Hands On with Modern Warfare 3’s Multiplayer

Call of Duty XP Weekend Event
Team Sugar answered the call and descended upon Los Angeles yesterday for Activision’s debut of Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer component at Call of Duty XP, striking fear in the hearts of decent Americans everywhere with our radical Canadian notions.

After being briefly lost in the shuffle as hundreds of Xbox’s were claimed by other raging nerd-journos, I eventually got my hands on the game—and found an equal share of the expected and unexpected.

Call of Duty has made its mark by endlessly refining a very particular product; succeeding in the science of visceral, fast-paced close-quarter combat, in a shooter where shooting is even more integral than the name implies.


Call of Duty XP Weekend Event
At XP, the developers reaffirmed their belief in the “niche” of Call of Duty (insofar as a game like Call of Duty can have a niche), but at the same time, described a desire to refocus and refresh some of the core gameplay tenets.

This, ultimately, is about balance. COD has become the territory of super-pros, endlessly hammering you with shotguns and noobtubes and other exciting assault strategies. What MW3 brings to the table is some careful rebalancing; for instance, several extremely popular perks from MW2—most notably the preposterous Commando perk that superpowers the knife lunge—have been axed.

More interestingly, the kill-streak system has been completely redesigned in an effort to balance the game for new and hardcore players alike—and, in an interesting twist for a COD game, there’s even emphasis on a support role.

The new system eschews kill-streaks in the traditional sense; instead, there are point streaks, where completing objectives (such as capturing a flag) will contribute to the player’s streak (in addition to killing). Additionally, streaks are now divided into three separate loadouts, called strike packages.

Players choose a strike package, and then choose a selection of streak rewards inside that package—but that’s not all. What makes this unique is that each package has unique properties. There’s the assault pack, which functions like a more traditional streak and includes offense-oriented rewards—but then there’s the support package, in which streaks do not reset upon death, so that the player can rack up rewards more easily.

The trade off is that the support pack has rewards geared toward enhancing team play rather than increasing personal score. This won’t make it the go-to pack for people who love their air assaults, but if you’ve ever thought that your team wasn’t using enough UAVs, this is for you.

Perhaps most interesting of all, is the specialist package—which doesn’t offer streak rewards in the traditional sense at all. Instead, the player will be rewarded with additional perks for their kills—so if you keep running out of ammo after your forth kill, you can set it so scavenger will activate on a four kill streak, thus allowing you to restock.

The strike package system looks to dramatically shift the balance of power in Call of Duty, giving some of the edge back to the player who isn’t rocking an 8-1 kill/death ratio.

Call of Duty XP Weekend Event
Another new addition is weapon proficiency, which effectively functions as a progression and perk system for particular guns. In the build I played, I was able to select a particular perk for my weapon—for example, my choice of reduced kickback.

There are also new swappable optics—that is to say the dual-scope system previously seen in the campaign footage, allowing players to swap between long and short range sights on the fly.

The team describes MW3 as the most radically different COD multiplayer experience to date—and it’s hard to argue, though the scale for change in COD isn’t very wide. Make no mistake, this is no less Call of Duty, and the core gameplay remains the same as ever—but a renewed focus on balance is readily apparent. By and large, the game was immediately more comfortable and more rewarding to play, allowing me to focus less on K/D and more on completing objectives and supporting the team.

Activision went on to debut a new multiplayer mode, Kill Confirmed, whereby dog tags must be collected from fallen enemies in order to claim the point for that kill. Additionally, points can be denied if the opposing team collects the tags of one of their own members. This looks to be an effort to weed out nefarious campers, by forcing players to move out into the open to claim points for their kills.

Call of Duty XP Weekend Event
Also detailed at the event was Elite, Activision’s new multiplayer platform. Most of this information is already known; Elite will provide a wealth of social and stat-tracking functions for everyone, as well as offering all yearly DLC and some premium items (such as exclusive video content, featuring such talent as Ridley Scott—yeah, that’s right—and Jason Bateman) to paid subscribers. The price is fifty dollars for a year’s subscription, which is ten dollars less than the cost of the four maps packs Activision will be putting out every year.

What I found most interesting about this were the implications about the fanbase. Consider: one of the advertised features of Elite is that, should he or she so choose, a player can access Elite from their iPod while on the train or at work, watch training videos, analyze heat maps, and then customize a new loadout that will be waiting for them when they get home.

Activision is making Elite the Facebook of videogames (incidentally, it will support Facebook integration)—and like Facebook, the experience sounds almost religious when described by someone truly invested in it. Elite aims to make Call of Duty omnipresent, reflecting its ever-expanding place in the market.

Check back later for more from the event, assuming I don’t suffer some kind of exploded head from all the Call of Duty being thrown at me.

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  • Erikmichael Mcd

    I have been a hater since mw2 (yet I still played the crap out of it) but I must say this has made me re-think my blind hatred….especially of elite.