Is XDefiant a “COD Killer”?

xdefiant launch first impressions

It’s going to take a lot to knock Call of Duty off the top spot, having presided over the first person shooter for what now seems like aeons. Sure, it’s had some stiff competition over the years, and still plays second fiddle to Counter-Strike in the hardcore PC realm, though few have come close to imitating its slick modernisation of the arcade shooter. Not until XDefiant, that is.

XDefiant closely apes its power-selling counterpart with a particular focus on sharp gunplay, quick movement, and a shedload of weapon customisation options. The team at Ubisoft San Francisco have carefully replicated that Call of Duty “feel” albeit with some interesting modes and mechanics hoisted from elsewhere within the genre.

There’s a big dollop of Overwatch, as seen in XDefiant’s hero-like Factions. Based on popular Ubisoft IP including Ghost Recon, Far Cry, and even Watch Dogs, each Faction has its own unique cluster of traits including a passive power, two active powers, and an ultimate. Within these Factions are different characters though these only offer a cosmetic change, complete with their own wardrobe of outfits.

You can freely switch Factions between lives, the same way you’d change weapon loadouts in other shooters, allowing you to adopt different roles depending on the scenario. For example, you may decide to grab a sniper rifle and Echelon’s cloaking ability while defending the first checkpoint of an Escore mission. Then, if the attackers manage to force you back into a narrow network of tunnels and walkways, you may find the SMG and shotgun more useful, especially when combined with the flaming, damage-over-time powers of The Division’s Cleaners Faction.

xdefiant launch first impressions

Even with five factions at launch, there’s a nice amount of variety when it comes to player loadouts and team compositions, though Far Cry’s Libertad and their healing-focused skills aren’t super desirable during those early matches. It will certainly be interesting to see who else drops into the crossover shooter and what archetypes Ubisoft can introduce to keep the team-based gameplay and meta feeling fresh.

Let’s take a pause and quickly talk about skill-based matchmaking (SBMM). While Call of Duty has continued to reign supreme on consoles as the go-to multiplayer shooter, fans grow increasingly nostalgic for the glory days before skill-based matchmaking was introduced. On one hand, the intention of implementing SBMM makes perfect sense, throwing players together in a lobby who are evenly matched in the name of fairness. At the same time, there’s a chaotic purity to admitting players of all skill levels into the same arena. By default, unranked matches in XDefiant do away with SBMM though it becomes a necessity during ranked play, for obvious reasons.

xdefiant launch first impressions

So far the mix of well-designed maps and modes, combined with the frenetic, team-based shooting has me hooked, outgunning Activision’s past two Modern Warfare titles. There’s a subtle streamlining of elements in XDefiant, and a degree of depth that feels rewarding as opposed to superfluous or overwhelming.

Naturally, there’s some free-to-play guff to shoulder your way through. Expect microtransactions, battle passes, and a constant rotation of bundles and cosmetics to crop up, all of them optional. And while some characters are initially tucked behind a paywall, there’s an option to grind out challenges in order to unlock them if you don’t fancy spending real money. It’s exactly what you’d find in the latest Call of Duty, but without the £69.99 entrance fee.

With the launch of its first season there’s already a good slab of content to rinse and repeat, especially if you’re cycling through each of the game modes. Exactly how much stopping power XDefiant gains will depend largely on its future roadmap. Thankfully, Ubisoft is no stranger when it comes to running a successful live service, with Rainbow Six Siege making a dramatic turnaround in its first year to become one of the biggest FPS games of all time. XDefiant fans are seemingly in good hands, then, and Ubisoft will need to keep its momentum if it wants to ward off 2024’s upcoming class of shooters from this year’s Black Ops 6 to Marvel Rivals and Sony’s Concord.

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Senior Editor bursting with lukewarm takes and useless gaming trivia. May as well surgically attach my DualSense at this point.