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XDefiant Review: A Promising Work In Progress

Platform(s): PC (version reviewed), PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X | S
Genre: Arena-Hero Shooter meant to rival Call of Duty

The controller-driven segment of the first-person shooter world finds itself in an intriguing phase. Call of Duty (CoD) has reigned supreme for the better part of the past decade, while titles like Halo: Infinite and The Finals generated initial buzz only to fizzle out soon after.

Enter the scene, a fresh contender ready to challenge Activision’s behemoth. In recent years, die-hard fans have grown increasingly frustrated with Activision for overlooking their demands, such as reinstating red dots on the minimap and removing Skill-Based Match Making (SBMM) from public lobbies. Mark Rubin, at the helm of XDefiant’s development, has been particularly outspoken about leveraging these weaknesses in the CoD franchise.

For months, we’ve waited with bated breath as XDefiant generated buzz among FPS enthusiasts, particularly CoD fans like myself (hinting that I reviewed this game on a controller). At long last, the highly anticipated CoD killer has launched, amassing over 1 million unique players within the first two hours. So, let’s dive in and see if it meets the high expectations of its players and if it will kill CoD.


A True Hybrid of a Shooter

Although XDefiant is a shooter, guns aren’t the only tools at your disposal. The game features five classes based on popular Ubisoft franchises. Each class has its own advantages, an active ability (one of two available), a passive ability, and an “Ultra” ability that you earn through kills or objectives.

These classes allow for different tactical approaches. For instance, Echelon (from Splinter Cell) excels in stealth and enemy identification, Libertad (from Far Cry 6) has area-of-effect (AoE) healing abilities, and the Cleaners (from The Division) deal burn damage with their incendiary bullets.

This class system enables effective team coordination to win matches, while still preserving the individualism that CoD is known for. In the 50 matches I’ve played so far, I’ve noticed a good balance between these two approaches.

However, calling XDefiant a hero shooter doesn’t quite fit. It doesn’t feel like Overwatch or Paladins, where plays are often made solely through a character’s abilities. Instead, XDefiant incorporates elements of the hero shooter genre, making it a hybrid between a traditional arena shooter like Call of Duty and a hero shooter. Think of it as a blend similar to how VALORANT combines aspects of Counter-Strike and Overwatch.


Xciting Gameplay

Playing just one match of XDefiant reveals that Ubisoft’s new shooter borrows heavily from the golden era of Call of Duty. This 6v6 competitive first-person shooter sticks to the classic formula while blending in elements from other popular games to craft a unique experience.

XDefiant feels very similar to CoD in many ways, but it also incorporates features from other recent hits. Some might even say it scratches a familiar “itch” reminiscent of the battle royale sensation Apex Legends. The gameplay isn’t as frenetic as Apex, but the agile movement through maps and the approach to each shootout carry an Apex-like feel, especially with the emphasis on sliding and bunny-hopping for survival and racking up kills.

However, the movement can sometimes feel a bit clunky. Depending on your directional input, momentum can abruptly halt when you jump, creating an awkward experience. It’s hard to tell if this is intentional, but it’s noticeable, especially coming from the fast-paced momentum-driven gameplay of 2023’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III.

Besides the movement, two things stood out. First, hitting enemies is unexpectedly challenging. Unlike CoD, XDefiant’s aim-assist is inconsistent; at times, it feels almost too strong, pulling the crosshair more than expected and causing shots to miss. This inconsistency makes success highly dependent on skill, making it satisfying when you hit your mark, as the time to kill can be just a blink of an eye if you’re precise enough.

Second, the guns themselves deserve commendation. Ubisoft has achieved impressive gun balancing straight off the launch. While there are standout meta-picks like the ACR, M16A4 and MP7, each weapon feels viable. This contrasts with recent CoD instalments where certain guns dominate, leaving others ineffective. In XDefiant, despite the limited number of weapons, each one feels useful, especially with the right attachments.

Speaking of attachments, the simplicity of XDefiant’s weaponsmith is refreshing. Instead of an overwhelming catalogue like in CoD, it offers a simpler, more streamlined approach, reminiscent of Call of Duty: Mobile’s simplified weaponsmith.

The overall XDefiant experience, from its interface, HUB, to its on-screen information is polished and unobtrusive, ensuring players remain focused during gameplay. The sound design plays a crucial role in immersing players in the action, with footsteps and other audio cues providing valuable situational awareness.

Now you may think there’s an absence of skill-based matchmaking, but I’ve got a hunch that the “Welcome Playlist” sneaks some in. It’s not as intense as in CoD, but it’s definitely present. Fortunately, the Welcome Playlist is optional and vanishes after Level 25.

