With Christmas looming around the corner, one game is likely going to dominate Christmas lists up and down the land, just like it always does: Call of Duty. Modern Warfare has been out for over a month, and it’s a mostly welcome return to Call of Duty’s roots after years of exo-suits, wall-running, operator abilities and god damn zombies, but even a month or so after launch, it still has plenty of glaring issues, even a few new ones.
Modern Warfare takes Call of Duty back to a contemporary world, with a present day setting pulling from real world events, sometimes in the wrong way. The soft reboot isn’t exactly a reinvention of what it means to be a Call of Duty game, not by a long shot, but it’s refreshing to see the franchise strip back a lot of its more unnecessary layers to focus on what attracted players to the series in the first place. It’s why it’ll be even more heartbreaking when Battle Passes and cosmetic microtransactions flood the in-game store in a few weeks.
The Campaign mode has made a comeback this year, following its noticable omission from Black Ops 4, and it’s brilliant. Arguably, it’s one of the best of the series. The story isn’t breaking new ground, as a shipment of illegal chemical gas has fallen into the wrong hands and our heroes have to figure out what’s going on, but it’s the way the story is told that’s more impressive.
Missions like Clean House and The Wolf’s Den, which see you and your squad launch a tactical siege on an enemy hideout, offer incredible tension, making for some standout moments. Both levels consist of enemy and unknown combatants, so it’s on you to assess the situation as you breach from room to room, staying on your toes to make sure those unknown combatants don’t reach for the gun while your back is turned.
Meanwhile, levels like Highway of Death and Old Comrades pose the question of how far you’re willing to go in order to accomplish your goals. Do you pervert your beliefs by stooping to the enemy’s level, utilising their tactics against them? If you’re becoming the reason why “the enemy is scared of the dark”, and you start “drawing the line where you need it”, are you still a good guy?
It feels more refined and understated for the most part, dealing with the morality of war and how those caught up in it attempt to justify crossing lines for the purpose of completing their mission; a pursuit that often corrupts even the most noble. The latter half of the game certainly ends up as bombastic as you’d expect, but for the most part, the overall journey is downplayed and visceral by comparison, which is fantastic.
Unfortunately, it’s not without controversy. The Highway of Death mission and setting takes inspiration from a real life situation during the First Gulf War where US forces decimated Iraqi troops retreating from Kuwait via Highway 80, also known as the Highway of Death. During the campaign, a similar event is referenced, except it’s the Russians who are responsible. Many have considered this to be an attempt to rewrite history and gloss over American atrocities, even if the game focuses on a fictional country rather than a real one.
For a game that’s designed to highlight that war creates more villains than heroes, Modern Warfare isn’t exactly comfortable casting those aspersions on the Americans, which seems strange when the series’ most memorable villain was an American General that wanted to perpetuate war in order to drive up army recruitment rates. Modern Warfare has no issues portraying the SAS as the folks who’ll do the “dirty work”, yet the Americans come out looking squeaky clean. It just feels wrong.
If Modern Warfare stuck to the real life history, it would have acknowledged the actual tragedy it’s taken inspiration from while also creating a more nuanced story. The Urzikstani Militia start out as paranoid of America’s attempts to help in their war with Russia, and that shaky initial relationship would be given more foundation had their previous attempts led to the Highway of Death. The Russians in Modern Warfare, particularly General Barkov, are almost comically villainous, so this change in the current narrative would at least adjust the scales somewhat.
Either way, the campaign this year is an absolute success and well worth checking out. It’s clear that this Modern Warfare reboot will have sequels, as the last cutscene plays out like the Avengers assembling, but that’s fine. Another campaign like this is a welcome one. It’s the rest of the game that’s currently letting the rest of the package down, particularly the Spec Ops mode.
A continuation of the campaign mode, Spec Ops is a collection of co-op missions revolving around the city of Verdansk. You team up with three other players to take on a variety of objectives on larger, more open maps, which sounds like it could be a lot of fun, especially for those who are tired of the constant onslaught of Zombies.
