Call of Duty is a franchise that most gamers, myself included, hold very dearly. The earlier titles in the series are some of my first experiences in online gaming and represent some of my fondest gaming memories. Needless to say, the series’ downfall from glory these past few years is something that saddens me deeply. This past week we had the chance to test the waters in the Modern Warfare II Multiplayer beta, a little over a month before the game goes live.
If you haven’t been following the series closely, let me explain why there’s a lot riding on Modern Warfare II. Even with the huge success of Warzone, the last couple of mainline Call of Duty titles were met with largely negative impressions and saw the player base decline significantly. Now, this wasn’t only the result of the series going stale and the games feeling bland, but they also stem from some of the publisher’s controversial micro-managing decisions, such as the overwhelming push of Warzone at the expense of mainline titles, and indifference to player feedback. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Infinity Ward’s Modern Warfare (2019) was a bright spot after a few too many disappointing Call of Duty years, and a lot of fans are hopeful that the sequel will follow suit. We played an extensive amount of the Modern Warfare II beta, tested it on the PS5, and the Series X, and of course, we tested the crossplay features. We liked what we saw this past week, but there are still quite a few things we can’t help but be concerned about.
Modern Warfare II Beta: The Good
As the multiplayer beta showed, there are a lot of things to like about Modern Warfare II. Infinity Ward knows how to make good games that revitalize the franchise and reignite the community’s interest. “Modern Warfare (2019) crawled so Modern Warfare II could walk” is the major takeaway from the multiplayer beta week. Most of the things we will discuss in this section are refinements to changes that were first introduced to Infinity Ward’s previous game in the series. All they needed was some fine-tuning and some polish.
The gunplay is 85% of the core gameplay loop. The way the guns handle in Modern Warfare II is absolutely sublime. Even with the limited sample of weapons, we could try out in the beta, each one of them felt unique, but most importantly, each class of weapons felt like it had its place in the gameplay loop. Although the Assault Rifles reigned supreme in the maps that were present in the beta, as general-purpose options, you would really struggle to best an SMG at medium-close range, and a shotgun in tight spaces. Snipers at long range were absolutely unforgiving.
I really enjoyed the heavy recoil most guns presented. ‘Spray and pray’ is no longer an option. You have to either be deadly accurate or control your bursts of fire so you can actually hit your target. None of that laser-M4 from Modern Warfare (2019). Reloading animations now have different stages. You can interrupt a reload, but you still won’t be able to fire your gun before the animation finishes from where you interrupted it. This will make you think twice about OCD-reloading, and will most likely make you use an attachment slot for extra rounds.
Time-to-kill (TTK) feels just right in Modern Warfare II. It’s the perfect balance between MW2019’s lightning-fast TTK, and Cold War’s very forgiving reaction margins. As things stood in the beta, you could win a gunfight even if you did not fire the first shot, as long as you were accurate. Missing shots against an opponent can lose you a gunfight real quick in this game. Mistakes do not go unpunished. Winning gunfights when blindsided is highly unlikely, but not impossible.
Player movement feels very natural in this game. It’s not as fluid as it was in Modern Warfare (2019), and that’s a good thing. Slide canceling is still possible, but it’s harder to pull off and even harder to do it consistently. Tactical sprint doesn’t last as long, and if an opponent catches you tac-sprinting, you’re almost certainly dead. This leads to a much more tactical approach to each gunfight. However, the maps are smaller and the absence of Ghost for the earlier stages of each map balances it out pretty evenly.
Jumpshotting is still the most reliable way to win a gunfight. As soon as players learn the in-and-outs of the movement system, you will have a hard time if you can’t adapt or you’re not playing passively.
The maps are the ‘make-or-break’ factor in every Call of Duty game. Even with all the gameplay adjustments, the map layout is what ultimately dictates the tempo of the game, and lines of sight/cover are instrumental to deciding gunfights.
We only got to play four maps in the beta: Farm 18, Mercado Las Almas, and Breenbergh Hotel were available from the first weekend, and Valderas Museum was added on the second weekend. Thankfully, these maps were far better than the ones in MW2019. They were smaller, three-lane maps but offered some much-needed verticality. Most importantly, they were memorable, and I was never inclined to leave a pre-game lobby because I wanted to skip a certain map. Of course, that doesn’t say much, as I’m sure the maps in the beta rotation are the ones IW is most confident in.
IW seems to be heading in the right direction as far as the maps are concerned. The maps used the traditional three-lane recipe, but were fine-tuned to cater to all gameplay styles, and most importantly, every weapon type.
Graphics and sound
Even though we haven’t yet experienced the entirety of Modern Warfare II, we can already tell that the visual presentation is phenomenal. The weapons look realistic, and the animations are super crisp, even if some of them are reused from IW’s previous entry in the series. The visuals have a serious tone, but thankfully they’re a nice escape from MW2019’s overwhelming brown and grey tones. The art style matches the more serious tone of the game. The Modern Warfare II multiplayer is actually nice to look at.
The operators have a grounded look, but they’re not too serious. After the full game releases though, you can expect all sorts of crazy cosmetic drops that will ruin the atmosphere. The same goes for weapons. I don’t really mind that they can’t use the actual weapon names, as long as the in-game models resemble the real thing.
The sound design is very good, although you will hear many complaining that the footsteps are a bit too loud. And they’re right. Positional awareness is at its best in this game, and with the new adjustments to the mini-map (look at ‘The bad’), it needs to be this good to balance out the new changes in gameplay. Weapons sound menacing, and killstreaks are deafening. Didn’t expect anything less, Infinity Ward always delivers in the sound department.
