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XDefiant (XS)

XDefiant (XS) - Review

by Lee Mehr , posted on 23 June 2024 / 2,319 Views

If you were to hear a pitch about Ubisoft breaking into the culturally-enshrined "hero shooter" market, you'd likely be perplexed.  After all, there's already Rainbow Six: Siege capturing a distinct middle ground of hero roles with a semi-grounded tone for them.  But – surprise, surprise – there's also the allure of capturing part of the Call of Duty (CoD) crowd to consider.  So then the question becomes: what personalities does Ubisoft extract from to make this amalgamation work?  The answer: just a rough collection of Tom Clancy & Ubisoft original properties, from Ghost Recon to Watch Dogs and so on.  The end result is a free-to-play title that makes me feel like I'm owed a refund.

It's easy to intuitively spot this melding of identities being somewhat confused from the start: Ubisoft's logo rapidly transitions between night-vision goggles, spray-paint, and other franchise markers before slowly loading into a sterile main menu.  From UI layout to aesthetic, it feels like a mobile knock-off.  Of course, that shouldn't diminish its $0 cost of entry, but there's still something to be said about its austerity – especially in the face of its lucrative item shop.  Nothing past some of the colorful promises in the battle pass earn attention.

Said sterile menu quickly makes way for the same Mountain-Dew-gulping, multi-kill-striving, hyperactive shooting seen in modern CoD.  No one should be surprised by now; every publisher knows the pull Warzone has and there's money to be made.  But even if some of the dynamics are slanted towards teens on a few uppers, that doesn't necessarily mean the mechanics are bad.  There are some dopamine hits to be had from running, sliding, shooting, and so on.  The FPS building blocks are certainly here, if still behind competitors like Apex Legends or even Warzone.  If you're familiar with modern military shooters, you'll immediately follow the various kill indicators, real-time info dumping, UI layout, and so on.

Layered on top of that are the hero effects, both active and passive.  The launch roster includes: Phantoms (Ghost Recon), Cleaners (The Division), Echelon (Splinter Cell), Libertad (Far Cry 6), and DedSec (Watch Dogs) – which are locked behind either paying for them or accumulating a major sum of XP.  Each of these "Defiants" (factional groups) comes with a selectable unique ability on cooldown and ultimates that can sometimes work well in concert.  A Phantom's one-way bubble shield can be instrumental in holding down critical lanes, while a Libertad's AoE heal canister could be what clinches a group securing an objective.  Again, none of these are extraordinary in either concept or implementation.  Perhaps aside from the Cleaners' fire damage passive with each successful hit, everything else revolves around a fundamental basic: damage, healing, stealth, recon, shield defense, or hacking.

The current selection of modes has a bit more surprise, namely in not launching with a team deathmatch variant.  For arena-type bouts, there's Domination, Occupy, and Hot Shot, whilst more linear objectives have Escort and Zone Control.  Capturing control points or one alternating control point is about what you'd expect, but Hot Shot has at least one fun nuance over CoD's Kill Confirmed in that one highlighted person – friend or enemy – is faster and tougher until being killed.  On the linear objective side, it's nice how Escort is so specific about what's required for the second team.  If Team A only carries the robotic quadruped 70% of the way after 8 minutes, the moment Team B crosses that threshold in less time they automatically win the match.  Granted, that's not necessarily a new idea, yet there's something neat about each party's mindset fundamentally altering if attacking or defending first. 

Game modes can only be as exciting as the maps they're on; in this respect, XDefiant is a mixed bag.  Most of the arena bouts are the usual three-lane symmetrical/semi-symmetrical layouts with splashes of verticality sprinkled in between.  There's also a relatively responsive spawn system.  I've dealt with some cheap deaths close to spawn points, but it easily clears the ludicrous wonkiness of recent CoD titles.  There's a similar level of forethought for most linear maps as well.  But I also have my most hated maps, such as Dumbo, Echelon HQ, and Meltdown.  Echelon in particular is a shame since the Splinter Cell-inspired interior office is a neat conceptual map to emphasize stealth, but winds up being rather bland and condensed.  For every two decent maps there's disregards good principles. 

These issues are also partly exacerbated by disappointing weapon balance and iffy netcode.  Despite the fun of experimenting, I constantly felt like a sucker when bothering with SMGs or Marksman Rifles around launch.  Even the casual enjoyment of a double-barrel shotgun wears thin when I'm left questioning how someone soaked up both hits while aiming down sights.  This being a live-service game, Ubisoft has already implemented – and will continue implementing – new tweaks and balances.  That shouldn't dismiss what were some blatantly inconsistent launch-window decisions that just became about the better gun versus tactics or skill.  Then again, perhaps some questionable shenanigans regarding hit detection lie within its netcode towards the beginning; those moments of supposedly getting hit after retreating to cover felt common enough to warrant suspicion.  

