Watching the count-down timer to match start has never been so exciting. For the first time in nearly a decade, here in a room full of press, media, and Call of Duty fans situated atop the One Kearny in downtown San Francisco, I was about to re-learn how to play Call of Duty.
The match begins. Moving forward to back and side to side? Check. Looking, turning, crouching, and jumping? I got this. Aiming, shooting, and reloading? Nailed it. I’m good to go. But, wait. I can jump once off the ground and then once more in mid-air? Cool! Hold on. I can jump twice, then dash in any direction I choose mid-flight? Awesome! But, I can dash out of cover, power-slide while sprinting, double-jump, dash in mid-air, and then come speeding to the ground like a comet in a thruster-assisted power slam melee attack? Woah, dude. This isn’t Call of Duty like I remember.
Not since 2007, when I first got serious about Call of Duty multiplayer with the original Modern Warfare, have I had to stop and think about how to do something as simple as move in a Call of Duty game. Having remained dedicated to the series year in and year out, I, like many of you, am no stranger to Call of Duty. But, I sure felt like one during the four or so hours of hands-on time we were given at this pre-multiplayer reveal event. Forget about what this gun does, what that gadget does, or what these fancy battery-powered Exo Suit abilities do. I’m at last given the chance to re-remaster how I play Call of Duty from the ground up, and that’s the exact same chance Sledgehammer Games is going to bestow among millions of Call of Duty fans when Advanced Warfare arrives this Fall.
Much to my amazement, there’s a lot of new stuff packed into Sledgehammer’s debut solo Call of Duty project, a direct result of Advanced Warfare’s three-year development cycle, no doubt. But when we’re talking about a significant overhaul of some of the most fundamental and core mechanics in a first-person shooter like player movement, all the new Scorestreaks, Supply Drop items, and customization options pale in comparison, although are still very exciting. But I know you want to know what’s new in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, so let’s get to it.
Completing my first match, I quickly discovered that while standard XP progression still exists in Advanced Warfare, it’s now accentuated with Supply Drops, or what what Sledgehammer jokingly calls “Call of Duty Loot.” Awarded through time played and completing in-game challenges, each drop offers varying levels of rarity — Enlisted, Professional, and Elite — and contains items from one of three different categories — Weapon Loot, Character Gear, and Reinforcements.
Weapon Loot offers players the chance to modify the behavior and looks of previously unlocked weapons with varying presets. Sure, some variations might look cooler than others, but the studio ensured us that no modification is more powerful or more effective than the other. It’s simply up to you to pick the one that best suits your play style and is a good way to tweak a weapon to your liking that may not have initially carried your preferred specialization, of which the studio says there are 10 that can be customized. Counting all variations, Sledgehammer says there are over 350 weapons in Advanced Warfare.
Character Gear drops supply items that can be used to customized nine different appearance slots in the Create-an-Operator menu — eyewear, helmets, tops, loadouts, gloves, pants, kneeguards, boots, and, of course, the Exo Suit. The best part? You’re well-thought-out ensemble and superior sense of fashion will be clearly highlighted in Advanced Warfare’s Virtual Lobbies. In between matches, players can cycle through full digital representations of Operator avatars that are currently in a multiplayer lobby, putting all your hard-earned swag on display for all to see.
Lastly, Reinforcement drops award players with a one-time use item like an Exo Perk or a Scorestreak that I suspect does not count towards your loadout points. Will Supply Drops open door for more Call of Duty micro-transactions? Probably, I say. But, Sledgehammer made no mention of such thing during their presentation and it’s not something you should expect at launch. In addition, I found the rate at which Supply Drops were acquired was pretty frequent.
So, how exactly do you outfit your Operator in Advanced Warfare? Sledgehammer builds off of Black Ops 2’s success and takes Treyarch’s Pick-10 Create-a-Class system to the next level. Introducing Pick-13. Now, players can opt to bring up to four different Scorestreak rewards with them into a match or none at all in favor of more loadout points to spend on weapons, perks, attachments, etc. In addition, the behavior of every Scorestreak can now be customized, altering or improving its performance while adding to the cost of using that Scorestreak. For example, the 600 point Remote Turret can be tweaked to fire a directed energy beam instead of regular ammunition, increasing its cost to 700 points. Also, for the first time ever, Sledgehammer is introducing co-operatively operable Scorestreaks. If a teammate calls in, say, the Warbird, a second pilot can take over an additional gunner position, essentially doubling its effectiveness and giving less skilled players the opportunity to try out some of the more difficult-to-earn Scorestreaks at the press of a button.
