Ubisoft’s ‘XDefiant’ is a middling attempt to capture the ‘Call of Duty’ crowd
This weekend kicks off the open beta for Ubisoft’s new first-person shooter XDefiant, which pours characters, settings and weapons from their entire stable of games into one big deathmatch arena. For fans of Ubisoft’s range of shooters – an audience which is going to comprise of uberfans and games journalists, let’s be honest – it’s a fascinating greatest-hits collection.
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However, it’s also as the kids say, quite mid, as the shooting mechanics and level design fall down next to an exciting aesthetic direction and some interesting map design.
XDefiant will feel familiar to Call of Duty, Overwatch or even Team Fortress 2 players. It’s arena-based blasting with a slightly tighter focus on objectives than most multiplayer shooters. Here, Domination mode with three flags to fight over is the standard mode. There are a couple of variations on this, and then an Escort mode that feels like the TF2/Overwatch classic Payload. There’s a veneer of “military” over the top that will draw in fans of military shooters, and maps and weapons that are directly from other Ubisoft games.
The pace of play meanwhile feels a little more like the earlier Call of Duty titles, with a slightly slower time to kill that can feel quite pacey indeed when someone surprises you by shooting you in the face.
If it feels a little like I’m describing the game by talking about the titles it’s a little bit like, that’s kind of how XDefiant feels, too. Derivative, but polished even at this early beta stage as issues like desync and graphical bugs are still very much in force.
The unique special sauce is the faction-based multiplayer, which has players picking different factions from The Division pyromaniacs the Cleaners, Splinter Cell‘s stealth Third Echelon spies, Far Cry 6‘s Libertad resistance fighters, Ghost Recon‘s Phantoms and even Dead Sec hackers from the open-world Watch Dogs. These factions all have unique skills, passives, and looks and you’ll pair one of these factions with whatever loadout you’re playing to create a character that feels unique to play. Third Echelon spies can, for example, turn invisible. The Cleaners have a passive ability which means their bullets set people on fire, while a flying incendiary drone can deny an area by covering it in a gout of flame.
There are a lot of ideas in XDefiant. The faction system adds valuable depth and a recognisable visual identity to a game that’s really going to need to look unique to make an impact in an oversaturated free-to-play shooter market. Better yet, it makes adding new content easy: more factions from the existing games can be slotted in, but I’m also wary and excited for the hyper militarisation of Rabbids, Ubisoft’s unlikely mascots that are now better known that the Rayman game that brought them into the fray.
Sadly, there are also a lot of buts. I love the map design and the way that one map, Dumbo, feels like it really is in The Division‘s snowy apocalyptic New York City while other maps channel the worlds of Far Cry or Ghost Recon easily. But I don’t like the way those maps are filled with invisible walls, with planters full of light foliage, or easily reachable rooftops completely inaccessible to these teams of commandos. The maps hang together well and there are several areas where canny players can crouch-slide through a part of the map faster or ping a grenade into a room through a vent without putting themselves in danger
I like the extensive arsenal and customisation but don’t enjoy that many of the guns feel underpowered. A shotgun – here a winning choice because many of the maps have lots of enclosed sightlines – often won’t kill in a single shot even with your barrel touching the enemy. High movement speed makes enemies tough to hit, while many of the weapons being low damage means that if you’re not a good player you might struggle
Part of this could be desync and other beta technical woes. Using your ultimate ability to get a flamethrower and then lose it instantly because someone has run around the corner and killed you before the server has registered they are there is… frustrating. But ultimately it just doesn’t feel like a particularly fun game at the moment. Ubisoft has tried and failed to launch a free-to-play shooter several times, XDefiant doesn’t feel like the game to break that curse.
With some TLC in the right places and a rebalance of the combat, there are plenty of things to like about XDefiant. At the moment it’s a big dumb fun shooter that just doesn’t feel all that fun.
XDefiant is available in Closed Beta from April 13-23 and will launch at some point in the future