XDefiant Review – Xtraordinarly Lacking

A strong foundation, responsive gunplay and some well-designed maps can't mask the foundational issues with Ubisoft's free-to-play shooter.

Posted By | On 26th, May. 2024

XDefiant Review – Xtraordinarly Lacking

What is XDefiant? No, really. When you stop for a second and really think about it – what does the term even mean? If you go by that worldwide reveal trailer from 2021, the concept involves “fast-paced firefights” meets “punk-craft mosh pit.”

The marketing was over-the-top and colorful; the factions were questionably known as Defiants and touted as “mavericks”, despite consisting of murderers and pyromaniacs. It’s clear that things have changed over time – the Outcasts and Wolves are gone, replaced by the Libertad from Far Cry 6 and Phantoms from Ghost Recon. The pyromaniacs i.e. the Cleaners, remain, because a flamethrower unit was probably required.

Why is XDefiant? Why are these factions battling against each other, or rather in mixed teams consisting of different members of the same? There’s no in-game explanation. Each faction having their own announcer during battle is pretty nice, whether it’s the calm and collected Echelon and the…er, calm and collected Phantoms, or the immolation enthusiasts at the Cleaners. What isn’t great is hearing them constantly lambast my performance when we’re losing. Yes, I know we lost, Libertad. Not like Far Cry 6 is doing so hot, but I digress.

"Whether it’s summoning a flamethrower as a Cleaner or engaging wallhacks through the map and killing with a silenced pistol as Echelon, they’re fairly significant, assuming you can get them."

XDefiant sort of exists as a crossover shooter that pulls maps and factions from across the back catalogue of Tom Clancy titles. If this sounds like a mishmash of tones, concepts, gameplay mechanics, systems and foundations without rhyme or reason, welcome to the XDefiant experience. Sometimes messy, sometimes erratic, fun under the right conditions and frustrating in others.

At its core, it’s a free-to-play first-person shooter with factions that have abilities. You may have noticed multiple characters for each faction, but those are like different playable models instead of unique heroes. There are five in total, with the fifth, DedSec, locked behind an absurd 700,000 XP requirement (with each victory granting 4K XP). You’re essentially playing with four heroes for a good chunk of the initial time.

Each faction has two unique abilities – select one before a match starts, then your loadout, and you’re good to go. While each faction is as capable with all the available weapon types, they have unique passives. Cleaners get Incendiary Ammo, resulting in reduced range but slight damage over time with their bullets, usually enough to clean up low-health enemies. Libertad heals nearby allies, Phantoms have 20 higher base health than the other factions, etc. They also have unique Ultimates called Ultras.

Whether it’s summoning a flamethrower as a Cleaner or engaging wallhacks through the map and killing with a silenced pistol as Echelon, they’re fairly significant, assuming you can get them. There’s no passive gain to Ultra meters, – it’s built up with kills, assists and playing the objective.

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"Thankfully, it seems the development team nailed the gunplay. Each weapon, from the M4A1 and AK-47 assault rifles to the M44 sniper rifle and M870 shotgun, feels unique and fun."

On the one hand, I can appreciate the lack of an easy comeback mechanism to flip a match, and it encourages more than just hunting for kills. The Ults also feel more valuable when they come into play and they’re all pretty powerful in their own right (though Echelon and Libertad are probably the best). Sadly, it also feels like you get to use them once in a match if you’re lucky, and if one player gets theirs by running riot on the enemy team, that in itself is a significant snowball (assuming they don’t throw). It comes down to preference – do better, and you’re rewarded. Don’t, and a tough match becomes even more challenging to turn around.

That being said, the abilities could use some work. The Cleaners’ incendiary drone is a good idea in theory, sending out a straight line of fire, but it can often snag onto the environment and crash early. It’s still an effective bomb with a straight unimpeded line, yet underwhelming compared to Echelon’s ability to ping nearby targets and see them through walls, Phantoms’ barricade (which is ideal for securing chokepoints and zones), or Libertad’s healing BioVida Boost, which provides a healing area. This isn’t to say the other abilities are perfectly balanced – Echelon’s ping needs a longer cooldown, for instance.

