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Written by Jason Dailey on 5/28/2024 for PC   PS5   XSX  
More On: XDefiant

Ubisoft’s free-to-play competitive first-person shooter XDefiant has had something of an unusual development cycle. It all culminated in the game’s launch on May 21st, but with one more strange caveat – Ubisoft says that the game is currently in its “preseason”, with the first season beginning in the weeks ahead, marking what will be the “full XDefiant experience”. So, is it still in beta or has it gone 1.0? Even this bit of launch window “CYA” from the publisher is strange to me, considering how good XDefiant is. On one hand, I can appreciate the trepidation considering how much first impressions matter in the gaming space, but on the other, it feels like Ubisoft doesn’t realize it has a winner on its hands.

Then again, I am only one gamer, with one opinion. So, to check myself, I called-in fellow Gaming Nexus writer and resident streamer, Joseph Moorer. I’ve been playing XDefiant since its alpha test early last year, followed by the beta, which is where Joseph first cut his teeth with the game. Together we have been exploring the most recent version of the Ubiverse shooter, and we each walked away with a different outlook on its merit and potential. Prepare yourself for this dual (duel?) review of XDefiant. Let’s dive in.

JD: Joseph, what are your shoot-from-the-hip impressions of XDefiant?

JM: If I’m shooting from the hip, I already got taken down by a hail of bullets from someone who downloaded the game the same time that I have. That person then shot me down from a hallway where they respawned, with a sniper rifle, after they changed their loadout. They previously shot me in the back with a shotgun before I started typing this. Good times.

JD: I got the sense from our time playing together that you were not as high on the game as me, which I respect. My initial, and overarching thought about XDefiant is that it scratches an itch. Prior to jumping in, I had been doing some opposition research, if you will, playing some of the direct competitors, such as Call of Duty, Battlefield 2042, and The Finals. I think XDefiant holds its own against all three, and in some respects, surpasses them. Is it perfect? No. Does it need some tweaks? Of course. But is it fun to play? For me, that answer is most definitely a “yes”.

What is the biggest hurdle you think the game needs to overcome?

JM: I said this during the stream, and I’ll say it again here. It is the “sweatiest” game I’ve ever played. I don’t think anyone is necessarily going to be good at this. I don’t think there’s necessarily a skill level. There doesn’t seem to be a focus on tactics or waiting. You see an opponent, take them out. You might get taken out in the process. The respawn is quick, and there’s not a lot of camping opportunities, so that’s a good thing. Will you get tired of respawning? Maybe. Because you will do that. A lot.

JD: I want to push back – albeit not completely – on the sweatiness of XDefiant. I’ve encountered players that are far better than me, without a doubt, but I’ve also been MVP of a handful of matches – something that I can’t even accidentally do on COD or BF. I think that is because there is no skill-based matchmaking in the Unranked mode in XDefiant, except for the introductory playlist. The game isn’t crunching numbers between matches, trying to steer me back to a 1.0 kill/death ratio by putting me with other players of my perceived skill level. Some matches my squad won by a landslide, some we lost by a landslide, and some were nail-biters. It feels well-balanced in that regard. So, yes, I’ve ran into a few sweats, but nothing egregious.

With that said, I agree that death comes often, and it seems to come awfully fast sometimes. Which is why I think the game needs some tweaks under the hood.

JM: I worry about the staying power here. There is a lot to do, and a ranking mode is in its maiden voyage, but how many times can you get shot in 30 minutes? Maybe it’s me. But I just don’t foresee a bunch of expert Xdefiant players. I don’t see anyone going in thinking they will dominate. I did have to change my sensitivity options, because yes. The melee attack is pointless. And I laughed more times than getting frustrated because, even though there’s no replay, you know what happened. You stepped up to get beat down.

JD: I think you’re beating around the bush about some of those tweaks I was alluding to. In my estimation, some improvement to hit registration and netcode is needed. You’re right – you don’t need a replay to know that someone (somehow) shot you from around a corner. It doesn’t happen a lot, but it shouldn’t happen at all. Still, it never kept me from wanting to come back for more. I constantly want to play “just one more” match, which is a testament to how good XDefiant is. Despite needing a bit more work, it’s still some of the most fun I’ve had with a competitive shooter this console generation.

Also, you mentioned settings. For comparison, I’m the type of player that just plays a game as it comes. I don’t mess around in the menus much, I don’t change the Field of View or enable 120hz mode – I just play. I’m the lowest common denominator that developers must aim for, pardon the pun.

Let’s shift gears to some of the nuts-and-bolts of XDefiant. I mentioned that this is a Ubiverse shooter, pulling in characters from various Ubisoft properties, including Splinter Cell, Ghost Recon, Far Cry, Watch Dogs, and The Division. What do you think of the execution of the hero shooter mechanics?

JM: I would love to enjoy that every character has a special move and even an ultimate, but it’s not necessarily the advantage you think it is. It’s crazy that I can use cloaking tech, and people can see me from a mile away. I think my favorite is enemy locator, but even then, I’m just seeing the enemy come around the corner, and use some sort of flaming bum rush move. You also eventually get an ultimate. I say eventually with a grain of salt. It’s like dodgeball, with bullets, except even if you catch the bullets, you’re still going to respawn. I’ll stick to the grenades, sticky ones, at that.

JD: I hear what you’re saying, but I think it goes back to game balancing. There have been plenty of times where an Echelon enemy snuck up on me while cloaked and took me out, but I’ve killed a bunch of near-invisible baddies too. You said it yourself – you were tracking enemies through walls around the corner with that ability, but the Cleaner faction has the firebomb ability where they can almost instant-kill anyone at close-range. So yes, you could see them, but they were able to counter you. I think Ubisoft has balanced each faction and its abilities very well at this stage; each ability feels powerful but also easily countered.

