XDefiant preview: A mixed bag pulling from Ubisoft's most wanted
A fun mix of factions, but more work is needed.
Remember when you and your childhood friends would have pretend battles, pulling in characters and factions from across all the games you played and movies you watched, because why wouldn't you? There are clearly people at Ubisoft who also loved that idea. Enter XDefiant.
This 6v6 squad-based free-to-play game was first announced all the way back in July 2021. The main hook for XDefiant is simple: It's a Ubisoft crossover bonanza, with playable factions ranging across franchises like The Division, Far Cry, and more. While the development team went fairly silent after the first pre-alpha test that same year, another test was finally held earlier this year. Now even more players will have a chance to try the game out during a closed beta on April 13, 2023.
Ahead of the upcoming closed beta, I had the chance to play some of XDefiant's launch modes and maps for about two hours. Overall, I found it to be a fun experience, though there's a variety of small issues that did drag the experience down.
It's been a while since there was a compelling new contender for the best games in the first-person shooter multiplayer arena. While I don't think XDefiant is quite there yet, there are some intriguing ideas here. I hope to see them refined and come together as time goes on.
A massive mash-up
Mark Rubin, executive producer at Ubisoft, describes XDefiant as being a “classic, fast-paced” shooter, with movement that “didn’t feel like it was trying to hard to be complex.”
That definitely feels like an accurate summary from my hands-on experience. I've played lots of shooters, some more complex than others, but there isn't a heavy learning curve to XDefiant. At the start of a match, you pick from one of five factions pulled in from other Ubisoft franchises: Cleaners of The Division, DedSec from Watch Dogs, Echelon of Splinter Cell, Libertad from Far Cry 6, and the Phantoms of Ghost Recon.
Each faction has access to the same classes, but with different special abilities and one of two unique ultimate abilities to choose from. As an example, if you're playing as Echelon, you can regularly activate a stealth suit to go practically invisible. Earning enough points will give you a brief use of special goggles, marking enemies no matter where they are on the map.
By contrast, playing as a member of the Cleaners will allow you to use a flame drone to strafe enemies while unlocking an ultimate flamethrower can burn out an area with ease. Regardless of faction, you can choose from one of five classes, each geared around a particular primary weapon such as an assault rifle or shotgun.
Once you're in a match, the action is frenetic. With only two hours of matches under my belt so far, it's hard to gauge certain things, but overall the gunplay feels fine. Time to kill never felt too unfair, and while XDefiant is definitely closer to something like a Call of Duty game than it is to Overwatch 2, the time to kill and wide mixture of abilities mean it's not all down to having the fastest reflexes, but also rewards clever plays and more strategic combat.
Different factions play off of each other well — special mention must go to the Libertad characters, who can heal themselves and allies — so I imagine there'll be a lot of fun in playing together with a dedicated team, mixing and matching different combinations to find the best balance. While the preview I played was solely on Windows PC, the full game will support cross-play across PC and consoles, meaning players can play together no matter what systems they opt to use.
Matches consist of a variety of modes. Escort tasks one team with bringing a robot from one side of the map to the next, while the other team tries to stop them. Other modes like Domination and Occupy involve holding certain sections on the map to score points.
Range of modes, but more work needed
Unfortunately, things are a bit uneven right now. While Ubisoft plans for there to be 14 maps available at the game's launch, some of the maps I played on just don't feel fun when combined with the available game modes. With a couple of exceptions, they feel a bit too hectic, and it's easy for a team carefully using certain ultimate abilities (like the aforementioned flamethrower) to gain the advantage to a ludicrously lopsided effect.
Escort definitely feels like the best game mode right now, and a large part of that is down to the map design, which properly funnels enemy teams into each other. Across three different Escort maps, there were different lanes, vantage points that are perfect for snipers, and different ways of flanking to get the drop on whoever currently controls the robot. These matches were tense and every fraction of a second counted, which was incredibly fun.
The visuals and audio were also fine, if perhaps slightly underwhelming. Running at mostly ultra settings on my PC, the preview build looked alright, but there were no real standouts visually. Things were well-optimized however, and I didn't run into any noticeable framerate drops in the dozen or so matches I played. This could definitely change as time goes on given the in-progress nature of the build though.
Footstep detection audio is good, perhaps even a bit overdone, while the rest of the game felt "muffled" by comparison. It's like the audio was 80% of the way to where it needed to be, but the guns and especially the explosions needed much more force and power behind them.
The road ahead
Ultimately, two hours is only a small taste for a large multiplayer game, so I'll need to have more hands-on experience before I can make a more solid judgment. As things stand, XDefiant is a mixed experience. The factions make for an interesting mix that encourages teams to play around for the right strategy, but many of the modes besides Escort just don't feel fun right now.
While I'm not completely sold on everything in XDefiant so far, with a lot of tweaks and support, I can see it finding success. As Ubisoft gathers feedback from the closed beta and any further testing, we'll have to wait to see how things shake out.
XDefiant does not currently have a release date and is currently slated to arrive across Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Xbox One, PC, PS5, PS4, and Amazon Luna.
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Samuel Tolbert is a freelance writer covering gaming news, previews, reviews, interviews and different aspects of the gaming industry, specifically focusing on Xbox and PC gaming on Windows Central. You can find him on Twitter @SamuelTolbert.