I can't stop playing XDefiant, and neither have thousands of other players.

XDefiant screenshots at launch.
(Image credit: Cole Martin/Windows Central)

XDefiant launched just last week, and I can't get enough. For those unaware, it's Mark Rubin's first creation since leaving Infinity Ward as their Executive Producer in 2015. Under Ubisoft, Mark has created something special, at least to me. Others would agree with me as well, while some wouldn't. It's almost as if XDefiant's launch is as divisive as any Call of Duty release.

XDefiant doesn't rely on gimmicks or unique selling points. It's not about constructing strategic blast zones like The Finals or implementing complex class strategies like Rainbow Six Siege. Instead, it's a game that dares to challenge the dominance of Call of Duty, focusing on pure arcade shooter mechanics.

It's the tight-knit bunny hopping, slide-cancelling movement, the predetermined recoil patterns, and the plethora of meta-altering weapons that bring back a wave of nostalgia, reminding me of the good old Modern Warfare 2 days. No, not you, Call of Duty 2023; I'm talking about the 2009 edition. Back when Lady Gaga had just started talking about her poker face. That's the Call of Duty I remember and the feeling XDefiant manages to bring back.

Now, granted, there are class abilities thrown in as well. So it's not totally OG Call of Duty, but it's nothing ground-breaking. If anything, these skills and abilities bring us back to another Call of Duty that attempted to chase Overwatch, Black Ops 4. These abilities don't feel completely overpowered, either. At most, you'll generate an ultimate twice in a single match, which is hard to do consistently. Well-timed ultimates can be game-changing but entirely counterable by the enemy.

Everything in this game is meticulously balanced. Shields are quickly gunned down or hackable, intel is countered by your own team using the same ability, and ultimates can be shut down by quickly crafted counterplay. There's nothing I point my finger to and say, "that's overpowered and needs to go immediately." Well, almost.

What I love

I rock the name WhoDnee, it's just a Slim chance Eminem dropped Houdini. (Image credit: Future via Michael Hoglund)

Skill-based matchmaking

The article wouldn't be an XDefiant opinion piece without talking about skill-based matchmaking: the blight or savior of games like Call of Duty, Overwatch 2, and other games with casual playlists. The idea, so to speak, is to match players against others that align with their skill set. Good players face good players, and not-so-good players face not-so-good players.

The matchmaking algorithm has led to some rather interesting discussions, especially with the Call of Duty crowd. While developers have said some sort of SBMM has been present in Call of Duty for years, the first time I noticed it was in the Modern Warfare (2019) reboot. It was there that players demonstrated "reverse boosting," where players would purposely play terribly in order to get matched against users who were playing equally badly. Watching them play the following game, it was like they were playing NPCs in rookie mode.

For many players, this has made us feel penalized for playing well. Go off in a couple of games, where you lead your team to a few wins, and you're met with some ultra-sweats over the next few matches. The back and forth led to me constantly having to use the best weapons, or whatever was meta, in order to even have an ounce of enjoyment while playing. No more was I allowed to try new weapon combos or attempt to level up my god-awful shotguns. Instead, it was whatever assault rifle or SMG was meta at the time.

I'm in the upper 5% of the player base, so most people I've talked about this with ignore my complaints, but the criticisms I've heard come from more than just the folks at the top. Many in the middle are also frustrated by a system they feel punishes them. Having a great game while being a player of average skill means your next game would be met with players who average your best. One fun game could lead to getting absolutely trounced on.

I have more anecdotal evidence, but my experience with SBMM has influenced my personal life. It's affected my friends to the point that they either stopped playing games like Call of Duty or chose not to play with me at all because playing with me means competing with players well beyond their skill level in every single match. There is no reprieve for them.

Even games where I do great end up being close due to the matchmaking algorithm. (Image credit: Future via Michael Hoglund)

See, SBMM doesn't always care who you're playing with. Real-life friends, who might admittedly find themselves in the bottom 25% of players, struggle with kills against the top 10%. It's not fun for them to even consider playing alongside me. I can't jump into a match on a game like Call of Duty with my friends anymore. At least, not until last week.

XDefiant removes this system and replaces it with a balancing algorithm before the game starts. No more are players matched into lobbies where everyone is of similar skill sets. Instead, a random set of players are brought in based on location. Once matched, they're paired based on a hidden skill rating that only the player can see themselves. This matching, in turn, gives each team a set of good players to compete.

The friends I play with now find themselves being able to find kills in my lobbies. They're having fun. While they square off against a mixed bag of players, they find themselves amazed at how some gamers play while still being able to celebrate their victories over others. It's led to us having that water-cooler chatter during the day, where we talk about XDefiant while working, only getting ourselves excited to play later in the evening. It hasn't been that way with any other FPS in years.

Another close game! (Image credit: Future via Michael Hoglund)

While I understand the need for SBMM, it's something that many dedicated and average players want removed from casual playlists. In our minds, that's why ranked playlists exist. If players want to compete with others of a similar level of play, play ranked.

XDefiant currently doesn't have a working SBMM system for ranking; it will be when the first season launches, but the Welcome Playlist is in its place. For new players level 25 and below, this playlist has SBMM enabled. This means that even if you're new, you'll match up against folks who play at whatever level you play at. While some players might have an advantage of better weapons they've unlocked, it takes little time to catch up and use these guns yourself. The game's default classes are pretty good, too.

