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XDefiant is a bust so I spent my weekend having a blast in Sker Ritual

Sker Ritual is a welcome surprise to my PS5 game rotation, and I'm glad it was there as XDefiant's brief return failed to impress me.

Sker Ritual XDefiant: An image of a masked player holding the thunderbolt in Sker Ritual and an operator in XDefiant

When I’m not tapping away at my keyboard doing my duties for all the lovely readers of The Loadout, I’m fitting in time to escape to other worlds. Like many PS5 and Xbox players, I hopped in the XDefiant Server Test expecting the same dosage of FPS thrills from its previous betas, but was left incredibly cold. I’m so glad that Sker Ritual debuted alongside it, because it has completely taken me by surprise.

The road to the eventual XDefiant release date has been tough to say the least. Multiple delays and alleged launch windows have come and went, so I was hopeful that this extended wait would be worth it when I jumped into the XDefiant Server Test this weekend. Well, that’s when I actually could play it. Sure, it’s a work-in-progress build and there’s still work to be done, I get it. Yet, at least 80% of my XDefiant playtime has been spent repeatedly encountering that pesky Delta-01 error.

When I did get into matches, it was immediately apparent something was off. Movement feels far more sluggish than before, and the sheer amount of desync is bizarre. It’s a far cry away from the experience the beta’s provided, back in a time when I thought it might just have potential to be among the best FPS games with some polish. The absence of XDefiant factions like Splinter Cell’s Echelon operators is sorely missed, even more so when skirmishes take place in their HQ. It just feels also lifeless, and that’s especially true when it comes to the game’s U.I and menus.

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Even simple aspects like pre-game waiting screens showcasing your team have no juice. I’m left longing for rival multiplayer games like The Finals, an excellent shooter with considerably less resources than those available at Ubisoft. Each match feels like an event in Embark’s FPS, hyping you and your squad up to bag that cash – and look exceptionally slick doing it. So with all those issues, why is that I’ve had a blast with the charmingly, yet objectively more janky Sker Ritual instead this weekend?

Well, that’s the thing: it’s charming. On the surface, I wouldn’t blame you if you dismissed it as a shameless Call of Duty Zombies clone. I was in that same mindset when I initially saw clips of it blowing up on social media. After spending a fair few hours in each of its four maps, there’s enough of Wales Interactive’s own vision here to distinguish it from its main influence. Every locale feels lovingly crafted, coming across as a glorious stew of everything from Lovecraftian aesthetics to Hammer horror scares.

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It plays things a little too seriously sometimes, as there is a story to follow behind each map’s easter egg quest and general tone. When it does channel a schlockier tone, it reminds me why COD Zombies became the phenomenon it did in the first place. Sker Ritual cherry-picks what players loved about recent COD Zombies experiences, like Black Ops Cold War’s upgrade system, or World at War’s simplicity on doing just one: surviving. There’s even a difficulty selector in-game, making it more approachable for players of all skill levels. Sker Ritual’s very evident passion for the game mode Wales Interactive is leaning on is clear, and that enriches battle against the undead.

And like I said, it really is janky. Performance issues are very prevalent at higher rounds, leading to some pretty huge frame drops. Matches begin with an FMV that wouldn’t look out of a place in an early PS3 or Xbox 360 game. Enemy AI isn’t exactly on point, either. I can let all this slide, though, as there’s a co-op game experience that has really taken me by surprise. If you were let down by MW3 Zombies‘ transition to an open world game format, then this is pure back-to-basics chaos.

XDefiant and Sker Ritual are very different games in the same genre, but the latter showcases why atmosphere and charm are so important. If I can feel a tangible sense of love and appreciation for the genre or the game’s design ethos, then sometimes it is enough to keep otherwise frustrating elements like bugs or glitches from hindering the overall experience. I dare say that even Treyarch could learn a thing or two when it comes to return of COD Zombies in the forthcoming entry to the long-running franchise.

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