By now everyone expects the hottest new paintball gear for the coming season to debut at the Paintball Sports Promotions World Cup in Florida at the end of each professional season. The 2013 World Cup did not disappoint, with new markers, new goggles and new gear coming from big companies and smaller companies alike! What few expected at the largest and final professional paintball tournament of the year, historically the place where all the hot new tournament equipment is first shown to thousands of excited customers, was for the most talked-about item at the show to be a scenario/tactical paintball gun. However, arguably the hottest product at the 2013 PSP World Cup was a tactical marker, the new Empire DFender.
Rather than simply release another new paintball gun similar to any other, a new color of something pre-existing or just another marker with sight rails bolted all over it, Empire brought something new with some impressive features to the World Cup and excited both tournament and scenario players alike (though it does still have a bunch of sight rails all over it).
The first thing anyone looking at the Empire DFender will notice about the marker is its lack of anywhere to bolt, slap or twist a hopper on top of it. That doesn’t mean the marker doesn’t have a hopper, or is magazine-fed. Empire simply chose a different spot for that hopper and a different means of moving paintballs from the hopper to the paintball gun for firing. With the DFender, the proven technology behind the Axe marker and Prophecy loader, pro-tournament-winning pieces of equipment, are packaged together inside a lightweight but remarkably durable magnesium shell. The hopper is simply placed in otherwise unused space, the marker’s butt stock, much as bullpup firearms utilize the same space to create a compact, ergonomic yet accurate weapon. When paintballs are loaded, the marker switched on and the trigger pulled, the force-feed loader spins and pushes paintballs up from the feed tray, along the top of the marker and to the breech for firing. While this particular incarnation of the idea is both impressive and functional, before anyone starts screaming “revolutionary” go Google “AGD Warp Feed.” What does it all mean? It means that tactical and scenario players now have access to a high-tech, tournament-capable marker and hopper system packaged inside an incredibly durable body that no longer offers a large hopper sitting atop the gun as a target for opponents.
While the bullpup hopper and tournament marker inside a magnesium shell thing might in and of itself be considered a pretty amazing setup, the list of features offered with the Empire DFender doesn’t stop there. Opening the marker’s box reveals not only a sleek, futuristic-looking high-tech tactical marker, but a pile of valuable accessories and parts as well. The DFender is available in black or gray and, of course, doesn’t require the owner to purchase another hopper. A pressure regulator at the bottom of the grip frame controls air input to the marker and is the point where a bottle or adapter from a remote line is attached, and includes an on/off lever. Two barrels are included with the marker, a standard aluminum tube with porting literally drilled all over it, and another barrel with an Apex2 device allowing players to “reach out and touch someone” or literally hook paintballs around obstacles on the field. Impressively, this barrel kit isn’t done yet, as both barrels accept Empire SuperFreak bore sizing inserts and three are included with the marker. The DFender hopper’s lid, sitting atop the butt stock, is a flip lid with magnetic closure, but a speed feed is included as well for faster reloads.
Mechanically, the Empire DFender is an electronic paintball gun offering numerous firing modes including semi-automatic, ramping, three-shot burst and “rock and roll” fully automatic. The shooter can quickly and easily “shift on the fly” from safety to semi to triple-burst and all the way to fully automatic with a thumb switch on the left side of the receiver just above the adjustable, light and snappy single trigger. Anti-chop eyes prevent paintballs from being chopped in the marker’s breech and disassembly is simple, via push-pins around the marker’s shells. Plenty of sight rails are around, allowing sights, scopes, lights, lasers bipods and anything else with a dovetail to be attached to the marker’s top, bottom and sides, A nice vertical/angled foregrip combo is delivered bolted to the rail at the marker’s front and a single-point sling swivel is bolted to the buttstock on the left side of the marker.
You’d think this long list of standard features all wrapped around a marker and hopper in a magnesium shell would make the Empire DFender pretty heavy. It’s not. The marker, with its six AA batteries installed and a barrel attached, tip the scale at an extremely impressive five pounds and change. Obviously that includes a hopper. Simply thread on a bottle or plug in a remote line, add paintballs and go blast bad guys. Speaking of blasting bad guys, that’s where the fun begins.
Just walking around a staging area with an Empire DFender is difficult but fun, as everyone at the field will at least take a look, while many will be brave enough to come on over for a closer look, to ask questions or even ask to shoot the marker. Even with batteries in the back, paint in the stock-housed-hopper and a 68 cubic inch bottle threaded on, the marker isn’t heavy and once it’s shouldered, the shoulder and off-hand take all the weight eliminating issues of back-heaviness. Adjusting velocity at the chronograph is simple thanks to a cut through the magnesium shell allowing an adjusting wrench to be inserted. Getting the DFender up to speed takes only a few moments.
When playing with the DFender at one of the largest and most intense scenario games around, the 2013 Fulda Gap scenario at Command Decisions in North Carolina, the most impressive thing we found about the DFender, other than that whole “no hopper on top” thing, is how quiet this marker fires. Most of the people we shot with the DFender simply had no idea we were around as this paintball gun issues a very faint pop when firing at 275 thanks to all those ports in the barrel. So long as the shooter doesn’t keep the switch on “machine gun” and blast long streams that opponents will be able to track back to the shooter, the DFender is so quiet that it will keep the owner well hidden on the field. The ability to size paint to the barrel with the included SuperFreak inserts certainly helps with accuracy and consistency over the chronograph as well. Obviously, hopper shots weren’t an issue and though sighting down the top of the marker is difficult with a mask on, simply watching where the paint flies and correcting is simple while more serious players may choose to mount a riser rail and a red dot sight for fast, consistent snap shooting. Players will have to get used to dumping pods into the buttstock right in front of their face rather than into a hopper above their head, but this is simply an issue of learning a new marker.
While the Empire DFender helped us get plenty of “G’s” at Fulda Gap, not everything with the marker was unicorns and rainbows. At one point during play it seemed as if the integrated hopper was struggling to keep up with the marker’s high rate of fire, leading to trigger pulls in which the marker simply wouldn’t go “bang” as the anti-chop eyes detected no paintball in the breech. Coming off the field, this issue was quickly alleviated thanks to switching to fresh, high-quality AA batteries and adding a nickel behind the battery pack that ensured a constant, positive contact between the battery pack and the battery terminals was maintained at all times. Once this was accomplished, no further issues were encountered with the DFender. Efficiency was solid with the marker, as over 1100 rounds were fired through the DFender with a 68 cubic inch bottle with air to spare.
With looks, performance, standard features and a unique configuration like nothing else in the game, the Empire DFender is an impressive, high-tech piece of paintball technology. The only issue that may turn some players off from the marker is its price tag, as the marker retails at $1499. While this is certainly a lofty price tag reserved for some of the most impressive tournament markers in the game, the engine and hopper under the DFender’s hood have proven themselves more than capable on any field, the barrel kit is impressive, the technology is sound and the magnesium shells probably weren’t cheap either.