XDefiant Review: A Fresh Take on Modern Warfare

XDefiant, although lacking in originality with its mix of various styles, benefits from strong gun mechanics and outstanding map designs, which enhance the experience in Ubisoft’s free-to-play shooter.

By Richard Wakeling on June 4, 2024 at 4:00PM PDT

The practice area of XDefiant serves as a clear indicator that it’s a Ubisoft game. Located in a deserted convention center, one section features arcade machines from Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, Just Dance 2014, and Riders Republic. At the entrance, a large monitor showcases poses from various Assassin’s Creed characters, and a path to the assault course is decorated with a massive statue of a Rabbid, capturing attention with its surprised expression. While it seems to celebrate Ubisoft’s history, it predominantly lauds the shooting aspects of their game repertoire.

XDefiant acts as a homage yet offers nothing novel in the competitive shooting genre. It is a standard free-to-play shooter that amalgamates elements from popular games like Call of Duty and Overwatch, resulting in a familiar concoction. The lack of originality isn’t inherently negative when the execution is effective, which it is to a degree here. However, the patchwork of ideas doesn’t always harmonize, making it hard for the game to distinguish itself in the saturated market, consistently reminding players of something they’ve already seen.

Each of XDefiant’s game modes features two teams of six players each, emphasizing a more stationary style of gameplay compared to the dynamic movement seen in many contemporary shooters. Players experience restricted movement and limited climbing abilities, leading to fast-paced and precise combat reminiscent of earlier shooters like CoD from 2011. The focus is on a concise selection of distinct weaponry.

The weaponry in the game comprises typical modern firearms like submachine guns and shotguns, each offering a rewarding and distinct firing experience. For instance, the AK-47, a powerful but challenging to handle due to its significant recoil, contrasts with the more controlled burst fire of the M16A4. Players must consider each weapon’s pros and cons, which leads to more choices as they unlock new attachments and modifications that affect performance. XDefiant’s progression system resembles that of CoD, with players unlocking new weapons and enhancements through gameplay achievements and a standard paid battle pass that offers extra cosmetics and experience points.

However, XDefiant faces some balance issues, particularly with snipers currently being overly dominant. The minimal flinching when hit makes them disproportionately powerful, as they can reliably shoot even when under heavy fire. Despite their slow reload and aiming speed, the lack of sufficient flinching makes them more usable in close quarters than intended, overshadowing other weapon categories.

XDefiant also introduces a choice of factions at the beginning of each match, with a possible fifth faction unlockable through significant XP acquisition. Each faction originates from different Ubisoft games, creating a diverse cast of characters each with unique abilities and traits. Factions like The Cleaners from The Division and the Phantoms from Ghost Recon: Phantom offer unique gameplay experiences with their respective abilities, such as launching fire-dousing drones or deploying tactical shields for protection. This adds a layer of strategic depth and personalization to each match.

Some factions are significantly more popular than others, which tends to compromise the fairness of the game. Often, you’ll see a scarcity of players choosing the medic-focused Libertad faction, while Echelon users are a common sight in nearly every game. This popularity largely stems from the potency and general utility of Echelon’s abilities, particularly their capability to see through walls, an inherently upper hand with no apparent drawbacks. Consequently, the disproportionate favoring of Echelon creates a notable disparity, rendering other factions less appealing and seemingly redundant.

In XDefiant, the contradiction between wanting to provide a high-speed shooter experience while also incorporating tactical, class-based elements is unmistakable. The rapid pace often nullifies the practical use of abilities since pulling out a weapon tends to be both faster and safer than activating a potentially life-endangering skill like deploying a drone. Even in scenarios where abilities could shine—like using the Phantom’s deployable shield in defense scenarios—constant enemy flanks and multi-directional attacks, facilitated by the map designs, inhibit their effectiveness. Thus, despite the intense and engaging shootouts, reliance on firearms becomes the norm over tactical play.

The game offers five modes, all rooted in well-trodden objective-based gameplay. Escort mode borrows directly from Overwatch, involving one team pushing a payload across the map while adversaries attempt to halt their progress. Domination involves vying for control over three strategic points, and Occupy rotates control over a single point, changing its position throughout the game. This strong focus on point-capture dilutes the gameplay variety, leading to a repetitive experience fairly quickly. Moreover, a lack of innovative game modes means there’s nothing particularly new or unexpected for players to discover.

The visual and design aspects of the maps are commendable, drawing inspiration from the game settings of the four different factions. For instance, Dumbo replicates a snowy Manhattan scene reminiscent of The Division, featuring deserted shops and capsized taxis. Nudleplex showcases a vibrant slice of Silicon Valley mirroring the setting from Watch Dogs 2, with office buildings linked by slides meant for children and decorated with a central fountain. Echelon HQ, on the other hand, possesses a modern, high-tech office ambiance suitable for dramatic combat, complete with crawlable air vents and a spacious lobby.

With robust maps and impressive shooting mechanics, XDefiant makes a proficient debut in the free-to-play shooter arena. The game has some balance issues that could be addressed, though its sniper power problem is somewhat minor compared to the confused blend of styles it presents. The fast-paced action conflicts with the class-based system, detracting from the game’s emphasis on unique character abilities. Despite this, the gameplay remains engaging, and XDefiant has significant potential for enhancement. However, it faces fierce competition, and better, more cohesive options are available.

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