Free-to-play Ubisoft shooter XDefiant launches with the expected matchmaking issues, but I'm having a good time

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

Ubisoft's new free-to-play competitive shooter, XDefiant, is out today, and it's unsurprisingly hit some matchmaking issues: It likes to let me sit in an empty lobby for a couple minutes before telling me "playlist doesn't exist." 

The developers have acknowledged the problem, and as of 1:30 pm Pacific, things seem to be getting better—I got into a couple matches just now. When I can play, it's running splendidly on my slightly aged RTX 2070 Super (which is what you'd hope for from a competitive FPS that isn't meant to look fancy), and I'm having fun with it.

I also enjoyed XDefiant in beta, and I was skeptical I would, since it's been characterized as a throwback to the kind of jittery Call of Duty shooting that the "MLG pro 360 no-scope" types are into—we've been calling it "sweaty" as shorthand—and these days I'm not really into competing with people who intend to make YouTube highlight reels of all the times they killed me set to Darude - Sandstorm.  

One way XDefiant's competitive focus manifests is that, outside of one introductory playlist, its casual playlists don't use skill-based matchmaking. The benefit of SBMM, it's thought, is that you'll always be up against players who are near your skill level, so each match will be a challenge, but not a stomping. It's controversial, though, because some people think it homogenizes the experience, or just doesn't work well, and it can lead to longer matchmaking queues.

If XDefiant's matchmaking speed stays as it is, we won't be able to say that omitting SBMM has sped things up, because it's very slow. But I haven't found myself being smeared into the pavement by 16-year-old esports prodigies, either. Things may change as people with casual interest drop out over time, but so far, I am willing to accept that not every game needs to try to algorithmically match me with similar K/D ratio-havers.

One thing I'm not really into right now are the factions, which endow you with special abilities, such as a cloaking suit, a healing device, or a deployable shield. They're just a different way to package the utility items or killstreak rewards you find in CoD, I suppose, but cooldown timers and ultimates feel gratuitous in a game that is otherwise focused on stripping away the excesses of modern CoD and hero shooters for more refined competitive shooting. Maybe they'll grow on me.

For this "pre-season" launch, there are several casual playlists available, and a "preview" of the ranked mode that will come with season one. There's also a premium battle pass right out of the gate, but it's just cosmetic stuff and XP boosters.

XDefiant must be acquired from the Ubisoft Store on PC, which is annoying, but c'est la vie.

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.