Activision is changing the way it does Call of Duty DLC with Modern Warfare. In a blog post today, it detailed the game-changing overhaul that upcoming shooter Call of Duty: Modern Warfare has undergone to make the game and its economy more equitable and fair.
New maps and game modes introduced after the launch of Modern Warfare will be free for all players, Activision said, and go live simultaneously on all platforms. That way, content that significantly impacts the game isn’t totally reserved for the players who shell out lots of extra money, and Xbox owners won’t have to wait for timed exclusives to be up. The game will also feature cross-play between platforms.
There will be no loot boxes in Modern Warfare, Activision said. Instead, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare will have a battle pass system, much like those of Fortnite, Apex Legends, Rocket League, etc. Players can unlock weapons, attachments, and other content that can affect game balance as part of either a free or premium content stream—and that’s all just through playing. As the post says, the streams “will feature a variety of cosmetic content that does not impact game balance.”
“The new Battle Pass system will allow players to see the content that they are earning or buying,” Activision wrote. “Battle Passes will launch timed to new, post-launch live seasons, so you can unlock cool new Modern Warfare-themed content that matches each season.”
Call of Duty’s microtransactions in Black Ops 4 were pretty unpopular. Expensive skins or emblems received big discounts shortly after lots of players purchased them; a reticle—yes, a red dot—was being sold for $1, which isn’t a lot, but still felt money-grabby to regular players. Its pricey and inconsistent loot box system irked people, too. In fact, developers told Kotaku that they weren’t fans of the microtransaction system, either, in our investigation of Black Ops 4’s development.
Unfortunately—maybe even predictably—the battle pass system won’t launch on October 25 alongside Modern Warfare. Activision said that’s so players have “the chance to work their way through the new game and unlock all the rewards that are waiting for you.” It will go live “later this year.”
Earlier today, I was reading over the PC hardware specifications for the upcoming Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and, when I reached the hard drive space requirement, did a double-take. 175 GB. For one game. My hard drive currently has less than half that space free for all games. And Modern Warfare is far from alone in its Galactus-like hunger for hard drive space.
The PC version of Red Dead Redemption 2, for example, will not stop until it has callously conquered 150 GB of your PC’s storage. This continues an upward trend seen in other recent heavyweight kingpins like the PC versions of Gears of War 4, Gears 5, Halo 5, and Final Fantasy XV, all of which clock in at over 100 GB when you add high-res texture packs (the latter even without improved textures). PC gaming has always been characterized by a little extra pain in the name of optimal pleasure, but this is reaching preposterously bonkers proportions.
Activision, at least, has an explanation for why its game plans on spreading out its legs and taking up three whole seats of hard drive space.
“175 GB is the storage space we recommend players keep available in order to download the post-launch content we’ll be bringing to Modern Warfare,” the publisher said in a blog post. “At launch, the initial download will be smaller.”
So far, however, Rockstar has not said anything along those lines, meaning that Red Dead Redemption 2 will likely cause hard drives the world over to squeal like hogtied pigs on which somebody tried to install a large video game.
That’s a pain! I don’t just use my hard drive for games, but also other things like videos and images I download and then forget to delete. I should have the freedom to be at least a little bit negligent and irresponsible, darn it! As is, however, I expect that it will not be long until I have to delete myself in order to make room for the PC version of the latest, greatest big-budget hit. I fear that day. I am not ready for the cold blackness of the recycle bin.
There’s a reason for this endless ballooning: As outlined by PC Gamer in a 2018 investigation, textures keep getting more complex and, therefore, bigger, and there’s not a practical way to compress them sans loss of fidelity in the same way there is for, say, audio.
Unlike on consoles, PC games aren’t as constrained by disc space, either, so developers can go a little wilder with how much space games take up. So yeah, Modern Warfare and Red Dead Redemption 2 will probably look best on PC, but you might want to do some spring (fall?) cleaning before you buy them. Or you can just be like me, continue treating your hard drive like your messy bedroom, and resign yourself to only installing one game at a time. Also, the embrace of the void.