Thankfully, it seems the development team nailed the gunplay. Each weapon, from the M4A1 and AK-47 assault rifles to the M44 sniper rifle and M870 shotgun, feels unique and fun. Even the M249 light machine gun, probably the worst option for reacting to sudden flanks if you’re not already aiming down sights, is hefty and responsive.

Weapon customization can seem daunting, especially when having to level up each weapon separately for their attachments. It feels like a dampener if you’re looking to swap around and try something else, but having to essentially focus on a single weapon just to be able to customize it to your liking, especially when leveling feels slow. Still, the amount of options is fairly robust – it won’t compete with Gunsmith anytime soon, but a healthy variety is available. You’re also limited to the number of equippable attachments, leading to some hard choices.

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"The movement speed is already pretty high, which also seemingly applies to strafing and jumping, making you much harder to hit."

I also love the option to toggle detailed stats and see the effects of all your attachments on things like ADS stability, recoil control, movement speed and so on. Now, if only there was a way to see the benefits of each attachment when mousing over each tab so you know what it does, instead of selecting the specific category. Perhaps the only downside to this progression system is the Mastery skins, which reward boring Bronze, Silver and Gold skins when hitting different level thresholds.

On the downside, once again, the balance is iffy. Sniper rifles are pretty good right now, and while it’s possible to play around a single opponent, things get dicier when multiple opposing players are running around with the same. Emphasis on “running around” as I’ve seen the M44 used almost as they’re running and gunning. Maybe it needs some flinch to afford some counterplay when the enemy team focuses on you.

However, the alternative is excessive strafing, especially diagonal and jump strafing. The movement speed is already pretty high, which also seemingly applies to strafing and jumping, making you much harder to hit. It’s ridiculous sometimes, especially when you’re trying to get a bead on a single enemy killing your friend, but it’s also very effective, even if you perform the basics. At the very least, jump strafing should be toned down somewhat.

XDefiant offers five multiplayer modes – Domination is your standard Hardpoint where you capture and hold the zones. Hot Shot is like Kill Confirmed, except collecting enough dog tags (Bounties, as they’re referred to here) will turn you into the Hot Shot. This makes Bounties worth even more while also giving you a speed buff and coating your screen’s edges with an annoying glow.

Occupy is King of the Hill. Then you have Escort, where you accompany the payload to different checkpoints and a final objective, and Zone Control, with each team taking turns capturing five zones in a linear sequence. The team with the most captured zones and progress by the end of the second round wins.

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"There’s no custom match option, limited-time modes, or any extra bells and whistles, aside from the Welcome playlist, which has skill-based matchmaking and is meant for new players up to level 25."

The map design is surprisingly good, for the most part. The questionability of recycling environments from The Division 1 and 2 aside, they offer a good mix of sightlines, environmental objects and places to mantle. Some maps are weaker than others – Pueblito and its bizarre spawns and the mess that is Arena – but they flow pretty well overall.

If nothing else, the simplicity of jumping into a match quickly, even if the lobby UI is a mess of challenges (with completed ones persisting), map voting and player names, is neat. Of course, when talking simplicity, you have an Unranked playlist, a trial of Ranked Mode and…that’s it. The Practice Area is inexplicably locked off, which is a shame because it apparently has some great features. It would have also been ideal when matchmaking wasn’t working at launch, though it’s unlikely to be available offline whenever the servers are down.

There’s no custom match option, limited-time modes, or any extra bells and whistles, aside from the Welcome playlist, which has skill-based matchmaking and is meant for new players up to level 25. Then you have the lack of Killcams, no Play of the Game or highlights at the end of a match, and the emphasis on highlighting achievements which your teammates can then upvote for no discernible reason.

You have to click a separate button to see the scoreboard during this time or check it after the match in the above tabs, as you’re redirected to the Battle Pass every single time, with the UI encouraging you to unlock those ranks and claim those rewards (read: Spend money). Your mileage may vary on the Battle Pass, but for what it’s worth, the free rewards are limited and entirely lackluster.

