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XDefiant

XDefiant

Ubisoft's free-to-play Call of Duty killer is here but is it actually ready to take down the giant that is Activision's long-running epic?

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It's always a tricky situation to review a game that is free-to-play. As it requires literally no investment from the player aside from their time, you can become more lenient when critiquing areas that would otherwise stand out in a full-priced alternative. That's a topic that is even more important and crucial when looking at Ubisoft's "Call of Duty killer" XDefiant.

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XDefiant is effectively the by-product of mixing Call of Duty and Overwatch. It's an arena shooter that has various characters with unique abilities that compete and battle one another on a variety of creative and vibrant maps across a collection of differing game modes. It is an original idea but one dripping with familiarity, as pretty much every part of XDefiant can be attributed to another existing product. That's not really an issue, as the arena shooter sub-genre hasn't seen much iteration in a long time, and assuming the game feels good to play, there's probably going to be an audience for it. This is without a doubt the case with XDefiant.

This is a brilliant feeling shooter. It's responsive, fast-paced, action-packed, well-balanced, and has a top fluidity that rivals even its best competitors. The years of development that Ubisoft has committed to this game has resulted in a core body or chassis that holds massive amounts of potential. Every part of the game oozes refinement, whether it's the pleasing thumps of getting hitmarkers, the precision of the gunplay, the slightly more rigid movement that makes XDefiant feel infinitely less overwhelming when compared to Call of Duty multiplayer, or even just the presentation, which both delivers quality graphics and artwork but also a clear and uncluttered HUD. The checkboxes of what make up a great shooter have all been ticked off with XDefiant, and Ubisoft should be immensely proud of that.

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Unfortunately there are a lot of very competent alternatives to XDefiant and for an arena shooter to stand out, it needs to be more than just a very coherent body these days. This is where the armour in Ubisoft's shooter begins to crack, as everything surrounding the brilliant core feels as though it's missing something. Sometimes that is very clearly just content in general, and other times it's a distinct lack of refinement in how the UI is designed, how progression is handled, or the way monetisation is fundamentally incorporated.

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Let me start with the lack of content. Five game modes, over 15 maps, five factions styled after Ubisoft IP and offering three character options, and over 20 weapons. When you spell it out this all sounds great, however when you spread 20+ weapons over around seven weapon categories, you get around three options per weapon type and that is not nearly enough to launch a game with. The maps are great and very uniquely designed and are definitely a highlight, but the factions and the characters are less impressive. The three different characters per faction serve only cosmetic purposes, meaning there are effectively five different ability sets in XDefiant right now, one of which is tied to a challenge that will probably take most players a few weeks to complete to unlock (this being access to Watch Dogs' DedSec faction). Don't get me wrong, the way Ubisoft IP is baked into this game is fantastic and wonderfully done, but the idea isn't enough to keep me coming back for more hour after hour. There needs to be variety and that's not what XDefiant's current faction system offers.

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As per the game modes, they're all unique and fun, but if you've played Call of Duty's Hardpoint, Domination, or Kill Confirmed, Overwatch's Escort, or Battlefield's Rush, you will already be very familiar with Occupy, Hot Shot, Domination, Zone Control, and Escort. There's nothing actually original here.

Then we get to the progression. Ubisoft clearly doesn't have much interest in this part of XDefiant because none of the challenges are very interesting to complete and likewise there aren't many to spend time chugging through either. For this launch version of XDefiant, running on the 'Preseason theme', the challenges serve a singular purpose of unlocking weapons, devices, and characters to use in the Create-A-Class system. The issue is that there's no reason to use the Create-A-Class. The regular classes serve the job perfectly well and to unlock attachments you have to spend hours manually levelling up each gun (this is about as time consuming as progression in Forza Motorsport at debut), and even then the attachments only slightly improve your weapons. Also, most of the challenges are an absolute bore to complete. How do you unlock DedSec, for example. By completing a variety of tasks related to how DedSec operates all while teaching you the fundamentals of the other four existing factions? Nope. Just earn 700,000 XP. It's hard to find that thrilling in any sense.

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This brings me to the UI and monetisation. On the main menu the majority of the tabs are frankly irrelevant unless you intend to spend money purchasing premium content. A couple of the six or so tabs are dedicated to a premium store and the battle pass. Another is meant for the customisation which is useless unless you buy things as there is actually no way to earn any form of cosmetics (be it weapon skins, character skins, calling cards, emotes, etc.) without spending real money or working through the battle pass. Then there's the regular game selection tab, which too has a massive battle pass link plastered onto it. I know this is a free game and that should be championed, but Ubisoft has decided to avoid any form of eloquence or class and instead favoured ramming the monetisation down your throat without any remorse or without providing any way to actually access customisable elements without opening your wallet. That's a tough pill to swallow.

It wouldn't be as much of an issue if there was more content to begin with, but after a couple of days you begin to feel as though you've seen everything that XDefiant has to offer. There's a clear lack of content in this game and aside from actually buying things to spruce up your account, the only alternative is to wait for the seasonal structure to kick off, which won't even take effect for around 40 days...

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The sheen and polish that the gameplay and gunplay delivers is pretty much found everywhere throughout XDefiant though. I've only really noticed one clear bug/issue, with that being certain challenges not tracking my data. Otherwise this game is an incredibly tight experience, which is what makes the lack of content, monetisation, and the boring progression even more disappointing.

Ubisoft has something very special on their hands here, but if this launch version of XDefiant is even a marginal sign of this game's future, it will not survive. It's free so check it out and play it for a couple of days, but you'll probably go back to Call of Duty or Halo or Overwatch or any other shooter after that because there's a distinct lack of depth here and the fluidity and refined design isn't really an element that makes this game stand out from its competitors. There's a long road ahead of XDefiant if it really intends to operate in the same air as established shooters and frankly Season 1 is going to need to be a behemoth to serve as a sign of this being the case.

06 Gamereactor UK
6 / 10
+
Incredibly refined and great feeling gunplay. Brilliant incorporation of Ubisoft IP. Tight presentation. Easy to pick up and play. It's free!
-
Lacking in content. Progression is tiresome. Monetisation is overwhelming. Aesthetic customisation is basically non-existent.
overall score
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XDefiant

REVIEW. Written by Ben Lyons

Ubisoft's free-to-play Call of Duty killer is here but is it actually ready to take down the giant that is Activision's long-running epic?



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