Activision kicked off Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s multiplayer beta yesterday, letting PlayStation 4 players get hands-on with a softly rebooted Modern Warfare focused more on realism.
Following up on last month’s alpha for Modern Warfare’s upcoming 2v2 Gunfight mode, the beta offers a taste of the standard multiplayer with 6v6 and 10v10 matches in game modes that Call of Duty players are familiar with. Team Deathmatch and Domination serve as the staple modes, while Headquarters returns to serve as the King of the Hill-style mode that requires teams to fight and capture certain “headquarters” locations on the map.
Today, day two of the beta, added a new tactical objective mode. In “Cyber Attack,” players must fight for possession of an EMP device with the objective of planting the device at the opposition’s data center. Similar to Search and Destroy, players only have one life per round, and there is a diffuser that can be defused before a timer runs out.
This can feel a little more hectic than a standard match of Search and Destroy, because wounded players can enter a knocked-out state and have a chance to be revived. The device needs to be detonated, or all players eliminated, to win the round. The first to win five rounds takes the match.
At first, seeing the maps, modes, and guns offered in the beta gives me those old-school Modern Warfare vibes. But Infinity Ward’s desire to push for more realism causes those feelings to end as soon as the match starts.
I’ve previously voiced my concerns over the lack of a mini-map in Modern Warfare’s core multiplayer. After getting hands-on with the beta, I strongly believe the pace of the game suffers without one. Much of the gunfights and rushing that players enjoy and expect from Call of Duty’s standard multiplayer is slowed down to overly cautious camping.
The beta maps also cater to camping, with myriad buildings and doors that now open and close. The “Grazna Raid” map is a clustered city perfect for getting shot in the back because there was someone lurking behind a door or in a dark corner. Being able to open and close doors is an option that will take some adjustment. On several occasions, I pushed through a building and got shot in the back because I thought the interior door I just passed was the usual fake decor. In reality, a camper was roasting marshmallows in the other room, heard my footsteps, and opened the interior door just in time to ruin my killstreak.
Flying solo with a team of noobs means that you’re not likely to get many killstreaks, and UAV streaks now matter more than ever since the temporary mini-map that they grant feels so crucial. Reintroducing the mini-map for standard multiplayer would motivate players to move around more, thus improving the pace of the matches and the overall feel of how these maps play.
Keeping with the theme of “realism,” Modern Warfare’s “Operators” are customizable soldiers who don’t have any wacky superpowers or weapons like the Specialist characters of most recent Call of Duty games. The characters themselves are simply cosmetic tweaks, so no robots with miniguns or dudes with overpowered tasers.
However, there are “Field Upgrades” that serve as a chargeable item or ability that can be equipped to any character. These upgrades are sensible additions to a modern Call of Duty, with options like ammo drops and a deployable ballistic cover that you mount for extra protection.
Modern Warfare’s Gunsmith offers a more visualized way to customize your gun, and the game is boasting a ton of attachment options. Day one of the beta had a level cap of 10, so there aren’t currently enough options unlocked yet. I’m not quite sure how daunting this will feel to new players. You can have five attachments on your gun at any given time, but there are pros and cons to each of them. Changing up one attachment could have a bigger impact on your weapon that it did in previous Call of Duty games.
One thing I appreciate about Modern Warfare is the ability to adjust my loadouts during the match. I always felt like Call of Duty was stuck in the dark ages of forcing players to edit their attachments between matches, while Battlefield games spoiled me with mid-match adjustments. I am always that irresponsible player that complains during matches that I forgot to change my loadout. To be fair, my friends also suck at reminding me.
The guns of Modern Warfare look and sound great. I had major complaints about the sound levels in the Gunfight alpha. I could barely hear footsteps, for example, and I wasn’t the only one. Infinity Ward used the feedback to make some adjustments. Personally, the footsteps sound great for me this time around and remain consistently audible. However, I did see a few complaints that players weren’t hearing sounds properly in the beta, so all the issues don’t seem to be worked out yet.
Also, there were issues partying up with friends on day one of the beta, but it seems to be a little more reliable on day two.
