Fans of a sweatier Call of Duty are championing Ubisoft's free-to-play XDefiant

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

The closed beta for upcoming Ubisoft FPS XDefiant managed to attract more eyeballs on Twitch last week than Warzone 2—not bad for a game that was heckled into a hole a couple years ago when it was first announced as a Tom Clancy game.

XDefiant reemerged this year with less Clancy branding, and at just the right time. The 6v6 shooter's totally radical Ubi-tude hasn't gotten more appealing, but the loudest discourse around Modern Warfare 2 and Warzone 2 right now says that Call of Duty has lost its way—that it's too casual—and XDefiant is seizing the moment. Part way through this beta, it's being championed by streamers and esports-types as the return of early 2010s-style Call of Duty they've been waiting for.

XDefiant is fast, and players have readily taken to the erratic movement techniques that Call of Duty has somewhat downplayed. Red dots appear on the minimap to mark the location of gunfire, a controversial omission in Modern Warfare 2. And although teams are balanced according to hidden MMR, there's no skill-based matchmaking in casual matches. If there's one thing FPS players like to gripe about on Reddit, it's SBMM.

Ubisoft is playing to the crowd here: "No #SBMM in casual? We know a game," it tweeted last October. XDefiant executive producer Mark Rubin, who produced the original Modern Warfare and Modern Warfare 2, has also been earning points on social media for his communicativeness.

It's not all back-to-the-2010s for XDefiant, which includes special abilities (though many are similar to things you'll find in CoDs) and comprehensive gun customization with 15 data points (nothing as excessive as the Gunsmith customizer in today's Call of Dutys). It's also free-to-play, which 6v6 Call of Duty isn't, since unlike spin-off Warzone, those modes are still bundled with each year's campaign in what's now a $70 package.

Former Call of Duty creative strategist Robert Bowling called XDefiant "a refinement" of what Call of Duty used to be back in the original Modern Warfare days.

"COD made a choice to move away from it's roots and origins, it's expanded to be an 'everything shooter,'" Bowling tweeted. "XDefiant knows what it is and does it well."

Many others are praising XDefiant, especially for its movement, but plenty are making fun of it, too:

The prevalence of 'Call of Duty is bad now' discourse doesn't mean it's unpopular: Modern Warfare 2 is the 6th most played game on Steam right now. It could just be that it's only popular with people like me: Aging, likes fiddling with stupid laser attachments, uninterested in playing against people who have special names for their movement techniques. We are many, clearly.

I did have fun briefly checking out XDefiant today, although if I'm going to do as well as I can in present-day CoD, I may need to start drinking 20 oz Red Bulls again like it's the 2000s. Morgan checked it out, too, and also thinks it has promise, but wonders if it has enough sparkle to be a phenomenon. Other new, competitive shooters have struggled to catch on—Diabotical, as a lesser-known example—and nothing feels like a sure thing. Ubisoft at least has a track record of sticking with games even if they struggle, as it did with Rainbow Six Siege and For Honor.

You can still register for the XDefiant beta on the official site for a chance to try it. It runs until April 23.

Tyler Wilde
Executive Editor

Tyler grew up in Silicon Valley during the '80s and '90s, playing games like Zork and Arkanoid on early PCs. He was later captivated by Myst, SimCity, Civilization, Command & Conquer, all the shooters they call "boomer shooters" now, and PS1 classic Bushido Blade (that's right: he had Bleem!). Tyler joined PC Gamer in 2011, and today he's focused on the site's news coverage. His hobbies include amateur boxing and adding to his 1,200-plus hours in Rocket League.