It can't be easy to spend years working on a game, get pumped to finally announce it, and be met with the resounding "lmao" from every corner of the internet, but such was the case of XDefiant, Ubisoft's take on Call of Duty's 6v6 arena multiplayer, when it was unveiled two years ago.
"It's fast-paced firefights meet punk rock mosh pits," proclaimed Ubisoft in its first trailer drenched in cel-shaded models and colorful graffiti. It was an awkward and incongruent tone for what was supposed to be the next Tom Clancy game, a label usually reserved for modern spec-ops action games. Roping in Clancy classics like Ghost Recon and Splinter Cell for a caffeine-laced free-to-play CoD clone didn't go down well, with longtime fans calling blasphemy and everyone else thinking Ubisoft was trying way too hard to duplicate its only live service success, Rainbow Six Siege.
Reactions were bad enough that Ubisoft went quiet on XDefiant, holding secretive playtests with community members under NDA. We wouldn't hear about XDefiant again until it briefly reemerged last year to remind us it still existed, now with revamped branding and no Tom Clancy name.
XDefiant is back once more, and I played a few matches in a press session held by Ubi. The vibes are certainly different than in 2021—I was surprised at how regular it looked compared to the early trailers. Those "punk rock moshpits" have been cemented over with sharp edges and navy blue/yellow menus. If you're going to do Call of Duty, do it right I suppose.
Other than faction abilities that echo the unique gadgets of Siege, XDefiant really is head-to-toe CoD. Some quick facts:
- 5 factions at launch: Wolves (Ghost Recon), Cleaners (The Division), Fourth Echelon (Splinter Cell), Libertad (Far Cry 6), DedSec (Watch Dogs)
- 14 launch maps: a mix of 6v6 maps and linear payload maps
- Custom loadouts
- Gunsmith with up to 7 attachment slots: optics, barrel, grip, muzzle, front rail, magazine, stock
- Quick time-to-kill: Comparable to recent Treyarch games but slower than Modern Warfare 2
- Free-to-play with a battle pass
Distilled into bullet points, XDefiant is a good FPS package. The shooting is basically fun, movement is slick, maps look nice enough. Sniper rifles are powerful quick-scope machines and there's no wallrunning or tac sprinting. This is as boots-on-the-ground, 2010-era CoD as it gets outside the Activision bubble. It's genuinely impressive that the corner of Ubisoft known for South Park RPGs and Rocksmith has built an FPS this mechanically competent out the gate.
The problem is that XDefiant is a perfectly fine shooter in a time when "fine" is a bare minimum. To me, FPSes are as much about the little things as the big things. Infinity Ward and its army of contributing studios have gotten unbelievably good at the little things. I gushed for over 300 words about the sounds and reload animations of one revolver in Modern Warfare 2. For days I was obsessed with unlocking a grip that'd let me quickdraw that revolver like a cowboy, then fixated on a laser sight that turns your gun sideways like John Wick.
In my (admittedly short) XDefiant session, I couldn't find a special hook or quality like the ones that keep me on a Call of Duty grind for dozens of hours. Guns sound distant and wimpy, attachments seem functional but forgettable, and faction abilities were rarely useful. Those linear payload maps are a decent emulation of the old Team Fortress 2 mode, but it's mostly the same meat grinder on a skinnier map.
That cringey attitude hasn't been totally stamped out, either. I jumped immediately into the DedSec faction as a big Watch Dogs fan and instantly recoiled when my hacker told a little spider bot to "live his best life" like some cartoonish zoomer caricature.
These are major problems for me, but maybe not for you. What XDefiant lacks in panache, it at least makes up for in transparency. The loadout screen exposes a whopping 15 data points for all 20-plus guns included at launch: the sort of in-depth stats that you usually have to skip past a YouTuber's Gfuel segment to see, like exact sprint-out times, recoil variance, hipfire spread, and ADS time down to the millisecond. Very cool.
It may also be enough for you that XDefiant is free. That's not surprising for a new live service game, but it is unique to an FPS niche singlehadedly dominated by $70 Call of Duty games. Creative director Safy Saada hopes XDefiant's low barrier to entry will make an impact.
"In [this] specific sub-genre, there is no offering in the free-to-play space, there are no titles out there with fast-pace, yet grounded, weaponry," Saada told PC Gamer. "And there is no offering that has that fresh feeling once a new season is out with new additions to the game."
On seasons, Ubi plans to match Call of Duty's content cadence. "At the start of a new season, we expect to have at least one new faction (which includes three characters) along with multiple maps and weapons." Those factions will be sourced from a "broad spectrum" of Ubi worlds, though Saada wouldn't get into specifics (assassin with a gun when?).
That sounds like a great pace for new stuff, though it's hard to forget the last time Ubi fully committed to an FPS. Hyper Scape was its big swing at battle royale, and that lasted less than two years before Ubi killed it. I hope for a better future for XDefiant.
Ubisoft is holding a closed beta that starts today. Access is granted via Twitch drops, check out the full list of participating channels here.