Overall, Call of Duty’s return to a modern setting shows promise for next month’s release, but some decisions made for the push towards realism are frustrating some of the core player base and affecting the flow of standard multiplayer. I really hope Infinity Ward won’t sacrifice replayability for realism, because the game gets boring when the pace suffers. Please add the mini-map back.
The early access beta is available now on PlayStation 4 for anyone who preordered a copy. An open beta, also restricted to PlayStation 4, will run from September 14 to 16. Cross-play testing will begin during the early access period for Xbox and PC from September 19 to 20, and the beta will be open to everyone on the final run from September 21 to 23. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare will be released on October 25.
Earlier this week, the Call of Duty Twitter account tried to build hype for today’s Modern Warfare multiplayer reveal by announcing the return of killstreaks, which grant players access to tide-turning super weapons if they play well enough. Among these super weapons is white phosphorus, a chemical substance that can be used as a self-igniting weapon, causing everything from nightmarish skin burns to organ failure. It’s forbidden to use in civilian areas by international law.
In the new Modern Warfare, it’s effectively a cool toy. This didn’t sit well with some members of the series’ community, who were expecting that the new game, described by developers as a darker, more intentionally uncomfortable take on the inherent ugliness of war, wouldn’t be so cavalier in its depiction of a weapon that’s been used to commit heinous atrocities in real life. But single-player Call of Duty and multiplayer Call of Duty have historically beendifferent animals, and this game appears to be no different on that score. During a multiplayer reveal event this week in Los Angeles, Infinity Ward audio director Stephen Miller and art director Joel Emslie told Kotaku that the game’s single-player campaign and its multitude of multiplayer modes—while linked by shared progression systems, weapons, systems, and fictional settings—are aiming for decidedly different tones.
“It’s kind of like if you’re watching a film or a play, and you have different types of actors,” said Miller. “You can have somebody who’s a very serious, heavy actor, and maybe you have somebody else who’s more comic relief or whatever else. It’s all still part of the same universe, but you get a little different tone.”
Emslie agreed, noting that there’s a third mode that exists along the same spectrum: cooperatively-focused “Spec Ops” missions.
“They all exist in the same universe,” said Emslie. “They all have commonalities. They may use certain things, but for different purposes… If you look at narrative, its purpose is to tell a really deep story and make you care about these characters, these people. The campaign gives relevance to the rest of the universe around it. So in multiplayer, you may see things that are derived from it, that have more meaning that way. Like ‘Oh, I know why that exists.’ Or you may see the Juggernaut Suit in narrative. It might show up as a character and do something. So they’re kind of coming from different centers with different purposes.”
Historically, Call of Duty’s single-player campaigns have played out like explosion-ridden popcorn flicks with the occasional, single-tear-stained nod in the direction of something more somber. For example, there’s the Modern Warfare 1 mission in which the player slowly dies in the irradiated aftermath of a nuclear explosion, and Modern Warfare 2’s infamous “No Russian” level, in which the player plays as an undercover agent who participates in a mass shooting terrorist attack on unarmed civilians. Due to the campaigns’ broader focus on over-the-top action and setpieces, it’s been relatively easy for campaigns and less contextualized multiplayer modes to coexist. This time around, however, Infinity Ward is positioning the campaign as a series of more realistic and harrowing storylines focusing on the difficult situations faced by soldiers as well as the civilians whose homelands have been torn apart by the ravages of war. Thus, the dissonance between the campaign’s tone and the multiplayer is more visible, with sparks flying from the friction.
In any case, when it comes to including controversial features like white phosphorus, the multiplayer team is largely sticking to its guns.
“I mean, you notice a nuclear bomb go off at the end [of the multiplayer trailer],” Emslie replied when asked about the online reaction to the white phosphorus killstreak announcement. “So I think it’s a mature game. It deals with mature mechanics. There’s a lot of stuff in there like that. At the end of the day, it’s a piece of entertainment… That’s a killstreak like any other killstreak. It’s a video game. It’s a first-person shooter in a war environment.”
