Going into the XDefiant closed presentation and hands-on preview sessions, I was admittedly a bit apprehensive about playing yet another free-to-play shooter with evolving live-service elements that require utmost dedication from players on a daily basis. For the most part, these things ring true for the game – but it’s also something a bit more exciting than I expected. XDefiant is very much Ubisoft’s love letter to its own historical franchises drenched in a familiar coat of paint.
XDefiant is being touted by Ubisoft as an arena shooter (remember those days?), though everything about it seems to suggest it’s trying to combine the old with the new. The game’s presentation is stylish and modern but the core gameplay elements are fast-paced, tightly tuned and exhilarating enough to keep your attention. I don’t think XDefiant fully embraces a new, unique style that we haven’t seen before as most of it seems cut from the same cloth as Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon. That said, the moment-to-moment action is explosive and keeps you on your toes.
READ MORE – Immortals of Aveum Promises Blockbuster COD Action With Magic
At the beating heart of XDefiant is a system we’re well aware of already. Classes are divided into specialised factions called Defiants, namely the Wolves from Ghost Recon; DedSec from Watch Dogs; Cleaners from The Division; Libertad from Far Cry; Phantoms from Rainbow Six; and Echelon from Splinter Cell. Each class, or Defiant from here on out, is fully customisable with upgradeable abilities, traits, weapons and items. Ubisoft promises that new Defiants will be added every season (or three months) which is quite an ambitious undertaking as that essentially means creating new specialists from scratch each time.
On that note, Ubisoft seems pretty confident it can meet these demands as it laid out a pretty extensive post-launch plan that includes rotational seasonal rewards in the form of new Defiants, gear, cosmetics and more.
The best thing about Defiants is their origins. If you’re already well-versed in Ubisoft franchises, you’ll immediately feel at home with the factions here. Personally, I gravitated towards Splinter Cell‘s Echelons and had a fun time scoping out my opponents with stealthy tech and quietly (or not-so-quietly) dispatching them accordingly. It’s not the return of Sam Fischer but it is another reason to enjoy Splinter Cell in a new Ubisoft game without it actually being called Splinter Cell. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Matches pit players in 6v6 brawls that force you to utilise every bit of equipment at your disposal (at least relative to each faction). It has the usual modes we’ve come to expect from online multiplayer shooters including the territorial wrestling of Occupy and Domination, and the old reliable “defend the moving object” Escort mission. They’re not going to stand out in a market where these modes are not only becoming outdated but kind of expected, especially with series like Overwatch and Call of Duty offering a lot more variety in those departments.
It’s a shame because the gameplay is actually pretty damn good. Gunplay feels great and buttery smooth as you zip between targets with excellent precision. As far as competitive first-person shooters go, Ubisoft has absolutely nailed the shooting as it’s all easy to grasp and fairly easy to rack up kills once you get familiar with your tech. Each faction comes with two special abilities (think Overwatch‘s ultimates) that can be triggered in combat, typically themed towards their respective franchises. They offer unique specialised items, buffs, skills and even companions that, on more than one occasion, drastically shifted the tide of gunfights.
Usually, I’m not one to focus too much on my weapon loadouts and equipment customisation but XDefiant presented so many options to tweak your preferred weapon – everything from fire rate and recoil to attachments and scopes. Yet again, it’s not something new but it is something familiar (but carefully streamlined) that should be easily accessible for newcomers and veterans of the genre.
The map layout is also impressive. Traversing the maps feels well-balanced like old-school Call of Duty with plenty of zones for choke points, wide-open sniping ranges, long corridors and structures to strategically defend yourself with. Not only are the maps well thought out from a design perspective, but they’re also quite colourful and vibrant. It never once felt like I was slogging through dreary locations as each map – again themed around classic Ubisoft titles – packed some flare.
This brings me to some of my concerns with XDefiant. In a time where free-to-play shooters are flooding the market literally every month, Ubisoft’s new shooter feels like it’s still playing catch-up to other competitors, at least until it can find its own sense of identity. Everything it presents works rather well, but it might be tough to recommend XDefiant to a broader market without some kind of hook to it all.
You can argue that Ubisoft’s celebratory franchises being splashed together is the “hook”, but that’s surface-level before you have to settle into some familiar territory, both in gameplay and presentation. Of course, I’ll give Ubisoft the benefit of the doubt and with enough care and attention from the developers, it could evolve into something really special. I believe it has that potential but at launch, it may take a while to get there – something I hope players and especially Ubisoft can commit to.
XDefiant‘s moment-to-moment action and finely-tuned gameplay is gonna be a big selling point for the game. That said, it’s still in its infant stages before it can transform into something remarkable with the level of dedication that Ubisoft is promising. Rest assured, it’s an entertaining new free-to-play shooter that has a chance to dig its roots firmly in the market should players latch onto it.
You can register for the XDefiant closed beta test taking place between 13 – 23 April. Check out the latest gameplay trailer below: