Ubisoft recently gave us the opportunity to try out their upcoming free-to-play online arena shooter “XDefiant,” a game that had completely slipped my mind until I got the closed beta test email. After the initial reveal as Tom Clancy’s XDefiant back in June 2021, which received a lukewarm reaction from the community, and very little promotion from the developers since. Add to that the fact that several other free-to-play FPS titles like Apex Legends, Overwatch, and the recently announced Counter-Strike 2, exist in the same space, thus, makes it a tad bit difficult to think about a title that has nothing to show for itself.
However, it seems like Ubisoft has been conducting insider playtests with large groups of players, fine-tuning the game, over the past year. And finally, they are ready to share their hard work with the world in the form of a 10-days closed beta, which will be live when this hands-on impression goes live. Beebom, alongside a few others, were invited to check out the game with complete, no-holds-barred access. After spending a couple of hours with the game, here are our first impressions:
Factions in XDefiant Induce Nostalgia
When we booted up the game, the first thing we had a look through were all the factions in XDefiant. Think of these as the classes in Apex Legends. The soul of the game, these factions are the characters players get to choose and play in XDefiant, with each of them specializing in certain gameplay abilities.
While some are great at healing themselves and their team, others are great at entry denial. These factions are based on previous popular titles made by Ubisoft, including some coming from fan-favorite titles. Moreover, each faction has three characters to choose from. This is primarily a cosmetic change and does not affect the power or abilities you have access to. In our testing, we got access to five factions that the game will launch with:
- Cleaners from Tom Clancy’s The Division
- Echelon agent from Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell
- Guerilla Fighters from Far Cry 5
- Phantoms from Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Phantoms
- DeadSec Hacktivist from Watch Dogs
It’s worth mentioning that the DeadSec faction will be locked by default during the close-beta sessions of the game. We were informed that players can unlock this faction by progressing through the title or paying for it. In our hands-on session of XDefiant, all of us had access to the five factions. While we tried out all five of the factions during the hands-on, we personally enjoyed Guerilla because of its OP healing abilities; that not only affects oneself but also team member. Dare I say, we played them a bit too much during the two-hour experience.
Another faction I greatly enjoyed was the Echelon operatives. Now, I’ll be a bit open about my love for the Splinter Cell franchise, and how we don’t have a new one in the current year. So, that bias of mine made me try them out. Echelon’s cloaking ability is probably one of my favorites, partly because flanking the enemies by going invisible was really satisfying. The hands-on session of XDefiant made it clear that factions are based on what roles someone enjoys playing. To read more about the factions and their respective abilities, read through our in-depth factions article linked above.
XDefiant Guns: Tom Clancy Meets COD
Of course, the gunplay can make or break an FPS, and XDefiant has quite a many weapons in its arsenal. The game consists of 24 weapons, including the ones we regularly see in most FPS titles. Furthermore, over 40 attachments are available for you to tinker with and customize your guns to your liking. Each gun category has only one gun unlocked at the start. The rest of the guns and the attachments are locked by default, and players can access them by leveling up and progressing through the title.
Sadly, the XDefiant hands-on session did not allow us to try out every single gun and attachment, as many of them were locked behind the progression system. We checked out all the default weapons as well as unlocked a few of them, including the AK-47s, which become one of my favorites during the playtest. But a lot of the weaponary reminded me of Call of Duty, right from the gun sounds to the handling.
One of my pet peeves, whenever an FPS provides weapon customization is that is should be simple to understand and customize the guns. I hate it when shooters try to make this process overly complex. Thankfully, Ubisoft hits the nail on the head with XDefiant. It offers a simple UI and everything surrounding customization was a very pleasant experience, and I would thank the person who decided to make this thing simple; not flashy and confusing. It’s good that Ubisoft only took inspiration for gunplay from COD, and not the armory system.
Speaking of customization, attachments change the handling of the gun across four categories — firepower, mobility, accuracy, and ammo capacity. Mixing and matching attachments gives you tons of options in the way the guns behave. Users can also visually modify the guns through skins, which they can either purchase from the in-game store or earn via the battle pass. We got access to the “closed beta” battle pass during the hands-on sessions of XDefiant. We also unlocked a few gun skins for the pistol, and they were okay!
Maps With a Fresh Coat of Paint
In XDefiant, the developer ensured that the maps are made with two game modes in mind. The first is the arcade mode, which focuses on fast-paced shooting and gameplay. This contains a total of ten maps. The second is the linear mode, which focuses on two particular game modes, with the maps being long and stretched out. In both cases, there are multiple rotation points, so players can flank their opponents and gain dominance on the battlefield. You can read everything about the game modes in XDefiant right here.
We tried four maps in total during the XDefiant hands-on beta, three of which were inspired by Ubisoft titles — similar to the factions. For example, Echelon HQ, inspired by the office of the Third Echelon in Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell, had a rather distinct feel to them. It vividly reminded me of the office cubicles of Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell Conviction.
Similarly, the Times Square map brought back the exciting memory of the time when Ubisoft first introduced Tom Clancy’s The Division in 2016. It is clear that the game really wants to bank on nostalgia and its existing fanbase for this free-to-play title, which isn’t a bad decision.
As for the map design, in the four maps we tried, there were multiple rotation points and desirable verticality; especially in the arena maps. The verticality was nough for us to try out the Marksman rifles and take a higher ground to shoot the opponents down. The maps felt tight, with covers littered around the points.
XDefiant: Toned Down Arcade Gameplay
Once we got everything done and dusted, we booted ourselves into actual games with other playtesters. One thing to note is that XDefiant does give players an option to vote between two randomly selected maps in some game modes.
Furthermore, custom matches can be started even when there aren’t enough players fill up the lobby, which happened with us, seeing this was hands-on with limited players. The game later filled up the lobby mid-match as player searches increased, and we like that. Apex Legends, a game that has been around for more than 4 years just implemented a similar feature for its Mixtape playlist, but it simply refuses to work.
Now the actual gameplay of XDefiant felt fast and arcade-like, similar to popular online shooters such as Call of Duty. Players can slide around the map, which is what I did in a few instances, and jump-slide at the same time – which wasn’t as smooth as jump-sliding in my main game Apex Legends. However, the opponent team players were a tad better than me and curb-stomped me to the ground at times. Overall, the movement in XDefiant felt pretty good but has potential to be even better.
When sliding and jumping around did not work in my favor, the rotation points came into play. As previously mentioned, the maps have sufficient rotation points, where it just feels right, and not cheap. Thanks to these rotations, our team got the upper hand in game modes where we had to secure control points or escort the payload. Moreover, every map has sufficient verticality for those who like marksman weapons to take the higher ground and kill the enemies from afar.
One of my favorite thing in this game, apart from the faction abilities, has to be the gunplay. The guns in XDefiant are precise, fast, and feel just perfect. It feels like shooting a Nerf gun with near-perfect accuracy, while you become a speed daemon, running and sliding around the map. Just learn the recoil patterns and the low TTK will only work in your favor.
All of these features go hand-in-hand, making a fast gameplay experience. But even with abilities involved in the mix, the game isn’t as fast paced and try-hard-y as let’s say Apex Legends (which my editor can confirm), but it is still fast-paced.
I did notice one thing while shooting the guns in-game. The recoil pattern of XDefiant’s guns is slightly different. Continuous shooting will start shaking the girl horizontally a lot after some time. The recoil starts acting up after a three-seconds of spraying bullets. Hence, a well-placed shot and some recoil control will make you the dominant player easily. The arcade gameplay definitely plays in favor of the game, and the developers embracing it is quite possibly the best thing.
XDefiant’s 3-Mode Practice Arena
While the core mechanics of the game make or break a title, practice range has also become a important aspect of competitive shooter titles. XDefiant conveniently added one riddled with Easter eggs from the rich legacy of Ubisoft. But, these are the things a player will notice only twice, as a focus for these things lies on the practice option.
XDefiant’s practice arena is divided into three areas – an Assault Course, Abilities & Ultras room, and a Firing Range. The training course introduces players to the movement and shooting in the title. Once done, players can then shift their focus to the bot room, where you can change the bot behavior to standing, fighting with each other, and moving around. The bot room is the best for players to test their faction abilities. Nothing too crazy, but just enough to get the players acquainted with all the perks. This is the room where we tested every single faction and their ability, and it helped us learn more about their kit.
Finally, the third room consists of a gun range, where players can test their fine-tuned guns on dummies. These dummies show the damage output from the guns and are a great way of testing a loadout, before heading into the main match. It was because of the firing range that I learned about Cleaner’s incendiary rounds (passive) doing +2 damage per second.
Another thing worth mentioning here is that there is no real way of picking any gun out of the loadout from the range itself. I had to switch out my loadout to check each of the unlocked weapons individually. This can make the process cumbersome, and at times, annoying. Also, another annoyance that we have with the firing range is that it doesn’t let you practice locked guns. If I, a player, am at the gun range, I am there to test a gun. Locking guns and only allowing players to test unlocked guns from progression ruins the experience.
In the end, the developer team did not go crazy with the training mode and equipped it with just enough feature to help players train their aim, and understand the game.
Closing Thoughts: Should You Try XDefiant?
While Ubisoft’s attempt at a free-to-play shooter is fun and promising, it is worth pointing out that XDefiant doesn’t bring anything unique to the game. We have seen these game modes and ability-backed characters numerous times in other titles, and while the presentation does set the game apart from competitors, something distinct definitely would have been welcome. Currently, it feels more like a mish-mash of well-known FPS titles like Apex Legends (ability behavior), Call of Duty (gunplay), and Overwatch (game modes).
While what we said above about the game being generic is true, but at the same time, maybe it is what the team wanted to achieve with this title – incorporating familiar gameplay elements from various titles into a singe game. At least, that is how we felt during our XDefiant beta hands-on session.
Another thing that I am concerned about is Ubisoft’s post-launch support. It is worth noting that the track record of free-to-play titles offered by the company has been, well, mixed. HyperScape failed to capitalize on the well-known battle-royale genre, and even the recently released Roller Champions is struggling to survive. At the same time, Brawlhalla is only getting better and better.
Finally, the company has promised to support XDefiant with new seasons every three months, adding new maps, a new Faction (can’t wait to play a character from Assassin’s Creed), new weapons, and new skins.
Overall, I have high hopes for Ubisoft’s XDefiant arena shooter. Call me dumb, but I always root for upcoming titles; and this one can make something of itself with the right support, community, and feedback. Do you think XDefiant can become the next big free-to-play FPS title? Do let us know in the comments below.