Image: Activision
Image: Activision

Modern Warfare is almost halfway through its one-year lifecycle, and the annual shooter has made great strides to become a better Call of Duty.

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare launched on October 25, bringing changes the community sought for many years: ditching paid passes to bring free maps for everyone and crossplay between PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. But these huge victories still came at a price, as Modern Warfare wasn’t the online experience many were hoping for. 2019’s Call of Duty pushed its playerbase to go Battlefield-size big, despite the series’s reputation for thriving in close-quarters chaos.

I’ve personally been really critical of Modern Warfare’s multiplayer since last year’s beta. Over the years Call of Duty’s evolved into a much faster-paced experience, but developers Infinity Ward unraveled much of that evolution with a handful of changes to this latest game’s multiplayer.

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At launch, Modern Warfare’s online experience consisted of mostly large, campy maps designed with several doors that you could open and close, making it common to burst through doors only to be caught off-guard by a player lying in wait. Modern Warfare also introduced a new mounting feature that allowed you to mount any gun against a wall or door frame for better accuracy. Changes to the iconic mini-map reduced your map intel, further altering the game’s pace. Infinity Ward clearly wanted to slow down player movement to foster a more tactical experience.

I’ve heard from quite a few players who enjoy the game’s change of pace. Some say they’re from the older generation of Call of Duty players, while others tell me they play the game with parents who fare better with the slower, tactical style of this multiplayer. I think it’s awesome that so many folks are having an enjoyable experience this year.

However, Modern Warfare’s launch left the other half of the playerbase unsated and pining for the hectic arcade action they’ve grown accustomed to. The pace not only felt too slow, but the game launched without enough standard 6v6 maps, with the map count split between bigger maps designed for the new 10v10 and 20v20 modes. There were also even larger maps for the 32v32 Ground War mode. Ground War is actually pretty great, but Modern Warfare released like it was trying to be Call of Duty: Battlefield Warfare, leaving only scraps for the diehard fanbase that just wanted normal 6v6 matches.

Luckily, it seems Infinity Ward is listening to feedback and working to try and keep everyone happy. The game still offers plenty of playlists designated for fans of Modern Warfare’s intended slow and methodical pace, but now also features maps and playlists that supply fast action for the other half. The new, small maps “Shoot-House,” “Shipment,” and “Rust” are perfect for close-quarters chaos, and usually enjoy their own dedicated playlists. “Khandor Hideout,” the last map of Season Two, is just slightly bigger, and definitely tailored for quick 6v6 gunplay.

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Image: Activision “Rust”
Image: Activision “Rust”

Infinity Ward’s also been doing a great job providing a rotation of limited-time game modes that keep Modern Warfare’s multiplayer feeling fresh. And while the developers weren’t going to edit out all of those pesky, exasperating doors, some of these game modes seem designed to draw campers out of their tents. “Cranked” and “Cranked Confirmed” are must-plays for anyone who yearns for more chaos in their gunfights. Originally introduced in Call of Duty: Ghosts, Cranked brings an explosive twist to Modern Warfare. Your first kill upon spawning will initiate a 30-second timer, tasking you with chaining kills and assists together to reset the clock and avoid exploding. This forces everyone to come out of hiding to seek more kills, because no one (quite understandably) wants to go kablooey.

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Modern Warfare’s garnered criticism for its drip-style release of content, but I think a constant, slow feed isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We often saw 2018’s Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 drop a huge content update but then lapse into radio silence for a chunk of time thereafter, letting the game go stale between events. Modern Warfare’s “content season” usually gets teased with a roadmap, then drops some maps and modes at launch, and sprinkles in more content throughout the season. As a result, the flow of content felt much more consistent this year.

A bigger criticism of the DLC is the fact that several maps have been remakes of Modern Warfare-series classics, and while this doesn’t bother me personally, not everyone’s been thrilled over getting rehashed locations in their free maps. Season Three just launched today with “Backlot” from Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and we already have “Crash,” “Vacant,” and “Shipment” from the same game.

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In terms of rewards, Modern Warfare’s Battle Pass system is still a healthier way to include cosmetics than the loot boxes of previous years. The Battle Pass continues to offer all DLC weapons in the “free” stream, so there’s still little pressure to buy into the $10 premium Pass. That said, those premium rewards have greatly improved since Season One’s Pass.

Image: Activision “Season Three Roadmap”
Image: Activision “Season Three Roadmap”
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As for Modern Warfare’s cooperative Spec-Ops missions, there’s really not much to salvage. Infinity Ward used several updates over the past six months to fix a lot of bugs that plagued the mode at launch, but even with less frustrating bugs, its open-world, four-player co-op missions aren’t very fun to play. There’s really not even an incentive to replay them. Perhaps some completionists out there will still want to finish all the missions, so this might be a good time to give the mode another go. If you’ve already beaten each mission, congratulations! There’s no reason to ever play them again. Infinity Ward seems aware of players’ lack of enthusiasm for Spec-Ops, as it quietly left the mode out of Season Two content, and now Season Three as well.

While Spec-Ops fails to capture much entertainment value, the newly introduced Warzone” mode succeeds in adapting the battle royale genre into Call of Duty’s arcade style of action. A free-to-play addition to Modern Warfare, Warzone simplifies the looting and healing processes that generally come with battle royale, leading to a ton of over-the-top action in a mode that’s easy to pick up and play. One downfall was that the mode launched as trios only, which felt like an odd team number, even if the math works out better for a 150-player count. The developers have since added a solo option for that true battle royale feeling of one against many, and a four-player “Quads” playlist has replaced trios with the arrival of Season Three.

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Infinity Ward also announced that a forthcoming, much-needed update will improve the battle royale mode’s ground loot variety. Despite Modern Warfare’s wide range of guns and attachments, Warzone’s struggled with a fairly limited pool of weapons to find on the ground or in random supply caches. The quality of ground loot will be even more crucial now that the Season Three update’s increased the price of buying your custom loadouts to a hefty $10,000.

Warzone is a fantastic addition to Modern Warfare, but it already has a huge hacker problem. Infinity Ward announced a review and ban system is in place to counter the cheaters, but hacking remains far too common. The developers need to take more serious measures if they intend Warzone to thrive beyond the yearly game cycle.

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Overall, Modern Warfare continues to improve, upping the initial replay value we saw at launch. Infinity Ward’s dedication to updates for multiplayer and Warzone playlists has me coming back to Modern Warfare a lot more than I expected. I love a ton of the limited-time modes, which make the game’s grind much more enjoyable. Warzone hackers aside, and no matter if you love large-scale warfare or small-map shenanigans, there’s really no better time than the present to play Modern Warfare.

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