While taking multiplayer for a test drive, however, it was hard for me not to feel a little weird about it at all. Certainly, matches were thrilling, with a focus on new “Gunsmith” weapon customization, bigger maps and higher player counts, and new modes like night vision skirmishes where you’ve got to make sure your laser sight doesn’t give away your position. During one game of team deathmatch on an outdoor desert environment rife with ruined residences, somebody on the enemy team dropped a white phosphorus attack on my team. My character began to cough and lose health. Panicked, I ran inside an abandoned house and tried to close the doors, but my character kept wheezing. Eventually, the effect dissipated, and everything went back to being business as usual.
In Modern Warfare’s multiplayer, I imagine white phosphorus will prove to be a very effective method of zone control, with the game’s maps emphasizing advantageous positioning over symmetry and other hallmarks of multiplayer level design. If you want to free up a key spot, you can build up a killstreak and drop some white phosphorus to force your enemies to hoof it to a safer spot. But in my experience, it functioned like a glorified poison cloud, not a devastating weapon that melts flesh from bone. In this moment, I took stock of where my character was; he had taken refuge in an abandoned civilian home in a town teetering on the brink of oblivion.
I thought back to another war shooter that featured white phosphorus as a player-controlled artillery option: 2012’s Spec Ops: The Line. In that narrative-driven game, one level saw players use white phosphorus on their foes, only to then traverse the aftermath and discover that they’d indiscriminately laid waste to innocent civilians as well. In one especially harrowing moment, you come across the horrifically burnt body of a mother clutching her similarly burnt child. Masks of horror are etched across what remains of their faces. The mother’s hand covers her child’s eyes.
Modern Warfare’s single-player campaign will force players to face the consequences of actions that lead to civilian deaths—for example, you’ll receive pushback from allies if you accidentally shoot somebody’s baby. But in multiplayer, bombed-out civilian houses and white phosphorus are still just tactical tools, means by which to gain an advantage.
When asked if the multiplayer team ever tried to incorporate more of single-player’s proposed self-awareness, Emslie said that approach was never really on the table.
“I think it was more of a move to add context to multiplayer,” he said. “In terms of trying to sell the narrative as far as multiplayer went, it was probably more of ‘Why are these two factions having a fight? Why is this happening? How did they get here?’”
Multiplayer is, however, intended to be more narratively cohesive than it has been in previous games. Emslie pointed to new first-person cut-scenes that depict players and allies flying into combat zones aboard helicopters and other military hardware. “You enter an environment narratively,” he said. “But we’re basically coming at it from that angle.”
Realism, too, is a bigger priority than ever for the multiplayer team, with members going on at length during a pre-demo presentation about how they’ve scanned countless real-world objects into the game and created replicas in the name of making everything look, feel, and sound as tactile as possible. But the ramifications of all this realism is campaign-only for now. “All the civilian stuff is kinda more over here in the narrative world,” said Emslie. “I don’t think it was ever a big goal for the multiplayer team [to incorporate the campaign’s ideas].”
That makes a degree of sense. Call of Duty multiplayer is a time-honored tradition at this point. Messing with the formula too much would inevitably send legions of players into a rage. Still, as this series attempts to take definitive steps into new narrative territory, it finds itself in an awkward spot. Despite the dissonance, Emslie hopes the Call of Duty multiplayer team can do the subject matter justice.
“I think we try to treat it as tastefully as possible, but at the end of the day, it’s supposed to be a fun experience and a piece of entertainment,” he said. “And artistic at the same time.”
The first Modern Warfare was called Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, so it’s only natural that the fourth Modern Warfare is called Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Confused yet? That’s video games for you.
News of this year’s strangely named Call of Duty leaked out via YouTuber LongSensation this morning. Activision has been showing the game to press and “influencers” (YouTubers and streamers) for a week or two now, so a leak like this was inevitable. Kotaku has not seen the game or agreed to any embargo, but we’ve heard from many sources connected to the Call of Duty world that it is indeed called Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, and that it’s a “soft reboot” of the first one, developed by Infinity Ward for release this fall. It’ll be heavy on troubling, realistic emotional moments, very much inspired by the controversial No Russian campaign in Modern Warfare 2 that allowed the player to gun down civilians.
