Photo Credit: Ubisoft
It's hard to compete in this oversaturated market of multiplayer shooters where everyone's vying to become the next Call of Duty or Apex Legends. ‘Free-to-play' is no longer a strong draw for a new IP to leave a mark unless you're an established publisher like Ubisoft. In fact, I myself had completely forgotten about their upcoming arena shooter, XDefiant, until I received an email for closed beta access. Set against a vibrant punk rock backdrop, XDefiant is a fast-paced 6v6 shooter where you jump into matches as gunmen from Ubisoft's flagship franchises like Splinter Cell and Far Cry, and duke it out with unique skills and traits to dominate. On paper, this sounds amazing, but having spent a few hours playing the ongoing closed beta, I'm not fully convinced.
XDefiant has certainly got its bases covered in delivering a high-octane experience, all thanks to near-instantaneous respawns that always keep you in the heat of the battle. This is bolstered by an endless approach to class switching — akin to Overwatch — where you rotate factions at any moment to turn the tides, in addition to customisable weapon loadouts. Once you choose something, you aren't forever locked to it. Of course, there were long matchmaking times, micro stutters, and loading issues which marred the experience a bit, but such hindrances are to be expected from a work-in-progress product.
Therefore, I'm not going to egg on the technical aspects. That said, the XDefiant closed beta on PC did have difficulties filling in lobbies — occasionally restarting the process midway through progression. Furthermore, there's no quick and easy way to exit right out of a match the moment it finishes, forcing you to sit through the leaderboard and other animations while a countdown at the bottom of the screen ticks away.
Hopping into XDefiant, you're greeted with a main menu layout that is somewhat similar to what you see on Rainbow Six Siege, featuring a giant portrait of a random faction member on the right, and nudging you to skim through their abilities - if you manage to log in, that is. Since this is a multiplayer-only game with no narrative beats, it simply wouldn't go past the title screen without a continuous internet connection. XDefiant features five factions to pick from, albeit matches are designed for a 6v6 format: Cleaners (The Division), Phantoms (Ghost Recon), Libertard (Far Cry 6), Echelon (Splinter Cell), and DedSec (Watch Dogs). There's no limit on how many similar characters can be on a team, but you can expect a healthy mix for now, as players continue experimenting with them. I'm not sure if things would stay the same at launch, because I'm already seeing a trend here.
In closed beta, Libertard appears to be the go-to pick for most XDefiant players, because of how straightforward their kit is. You don't need to fret much about being a team player here, as these independent medics are armed with tools that can heal themselves and keep their squad alive amidst heavy gunfire. Thus, you can feel free to run around the map like a headless chicken and keep your frag counter ticking. Meanwhile, Phantoms with their shields qualify as tanks, while Echelons are stealth-based operators who can briefly turn invisible, with the added passive benefit of never appearing on the enemy's minimaps.
I vibed a lot with the Cleaners — attack-minded pyromaniacs who're equipped with incendiary bullet rounds that inflict burn damage. That's not all; you can send out a flying drone that spits flames in a straight path before exploding itself into a plume of smoke and fire. This was my key tactic for clearing out any enemies in my way, as I then frantically used the time to find cover and reload my weapons.
Unfortunately, the XDefiant closed beta barred access to the coolest faction, DedSec, which Ubisoft claims will be available at a later date. These cyber attackers can deploy a Spider Bot that will latch onto an enemy's face and stun them shortly, so you can simply run up and finish the deed. Can we pet them for a job well done? I hope so, but I haven't been able to try it yet.
All of these abilities ultimately work as perks for your positioning and shooting skills, which are still the key component to winning matches. Gunplay feels quite robust, albeit all weapons have a weird recoil pattern, causing the weapons to spray bullets in a shaky, horizontal manner a couple of hits in. Hence, I always found spam-clicking heads easier to secure a kill instead of spraying like a maniac. Movement is also super fluid - akin to Apex Legends - letting you slide around the map, though I found vaulting over obstacles janky at times.
Your actions in XDefiant add to the Ultra meter, which are rare, special abilities that can be used to greatly overturn the odds. Think of it like the Ultimate abilities in Valorant or Overwatch, but a lot more grounded for the catalogue Ubisoft is offering here. Once the counter hits 100 percent, Cleaners are granted an arguably overpowered flamethrower, letting me trudge around like a crazed arsonist and set operators ablaze.
My second-favourite pick Echelons are equipped with a nifty covert-minded Ultra ability, which upon activation reveals all hostiles on the map, turning me into a sneaky agent who meticulously stalked and preyed upon them. Using my invisibility cloak to quickly escape enemy sights was a mischievous affair, but the 30-second cooldown served as an ego check, forcing me to be mindful of what situations I use it in.
However, that's not where its similarities to Overwatch end. The Escort game mode, for instance, has your team push a giant robot across the map onto a delivery point, gunning down any defenders in your path and securing progress via checkpoints. But unlike Overwatch, XDefiant's take on the mode is quite fast-paced, thanks to ample alternative routes to flank enemies and sufficient verticality to gain higher ground. Also, the fact that every operator only has 100 HP ensured snappy eliminations.
Then there are some generic control-based modes, starting with Occupy, where you're supposed to chase after and capture a single point that changes location as the match progresses. Getting killed by a third party is a frustratingly common occurrence here since the respawns are quite randomly spread across the map. In Zone Control, you attack or defend control points, whereas Domination has you take control of two or three points and rack up time — similar to Battlefield 4's multiplayer mode. Evidently, most of these modes are slightly altered versions of the standard point-capture system, which makes some sessions exhausting no matter how much the game hurls nostalgia in your face through maps based on classic Ubisoft properties.
XDefiant's weapon customisation system is quite easy to understand, thanks to a clean UI that lets you swap out attachments, while constantly being able to monitor the effect it has on the guns' attributes. In the beginning, each category — Assault, SMG, and Sniper, among others — has only one firearm unlocked by default, eventually growing to 24 with progression. As for attachments, the game draws inspiration from Battlefield's system, where the more you play with a certain weapon, the more you can level them up and unlock augmentations for the same. Of course, you can't have a free-to-play game without a battle pass, which, as expected, lets you modify the visual aspects of your operator or guns through skins. The designs and colours are nothing too crazy for now, but I could see the scope for some brand collaborations in the future.
While XDefiant's core gameplay is slickly executed, I'm struggling to see its appeal in the long run. In a market that's already filled to the brim with arcade shooters bolstered by ability-honing operators, Ubisoft isn't offering anything new here, ultimately feeling like an unneeded addition. It's like a tasteless snack you consume simply because it's been sitting on the kitchen counter for longer than it should have been.
Sure, you've got some visually striking maps, but if the game modes themselves are uninspired, it's sure to become an eyesore in time. Ubisoft does plan on introducing new factions every three months, so maybe we'll start seeing some insane variety in terms of heroes. Imagine an Assassin's Creed character stealthily dropping onto and stabbing futuristic soldiers with hidden blades; maybe that would be the turning point for XDefiant.
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