For the most part, the rest of Advanced Warfare’s Create-a-Class set up follows closely in the footsteps of Black Ops 2. Weapon attachments only affect weapon handling, Exo Perks only affect player performance, and Wildcards are back. But given Advanced Warfare’s 2054 setting, you’ll find some wildly different weapons and attachments with varying functions.
I couldn’t help but notice that certain weapons expressed very specific characteristics by default, which Sledgehammer’s multiplayer design team made very clear in each weapon’s description. The Bal-27, for example, fires faster over time, while the first three rounds of a burst from the HBRa3 are fired faster than the rest. Meanwhile, the first five rounds of every magazine in the KF5 deals more damage than the rest, while the ASM1 trades fire rate for accuracy over time. As for some of the more ‘out there’ weapons featured in Advanced Warfare’s new Heavy Weapon category, the EM1 fires directed energy that can cause the platform to overheat, while the inaccurate XMG heavy machine gun can only be wielded Akimbo (one in each hand). It was unclear, however, if unlocks in Advanced Warfare are tied to XP progression or some sort of currency system, à la the original Black Ops or Ghosts. More on that later, likely.
In addition to the improved Scorestreak options are Exo Abilities and Exo Launchers. Exo Abilities are-battery powered, meaning they can only be used for the duration of its battery life. As far as I could tell, Battery packs could not be recharged, unless I died and respawned. Abilities range from speed boosts and extra health to techniques like the Exo Hover and Exo Cloak. The Exo Launcher slot can be filled with familiar tactical and lethal devices like the Frag Grenade or Stun Grenade to more exotic devices like the Threat Grenade or Variable Grenade. But, instead of being armed and thrown over-hand, 2014-style, gadgets are now launched from futuristic noob-tubes attached to your soldier’s Exo Suit, ’cause that’s how they do it in 2054. It’s way cooler. Trust me.
Eliminating the need to dive into private matches to test out your newly earned weapons, perks, gadgets, or abilities while ranking up, Sledgehammer is introducing the Firing Range. With the press of a button, players can seamlessly load into a virtual test range at any time, in between matches or while in Create-a-Class, to sample any and all of your unlocks first hand. It’s one of those, ‘Why wasn’t this in Call of Duty before’ things that makes a lot of sense and is a more than welcome addition.
Clearly, Sledgehammer is upping Call of Duty’s customization factor like never before with countless outfit, weapon, and Scorestreak options so you’ll have plenty of ways to fine-tune your Operator, turning him or her into the ultimate future super soldier.
Admittedly, the overall aesthetics of Advanced Warfare, including the user interface, Pick-13, and some assets, scream Black Ops 3. That’s not to say there’s any copy-and-pasting going on here, but it is exactly what I would have imagined Black Ops 2’s sequel to look like. But whatever Advanced Warfare might lack in originality in that specific regard, it makes up for in a gameplay experience not like any Call of Duty you’ve ever seen, heard, or played before. This year, Call of Duty is reborn.
My initial worries going into my first experience with Advanced Warfare was that the major increase in player mobility might do a number on map flow, turning every multiplayer match into a zoo of Exo Suit-equipped monkeys. The pace of things has certainly increased, and players will need to be more weary of what’s above or below them just as much as what’s in front or beside them. But, much to my satisfaction, a good balance of horizontal and vertical gameplay appears to have been attained.
The four maps we demoed; Bio Lab, Riot, Ascend, and Defender, were, for the most part, still cut into three paths from spawn to spawn, be it disguised or obvious. Each lane, however, could be traversed in a number of different ways that were not previously possible.
