XDefiant Technical Test Impressions | Is it Finally Coming Together?

Originally published at: https://xboxera.com/2024/04/22/xdefiant-technical-test-impressions-is-it-finally-coming-together/

As we’re closing this weekend of April, coming to an end is the 3 days technical test of Ubisoft’s upcoming Call of Duty-esque arena shooter, XDefiant. This game has seen it all: a rather unappreciated early reveal, an almost complete rebranding, multiple successful beta tests, followed by an initially unexplained indefinite delay, eventually turning out to be an issue with certification. The game is back for what appears to be a test close to launch – again. So how’s the game faring now? Does it feel ready to go? Is it even good to become your go-to arena shooter for years to come? Let’s talk about that!

Out With the Ex-XDefiant, In With the New XDefiant

So what even is XDefiant? It’s Ubisoft’s attempt to create something like Call of Duty – as in a military-based arena shooter. Not just any Call of Duty, but taking cues from what an era of Activision’s shooter that many will feel nostalgic for: the late 7th gen, early 8th gen, most notably Black Ops 2 and 3 perhaps, an era in which the franchise had a firm grasp over eSports balancing, while also playing around with mildly futuristic tech, class-based abilities and so on.

While the game no longer features Tom Clancy’s name in it, something it used to do at its initial reveal, the IPs Ubisoft based off his works still are here in the form of factions. The Libertard rebels from Far Cry 6, the DedSec hackers from Watch_Dogs, the Echelon spies from Splinter Cell… Clearly, they have plenty of visual references and lore to grab from. Indeed, many of the game’s maps are quite iconic locations from these franchises, in what is a bizarre yet fitting crossover.

The game itself happily plays with the fact this is an unlikely crossover, with the characters in-game themselves understanding this is an arena competition, rather than a serious war. The rebels of Libertad, for example, make various comments about how this time it’s not as important as tackling the fascist regime they had at home, but they’ll still give it their best to beat the other teams. XDefiant shook off its wacky colourful style of the first reveal, but it still doesn’t take itself too seriously – and for what it’s worth, I believe this is the correct approach.

Shooting for Call of Duty’s Crown?

Well, that’s not exactly the plan.

The comparisons to Call of Duty are absolutely inevitable, with the game’s movement system, shooting, general balance and such very clearly mimic that 2008-2018 or so era of Call of Duty games. The movement feels fast and precise on a controller, though not as frantic as the last couple COD titles. There’s sliding and slide canceling, but none of the doors and door-peaking or attaching to covers as introduced in Modern Warfare’s reboot back in 2019. The closest point of comparison would be 2012’s Black Ops 2, just a tad more modern, and with extra options like customizable FOV, remappable controls and so on.

Indeed, XDefiant seems like a modern reimagining of the multiplayer suite of 2012’s iconic Call Of Duty. It’s not trying to deliver a bombastic campaign, nor a classic-style Zombies experience (something that, funnily enough, is exactly what Sker Ritual is trying to do – another game I’m reviewing about which you’ll read on this site very soon). XDefiant is just pure and simple multiplayer bonanza, in free-to-play form unlike Activision’s premium full-priced products.

As such, expect a modern approach to monetization. Every game mode (of which there’s already plenty like domination, zone control and more), every map, every weapon should be free. Some factions will require to be unlocked, either via playing or using in-game credits, but balance should not be an issue at all between paying players and free ones. And indeed, the general balance of weapons seems correct, with assault rifles, SMGs, shotguns, snipers and pistols behaving like they should.

In pure COD-style, perhaps SMGs are the easiest to “go ham” with, but each weapon has its clear strengths and weaknesses. Again, much unlike modern Call of Duty where the Gunsmith system allows several broken builds that cancel recoil and make a gun virtually flawless. There is a more limited attachment system here, but once again it feels more grounded and balanced, making for a better, more fair set of fights in the arena.

Yin and Yang

Indeed, as someone who does still play Call of Duty every year and getting attracted back every other season or new game, the new wave of games from Modern Warfare (2019) onwards have a massive flaw in their multiplayer in my opinion: a complete lack of flow and balance. In the developers’ desire to go back to the basics, they deleted an entire decade’s worth of balancing. Gone are the well-designed (if predictable) three-lane maps to favour instead chaotic maps with a billion lines of sight and blind corners, gone was the killstreak balance, the brilliant Pick 10 system was removed, and as said the Gunsmith system removes weapons’ weaknesses if people grind them out to the max, which combined with the low TTK (time to kill) is a deadly combo.

XDefiant takes an approach that resonates with me a lot more. The maps feel a lot more symmetrical and balanced, neither weapon feels outrageously powerful though everything can be very effective when used right. There’s also no killstreaks, a very limited usage of grenades and other explosives, and so on. The main strategic element players can use, aside from their cunning in positioning and aiming prowess, are each factions’ abilities and ultimates.

Whichever faction the player chooses, they can currently select one between three visually distinct but functionally identical characters, and then use one of the two available abilities. These are useful, but not as game-breaking as some of the ultimates in Black Ops 3 for example. These range from holographic shields that can absorb a lot of damage, healing powers to help oneself and the teammates, hacking tools to see enemy players through walls and so on. As was the case in most arena shooters in the mid-2010’s, there’s also an Ultimate ability system, which allows players to use a particularly powerful ability like once or twice per match, as the cooldown for that is pretty long and a lot of kills or objectives are needed to speed it up.

So, is it finally ready to go?

On a technical level, the game gets the job done. It doesn’t look terrifically advanced visually, even though it’s on the amazing Snowdrop Engine that recently powered the absolutely crazy-good looking Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora, but on the flipside the performance seemed impeccable on Xbox Series X. No 120fps mode as of this technical test, but the 60fps was rock solid even when clocking up the field of view drastically. The general netcode, hit detection and such seem sound, though there’s no killcams and the health it displays on the player that killed you seems a bit wrong – a minor issue in what otherwise already feels like a polished game.

So how did we get here? This is yet another test, almost 3 years after the first somewhat public one. The game feels smoother and more precise than ever, there’s plenty of maps and game modes to choose from, and the available classes and abilities already seem to offer a very fun and stable experience. The shooting is on-point, and it feels a lot more balanced and eSports-focused than the last couple Call of Duty games. I feel the game is currently in a good enough spot to launch on a surface level, and hopefully there will be no more delays.

So, XDefiant is back for yet another test—and it feels even better than the already great betas last year. The circa-2012 Call of Duty inspiration is very felt, but it greatly reproduces the things that made those games superior to modern COD multiplayer suites, offering a fun, balanced shooter, not reliant on cheeky strategies but on smart plays. Perhaps it currently lacks a distinct identity, but since Activision don’t seem too interested in making such a game anymore, I’m glad XDefiant exists. Whether it will finally manage to launch or maintain a healthy playerbase, that’s a discussion for the future. But as of now, I see a shooter that is smart, fun, and one I can see play for quite some time if they nail the launch and content rollout.