To upstage CoD, XDefiant needs living maps that lean on Ubisoft’s heritage

To upstage CoD, XDefiant needs living maps that lean on Ubisoft’s heritage
Antony Terence Updated on by

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Another XDefiant server test session just ended and while its focus was on ‘melting the servers,’ we got a good look at its accessible, if CoD-like, approach to the FPS genre. Despite Ubisoft-flavored flourishes like factions and skills from the publisher’s back catalogue, we found it lacking when it came to standing apart in a hotly contested space. With shooters like The Finals and Helldivers 2 carving out dedicated fan bases from the crowd, XDefiant needs something to reel players in. XDefiant is already leaning on its gold ticket to relevance – its past. 

There’s plenty of variety in its factions, with rebels from Far Cry’s Libertad tackling Splinter Cell’s Echelon unit (pulled mid-test due to broken invisibility) and Watch Dogs’ DedSec across familiar Ubi arenas. The Division’s Cleaners and Ghost Recon Phantoms make an appearance as well. But while the maps are great with sightlines and tight corners, you can’t tell them apart from other FPS games from recent memory. To transport players to genuine Ubisoft-grade worlds, XDefiant needs more than visual quirks. They need NPCs. Hear me out.

XDefiant living environments: A player faces multiple enemies in a crowded space. Image captured by VideoGamer.
XDefiant packs plenty of tight corridors and open spaces. Image captured by VideoGamer.

For instance, the Pueblito map’s lush jungles have been pulled straight out of Far Cry 6. It looks great and sets the stage for all kinds of gunfights. But it doesn’t surprise you with a beast at every corner. And its occasional silence is split only by gunfire, not by the armored trucks and vehicles the franchise is known for. While I’m not asking for another game inside a game, adding neutral NPCs is a smaller, if challenging ask. This isn’t the first time an FPS title has implemented this. Titanfall and its celebrated sequel featured minion bots, offering more ways to contribute to a multiplayer match. 

Sure, knocking down a grunt isn’t the same as besting a player but it can help boost a team’s score. XDefiant’s lack of SBMM means that we encountered players of all skill levels during our time with the test session. Novices and outgunned allies could resort to taking down NPC threats if enemy players prove difficult to overcome. This framework could be applied across all of XDefiant’s Ubi-inspired maps. 

It doesn’t have to end at NPCs. Scattering the occasional hazard could give players map-specific quirks to account for. Think Splinter Cell’s laser grids and DedSec’s gizmos. Set routes could have insta-kill vehicles zooming past, making for temporary cover and an unreliable ally. And who can say no to the ol’ reliable explosive red barrel? Rogue enemies and unique environmental hazards could serve as a tangible way for players to connect with XDefiant’s maps.

XDefiant living environments: A team stands in a line after a loss, showing their stats. Image captured by VideoGamer.
Factions let you spice up your loadout. Image captured by VideoGamer.

Desync and hit registry issues from the test session can be resolved with time and effort. There’s no denying that the game has decent gunplay and customization. Removing skill-based matchmaking took its lobbies back to the old Team Fortress 2 days. Players of all skill levels kept matches from being too sweaty. A look at its roadmap shows that the game will be supported by more guns, modes, and even factions with time. 

But a competent FPS that feels safe can’t break the grip of games like destruction-fueled The Finals and the collective campaign of Helldivers 2. Living environments could help XDefiant make more engaging maps than its rivals. They could lean on Ubisoft’s past, a trove that the game’s factions and abilities are already drawing from. There’s no release date in sight and as Ubisoft bunkers down to refine its free-to-play FPS, I hope they make XDefiant more exciting for Ubisoft veterans and newcomers.