The new player movement also shakes things up nicely when it comes to some of more recognizable, and perhaps aging, game modes like Team Deathmatch, Domination, Search and Destroy, and Capture the Flag. Fan-favorites from older Call of Duty titles are also making a triumphant return, including Black Ops 2’s Hardpoint and World at War’s War game mode, now dubbed Momentum. New to the mix is a mode Sledgehammer is calling Uplink. With less of a focus on actual combat, Uplink tasks players with grabbing a hold of a spherical drone that one must then carry to the enemy Uplink in order to score a goal. In the build we played, 50 points were awarded for a toss in while 100 points were awards for an actual touchdown inside the floating orb of light. Carriers can also pass the ball to teammates, or even toss it at the enemy, causing them to holster their weapon when grabbing a hold of the drone. If you’ve played Halo 4’s Ricochet game mode, then you know exactly what you’re getting into. According to Sledgehammer, Advanced Warfare will ship with 12 game modes on day one.
The biggest evolution of Call of Duty is undoubtedly found in Advanced Warfare’s minute-to-minute gameplay. Gunfights take on a whole new dynamic thanks to the Exo Suit, which you’ve probably heard much about through Advanced Warfare’s various marketing campaigns and developer diaries. But just like that marketing says (bare with me for a second), it really is a game changer.
Time-to-kill is comparable to last year’s Call of Duty: Ghosts, meaning it’s pretty fast and rather lethal. But don’t take that at face value. Any additional player health would likely lead to frustrating cat and mouse gameplay where no one is quite able to score the kill. Quick learners will make short work of those who’ve yet to adapt to Advanced Warfare’s new movement mechanics. With the ability to boost-dash quickly in and out of cover or simply avoid confrontation all together using the double-jump as a quick escape, there simply isn’t as much time to take out your opponent as you might be used to otherwise. Abilities like the dash and dodge are only a click or button press away and are mapped intuitively to the sprint button, where as the double jump only requires a second press of the jump button.
I foresee Advanced Warfare being the the kind of game that will either make you feel really smart or really dumb. Out-maneuvering and out gunning an opponent, to me, feels far more rewarding than simply outgunning someone alone. On the other hand, lacking the skill to hit such mobile targets can leave you feeling pretty awful, or, if you’re a glass-half-full kind of gamer, inspired to improve your game. Either way, I think the skill ceiling in Call of Duty just got a lot higher without getting overly complicated, and that’s a good thing for the longevity of not only the game, but the entire series.
Inspired by Treyarch and Black Ops 2’s support of the eSports scene, Sledgehammer pledges similar support for aspiring pros, or those simply looking for the most competitive experience possible. Round-based Domination is back, along with Hardpoint and Capture-the-Flag. Broadcaster Mode will now feature an expanded Oracle mode while the studio is also offering Ranked Playlists, LAN Lobbies and a Private Match rule-set value slider. Clan Wars are also back, courtesy of Beachhead Studios.
Summing up my first impression of Advanced Warfare’s multiplayer, I can’t help but notice lot of familiar elements or concepts borrowed from other shooters like Crysis, Halo, Titanfall, and, of course, previous Call of Duty games. But the way Sledgehammer seems to have packaged it all together really isn’t like something I’ve ever seen before. It also wouldn’t be very fair to call them copy cats when, honestly, we’re approaching an era when almost everything we see in a shooter today has, more or less, been done before. So, I’m not going to hold any sort of grudge, especially when, frankly, they’re doing better than most other shooters out there.
Any reservation you may hold against Advanced Warfare based on the performance of last year’s Call of Duty are, without a doubt, understandable. But, truthfully, I left that San Francisco rooftop feeling very hopeful for the year ahead and confident that long-time fans of the series have every right to get excited about this entry. It’s evident that the premier result of Call of Duty’s three-year development cycle has paid off. Not only does Advanced Warfare look and sound great running on next-gen hardware, it’s a breath of fresh air right down to the very bones of Call of Duty and will likely challenge even the most veteran Call of Duty player with new experiences.
What’s your take on Sledgehammer Games’ bold new take on Call of Duty multiplayer? Let’s hear it in the comment section below.
Look forward to Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC this November 4.