XDefiant: Hands-On With Ubisoft's Old School Shooter
I am going to be honest here. I did not expect to enjoy XDefiant. Its early PR materials indicated an Overwatch-style hero shooter that jammed various Ubisoft franchises into one stylised over-the-top F2P title. The general buzz about the game was almost entirely negative and frankly, I thought it was going to be another ill-conceived foray into the free-to-play arena. Well it seems that Ubisoft was listening to the scuttlebutt and have adjusted accordingly because what I played over the beta period seems to be lightyears away from what was originally teased and as a result I was totally surprised to find myself having a blast.
The first thing I was surprised with was the style of the experience. This is a down-the-line team-based military shooter in the mould of Call of Duty from the original Modern Warfare and Black Ops days. In fact, it is so close to these games that there is a reasonable argument to say that they out and out copied a lot of what made these games so much fun. I am ok with that. There was a pure simplicity to these titles that is present in XDefiant, a return to a classic formula that I didn’t realise I was missing. Things that were feeling stale all those years ago are once again feeling fun and exciting thanks to the passage of time.
Of course, there are differences. The core of XDefiant is that this is a team and class-based shooter. Five different factions, all from other Ubisoft franchises (Watch Dogs, Far Cry and the Tom Clancy set of The Division, Splinter Cell and Ghost Recon) make up the roster. In the beta each faction had two different special abilities to choose from and a universal ultimate special ability. Each faction specalises in a particular role, for example, Team Far Cry are the healers, with all of their abilities geared towards patching up themselves and their teammates, while Team Splinter Cell focuses on stealthy kills from cloaking devices. The powers make sense when paired with each particular team and they all feel nicely balanced. I didn’t see any particular faction become overly dominate in my time playing and all played a specific role nicely.
There is no Team Deathmatch or out-and-out kill modes at all. Everything is a team-focused objective. Spins on the classic domination and escort modes are the order of the day and I have to say I like it like that. I have always been the type of player that is obsessively on the objective, K/D ratio means nothing to me, winning the match is where it is at. So XDefiant scores a lot of points with me for this commitment to team play. It does however lead to my biggest problem with the game as of right now. That is the imbalance between rewards for kills and rewards for playing the objective. At the moment it is heavily favoured towards kills which means that there is more incentive for players to not play the objective and run around as if they were playing TDM. I initially couldn’t put my finger on why this was happening as it has been a while since I have really taken a deep dive into this sort of game. But thanks to a conversation with well-known Game Journo and occasional P2 Contributor Joab Gilroy (someone who is much more involved in this genre than I am), I was clued into what was going on. Thankfully this is the sort of thing that should be easily identified and fixed due to this beta period.
The beta period kicked off with some worrying connection issues and reward problems but thankfully they were fixed reasonably quickly. This is something that is and should be expected in a beta. From that point on I never had to wait long for a match and never encountered much in the way of lag problems, even when playing tethered to my phone while I was on holiday. Everything feels nice and stable on the infrastructure side of things, at least at the times I played, which is half the battle when it comes to an online experience. Tech performance-wise, the game ran perfectly on my home PC and my lower specced laptop, with no framerate issues or noticeable graphical glitches. Once again, it feels like a good foundation for the game’s future.
The final thing I wanted to talk about is the map design which was quite impressive. There were certain maps I favoured (The Splinter Cell, Echelon map was a particular fav) but none that I wanted to avoid, which is rare. All feel balanced and all support the objectives fairly, never giving one team the advantage over the other. There is a real art to making a good multiplayer shooter map and, at this early stage, Ubisoft seem to have nailed it.
XDefiant surprised me the whole time I was playing it. Not just because I didn’t like the initial promos but because I also thought my time with this sort of game was over. Instead, I now find myself counting down until its release, eager to see what is instore once it is unleashed upon the world. This sort of game lives and dies on its Season Pass and content drops so that is always going to be the big question hanging over it, but as of right now I am all aboard the XDefiant train, something I never thought would happen in a million years.