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Review: XDefiant (PS5) – Solid Shooter Does Little to Stand Out, But Still Has Potential

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The multiplayer shooter genre has been in an odd flux these last few years. Call of Duty just isn’t quite what it used to be, Battlefield 2042 missed the mark somewhat, and even Apex Legends has dipped in interest as it cruises into its 21st season of content. This is where a crop of new kids on the block have reared their heads, and XDefiant is one we’ve been waiting quite some time for. But is this really the CoD killer we’ve been promised? XDefiant may not be the slam dunk we were hoping for, but it’s got the legs to grow into something special.

XDefiant is what we’d call a multiversal shooter. Spanning the breadth of Ubisoft IP, this free-to-play release sees players take on the role of factions from franchises such as Splinter Cell and Far Cry in 6v6 game modes. Not only that, but each map is styled and based on locations from said franchises – from the Nudleplex in Watch Dogs 2 to an apocalyptic rendition of New York like in The Division. It’s an interesting premise wrapped up in an old-school arcade shooter harking back to the golden days of Call of Duty.

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As you may expect then, there is a certain simplicity to XDefiant that is infectiously enjoyable. There are no major game mode gimmicks, nor is there an expansive lore-based reason for Echelon super spies to be battling it out against Dedsec cyberhackers. For some that may be a bit of a put off as you can find most of what XDefiant has to offer in other shooters, but the back-to-basics vibe to Ubisoft’s latest is undeniably inviting.

Of course, vibes only take you so far so it’s nice that we also have a snappy shooter on our hands that feels leagues better than the beta we played just over a month ago. There are aspects that will irritate – like the near stopped motion after a slide – but matches feel fast-paced, weapons handling is attuned and the time-to-kill is quite well-balanced. It certainly isn’t the best feeling shooter out there, and it lacks the distinct weightiness that you’d even find in the likes of Modern Warfare 3. We are also a little disappointed in the lack of haptics, which outside the detailed thumps when landing from a jump, are pretty lacklustre. Thankfully that is the only letdown on the PS5 side of things, as performance always feels smooth, and outside of some server teething issues, we never had an issue with the game’s performance or usability.

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To add a little flavour into the mix, XDefiant is actually a hero shooter, with each faction offering up unique tactical and ultimate abilities. These range from fire-spewing drones to portable dome-shields. It’s a nice addition to the whole experience, but it’s never quite in your face as it is in Overwatch or Apex Legends. It sort of takes the backfoot to the main gameplay experience which can leave it feeling a little half-baked at times, but ultimately works with the tight-knit map design which is straight out of old-school Call of Duty.

Maps here don a classic three lane design and are one of the biggest strengths of XDefiant. With instant respawn times, you’re back in the action within seconds, and there’s always some skirmish going on at each of the game’s chokepoints. Whenever a match is popping off, you are constantly on a swivel with enemies coming from all directions. Of course it leads to the occasional sweary word and we just about managed to keep hold of those DualSenses, but more often than not it’s an exhilarating locked-in sense of play.

For those looking for the next shooter to sink all of their time into, XDefiant is already prepared to keep you engaged. From a base game perspective, you have weapons, attachments, and skins to unlock via levelling up and completing specific challenges – even the Dedsec faction is locked behind a 700,000XP earning challenge. You then have weekly and daily challenges cropping up for extra XP and of course the big (albeit dull) battle pass to work your way through. It’s nice to have to grind for your rewards, but XDefiant lacks that satisfying uptick of levels, where several matches can pass without any meaninful unlocks.

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As we look ahead to the weeks and months post-launch, Ubisoft has promised to bring new factions and maps from across its library of IP to the game, along with new seasonal content. It all sounds fairly promising, and Ubisoft does have a proven track record of supporting its multiplayer games. Just look towards Rainbow Six: Siege or For Honor and you’ll catch a glimpse into the potential scope of XDefiant.

However, the biggest issue for us right now is the lack of character on show here. We’re talking about the company behind several iconic franchises and characters, spanning hundreds of years (setting wise) and multiple genres. Yet what stands before us on day one is a rather grey military shooter. As a hero shooter too, why can’t we play as iconic characters like Sam Fisher from Splinter Cell or Vaas from Far Cry 3? Similarly, we imagine maps set in renaissance Italy right out of Assassin’s Creed 2 or one could even dream of an Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora-inspired map.

If we’re being honest we’d expect a lot of this to come to fruition in post-launch content and purchasable skins down the line, so there is still hope. As it stands right now though, XDefiant doesn’t feel like it’s really capitalising on the potential of its premise with the six franchises it’s currently using. From a purely aesthetic perspective, this could be any other shooter.

Conclusion

XDefiant is a solid shooter that will likely scratch that arcade-y itch with its snappy gunplay, iconic map design, and fan-favourite game modes. It’s the perfect multiplayer shooter to chuck on at the weekend, and we suspect it’ll be home to several late-night sessions for old-school Call of Duty fans. It’s not quite the breath of fresh air for the genre that The Finals is, but more like a blast from the past. Is it a CoD killer? No, but if Ubisoft can work its magic and go hell-for-leather with its multi-franchise post-launch content, then XDefiant could flourish into a regular staple of the shooter genre.

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