Currently cruising at Level 35, I’m quite distant from the SBMM zone, and I must say, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time in the public lobbies, grinding away to level up my weapons. While the absence of SBMM brings variety, I must admit, it sometimes results in wildly uneven matchups. I can usually hold my own, but when victory means snagging that extra XP boost, facing off against a six-man squad of CoD pros can be a tad frustrating. But hey this is what I wanted and while it can be annoying at times, I’m content.


Maps & Modes


In the nearly 20 hours I’ve spent glued to my screen grinding XDefiant, I’ve had an absolute blast, thanks in no small part to the maps and their modes. The design of the maps follows the classic three-lane structure that’s been a staple in FPS games for decades. The expert craftsmanship is evident in each action zone, ensuring that encounters rarely venture into unexpected places. Instead, the action is concentrated in areas where experienced players can achieve impressive kill streaks, supported by the game’s fluid and fast-paced movement.

This praise also extends to the spawn system. In team-based modes, spawns are relatively predictable, reminiscent of older Call of Duty titles. Many maps feature multiple levels, passageways, and ducts that allow the run-and-gun style to shine. I’ve rarely encountered campers, and when I have, they’ve been easy to take down. The only downside is the Escort maps (a mode borrowed from Overwatch, which itself took inspiration from Team Fortress 2), which have some confusing paths, especially in locations like Times Square.

As for the modes themselves, XDefiant keeps it straightforward with just five modes, which is ideal for concentrating the player base. All the modes are classics like Domination or Occupy (essentially CoD’s Hardpoint), though there are unique twists, such as Hotshot, which adds a fresh spin to Kill Confirmed by increasing your movement, reload and aim-down sight speed with each collected dog tag.


Great, But Not Perfect

When it comes to what XDefiant initially brings to the table, there are hints of trimmed content, likely to enable steady updates as part of its live-service strategy. It includes the familiar battle pass with 50 cosmetic rewards and a marketplace for skins and other cosmetic items, aligning with the norm for modern live-service games.

The crux of the problem is the somewhat limited customisation due to a modest amount of base content. While the game provides a reasonable selection of maps and modes, the variety in weaponry and characters is lacking. With only 19 primary weapons and a minimal selection of secondary options, the customisation options feel rather restricted. At present, XDefiant’s content feels a bit sparse, and its progression system, which relies on challenges to unlock weapons and characters, may become tedious if not expanded soon.

The lobby visuals could use some sprucing up, as they currently lack personality and come off a bit bland. While functional, there’s definitely room for more efficiency.

Another issue is desync, which persists despite the first patch aimed at fixing it. Although it’s not as bad as at launch, it’s still noticeable, especially compared to AAA Call of Duty titles. As someone who used to compete in Call of Duty: Mobile, which was plagued with desync issues, I can say XDefiant’s isn’t the worst, but it can be frustrating if it happens too often. The netcode definitely needs some work.

On top of these issues, there was a buzz of anticipation surrounding the launch of Ranked, yet it’s been pushed back to Week 6 post-launch. This unexpected setback has left numerous players disheartened, eagerly awaiting the chance to pit their skills in a competitive arena.

Moreover, the conspicuous absence of kill cams and XDefiant’s take on Search & Destroy hasn’t gone unnoticed. While Mark Rubin has assured their eventual inclusion, we are presently deprived of this vital tool and game mode for dissecting their gameplay and scratching our non-respawn itch.

Lastly, the progression system could use some tweaking. As of now, we’re in the midst of the first Double XP weekend, so levelling hasn’t felt too frustrating. But before this past weekend, the grind was slow. I’m all for a challenge, but without Double XP, the grind to get my ACR’s gold camo at Level 100 seems daunting. Hopefully, there will be improvements or compensations in this area moving forward.


Not A Collateral

While the list of issues is short, they’re drastic enough for me to ponder why it took so long for this game to be released from its initial open beta nearly a year ago. I can’t lie, it feels relatively the same, like it’s still a beta. The clunky movement mechanics, inconsistent aim-assist, and ongoing desync issues significantly detract from what could have been a polished experience. That said, the game shows promise, even if it feels like a work in progress.

Despite these setbacks, XDefiant offers a refreshing hybrid of traditional and hero shooter elements, reminiscent of classic Call of Duty with its own unique twists. However, the limited content and customisation options make it clear that the game needs further refinement and expansion to truly stand out in the competitive FPS market.

So, is it the Call of Duty killer? No, I don’t think it is. But with the backing of developers who listen to their player base, maybe, in time, XDefiant will become the Call of Duty killer that the internet has prophesied it to be. Realistically, I believe it will thrive alongside Call of Duty, much like how VALORANT was supposed to be the Counter-Strike killer but has since carved out its own sector of the gaming community.


Final Score: 70/100

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    […] XDefiant throws you into the heart of high-octane shootouts, where having the right weapon can spell the difference between victory and defeat. Here’s a rundown of some of the top guns in XDefiant to help you dominate the competition. […]

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