Perhaps XDefiant's Achilles Heel is a much more straightforward answer: it's boring.  In its current state, it tastes like shooter oatmeal without brown sugar, cinnamon, or any other flavor.  And there's little hope of finding that spark with the cards it's been dealt.  Tom Clancy's game brand leans towards semi-grounded militarism and the Ubisoft original content here plays within similar boundaries.  One of the core premises to most hero shooters today is based on the personalities carrying those characters.  Besides expected character and weapon cosmetics, the closest version of that here is how each faction has a franchise-specific announcer squawking in their ear during the match's runtime; a 40-something New Yorker (Cleaner) spouting Millennial humor is less a "personality" to appreciate and more a personal call to apologize for my generation.  That… immeasurable-yet-tangible staleness is what made me drop off before amassing enough credit to acquire the DedSec group.

I resigned myself early on to not put any money down whatsoever.  That's easier said than done given the temptation of DedSec's overpowered gadgets.  If not using any real-world currency, then you simply have to dig your heels in for the Sisyphean grind.  Past that, all gun accoutrements outside of the game's premade loadouts have to be individually levelled up; you can't unlock certain grips, sights, etc. until leveling up that weapon through use.  It's remarkably stupid given counter-examples like Rainbow Six: Siege (at launch) just gave you Renown Credits after each match to invest in any unlocked operator's weapon.  From top to bottom, XDefiant is demanding the level of investment that doesn't feel worth it, neither in time nor dollars.

 XDefiant is a game that can be interrogated over its utility in the current shooter market and have no good answer.  Sure, maybe a pie slice from CoD shows its market utility, but nothing else.  That doesn't necessarily make it bad or awful by any metric compared RedFall or Crime Boss for example; that said, it's the current frontrunner for most beige game of 2024.  The mechanical foundation functions and most maps are at least decently composed.  The problem is those key multiplayer qualities are swallowed by a flat personality, various launch-window woes, and an exceedingly grinding structure. Leave it to Ubisoft to craft a hero shooter in as boring a fashion as its weaker open worlds.

Contractor by trade and writer by hobby, Lee's obnoxious criticisms have found a way to be featured across several gaming sites: N4G, VGChartz, Gaming Nexus, DarkStation, and TechRaptor! He started gaming in the mid-90s and has had the privilege in playing many games across a plethora of platforms. Reader warning: each click given to his articles only helps to inflate his Texas-sized ego. Proceed with caution.

VGChartz Verdict


This review is based on a digital copy of XDefiant for the XS

Read more about our Review Methodology here

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SecondWar (on 23 June 2024)

The Millennial quip - The oldest Millennials are now in their 40s so a 40-something New Yorker spouting Millennial humour isn’t out of the realms of possibilities.
More a problem if they were using GenZ humour.

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coolbeans SecondWar (on 23 June 2024)

Damn. That's a good catch. What I'm trying to emphasize is more what I'd call a different mood in player information.

Gen X/Boomer New Yorker: "Get out 'dere and fucking cook some people. Kuh-peesh?!?!"
Millennial Sentence Structure: "It's time to - uh- put the cleansing on some baddies. Wait, that's... good, right?"

Maybe it's more pointed to focus in on wannabe Marvel types of line delivery, which is so weird to hear from who's supposed to be a grizzled firefighter.

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The Fury coolbeans (on 24 June 2024)

"Maybe it's more pointed to focus in on wannabe Marvel types of line delivery, which is so weird to hear from who's supposed to be a grizzled firefighter."

Sense of irony prehaps that this sort of humour is a trend that came from a single Gen Xer's version of humour? basically terrible one liners, that basically instilled itself into Marvel films and beyond.

That line you put forward as an example could be placed on the character Mirage in Apex and I wouldn't bat an eye btw.

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coolbeans The Fury (on 24 June 2024)

Heh... now that you mention it. To be fair though, Whedon could at least balance between the straight man and other character templates. Rewatch The Avengers (2012) compared to Marvel's more recent teamups and you'll spot a tangible disparity in approach, timing, and punchlines. Now, it sorta feel like they're all put through a quippy blender.

-"That line you put forward as an example could be placed on the character Mirage in Apex and I wouldn't bat an eye btw."

I could too, actually. There's something to be said about how important context is for quippy chatter to work.

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SecondWar coolbeans (on 24 June 2024)

I took more to mean 'unfunny humour written by people trying to appeal to a demographic they don't understand', so I may have been along the right lines even if I was being pedantic.

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coolbeans SecondWar (on 25 June 2024)

You're on the mark though. But I appreciate being pendantic here b/c there's an interesting conversation about how to assess "generational humor" in a way I didn't think about before.

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