XDefiant Review – Defying No Tradition

XDefiant’s core modes offer temporarily fun stabs at the competitive multiplayer arena shooter, but Ubisoft’s latest attempt at carving out a slice of the lucrative esports pie feels half-baked. Core modes like its practice mode and ranked queue are gated off by construction tape at the time of writing. This leaves a bland battle pass with head-scratching progression decisions and standard weapon-based leveling systems as the only tangible means of rewarding you for playing the game or doing well beyond an individual match. And with questionable netcode and missing mainstay features and modes, not even its interesting hero shooter-like abilities and small tweaks on the run-and-gun, low-time-to-kill formula coined by Call of Duty make me want to return to XDefiant.

Ubisoft’s crossover shooter couldn’t have picked less interesting properties to kit-bash together. Though each of the five factions currently available in the game adds a cool approach to gameplay, they’re not exactly the superstars you think of when you hear Ubisoft. Instead, players step into the arenas as unfamiliar characters from Ded Sec (Watch Dogs), The Cleaners (The Division), Libertad (Far Cry), Echelon (Splinter Cell), or The Phantoms (Ghost Recon); there’s no Sam Fisher or Dani Rojas for you to recognize or get excited about picking because you liked their game. Each faction has three playable characters (two or more of which you need to unlock in each faction) but they have no differentiating traits between them aside from some cosmetic stuff. 

Combat is fast-paced, with a quick time-to-kill to make each shot count and almost nonexistent respawn timers constantly pushing you back out of the gate to chase down the objective and juice up that K/D ratio with its hyper-realistic arsenal of guns and devices. The standout here is XDefiant’s selection of 14 maps, each boasting plenty of cleverly laid out lanes and chokepoints, with open areas and tight corridors in different spots to encourage and reward different playstyles.

Getting enough kills in one life unlocks a cool ultra ability to help your team out in battle and stack up some extra kills or extra time on the objective. Here’s where things start to change from the familiar: Ultras, alongside a less powerful but still useful secondary ability and a helpful passive, vary based on the faction you choose. Each faction is based on an organization or group from another Ubisoft property and has its own set of specialties and abilities. You can switch between them anytime during a game, letting you adjust your strategy based on the task at hand.

Let’s say you’re playing Domination, but the other team has a sniper in a perfect sightline to pick you and your teammates off one by one, keeping you from capturing the point. Setting up one of the Phantoms’ Mag Barriers might help absorb some sniper fire long enough for your team to grab a reliable foothold and return fire. But as tactical as these abilities can be, XDefiant’s basic setup doesn’t do enough to encourage strategic play over simply rushing the objective and trying to beat the enemy team to the draw until the score limit is reached.

That game of quickdraw doesn’t always feel right, though. XDefiant’s netcode and hit detection are way off; I can’t tell you how many times my game has registered a shot on an opposing player as a hit, only for them to kill me and the game to tell me that they had full health after I’d been downed. Even with a wired connection and the best ping in my lobby, I’ve been shot through walls as I move and even been killed while hiding behind cover that should block my entire body.

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It’s barely been a week since I first installed XDefiant, but I don’t think I’d miss it from my hard drive. While the gameplay at its core is fun enough, the game is barren compared to most other shooters—including the free ones—with even bare-basic modes like team deathmatch and free-for-all or features like a ping system or skill-based matchmaking nowhere to be found. Its maps are well-made, sure, but with no rank to strive for, daily missions that ask me to commit to playing ten whole matches, and very little to look forward to in the battle pass, I don’t understand why this game would gain any traction over others beyond the fact that it’s free.

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