Each one of the game’s missions throws an almost insurmountable amount of infinitely spawning enemies at you and your squad. Your team will be besieged on all sides by wave after wave of enemies and they don’t. Stop. Spawning. There’s no moment to rest, and it makes pushing forward, retreating or holding ground a bothersome task.
The mode is also quite glitchy, with vegetation spawning inside of buildings or the UI glitching to make it look like you’re spectating yourself while you’re still alive. Wrap your head around that one. The munitions system allows you to call in various assets that you find during the level that can turn the tide in your favour, but during one mission attempt, the system glitched and wouldn’t let me call in airstrikes or place ammo boxes, hamstringing the whole squad.
Modern Warfare is aiming to be a live service game, as more Spec Ops missions have arrived with the launch of Season 1, so it’s clear that the mode will be refined along the way, but right now it’s the worst part of the game by a country mile. Unless you’ve got three friends and you’re looking for an excuse to put your fist through a wall, Spec Ops currently has nothing worth your attention.
Even with the new missions though, the mode hasn’t received as many patches or updates when compared to the multiplayer, suggesting that Spec Ops is more of an afterthought than anything else. Aside from the operators you can unlock for your multiplayer and co-op character, there’s little reason to engage with Spec Ops.
As for the multiplayer, it’s your standard Call of Duty affair, with new weapons, perks, equipment and killstreaks drip-fed to you as you progress through the levels. For any returning player, Modern Warfare should feel immediately familiar, until you hit Rank 55 and start levelling up your Officer Rank instead of hitting a new Prestige. That’s a weird one.
Instead of prestiging, the main progression system in Modern Warfare concerns your weapons as you level up your guns to unlock dozens of new attachments. Players can add up to 5 attachments to their guns, from new sights to stocks, ammo and perks, allowing players to truly customise guns to their specifications. Honestly, the amount of attachments might be a bit excessive, but it’s a great way of constantly dangling that carrot of new unlocks in front of you.
After level 55, you enter the Officer Rank grind of trying to level up to Rank 155 in a limited time. The rank resets back to level 55 after every season, so you’ve got your work cut out for you. While the Officer Ranks offer very little in the way of their own rewards, there are bonus challenges along the way and weapon blueprints to earn if you hit the top level.
The ability to peek around corners easily slows down the pace somewhat, as players are more easily able to lock down sight lines and lanes effectively. That said, you can still run and gun like you would in any other Call of Duty game, and the new Tactical Sprint feature means you can traverse the maps quicker than other “boots on the ground” Call of Duty games.
Currently, the playlists on offer aren’t as complete as other Call of Duty games, or even what was initially promised. Modes like Capture the Flag, One in the Chamber and Prop Hunt are absent. Kill Confirmed and Hardpoint were originally resigned to custom games, but have since become available as part of the core playlists, so a steady supply of new game types should keep players interested for the foreseeable future.
That said, some game types like Gun Game have found their way into the rotation only to disappear with the launch of Season 1. It’d be nice to see the more “fun” or silly game types, like Gun Game, the upcoming Infected game type and legacy game types such as One In The Chamber and Prop Hunt, find their way into a matchmaking playlist of their own.
Furthermore, the much hyped night time mode doesn’t have a playlist of its own right now, though Infinity Ward have confirmed that the playlist will be available at some point. The maps have managed to sneak their way into the regular matchmaking pool, but that leads to its own problems. Considering how wildly different the night time maps play in comparison to regular Call of Duty, their inclusion in regular matchmaking is unwanted, and they’d be better served as part of a playlist of their own.
As for the new modes that are currently available, the 10 v 10 and Ground War modes aren’t personally as enjoyable as “vanilla” Call of Duty. The maps are too large and open to sustain the traditional run and gun gameplay the series is known for, instead promoting long distance sniping engagements. Meanwhile, flanking an opponent takes forever because of the map size and there’s so many more places to get shot from, making the experience more frustrating than enjoyable.
Some people might prefer the large scale battle that Ground War offers more than regular Call of Duty, so your mileage may vary here, but for my tastes, if I wanted to play a massive multiplayer shooter filled with vehicles and carnage, I’d play Battlefield, or even Star Wars: Battlefront. In Call of Duty, it just seems a little out of place.