Next year’s Call of Duty has gone through a major upheaval, as publisher Activision informed developers this week that studios Raven and Sledgehammer, which had until now led the project, will no longer be in charge. Instead, according to three people familiar with goings-on at the companies, Treyarch will lead development on a new Black Ops for 2020.
It’s a significant shift for Activision’s massive first-person shooter franchise, which is one of the most lucrative video game series on the planet. Every fall for the past 15 years, Activision has put out a new Call of Duty game, supported by a stable of different developers who rotated duties as required. Since 2012, Activision has followed a three-year cycle for its three lead studios: Infinity Ward, Treyarch, and Sledgehammer. The results have looked like this:
2012 – Treyarch – Call of Duty: Black Ops II
2013 – Infinity Ward – Call of Duty: Ghosts
2014 – Sledgehammer – Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
2015 – Treyarch – Call of Duty: Black Ops III
2016 – Infinity Ward – Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
2017 – Sledgehammer – Call of Duty: WWII
2018 – Treyarch – Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII
2019 – Infinity Ward – Unannounced (but at this point it’s basically an open secret that it’s a new Modern Warfare)
For 2020, Activision had originally switched things up, assigning the Wisconsin-based support studio Raven to take a leadership role alongside Sledgehammer to make a Call of Duty game set during the Cold War (likely involving Vietnam). As of very recently, that’s changed. Now Treyarch, based in Santa Monica, California, is in charge of leading Call of Duty: Black Ops 5 for2020.
According to those briefed on the overhaul, Treyarch will take creative leadership on this new Black Ops while Raven and Sledgehammer will serve as support studios for the game, transforming the work they’ve done on their own single-player story mode into a campaign for Black Ops 5, which will also be set during the Cold War. (This may be a welcome return for fans, who criticized the lack of campaign in Black Ops 4.) It will likely be a cross-gen game, to coincide with the launch of the next PlayStation and Xbox, which are also expected in the fall of 2020.
What this means is that rather than getting three years to make their next game after Black Ops 4, Treyarch will have just two. Some at the company say they’re not pleased about that, and are already bracing for brutal overtime hours like they faced last year on Black Ops 4. Others have told Kotaku they’re excited about the change, as they have a solid game plan that isn’t likely to change drastically, unlike their last two projects. (We’ll have more to share about Treyarch and the development of Black Ops 4 in the coming weeks.)
This news comes during a strange time for Activision and Call of Duty. Although Black Ops 4 sold well at first, we’ve heard that it hasn’t had quite the revenue tail that Activision’s bean-counters were hoping to see. Internally, Activision executives have started to talk about embracing free-to-play as a revenue model—once anathema to the publisher—and, three sources say, are looking into offering a free-to-play component for this year’s new Modern Warfare, although the specifics may not be finalized yet. Some within Activision have remained resistant to the idea.
The past year has also been rough for the San Francisco-based Sledgehammer. In February 2018, Kotaku broke the news that Sledgehammer’s co-founders, Michael Condrey and Glen Schofield, had left the studio. Although Activision spun it as a promotion, saying they’d take on “new executive duties,” it was very clearly an ousting, and the two quietly exited shortly afterwards. Earlier this year, Condrey started a new Silicon Valley studio with the publisher 2K, where he’s recruited dozens of Sledgehammer staff. The studio has been hemorrhaging employees over the past few months, much to the dismay of those who remain.
One primary reason behind this Call of Duty upheaval, according to two people familiar with happenings at Activision, is the tension between Sledgehammer and Raven, whose staff are said to have argued frequently during the past year of development on Call of Duty 2020. Two people familiar with the project described it as a mess. Now, both studios will serve as support for Treyarch as the publisher prepares to release Black Ops 5.
Our monthly accounting of free games for PlayStation Plus subscribers is going to be a lot shorter from now on, as the PlayStation 3 and Vita drop out of the program this month. It’s the end of an era, folks.