Tom Clancy's XDefiant is a free-to-play, class-based arena shooter that falls somewhere between Overwatch and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and simultaneously pulls from other recognizable Tom Clancy games. That may sound like a strange position for the Tom Clancy brand to be slotting itself into, but our first look at XDefiant in action suggests that Ubisoft is poised to fill a very interesting gap in the market.
In Tom Clancy's XDefiant, realistic gunplay meets personalized classes based off of iconic Ubisoft franchises like Splinter Cell, The Division, and Ghost Recon. If you've ever played a Ubisoft shooter, XDefiant will look very familiar. Not in style, necessarily, as XDefiant is all about colorful, '90s punk visuals that contrast the grounded realism of games like The Division 2 or Ghost Recon: Breakpoint – but in the way it will play. That's because the four classes we've seen so far are pulled directly from other Ubisoft titles and seem to have similar abilities when compared to their inspirations, as well.
XDefiant will drop you into 6v6 objective-based matches with familiar game modes like Domination and Escort. For Overwatch fans, you'll feel right at home here, although you just won't be locked into a weapon type based on your class of choice, as XDefiant will let you fully customize your character's loadout no matter their faction. It certainly seems like Ubisoft is looking to pull the best bits of popular arena shooters and make it hyper-accessible with Tom Clancy's XDefiant – but will it work?
Tom Clancy's The Game
At the heart of Tom Clancy's XDefiant are its classes. Ubisoft is calling these factions and they are designed to draw on your familiarity with Ubisoft's biggest shooters. You have Cleaners, based off of the blue collar enemies of The Division 2 who fill the assault class in this game. There's the Wolves, the military group from Ghost Recon: Breakpoint who will act tanks in XDefiant. Outcasts use the experience as quarantine survivors from The Division to act as healers. And finally there's Echelon, whose green night-vision goggles are here to both keep Splinter Cell alive in our hearts and minds for a little longer and act as a support class out in the field.
The existence of these factions and the clear roles they fulfill is what makes XDefiant a hero shooter in all but name – but unlike other hero shooters, weapons aren't locked to classes, so you'll be free to mix and match loadouts as you see fit. This is where XDefiant leans more towards popular modern shooters, allowing players to create custom loadouts and pick from them at spawn. Your Defiant's chosen faction will have specific traits and abilities, but you'll be able to handpick their primary and secondary weapons, gun attachments, and devices so that no two defiant builds are the same. Factions will define your role in every XDefiant match, but the gunplay won't take a backseat to class abilities.
Speaking of gunplay, Ubisoft is promising players a meticulously crafted gun meta that will satisfy even the pickiest FPS fans. The gameplay footage shown in the announcement video includes a variety of weapons, from your bog standard ARs and snipers to a dang flamethrower, all with unique sets of attachments. This is where XDefiant will feel the most like a competitive arena shooter, and will hopefully give players the chance to figure out a gun meta – and Ubisoft a chance to make adjustments as needed.
Ubisoft certainly knows how to craft a competitive and compelling FPS game (just look at Rainbow Six Siege), but by combining elements of other franchises into XDefiant, it's setting up a tough challenge. What are the devs pulling from other games that historically work, and what are they leaving out? Ghost Recon: Breakpoint has satisfying gunplay and customization, but feels disjointed thanks to an overload of disparate features. The Division 2 has great cover-based mechanics and gunplay (as well as some great endgame content), but initially struggled with bugs and balancing the gear grind. The best arena shooters are defined by their tight, unassailable gunplay and balance - where developer Ubisoft San Francisco ultimately decides to draw its inspiration from will be what makes or breaks XDefiant.
Filling in the gaps
With it's hero-style factions and wide variety of customizable weapons, XDefiant slots neatly into a gap between games like Overwatch and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. It's designed to appeal to players who like to hold specific roles in objective-based multiplayer games, as well as those who prefer to have a free and varied weapon selection that isn't tied to their selected class.
Ubisoft is calling XDefiant "a game where fast-paced firefights meets punk rock mosh pits", which leads me to believe that the objective-based matches will be rather frenetic – not unlike how most Overwatch matches are. That moshpit vibe is what makes games like Overwatch wildly fun (and occasionally frustrating), but it seems Ubisoft is steering clear of the squeaky-clean energy Blizzard's hero shooter gives off. Calling something punk rock is inherently not punk, but XDefiant seems to be embracing punk vibes in its vibrant art style and characterization – there's definitely a rude emote in that trailer, right?
But XDefiant's biggest draw may be in the relationships it hopes to build with players and Ubisoft's willingness to shift to better meet community requests and demands. The announcement trailer has multiple mentions of player feedback and input, with Ubisoft executive producer Mark Rubin (who spent well over a decade at Call of Duty developer Infinity Ward) stating that the team wants to build a community where people can connect and have fun. "We want the beginning of this game's life to be very humble and focus on being transparent with our community and have them be involved in evolving the game." Rubin says in the worldwide reveal video.
Overwatch, while not free-to-play, is a great example of an ever-shifting game that leans heavily on its community to help shape gameplay and balance changes. Overwatch Experimental mode allows Blizzard to test out changes to specific characters or the overall meta. Players can hop into an Experimental match and test out the potential changes, providing feedback for Blizzard after going hands-on. Here's hoping that XDefiant will do something similar in order to achieve what Ubisoft is promising.
Tom Clancy's XDefiant is still in development and will have early roll out phases starting August 5. When it does drop, it'll be available on Xbox One, Xbox Series X, PS4, PS5, and PC and it is expected to have crossplay at launch. Head to playxdefiant.com to sign up to get in early and test it out. If XDefiant can strike a balance between all the Tom Clancy titles' gunplay and will actually shift and change based on player feedback, it could be the next big FPS title. We'll just have to wait and see.