Ubisoft’s XDefiant is a mediocre mix of Overwatch and CoD Mobile

Ubisoft’s XDefiant feels like it’s coming in a tad too late. A high-budget, free-to-play FPS on PC and console that mixes the frenetic pace of Call of Duty with the abilities of Overwatch may have been a worldwide success years ago, but after a decade of live service games — and years of live service failures — it’s hard to be too excited for Ubisoft’s new outing, even if it has a lot of potential. Recently we were lucky enough to enjoy a two-hour hands-on with XDefiant, so strap in for all the latest information.

The premise of XDefiant is simple, if ridiculous. It’s a fast-paced arena shooter where teams consist of character archetypes ripped from an array of Ubisoft game series. The hackers of DedSec from Watch Dogs are here alongside Third Echelon from Splinter Cell. Burners from The Division fight alongside and against the Phantoms from Ghost Recon. It’s a hotpot of vaguely characterized Ubisoft properties around a fairly traditional arena FPS.

A female Third Echelon spy standing next to a menu of faction abilities in Ubisoft's XDefiant.
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XDefiant's multiple factions all have their own characters and abilities such as invisibility, a flamethrower or hacking other players.

This meek celebration of Ubisoft shooters follows through to the game’s map designs as well. Each of the game’s five factions have a number of maps designed in their like. If you’re a Watch Dogs fan, you can shoot your way through the headquarters of faux social media company Nudle. Division fans can fight their way through snowy New York, just like in the original game.

Ubisoft’s mix-up of properties likely isn’t enough to excite anyone but hardcore fans of these series, but it does leave enough space to remove the serious barriers of games like your typical CoD clone. XDefiant is designed as a fun-and-fast arena game, stripping away any hardcore precedence and focusing entirely on providing an attention-grabbing, frenetic loop for matches that last just a few minutes or so.

This is extremely evident through the game’s lightning-fast time-to-kill where bullets strip through enemy health far quicker than Battlefield or CoD. Its closest similarity is Counter-Strike, where even assault rifles can take down an enemy in half-a-second with enough skill.

However, XDefiant isn’t just a guns-and-grenades affair like CS. Instead, it includes faction-specific abilities that let you power yourself up, make yourself invisible, or provide shielding to your teammates. It leads to a dichotomy between its lightning-fast gunplay and ability-chucking. Furthermore, it ends up with some abilities feeling far too powerful to the point of feeling cheap.

First-person gameplay of XDefiant: A Ubisoft Original using a flamethrower against two enemies.
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XDefiant's power-ups do not feel particularly balanced with the flamethrower killing as it touches an enemy.

The Division’s faction The Burners have an ultimate power-up flamethrower. Due to the already quick time-to-kill of its guns, XDefiant’s flamethrower kills as soon as its fire even licks your foe. On the other hand, one of Ghost Recon’s The Phantoms’ ultimate abilities is simple invisibility, a power-up that can be instantly unveiled by another character’s detection powers.

By far the best part of XDefiant is its stellar map design. On launch, Ubisoft is including 14 complete maps split between standard arena shooting three-lane maps as well as linear-style objective mode maps, a lá Overwatch.

An image of Xdefiant gameplay on the escort theme park map.
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This Escort map is set inside a traditional theme park, moving through an Egyptian funhouse, carnival stalls and, of course, ending at a rollercoaster.

In our time with the game, nearly all of the maps felt like fantastic experiences for a free-to-play game, rivalling the map design of AAA shooters. Only one map felt unsatisfying to run-and-gun around: a convention-esque arena that was far too open for the King of the Hill mode we were playing on it.

For hardcore fans of first-person shooters, Ubisoft has also included a wealth of gun customisation options for you to toy around with. Thankfully, weapon loadouts are not restricted to character classes, allowing you to mix and match any weapon with your chosen abilities. By killing enemies with your guns, you’ll unlock new attachments and skins such as sights, muzzles, magazines and more. There’s a surprising amount of customisation here that we wished we got to explore more.

XDefiant's gameplay is designed all around weapon customization, allowing you to create guns that cater to the skills you wish to use.
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XDefiant's gameplay is designed all around weapon customization, allowing you to create guns that cater to the skills you wish to use.

There is a lot of potential with Ubisoft’s XDefiant. With a promise to bring new classes, weapons, maps and more every three months, frequent updates could keep the game alive. However, with so many live service games falling into the grinder over the past year, it’s hard to get excited for Ubisoft’s latest project.

XDefiant: A Ubisoft Original could be something great with some much-needed tweaks and balances before launch. Whether or not it will be long-lasting is another matter. While we personally can’t see it taking off to the high peaks of the publisher’s own Rainbow Six Siege, it does have the potential to find its audience. After all, it took Siege years to find the hardcore audience it has today, and there’s no reason why XDefiant can’t do the same. But in its current state, it looks set to follow many of the other failed live-service games of recent years into the underwhelming category.

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