XDefiant Highlights a Big Blind Spot in the FPS Genre
Carving out its own space.
First-person shooters occupy an enviable space within the gaming industry. Be it competitive or casual, team-based or battle royale, FPS games are everywhere. Ubisoft is no stranger to the genre, as Rainbow Six Siege continues to be the king of tactical shooters. The publisher's latest entry, the free-to-play XDefiant, highlights how there are still gaps in the genre — despite how crowded it seems at first glance.
Branded initially as Tom Clancy’s XDefiant, until dropping the “Tom Clancy’s” (it’s cleaner), XDefiant is a team-based shooter focusing on factions inspired by popular Ubisoft franchises. There are the Far Cry 6-based Libertad, the Ghost Recon Phantoms, Splinter Cell’s Echelon, The Division’s Cleaners, and DedSec from Watch Dogs.
In the style of ability-based FPS games like Apex Legends or Valorant, each faction has a unique arsenal of thematically appropriate skills. For example, the Echelon faction has abilities that can hide them from the mini-map, encouraging an element of stealth-based play that feels in line with their roots in Splinter Cell.
Matches in XDefiant cover the familiar styles of FPS play, such as escort-based and territory control modes. During a hands-on preview, gunplay and abilities felt good to use, but there was a sense of familiarity. The largest struggle Xdefiant faces is carving out a space of its own. Yet the most unique aspect of XDefiant, the Ubisoftness of it all, highlights an opportunity for the game.
To succeed as an FPS today, you have to be a battle royale or a quicker team-based shooter. Yet in these two small genres, it feels hard to dethrone the kings of each, Apex Legends and Valorant. However, there are many more opportunities in the FPS space. Ubisoft has already cornered one market with Rainbow Six Siege, which consistently offers an adrenaline-pumping experience thanks to its tactical gameplay that moves slowly at first and then erupts into cacophonous but short gunfights. The faction-based core of XDefiant feels like the largest strength of the game and reminds me of another unique multiplayer experience — Spies vs Mercs.
While Splinter Cell is mostly remembered for its incredibly espionage-based action, it also had a multiplayer mode that appeared in multiple entries of the series called Spies vs. Mercs. The mode leaned heavily into the idea of how a spy has a particular set of skills that may make them vulnerable but gives them a stealthy upper hand in comparison to the more traditional soldier. Matches were team-based, with one side taking the role of spies while the other took the role of the mercs.
Spies controlled like Sam Fischer in Splinter Cell. They had a third-person perspective and could sneak, climb, and use gadgets to help reach objectives on maps. The mercs were different, as they controlled in first person like a Call of Duty game. Rather than the sleek skill of a spy, a merc had heavy armor and big guns that could tear apart a spy in seconds if they got caught. The mode created a unique power dynamic between the two teams, where both had critical flaws but also strengths to be taken advantage of to win.
What made Spies vs Mercs special is that it felt like no other multiplayer shooter. No other game has managed to evoke the same tension. During my hands-on preview with XDefiant, I had fun. It is a competent FPS. However, it risks getting lost amongst bigger fish in the pond.
The best moments of XDefiant come when using abilities in smart ways to take advantage of another faction's weakness. There is a hint of Spies vs Mercs in confrontations like this. If XDefiant is to succeed it will be on the strength of its factions and how abilities play with each other in combat, rather than how good a weapon feels.
XDefiant does not yet have a release date. It will be free to play on Xbox, PlayStation, PC, and Amazon Luna.