XDefiant First Look

Ned Jordan
In Short
We give you a first look at XDefiant, Ubisoft's multiverse free-to-play multiplayer arena shooter, after some hands-on time with the game.

XDefiant is a multiplayer, team-based shooter that will be released as a free-to-play title later this year. Ubisoft recently gave a group of game journalists the chance to try out the game before it launched into closed beta, and I was lucky enough to be one of the gamers given some hands-on time with the game.

One of the things that makes XDefiant interesting is that it’s essentially an Ubisoft multiverse game. You may remember that the game was initially revealed as “Tom Clancy’s XDefiant”, but the “Tom Clancy” has been dropped from the title and the game’s focus has been broadened. The game’s four factions – The Cleaners, Echelon, Liberated, and Phantoms – are drawn from Ubisoft games and franchises (The Division, Splinter Cell, Far Cry 6, and Ghost Recon, respectively, in case you were wondering. There are also signs that it won’t end there. DedSec (Watch Dogs) appears in the game as an unlockable faction, and that’s probably just the beginning. Don’t expect any narrative to go along with this intersection of universes, though, the game seems to just want to give you a cross-section of franchises leave it at that.

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When joining a match, you’re free to select a character from any faction, and you can switch on respawn as well. There aren’t any restrictions on team composition, either, so anyone can pick any character, even if you get a whole team filled with the same operator. Each character comes with a Passive Trait, an Ability, and an Ultra. The Passive trait is determined by your choice of faction, Cleaners all have incendiary rounds and Echelon players do not show-up on enemy mini maps, for example. The Ability is also faction dependent, but you’ll have your choice of a couple of options. Libertad has their choice of a health gas canister that can be deployed at a single location or a mobile health booster that heals nearby allies. Most Abilities are on a recharge timer. The Ultra is your super, a powerful, but slow-charging special ability. Cleaners get a flamethrower known as The Purifier, Libertad the Medico Supremo, a backpack that provides a large health and healing boost, Phantoms deploy the Aegis, a plasma shield with an electro-scatter gun, and Echelon has Sonar Goggles that reveal enemy locations.

There are no restrictions on loadouts, either. Any faction can wield any weapon, and you’re free to create your own custom loadouts. Weapons level-up with experience – the more you use a weapon and the better you are at using it, the faster you’ll unlock new attachments and cosmetics for the weapon, as well as unlock the next weapon in the class. At least initially, the factions do align with traditional roles – healers, tanks, assault, etc. – so while there may not be any restrictions on loadouts, some weapons do align with some factions better than others. It will be interesting to see how well the game diversifies these roles as new factions are introduced.

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The match types available when I played all pitted two teams of six against each other in objective based modes. There are a handful of modes that involve capture of control points – one where the points are static, one where a single point periodically changes location, and another in which one team must defend all the control points while the attacking team must capture them all within the match time limit. There was also an escort mode available, and another in which one player would be designated as a VIP target who would appear on everyone’s mini map, with the player getting the kill on the VIP assuming the role next. A Kill Confirmed variant was teased during the pre-game presentation, but I was never dropped into one of those matches if they were available during the play session. Basically, what appears to be on offer during launch will the most popular modes you get with most online shooters, although a pure deathmatch mode appears to be absent.

The modes are grouped into Arena Modes and Linear Modes, and which category a mode falls into determines the map pool available for the mode. Like the factions, the maps are inspired by Ubisoft franchises. There’s one set in the gleaming interior of Echelon headquarters and another in a post-pandemic National Zoo from The Division. Other maps I was able to experience included one set in a sports arena with support tunnels around the perimeter and a large floor area with an assortment of platforms and obstacles, and another in an abandoned amusement park which included ride and building interiors in addition to the pedestrian paths between the attractions.

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The gameplay felt fast and like it sat more on the arcade side of the spectrum than the hardcore shooter side. Respawn times were short and matches ran a little over five minutes, so the game seems designed to keep the action fast and on a short cycle. My initial impression is that it takes some inspiration from Overwatch and Call of Duty, and lands somewhere between the two. The heroes have their own abilities, but are actually rather generic, and there is some gunsmithing available, but it doesn’t provide for an overwhelming level of tinkering. As in both of those other franchises, there will be seasons in XDefiant. Each will come with a free rewards track, which was enabled during the preview sessions and appeared to include the usual collection of skins and cosmetics, but there will probably be season passes to purchase as well. Not sure how it will be balanced at launch, but after about ninety minutes of play I was still short of unlocking the first skin.

So after an hour plus with XDefiant, I came away from it feeling that it was a fast-paced arcade style arena shooter – for perspective, I consider The Division to be on the arcade side of things, and this was on the arcade side of The Division. It remains to be seen how much the weapon customization will provide for experimentation and tweaking to fit play style, or if one assault rifle is pretty much like the next. I’m also curious to see how player and weapon level will affect the gameplay – if you’ve played Call of Duty, you’ll know that new players LTTP can be at a serious disadvantage against high-level players equipped with high-level weapons. Ubisoft has produced some top-tier shooter franchises in the past, though, so it will be interesting to see if bringing them together into a single free-to-play shooter succeeds as well.

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Transmitted: 6/4/2023 11:10:29 AM