It’s tough to compete in this saturated multiplayer shooter market, where everyone is vying to become the next Call of Duty or Apex Legends. ‘Free-to-play’ is no longer a strong draw for a new IP to make a mark, unless you’re an established publisher like Ubisoft. In fact, I myself had completely forgotten about their upcoming arena shooter, XDefiant, until I received an email for closed beta access. Set against a vibrant punk rock backdrop, XDefiant is a fast-paced 6v6 shooter where you enter matches as gunslingers from top Ubisoft franchises such as Splinter Cell and Far Cry, and fight with unique abilities and traits to master. On paper, this sounds amazing, but after spending a few hours playing through the ongoing closed beta, I’m not entirely convinced.
XDefiant certainly has its bases covered to deliver a high-octane experience, all thanks to the near-instant respawns that always keep you in the heat of battle. This is reinforced by an infinite approach to class switching – similar to Overwatch – where you switch factions at any time to turn the tide, as well as customizable weapon loadouts. Once you pick something, you’re not stuck with it forever. Sure, there were long matchmaking times, micro stutters, and loading issues that marred the experience a bit, but such hurdles are to be expected from an ongoing product.
Therefore, I will not dwell on the technical aspects. That said, XDefiant’s closed beta on PC struggled to fill lobbies – occasionally restarting the process mid-progression. Also, there’s no quick and easy way to exit a match the moment it ends, forcing you to watch the leaderboard and other animations while a countdown clock at the bottom of the screen progresses.
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Logging into XDefiant, you’re greeted with a main menu layout that’s somewhat similar to what you’d see in Rainbow Six Siege, featuring a giant portrait of a random faction member on the right and nudging you through your skills – if you manage to log in, that’s it. Since this is a multiplayer-only game with no narrative beats, it simply wouldn’t make it past the title screen without a continuous internet connection. XDefiant features five factions to choose from, although matches are designed for a 6v6 format: Cleaners (The Division), Phantoms (Ghost Recon), Libertard (Far Cry 6), Echelon (Splinter Cell) and DedSec (Watch Dogs). There’s no limit to how many similar characters can be on a team, but you can expect a healthy mix for now as players continue to experiment with them. Not sure if things would stay the same at launch because I’m already seeing a trend here.
In closed beta, Libertard appears to be the go-to choice for most XDefiant players due to the simplicity of its kit. You don’t have to worry too much about being a team player here, as these independent medics are armed with tools that can heal themselves and keep their squad alive amid heavy gunfire. So you can feel free to run around the map like a headless chicken and keep your shard counter ticking. Meanwhile, Phantoms with their shields qualify as tanks, while Echelons are stealthy operators that can briefly turn invisible, with the added passive benefit of never showing up on enemy minimaps.
I really enjoyed the Cleaners – attack-minded pyromaniacs who are equipped with incendiary bullets that inflict burn damage. This is not everything; you can send a flying drone that spits flames in a straight path before exploding in a cloud of smoke and fire. This was my main tactic to eliminate all enemies in my path, as I frantically used the time to find cover and reload my weapons.
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Unfortunately, XDefiant’s closed beta barred access to the coolest faction, DedSec, which Ubisoft claims will be available at a later date. These cyber attackers can deploy a Spider Bot that latches onto an enemy’s face and quickly stuns them, so you can just run and be done with the action. Can we pet them for a job well done? I hope so, but I haven’t been able to try it yet.
All of these skills work as perks to his positioning and shooting skills, which are still the key component to winning matches. Weapon usage feels pretty hefty, though all weapons have an odd recoil pattern, causing weapons to squirt bullets in a shaky, horizontal fashion after a few hits. Movement is also super fluid – similar to Apex Legends – allowing you to glide across the map, although at times I found jumping over obstacles jerky.
Your actions in XDefiant add to the Ultra gauge, which are rare special abilities that can be used to knock down the odds. Think of it like the Ultimate abilities in Valorant or Overwatch, but much more grounded for the catalog Ubisoft is offering here. Once the counter reaches 100%, Cleaners receive a arguably super-powered flamethrower, letting me walk around like a crazed arsonist and set the operators on fire.
My second favorite pick, Echelons, is equipped with an Ultra Stealth ability, which upon activation reveals all hostiles on the map, turning me into a sneaky agent that meticulously stalks and attacks them. Using my invisibility cloak to quickly escape enemy crosshairs was a naughty task, but the 30-second cooldown served as an ego test, forcing me to be mindful of the situations I use it in.
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However, that’s not where its similarities to Overwatch end. The Escort game mode, for example, has your team push a giant robot across the map to a delivery point, shooting down any defenders in its path and ensuring progress through checkpoints. But unlike Overwatch, XDefiant’s approach to the mode is pretty fast-paced, thanks to ample alternate lanes to flank enemies and enough verticality to gain higher ground. Additionally, the fact that each operator only had 100 HP ensured quick kills.
Then there are some generic control-based modes, starting with Occupy, where you have to chase and capture a single point that changes locations as the match progresses. Getting killed by a third party is a frustratingly common occurrence here, as respawnings are scattered randomly across the map. In Zone Control, you attack or defend control points, while Domination lets you take control of two or three points and accumulate time – similar to Battlefield 4’s multiplayer mode. Evidently, most of these modes are slightly tweaked versions of the standard point capture system, which makes for some sessions exhausting however much the game throws nostalgia in your face via maps based on classic Ubisoft properties.
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XDefiant’s weapon customization system is fairly easy to understand, thanks to a clean UI that lets you swap out attachments, while constantly monitoring the effect it has on weapon attributes. At first, each category – Assault, SMG and Sniper, among others – had just one firearm unlocked by default, eventually growing to 24 with progression. As for the attachments, the game is inspired by the Battlefield system, where the more you play with a certain weapon, the more you can level it up and unlock improvements for it. Of course, you can’t have a free-to-play game without a battle pass, which, as expected, allows you to modify the visual aspects of your operator or weapons through skins. The designs and colors aren’t too crazy for now, but I can see the scope for some brand collaborations in the future.
While XDefiant’s core gameplay is expertly executed, I’m struggling to see its long-term appeal. In a market that’s already teeming with skill-boosting operator-bolstered arcade shooters, Ubisoft isn’t offering anything new here, feeling like an unnecessary addition. It’s like a tasteless snack that you consume simply because it’s been sitting on the kitchen counter longer than it should.
Sure, you’ve got some visually stunning maps, but if the game modes themselves aren’t inspired, it’s sure to become an eyesore over time. Ubisoft plans to introduce new factions every three months, so maybe we’ll start to see some insane variety in terms of heroes. Imagine an Assassin’s Creed character sneaking down and stabbing futuristic soldiers with hidden blades; perhaps this is the turning point for XDefiant.
The closed beta for XDefiant is now live and is scheduled to end on April 23rd on PC, PS5 and Xbox Series S/X. You can apply for access by registering on the official Ubisoft website.