I love the idea of a Welcome playlist, and XDefiant could expand even further, enabling a casual SBMM playlist for those who want it. I see nothing wrong with adding something like this to the game. So long as those differences are labeled appropriately, it would be a system everyone could be happy with.

One caveat that I will mention is that games can be dominated by full squads. It's not something you'll encounter in every game, but it's something to be aware of.

Factions and just playing

Skins are dope, but kind of expensive. (Image credit: Future via Michael Hoglund)

XDefiant | Free to play

XDefiant is an ambitious free-to-play effort from Ubisoft that combines arena and hero shooter gameplay with more arcade-based PvP gunplay. Factions from popular Ubisoft IP help to bring familiarity and nostalgia to the battleground.

Available now: Xbox | PlayStation | Ubisoft+

What I love even more about XDefiant is the pull from Ubisoft's classic franchises. Currently, XDefiant pulls from The Division, Far Cry, Splinter Cell, Watch Dogs, and Ghost Recon. Taking Far Cry, for example, they currently use the Libertad faction from Far Cry 6. Seen as healers, their skills revolve around keeping teammates and themselves alive. Boosting their healing, as well as those of others around them.

The system leaves them open to use other factions or groups, not only from Far Cry 6, but any of the other entries from the franchise. Imagine Far Cry: New Dawn or Far Cry 5, for example, where the faction skills are founded on mutations or hallucination powers. Perhaps the enemy sees clones or can call in an AI companion like a gun-for-hire. Using a single game as the foundation creates so many opportunities already. I can't imagine the depth of what's possible when using the entire roster.

With the growing roster of games from Assassin's Creed, Far Cry, Rainbow Six, and other beloved franchises like Skull and Bones (that's a joke), they already have a never-ending well of extraordinary abilities to draw from. The work behind forging ideas is already done; all they need to do is execute them in ways that don't fundamentally spoil the game. That never happens in arcade shooters, right?

What I don't love

Don't mess with me, kids! (Image credit: Future via Michael Hoglund)

It's been announced that some balancing patches are on the way; things aren't working quite as intended. As mentioned by Mark on Twitter, multiple times, sniper flinch is currently not working how he and his team want it to. I'd have to agree, considering it's the only gun I consistently lose to at range. Picking up my own sniper, and it's easy to see what the fuss is all about.

Zoomed in and on target, but getting shot by an ACR? No problem, there's hardly any flinch to throw off your shot. Before you go saying, "Ah, well, you're just bad at sniping." I was legitimately 167-0 in 1v1 quickscope matches on Modern Warfare 2, again, the old one. No, I'm not making that up. I even remember the one person who was closest to beating me and what map it was. Highrise for those curious. There are only a few times in my life when I get to brag about being good at video games. Quick scoping and Rainbow Six Vegas 2 are those times.

As for movement, while it's primarily decent, we need to talk about the damn bunny-hopping situation. A penalty needs to be put in place for players who consistently spam the jump button. I get that bunny-hopping is a thing, and even I do it, but not to the extent I've seen it. I feel like some PC players legitimately wrote a script to spam jump whenever they pull the trigger.

There are indeed some tiny hitches with the net code, too. These are things that, to me, are forgivable. I understand that Ubisoft isn't some tiny company, but they've also never made an arcade-style shooter. They're also not Activision, with decades of experience across multiple studios. Acknowledging these issues is essential to ensure the game's continuous improvement. At the same time, we need to understand the complexity behind the issues themselves.

Prior to launch, Mark Rubin announced that they had entirely reworked the net code. Given that, I wouldn't expect it to launch smoothly without a hitch. In fact, I expected it to be a lot worse. So far, I haven't personally seen some of the diabolical hit register issues others have faced, but I've definitely died from behind a corner far more often than I'd like to.

Let 'em cook

You can "cook" in the game, too. (Image credit: Future via Michael Hoglund)

Do you want to know what the studio behind XDefiant did before? Ubisoft San Francisco, the team responsible for the title, created Rocksmith and South Park: The Fractured but Whole. That's right, with multiple studios who've worked on shooters like Ghost Recon, The Division, and Rainbow Six, Mark Rubin was given a support studio at Ubisoft to make this game.

I've noticed a lot of comments dismissing it as a mere Call of Duty copycat. Interestingly, some of these same critics are also suggesting features like killstreaks, kill cams, a Battle Royale mode, and perks for XDefiant. It's kind of cringe, to say the least. Personally, I think it's best to give the game some time to evolve. See where it goes, and help direct something fresh in the arcade shooter genre. We don't need an exact copy of Call of Duty. We need someone to compete with them.

Mark Rubin and his team at Ubisoft's B-tier studio have achieved phenomenal results. They've managed to create something remarkable against the odds. Ubisoft took a chance on this project, and it seems to have resonated with gamers looking for an alternative to Call of Duty. I know it's captured me.

Michael Hoglund

Michael has been gaming since he was five when his mother first bought a Super Nintendo from Blockbuster. Having written for a now-defunct website in the past, he's joined Windows Central as a contributor to spreading his 30+ years of love for gaming with everyone he can. His favorites include Red Dead Redemption, all the way to the controversial Dark Souls 2.