XDefiant Alpha Impressions – Casual CoD Clone Is Missing the Mark So Far
It’s been over 18 months since Ubisoft announced XDefiant, an FPS set in the Tom Clancy universe where gunplay and special abilities are fused together in an attempt to innovate on the classic run-and-gun shooter blueprint. It wasn’t well received. So strong was the backlash over its goofy aesthetic –which was lamented as not being appropriate to the franchise– that the publisher was forced to drop the Tom Clancy tag and push XDefiant as something entirely standalone. After a long period of silence, XDefiant made a comeback over the weekend for a brief alpha test, and I managed to score a code to check it out.
Now, with XDefiant still being so early in development it’s rather unfair to make too many sweeping critiques about its design on a micro level. It’s understandably rough around the edges, with limited server infrastructure that is always going to result in gunplay feeling a little odd and disconnected at times. What I will say, though, is as far as the big, high-level takeaways about its overall design and concept, I think XDefiant is confused.
If you’re not up to speed, XDefiant is essentially Call of Duty meets Overwatch. The gunplay and general movement mechanics are a carbon copy of Activision’s longstanding franchise, with “hero abilities” thrown in to add a new layer to the gameplay experience. In many ways, it is to Call of Duty what Valorant is to Counter-Strike; it’s taking an old formula and adding trendy new mechanics and a brighter art style in the hopes of scooping up both FPS newcomers and lapsed CoD fans.
On paper, that all sounds like a very plausible idea. After all, Riot Games has found huge success building Valorant around that very concept; it would be easy to imagine a more casual shooting experience could draw similar intrigue by hybridizing different gameplay elements. Unfortunately, though, fusing run-and-gun mechanics with hero-style utility doesn’t work so well in practice. It demands a level of tactical play that just does not suit the Call of Duty experience, and I found it noteworthy that nobody seemed interested in trying during the Alpha.
In XDefiant there are four factions, each offering different perks and abilities on top of the usual weapon load outs you’d expect to see in Call of Duty. These abilities range from invisibility cloaks to sneak behind enemies to robotic spiders that attack enemies; others allow you to hack enemy equipment, or deploy a shield that protects your fellow teammates.
I saw most of these being used here and there during the alpha test, but it was the health regeneration perk that dominated the meta. It wasn’t long before more or less every player was making use of the ability to heal, which is useful in XDefiant because the time-to-kill is very low but is actually relevant because it says something important about the player base engaging with the game: it seems as though most players don’t really want to play tactically.
And who could blame them? You don’t play Call of Duty to experience teamwork and synergy. You play to run around and shoot, and then respawn instantly if you die. It’s a casual, drop-in FPS that doesn’t require coordination and team synergy. That’s the obviously polar opposite of something like Valorant, Counter-Strike, or Rainbow Six: Siege.
My feeling is that for the hero abilities to make sense in XDefiant, the game needs to play at a slower, more methodical pace. But then it becomes less run-and-gun and more tactical, which is totally at odds with the target audience it’s trying to impress.
The answer, then, might instead be to increase the time-to-kill. Right now it’s very low, which as a fan of tactical shooters I like, but as we’ve established XDefiant is not tactical. Enemies die extremely quickly, and the weapons all have absolutely no recoil. In combination with lightning-fast respawn times, it feels as though the game is trying to be a catch-all experience where it probably needs to lean more heavily into a single direction.
Of course, Ubisoft has plenty of time to listen to player feedback and try to establish a better balance with XDefiant, but at the moment, it’s just a cheap-feeling COD clone that I can’t see standing shoulder-to-shoulder with its main inspiration.
- Sullying Tom Clancy’s Name Might Not be XDefiant’s Only Issue
- Ubisoft Reveal New Free-to-Play Game Tom Clancy’s XDefiant