your typical, class-based team deathmatch. The devs promise, however, that multiple objective modes will be available, and the "classes" were just for the sake of the demo. In the actual game, you'll have total freedom to pick the guns and skills you want from a wide selection of randomly-generated loot.

All the usual suspects were present: a multi-purpose assault rifle good at most ranges in short, controlled bursts. A shotgun with individual pellet tracking, meaning the damage isn't just based on a factor of the distance you hit from. A sniper rifle that does more damage the longer you stay scoped, but limits your field of view drastically while doing so. Among the more unique additions were the aforementioned ruiner of my whole day: a needle gun based on alien tech that causes you to sprout bulbous boils in places where such things are less than welcome. To make matters worse, the unsightly protrusions attract a small army of NPC alien ankle-biters that will follow you around and try to eat your shins off until they're killed. They're not too much of an inconvenience for mobile classes with a lot of close-ranged firepower, but they excel at forcing players out of cover and harrowing snipers trying to hunker down for headshots.

Rewards earned in Conflict mode will be transferable back to the overworld, and vice-versa. While self-contained, Trion assures us that the Conflict maps will be big. The one we played on seemed about equal in size to the largest Team Fortress 2 arenas, and it was described as the smallest of those planned for launch. Of what I was able to explore, bludgeon, and shoot, Defiance's multiplayer is shaping up to be a refined shooter with lots of gameplay options, sure to please those fatigued by Tab-target MMO combat. How these mechanics will play out in the alien-infested, dynamic event-driven overworld - well, we'll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, I'll be over there, running from flesh-eating extraterrestrial bugs again.