Behind its identikit theme and terrible name, XDefiant is the perfect antidote to those tired of Call of Duty’s modern-day bloat

XDefiant promo art - three XDefiant soldiers and an XDefiant robot dog charging at an enemy
(Image credit: Ubisoft)

I’m having fun with XDefiant. There are caveats, but sometimes simplicity is best, something that Ubisoft seems to have grasped with the release of it’s newest free-to-play FPS, which incomprehensibly pits nameless mooks from the developer’s collection of franchises against each other in tense player vs player arena brawls that are fast-paced and just the right side of overwhelming. 

As someone hurtling towards his mid-30s and desperately nostalgic for a time when I could play Call of Duty without having to remember which of this season’s handful of new weapons I'm supposed to be using for a scant competitive advantage, XDefiant’s compact initial offering is exciting. 24 weapons, split between a few different categories and unlocked by simple challenges like “kill an enemy from far away” and “hipfire your foes to death like the warrior you are” feels just enticing enough to get my lizard brain invested, while weapon progression is slow enough that it actually makes sense.

Players sick of having to dodge six killstreak rewards and some pleb with a sword every time they drop into a match will probably feel excited here too. Each faction has the choice between two different abilities and an ultra (think Overwatch’s ultimate ability), but outside of this there’s nothing that can shape a match in the same way as an AC-130. Ultra abilities charge slowly enough that you’ll only see a couple a match, and they give you a tiny hero moment when you use them in the situation where they are strongest. 

With only five factions, you can feasibly learn all of their abilities and ultras just by seeing them in play. I haven’t touched a tutorial and have barely read a tooltip, and it’s easy to know that the faction full of lycra-clad ninjas are stealthy, while the guys in bastardised firefighters' gear are here to set me and everyone else I care about on fire. 

Thinking about it logically, the factions make no sense. Have you ever wanted to play as the resistance fighter that shows up in a car after you clear an outpost in Far Cry 6? No? That’s okay, nor has anyone else. But the faction you choose determines the in-game announcer you get and is also a clear visual indicator of the sort of thing you’re capable of. This makes fights a lot more readable. I still think the idea of some sort of FPS MultiVersus starring only the other guys from Ubisoft’s stable of games is silly, but the team working on XDefiant has managed to blend things in without it all being A Bit Too Much.


(Image credit: Ubisoft)

In fact, the only thing that’s Too Much about XDefiant is its stupid name - a name so bad it deserves to be written on a big whiteboard in Ubisoft’s office with “???? NO'' written underneath. A name so terrible I’m giving myself this one joke in the hope I'll be able to type it again without rolling my eyes, a gambit that has so far been unsuccessful. 

"Have you ever wanted to play as the resistance fighter that shows up in a car after you clear an outpost in Far Cry 6? No? That’s okay, nor has anyone else."

Otherwise, the game feels compact and nuisance free enough that it’s a breath of fresh air. A sense of overwhelm—a game drowning you in stuff to unlock, experience or beat—feels increasingly ever-present in the live games space, but here things feel more like 2007’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, where there’s a few meaningful challenges to get stuck into, but the focus is otherwise rightly on shooting the bad guys. This is good news for Ubisoft, a company that has been trying to land a win with a free-to-play shooter seemingly forever, but also for us, the players. Right now the shooter market is crowded with AAA offerings that promise the moon but end up feeling like busywork. 

It’s the perfect antidote to the bloat we’re seeing in other modern day shooters, and it’s free to play. So there’s no reason not to give it a go. However, as Morgan always says, it probably won’t be that long until it’s full of novelty skins or comedy kill effects that ruin the simplicity.