Speaking of factions and abilities, the DeadSec faction is locked behind either progression or a paywall at launch. As we’ve mentioned, XDefiant is a free-to-play game, so it has what you’ve come to expect in that regard. What is your read on the monetary structure of the game?

JM: Of course, this has a battle pass. Free and premium. It’s a free-to-play game, after all. You’re going to earn these other characters. That one character from Far Cry? Earn them. That one character from The Division? Earn them. I have yet to find someone to be excited that Malee from Splinter Cell is automatically unlocked. I don’t think that’s the point.

JD: Just to be clear – Ubisoft did not provide either of us, or Gaming Nexus, with any type of code, battle pass, currency, or founder’s edition as part of our review. Nothing at all. With that said, even though it may feel grindy, it did not strike me as pay-to-win. It’s the usual batch of unlockables such as characters, skins, weapon camos, and XP boosters. And while yes, you must unlock additional characters within factions, they are merely cosmetic in nature since abilities are tied to factions as a whole. However, the DeadSec faction is locked, and it does seem like a bit of a chore to unlock, requiring 700,000 XP to do so, if you don’t want to pay money for it that is. For context, I earn between four and six thousand XP per match, so you’re looking at approximately 140 matches, give or take, to unlock DeadSec. I understand Ubisoft wanting to make sure that unlocks are paced out though. Whether we like to admit it or not, if players unlocked everything in the first two weeks, we’d be crying about there not being enough content.

Backing up a bit, let’s talk about the maps and modes, which I think are all excellent. Has any mode(s) or map(s) stood out to you?

JM: Out of all the modes you can do, my favorite, hands down, is Domination. The goal is to get to 750 points by holding down zones. There are 3 zones that you and your team have to hold down. The more zones you hold, the more your score goes up. One zone equals 1 point per second. The points are multiplied by the number of zones you hold. So, if you’re losing, just capture the other zones. The zones are spread out. One near your team, and your opponent's team’s spawn points, and the third is in the middle. I thoroughly enjoyed sneaking around and capturing their zone for a come from behind victory.

JD: Domination is a good one, but my favorite is Escort. Those two are joined by Hot Shot (kill confirmed with a high-value target), Occupy (king of the hill), and Zone Control (rush from Battlefield). Again, I enjoy them all, but Escort’s tug-of-war nature has its hooks in me. It’s the Overwatch game mode, essentially – you either protect a robot dog as it moves across the map to the objective, or you try to prevent the other team from doing so. If you can get on the same page with your teammates, you can dominate the opposition in a hurry. One thing I do find strange is the absence of both Team Deathmatch and Free-for-All modes, which you traditionally see in competitive first-person shooters. Not a deal breaker, by any means; just a footnote.

What about the maps – did they speak to you at all?

JM: The stages are okay. You have the option to vote on what stage you want, and none of them are more appealing than the other. The worst is the arena. Don’t even bother. Graphically, they look good, but no one is getting the battle pass because the walls and water look cool. There isn’t any destruction, either. You’re not blasting through walls. Although I found it hilarious that I was able to break someone's shield because it came through the wall boundary from the other side. Maybe this is the true arcade FPS experience.

JD: I think a big part of the appeal with the maps are the tie-ins to the various Ubisoft franchises. I love the arena map because I’ve been there in The Division, for instance. It’s the fake Madison Square Garden – it’s iconic to The Division fans. I enjoyed seeing parts of those IP translated to the realm of a first-person arena shooter. Structurally, I think Ubisoft did a great job of capturing the feel of classic three-lane shooter maps as well, with a touch of verticality, nice chokepoints, and appropriate amounts of cover.

Alright Joseph, we’ve said a lot, but it’s time for the million-dollar question as we begin to wrap up. What score do you give XDefiant, and why?

JM: (6) – If I were judging this, based on the experience from download to this review, I don’t know if the simple approach is good enough to continue to play this game. To me, it seems like Ubisoft has all the right ideas, but maybe should’ve sold it at a price with all the characters unlocked. Bare bones game play works in some cases. This isn’t one of them.

JD: (8.5) – For me, it’s an 8.5. While XDefiant certainly feels like an amalgamation of its competitors, it also feels distinct. The combination of boots-on-the-ground combat with hero shooter abilities just works, and perhaps more importantly, it makes sense within the scope of Ubisoft’s various franchises. The tight, straightforward gunplay feels classic in its approach, and in a lot of ways, it is the competitive FPS that the internet has been clamoring for. With that said, it does still require some tweaks under the hood, but if Ubisoft can do that while sticking to its vision, XDefiant could be one of the best competitive shooters of this console generation.

To get us to a baseline review score, I’m rounding the average of our scores (7.25) to the closest score on the Gaming Nexus review scale, which brings XDefiant to a final score of 7/10.

XDefiant will likely divide competitive shooter fans, as it did us here at Gaming Nexus. Fans of classic competitive shooters will find a lot to like in the Ubiverse shooter, even its take on hero abilities. But it may not go far enough in any direction to truly stand out in a crowded market.

Rating: 7 Average

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About Author

Jason has been writing for Gaming Nexus since 2022. Some of his favorite genres of games are strategy, management, city-builders, sports, RPGs, shooters, and simulators. His favorite game of all-time is Red Dead Redemption 2, logging nearly 1,000 hours in Rockstar's Wild West epic. Jason's first video game system was the NES, but the original PlayStation is his first true video game love affair. Once upon a time, he was the co-host of a PlayStation news podcast, as well as a basketball podcast.

Follow me on Twitter @TheDualSensePod, or check out my YouTube channel.

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