In my opinion, the teams at Ubisoft are the undisputed kings of Easter Eggs and crossovers between their various properties, and their upcoming arena shooter is the greatest of them all. XDefiant is Ubisoft’s new free-to-play arena shooter being developed by Ubisoft San Francisco that sees multiple worlds from the Ubiverse collide in fast-paced 6v6 matches. I recently had the opportunity to go hands-on with the game where I was able to check out a few of the modes, the factions, and more. So, without further ado, here’s what I know about XDefiant.
XDefiant takes all of the best aspects from various shooter games from across the industry and smashes them all together. You’ll see elements of gameplay from games like Call of Duty and Overwatch as well as, of course, Ubisoft’s own games, like Ghost Recon and The Division. Gameplay is super fast-paced and packed full of action, always keeping you on your toes. In XDefiant, there’s never a dull moment.
The game will feature casual and ranked modes, with casual putting players of varying skill levels in the same match and ranked matching you up against your peers. Of course, the concern will still be whether or not skill-based matchmaking will still be in effect in casual mode to prevent newer (and noobier) players from getting absolutely curb stomped, which is a great point of contention for many. Call of Duty still has SBMM in casual lobbies — it doesn’t kick in right away, but it will after a few matches — which is nice for those who aren’t the greatest (putting it nicely) but also makes it harder for those of a higher skill level to just sit back and have a relaxing night of gaming. It’s a double-edged sword, unfortunately, but you can’t satisfy everybody. The game will also feature cross-play between Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5, and PC via Ubisoft Connect.
There will be five modes to play at launch across 14 different arena and linear maps, all of which were available to us in our preview, however, one of the modes, Zone Control, never came across our rotation, so unfortunately I can’t speak too much about how that mode plays out, but I can still try to explain it to you. Zone Control is one of the linear modes where players are trying to capture five static zones to fill up a capture meter. Once they secure a location, they are able to progress to the next zone along the map. On the flip side, the defenders are trying to prevent the attacking team from capturing all five zones, however, capture progress is permanent and cannot be reduced, so it’ll be vital for the defending team to work together to suppress the attackers and stop their advance. It’s like the Rush mode from Battlefield, basically, but XDefiant style.
The other linear mode is Escort, which is just what the name suggests; there is a payload that has to be escorted from one end of the map to another, passing through two checkpoints along the way before reaching the final destination. The defending team is able to halt and reverse that progression if they eliminate enemy players, though I believe checkpoints are permanent as reaching a checkpoint changes the spawn locations of both teams and also closes off some flanking routes while opening others. This is very much like the Escort mode in Overwatch, as I’m sure fans of that game have noticed. The biggest gripe I have with this mode is that it is very easy to spawn camp the escorting team, which happened on the map Zoo quite a lot. It was very hard to leave the spawn area because the defending team had a direct line of sight on all the exits, something I really hope gets fixed/rebalanced in the future.
Moving onto the arena modes, Domination and Occupy will feel familiar to those who’ve played a decent number of shooters over the years as well. Domination is your classic area capture mode where there are three static areas on the map that teams will fight for possession of. Teams earn more points if they control more objectives, and even more so if they control all objectives. This was the mode we saw the most of. The maps we played on had pretty well-balanced objective placement as well as opportunities to move between different objectives.
Occupy has a single objective that teams fight for possession of, but every 60 seconds the zone moves to a different part of the map. Unfortunately, we only saw Occupy once, but my team absolutely crushed it. The enemy team was either more focused on getting kills instead of playing the objective, or maybe we were just that good. The map we played this one on was Pueblito, which feels like it’s among the smaller maps in the rotation. The arena-style maps feature the typical three lane design with various ways to navigate between them, which meant that we always had to be on guard as enemies could come at us from literally any direction, especially once the zone shifted.
The last mode, and probably the most exciting for me, is Hot Shot. Hot Shot is kind of like Kill Confirmed, where you have to collect bounties from eliminated enemies in order to win the game. What makes this mode unique is that the person who has collected the most bounties becomes the Hot Shot, the high value target. The Hot Shot player is granted a movement and rate of fire boost to give them an edge in defending themselves as well as a bounty score multiplier, however, they are visible to the enemy team, so you have to defend the Hot Shot if they are on your team. When the Hot Shot is eliminated, the next player, friend or foe, with the highest bounty count becomes the new Hot Shot. This mode was exhilarating, both while on the hunt for the enemy Hot Shot and when I became the Hot Shot. I just tried to run and hide as much as I could.
That all being said, different modes means different strategies need to be at play. There are four different factions that will be available right away that serve as the game’s class system. Each faction has a specialty that affects different aspects of every match, like their faction-specific Ultra abilities that can literally turn the fight around if used correctly and at the right time. These factions are where we see the different Ubisoft universes coming together as each faction represents a group or organization from various Ubisoft titles.
From Far Cry 6 we have Libertad, a support faction that provides improvised medical assistance for their team. From Ghost Recon, we have the Phantoms, a tank class that specializes in area defense and fortification. Echelon comes from Splinter Cell. This is the class for the lone wolf player as well as those who have an appreciation for the element of surprise. As someone who tends to play solo, this will likely be my faction of choice, although being able to heal myself is a huge plus. And then we have the Cleaners from The Division, ex-sanitation workers who have a thing for pyrotech to control lanes and retake objectives.