Gunfight, Modern Warfare’s 2v2 cage match style mode, is a revelation. A round-based affair, both teams are given the same randomised loadout and must wipe out the other team. It’s simple but effective, making for an experience where you’re constantly on edge and victory is far from certain. One botched play can turn a 2v1 advantage into a defeat screen in no time flat. Sure, Gunfight brings out the drop-shotting, jump-around-corner tryhards, but iron sharpens iron after all.
The new Realism playlist isn’t utilised in the best way possible. Essentially, the game’s HUD is completely disabled, sort of like how Hardcore works, except with no hit markers, XP notifications or kill feeds. Oh, and enemies soak bullets normally, instead of taking increased damage a la Hardcore. It’s just a confusing addition to the game, especially when Hardcore offers a similar experience that’s more user friendly and rewarding to play.
The mode also highlights how essential hit markers have become to the online multiplayer experience as they’re a fantastic way of providing immediate feedback when shooting an enemy. Once they’re removed, you start feeling more unsure about whether you’re actually doing damage. Hell, I even missed them in the Campaign.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a modern Call of Duty game without a bevy of post-launch microtransactions, and Modern Warfare is absolutely no exception. With the launch of Season 1 comes a premium store filled with weapon blueprints, cosmetic items, new skins and more. It’s your standard CoD Store, though all the items involved are cosmetic.
There’s also the introduction of a Battle Pass, because of course there is. It wouldn’t be a current generation multiplayer shooter without a Battle Pass of some kind. The pass contains 100 tiers of rewards, with 20 reward tiers free to all players, and a premium version of the pass unlocks the first 20 tiers right off the bat.
About Those Microtransactions
Players can purchase COD Points, or CP, which can be used to purchase the battle pass, along with a host of cosmetic bundles including weapon skins, characters and more.
There are no loot boxes, nor will there ever be according to both Activision and Infinity Ward.
CP comes in bundles ranging from £1.99 for 200 CP to a whopping £84.99 for 13,000 CP. For reference, the standard Battle Pass costs 1000 CP, while the Battle Pass Bundle with 20 tier skips costs 2400 CP.
The 20 tier skips mean you’d automatically unlock a brand new weapon, though both Battle Pass weapons are free to all players if they reach rank 15 and 31. However, that and the fact that the currently offered The Huntsman bundle includes a tier skip means there’s an argument to be made about whether or not Modern Warfare is pay-to-win.
Although Officer Ranks and the Battle Pass are two completely different forms of progression, it’s worth noting that it’s easier to level up the Battle Pass once you’ve unlocked those ranks, as the challenges they offer yield XP that can be put towards the pass. While you can pick up the paid tier of the Battle Pass and start levelling immediately, it feels like the pass is best engaged with once you’ve proved that you’re committed enough to reach Rank 55 in the first place.
Honestly though, the Battle Pass, or at least the first version of it, isn’t great, as there’s very little in the way of rewards that are actually worth unlocking. While some Fortnite-esque collection of colour splattered skins and emotes wouldn’t necessarily fit the world of Modern Warfare, the current set of unlocks lack the character needed to justify the investment.
Worse still is the fact that the Battle Pass also contains two brand new weapons, which may have the potential to drastically alter the meta of the game. While they’re both free unlocks, and can be found at relatively low tiers (rank 15 and 31), it’s still a way of gating off content from certain players.
Considering the fact that you can purchase the Battle Pass Bundle with its 20 tier skips to unlock a weapon immediately, and the fact that a cosmetic bundle has its own tier skip, the argument could be made that there is a “pay-to-win” element. At the very least, it’s pay-to-unlock-quickly, which is shady at the best of times. Hopefully, these weapons will be available to all players at a later date, because it’s not the best look right now.
Modern Warfare has become one of the most successful entries in the series, though the overall package isn’t indicative of that. While the campaign is top-notch, the multiplayer has plenty of flaws and the Spec Ops mode leaves a lot to be desired. The updates have improved the experience somewhat, but the microtransactions that have emerged only served to leave a sour taste in your mouth.