Ubisoft’s XDefiant is currently in closed beta, allowing us to get hands-on time with this free-to-play first-person shooter. The game doesn’t come packed with any real innovations, but it did surprise me in how well it delivers a classic arcade shooter with really enjoyable maps.
XDefiant is a curious mashup of Ubisoft properties. This shooter brings together characters and settings from other big Ubisoft titles, including Tom Clancy’s The Division, Watch Dogs, Far Cry 6, and more. The game doesn’t seem to have a storyline to tie all these characters together, but the matches are quite fun, so I don’t even question the lack of game lore or shared connections. Although jumping from a Far Cry-themed map to a Division one in New York City–each with corresponding announcers–might sound jarring, I didn’t find that to be the case.
XDefiant uses factions, which are basically just different playstyle classes with their own unique passive, active, and ultra abilities. There are four factions currently available in this closed beta, featuring the Cleaners from The Division, Echelon from Splinter Cell, Phantoms from Ghost Recon, and Libertad from Far Cry 6. The Echelon faction allows you to make sneaky plays with active camo, while Libertad’s abilities are all about healing yourself and teammates. The Cleaners’ abilities revolve around using fire to clear out enemies, and Phantoms provide protection with a variety of shields. DedSec is from Watch Dogs, which looks to provide hacking and deception, but the faction was unavailable at the time of playing.
While XDefiant feels best when each team has a mixture of factions, many of my matches were filled with players either choosing the medic route with Libertad or Echelon for stealth. Healers are pretty overpowered right now, so a full team of Libertad players can get frustrating really fast, with a nearly constant flow of healing taking place. The game would benefit from implementing a limit to prevent teams from stacking up on just one or two powerful factions. One of my main concerns with XDefiant is the balancing issues with abilities, but Ubisoft is already taking action, and one of Libertad’s overpowered healing abilities has already been temporarily disabled to make adjustments.
Modes are split into two types: arena and linear. Arena gives the typical 6v6 shooter experience with familiar modes of Domination and Occupy (Call of Duty’s Hardpoint). Linear modes are attacking- and defending-style objectives played on larger maps, where tactical use of faction abilities can be more important for scoring a win. The Cleaners’ incinerator drone is great for spreading fire that can cut off routes or clear points, and Phantom players’ shields are great for either defending a zone or leading the charge of an attack. Additionally, a competitive Ranked Play mode was still locked at the time of writing this, but it’s scheduled to be available later in the closed beta.
All of the game types were enjoyable, and my only gripe is with the two linear modes of Escort and Zone Control. These are played out in just one round, so it’s a toss-up if you’ll get the offense or defense side of the match. Although this keeps matches feeling brisk, there is a lopsided nature to each contest, where your victory or loss can be attributed in part to the sheer random luck of whether you’re defending or attacking (which is more difficult). Otherwise, these are really enjoyable modes to play.
One of my favorite parts of XDefiant was the refreshing variety of the map pool. There are a whopping 14 maps in this closed beta, with four large maps for linear modes and 10 standard maps. There’s the classic approach to favor quality over quantity, but I was impressed that XDefiant’s large map pool offers a solid variety of scenery, and most of them consist of a traditional three-lane map design, keeping the pace of the matches feeling full of action and less on the cluttered and campy side. Additionally, it’s nice to see that these maps aren’t just well-designed, but that XDefiant knows how to have some fun with vibrant locations. There is a zoo setting, a funky tech campus, an indoor arena, and a colorful theme park setting with an arcade and haunted house.
While, again, nothing is innovative in XDefiant, it checks all the boxes from what you’d expect from a modern arcade shooter. There is weapon progression, loadout customization, and camos to unlock. The UI is pleasantly simplistic and gun customization is straightforward, so you can add attachments to your weapons quickly and get into a match without an overwhelming CoD-style Gunsmith system. XDefiant even has map voting and red dots on the minimap, which are classic elements that Call of Duty’s multiplayer has been criticized for removing over the last few years.Some of the developers working on XDefiant are former CoD pro players and developers, and leaning into these simple core features that players want could potentially open an avenue of success for the game.
The time-to-kill also feels really fast and on par with what you’d get in a game like Call of Duty. The movement and gunplay feel fluid here as well, allowing the fast-paced action of sliding while shooting, bunny-hopping around corners, and such. The only thing missing is the ability to go prone, which can be an odd adjustment, especially if you’re someone like me who favors going prone behind cover while capturing a Domination point. Executive producer Mark Rubin explained that removing prone was a purposeful decision in order to “reduce some cheese camping behaviors.” While it’s possible players will still find ways to exploit the game’s movement, XDefiant seems to already be making thoughtful decisions to avoid some of the abused mechanics in Call of Duty, such as certain prone glitches and “snaking” movement.
XDefiant: Maps and Modes | Deep Dive Trailer
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Rubin also shared that XDefiant doesn’t have SBMM for matchmaking, saying “We do use MMR to balance the teams once the lobby is made. If you are a new player, your MMR hasn’t been calculated yet, so results may be a little off until you play more.” This is something Call of Duty has struggled with over the last few years, as players complain of increasingly stricter SBMM ruining the experience. XDefiant not having SBMM means there should be a healthier variety of lobbies with some matches being a bit easier and some offering a challenge. I can’t really say yet if I felt the difference, but my first few days were paired against a smaller pool of players in the closed beta, leaving me feeling like I was likely paired against overachieving YouTubers.
On the downside, server issues have plagued the beta off and on, and sometimes unlock progression hasn’t counted, so hopefully Ubisoft can make the proper adjustments to avoid these issues at launch. To its credit, Ubisoft is already making upgrades to servers and correcting progression issues. Matches definitely started to feel better connection-wise by the end of the weekend after server updates were made, and long wait times between matches were significantly reduced.
Overall, I think players who enjoy 6v6 arcade shooters should give XDefiant a try. These days, the multiplayer shooter genre feels more about going big with battle royale and extraction-style games, with less of a focus on the fun of a simplistic 6v6 arcade shooter. Even Call of Duty has veered away from being all about the 6v6 multiplayer experience, and instead puts a lot of attention on battle royale and the new DMZ extraction mode. XDefiant helped remind me how much fun can still exist in classic 6v6 multiplayer.
Trying to hold space in the first-person-shooter genre against competitors like Call of Duty feels like an uphill battle for XDefiant, especially as a free-to-play live service title, because major server or progression issues at launch could quickly tank any hype. There’s also a chance people sleep on XDefiant just on the basis of its simplicity, but I think Ubisoft is making smart decisions to make this more like a classic arcade shooter that players should absolutely try.
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