There is a fifth faction that you earn from playing the game, DedSec from Watch Dogs. This faction is here to disrupt the enemy’s strategy by exploitation as well as denial of services. They also have an evil spider-bot that will run around and attack an enemy player.
Each faction is equipped with special gadgets and abilities that when used properly can get the pendulum swinging in their favor. Wouldn’t it be nice if the Hot Shot was able to heal themselves while they sprint around at warp speed? Oh no, the enemy team took B, let’s drop a molotov bomb on them. We need to protect the objective – deploy barriers! But, of course, there’s a counter to each. Echelon members can reveal enemy locations while DedSec then disables their abilities. The Cleaners can also return fire, literally, with a flamethrower that is hard to escape from, no matter how fast you try to run. There were many times where a Libertad found themselves at the receiving end of my M4A1, but they were able to save themselves by activating their healing, which can also be deployed as an area heal to help the team survive an enemy push.
One of the coolest details they added is that each faction has its own announcer who will call out strategy updates, like when an enemy is on an objective, when the Hot Shot goes down, etc. For the Cleaners, they are informed by none other than their fearless leader, Joe Ferro. I just thought this was a nice touch
Once you’ve selected your faction, it’s time to pick your loadout. There are 24 weapons already in the game, each with 44 attachment options to unlock for you to choose from. During the preview event, we were able to create custom loadouts, however, we were not able to use them, or at least I could not figure out how to, but the presets they had for us were decent enough and I saw each one in play throughout every match. Players will have various assault rifles, submachine guns, light-machine guns, shotguns, marksman rifles, sniper rifles, and handguns to work with, which can be customized to your liking. It also appears that there will be different skin options for each weapon as well, though there were none available when I played.
Each weapon type dominates in certain settings; the assault rifle is great for mid-range and the handguns were surprisingly viable in both close and mid-range encounters. I didn’t particularly care for the LMGs, which isn’t surprising as I don’t care for them in most games. I didn’t use shotguns, marksman rifles, or sniper rifles at all myself, but I did find myself on the wrong end of many. The MP5 seems like a decent close to mid-range weapon, though sometimes it felt like it just didn’t do enough damage where it should have. There may still need to be some tweaking and rebalancing to work out with some weapons if the developers want people to use more of them. Gunplay itself feels pretty good. It’s hard for me to pinpoint what it feels like, maybe a combination of Call of Duty and The Division, but it all felt really smooth.
XDefiant definitely feels like a classic arcade-shooter, but the addition of the faction system and the modes they’ve selected feels refreshing in a genre that feels like more of the same from its usual releases. While XDefiant may not redefine the genre, it doesn’t feel like it’s a copy and paste either. It borrows a lot from other games but puts its own unique twist on everything. One thing I miss that isn’t in XDefiant, however, is killcams, whether it be final killcams or whenever I die killcams, or both. Does it really matter if they’re in the game? Not really, but they can be informative or at least provide a little extra entertainment value.
With this being a free-to-play game, it’ll come as no surprise what it will feature in terms of how it’s monetized. Every season will feature a Battle Pass loaded with cosmetics and other unlocks, and there will be additional purchasable cosmetics and bundles as well. The developers made sure to point out that none of these will in any way be pay-to-win, however, so set those fears aside. A new season will start every three months, as per the usual, giving players plenty of time to get all the goodies. Each season will also bring with it new maps, a new faction, and weapons, as well as special events and limited-time modes to keep content feeling fresh. We got a little peek at what a battle pass might look like during the preview event, which looks to be the classic linear fashion, which I honestly prefer over what some games have switched over to recently, mainly Rainbow Six Siege and Call of Duty (not a fan). I might be the odd one out on this one, but I just preferred the linear style. It felt more fun and like a chase instead of basically just picking and choosing what to unlock.
As far as performance goes, it’s important to remember that this is still a work in progress. While I didn’t have any substantial issues, there were a couple of visual bugs, like a flickering line at the bottom of the screen between matches and a little bit of stuttering when first starting out. Otherwise, the game performed well enough, never crashing nor did I experience any lag issues, though I do wish I had experimented a little with performance settings (if it was even possible to do so). The framerate is definitely a game-changer when it comes to any shooter game, and I could tell when I was outplayed by someone else’s higher frames. They’d have me down and out before I’d even realized what hit me, and where from.
The vision the developers have for XDefiant is to build “a place for fans of arcade-style fast-paced shooters to have fun and compete, that will grow and evolve with the community.” To help them fulfill this mission, they’ve run numerous Insider Sessions of the last year where they’ve taken feedback from players and plugged that into how they’ve (re)developed and progressed the game. Their goal is to provide best-in-class arena shooter gameplay with that classic arcade style, and I feel like they’re doing a smashing job. They’re also committed to supporting players of XDefiant season over season through regular content drops while also lending an open ear and open mind.
I am very much looking forward to seeing what becomes of XDefiant when it fully launches in the near future. For now, those who are able should check out the closed beta that started today (4/13), for which you can register here. This closed beta will feature everything covered in this preview, though you will have to earn the DedSec faction. If you do, it will carry over to the launch. On top of that, you’ll also get to check out the 4v4 ranked mode.
So that’s my breakdown of XDefiant, though I’m sure there will be more to learn in the coming months. With that said, keep your eyes on the Gaming Trend website as well as the Gaming Trend YouTube channel for more news, reviews, previews, and everything else gaming.