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"It’s also worth noting that there are issues with the netcode, resulting in dying around corners or walls and awful hit registration."

At least the game doesn’t break up the lobbies after every match. If you find a comfortable lobby, you can easily play more matches together without some skill-based matchmaking breaking everyone up. There are still plenty of games where you match against (and with) players that are clearly better, and you will get stomped, so fair warning.

The sparseness doesn’t stop there, as the Career page is bereft of in-depth information, and there are no highlights, but at least you can customize the emojis used after getting killed. Why this is a feature, beyond selling custom emoji sets to equip, is beyond me. Launching a competitive shooter several years ago without many of these features, especially as a new IP, is one thing. However, there have been multiple competitive shooters over the years who have figured these out. Heck, the Rainbow Six Siege team could have provided some suggestions.

It’s also worth noting that there are issues with the netcode, resulting in dying around corners or walls and awful hit registration. It occurs regardless of your ping, though you may start to see opponents teleporting around at 100 ms upwards. Combined with the movement, which makes it harder to hit players, it can feel frustrating to pump multiple bullets into an enemy only to see them live. Meanwhile, they can turn after an ambush and seemingly melt you in seconds.

After my time with XDefiant, I finally unravelled the meaning of the name. If you return to the original reveal trailer, you’ll notice that the letters “XD” stand out, resembling the emoji of the same name. The whole “emotes” reaction thing in-game probably evolved from this, but it still doesn’t explain what the title was going for.

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"Maybe the team wanted it to be this colorful shooter that you shouldn’t take seriously. Compared to back then, XDefiant’s presentation feels colder and more impersonal."

With the final version, the answer feels like a “generic clone by way of Tom Clancy” with some added jankiness, terrible hit registration, questionable movement, lack of content (let alone, basic quality of life features) and balance issues. Maybe the team wanted it to be this colorful shooter that you shouldn’t take seriously. Compared to back then, XDefiant’s presentation feels colder and more impersonal. The environments have a fair bit of detail to them.

For some odd reason, the video before each match that showcases different points of interest is lower resolution, perhaps to emulate security footage. It’s serviceable, but I would have preferred a more traditional high-resolution montage, a la Halo. At least the sound effects are on point, down to enemy footsteps and gunfire, though the announcers and their nagging tend to grate.

There are some positives and more than a few reasons to check it out. Maybe you’ll get into the gunplay and map flow. Perhaps the movement is what you’re looking for in skill floor and ceiling. The fact that it’s free certainly helps, and not having to deal with skill-based matchmaking for some casual play is pretty nice.

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"Before XDefiant can be considered a serious competitor to anything, the foundation needs some serious work."

Nevertheless, the overall quality and package leave much to be desired. When you’re in the right lobby and cycling through different maps and modes, there’s that feeling of “just one more game”. However, it can get annoying when hit registration issues crop up, and opponents leap and strafe with wild abandon, effortlessly dodging your bullets before one-shotting you with a sniper.

More content, more rewards, more abilities for each faction, and maps are likely in the works, especially with plans to support it for a long time. However, before XDefiant can be considered a serious competitor to anything, the foundation needs some serious work. On the bright side, the development team has seemingly achieved the impossible – releasing a free-to-play competitive shooter in this day and age, which the vast majority hasn’t immediately disregarded.

This game was reviewed on PC.


THE GOOD

Fast-paced responsive gunplay with each weapon maintaining a unique feel. Typical yet solid gun customization. Solid map variety, many flowing quite well. The lack of breaking up lobbies after matches is refreshing.

THE BAD

No replays, highlights or in-depth stats. No custom or private matches. Hit registration is absolutely horrid. Jump strafing speed needs adjustments. Echelon's wallhacks and Ultra desperately require balance changes. Lackluster amount of content overall.

Final Verdict:
FAIR
XDefiant isn't a Call of Duty killer or even a close competitor. It has potential despite its many issues, but it has a long way to go before living up to it.
This is a free-to-play game downloaded by the author for the purposes of this review. Click here to know more about our Reviews Policy.

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