Modern Warfare II Beta: The Bad
Despite the name of this section, this is less about horrible decisions from the dev team, but more about changes in gameplay that were implemented in a poor fashion. We will talk about issues that could be resolved before the actual game releases, although we don’t actually expect them to, since one month is very little time for substantial changes. Plus, Infinity Ward has historically never listened to player feedback and has always stuck to their guns, and that is exactly what ruins their games for me.
The perk system
The perk system has received a significant rework in Modern Warfare II. Instead of having the traditional 3-perk system (or more), now you get 4 perks in total, broken down into three different tiers. You get two base perks in each loadout, with which you start the game, as you would in any other game. The ‘Bonus’ and ‘Ultimate’ perks are rewarded to you throughout the course of the game. You get your third perk at about the 30% mark of each match, and the Ultimate perk at about 70%.
This is a nice idea, in theory, that helps spice up the gameplay. However, it is implemented very poorly. First of all, this perk system is tied to match time, not performance. For example, in a 10-minute TDM game, you would earn your bonus perk around the 3-4 minute mark, and the Ultimate perk at the 7th minute. Not every match lasts the same amount of time. Secondly, the distribution of the perks into tiers seems completely randomized. How come Hardline is an Ultimate perk? Controversially enough, I agree with Ghost being an Ultimate-tier perk, as it encourages moving around for the first half of the game at least unless you’re fine with being pin-pointed by UAVs.
The new mini-map
As I’m sure you must have heard by now, the mini-map has received a rework in Modern Warfare II. Up to this point, if you fired a gun without a silencer, you would be highlighted for the enemy team on the mini-map. There have been attempts to change how the mini-map works, and the most recent was in MW2019. This time around, the changes are more drastic. The mini-map now only works with lines of sight. If the enemy that fired an unsuppressed weapon is not in your direct or indirect line of sight, they do not get highlighted for you.
Hence, you can get blindsided much more easily than before, although it does give you much less of a reason to run a suppressor. The mini-map rework is re-balanced by the louder footstep sounds, as you need to rely on sound to cover yourself outside of your immediate field of view. Of course, UAVs are not affected by this change. The issue here is that this design choice will slow down the gameplay tempo significantly, with people worried about enemies showing up behind them. The horrendous beta spawn system didn’t help.
While it is true that this game looks phenomenal visually, there are still some issues with enemies blending into the environment. In previous titles, if you aimed your gun directly at an enemy a red name tag would show up above his head, signifying he belongs to the enemy team. Enemy name tags are now removed from the game. This change coupled with dead bodies not disappearing quickly enough can lead to you shooting dead bodies, or even confusing lying down enemies with dead bodies. The increased muzzle flash doesn’t help with this issue. Friendly nameplates are also not visible through walls anymore, so expect friendlies to check if friendly fire is on when taking a quick corner.
Modern Warfare II Beta: The Ugly
Cue the dramatic music; this section is dedicated to issues that make this game hard to enjoy and will impact your experience negatively in one way or the other. Also, we do not expect them to get resolved at any point in Modern Warfare II’s life cycle as they are either issues that have plagued previous titles as well or conscious design choices for this game specifically. This is not meant to be a rant (although it probably will be).
I swear the matchmaking in Call of Duty is the bane of my existence. Every recent Call of Duty title has deployed heavy skill-based matchmaking in non-ranked playlists. Connection quality has not been the premiere factor that influences matchmaking for nearly 4 years now. Aside from the connection issues this produces, the matchmaking is so inconsistent that skill metrics (stats that influence who you’re matched up against) change on a match-to-match basis. If you perform too well in a match, you’re immediately placed in lobbies with higher-skill opponents immediately. This makes every game a sweatfest. Players are actively punished for being good at the game.
Lobbies are immediately disbanded once the match is over. If you liked a teammate or started up a conversation with someone, you have to track them down after the match is over. And this has been the case since 2019, which ultimately takes the social factor of the game out of the equation. No rematches against a good team, no bonding with teammates or making new friends, and of course, no trash-talking the enemy team. And no voting for maps.
Thing is, even if Infinity Ward tried to fix this, matchmaking is now handled by an external studio; Demonware, a subsidiary of Activision. Heavy skill-based matchmaking is a decision by the publisher, not by the developers. You can expect no ranked playlist until 5-6 months into the game’s life cycle, so if you planned to play pubs (public games) to unwind after a long day at school/uni/work, you can forget about it. Sweaty lobbies is all matchmaking can offer now.
Crossplay worked perfectly in the beta, but players were not split up by input method, which should be considered a war crime. Controller players were matched up against keyboard and mouse players. I hope this is not the case when the game releases.
The connection quality
Call of Duty has historically had several issues with its net code, and it is not much better in Modern Warfare II. There were several gunfights I felt like I lost, or even won because I had a worse/better connection to the server than my opponent. There were plenty of times my shots went through enemies or failed to register. I can only assume skill-based matchmaking is partly to blame as I was constantly placed in lobbies that were in the 90-110ms ping range, and rarely ever in lobbies with <70ms. Granted, fewer players were online during the beta than at the full launch of the game, but do expect this to get potentially worse as the matchmaking system is tested with a larger volume of players.
The UI has been reworked almost in its entirety in Modern Warfare II. Instead of vertical list menus, now we’re working with horizontal tile grids with full-size hero images as backgrounds. It might look good, but it’s an absolute pain to navigate through. Want to make a quick adjustment to your loadout before the game starts? You probably won’t manage. Want to mute someone with a crappy mic in the pre-game lobby? Good luck finding where that is. Want to invite someone to your lobby? Sure, here’s a list of recent players you’ve been matched against, but you’ll have to search extra hard to get to your friends list. The most important part of a User Interface is to be easy to work with, not look nice. It’s hard to believe someone actually tested this and thought it was fine.
Modern Warfare II Beta: Final takeaways
All in all, I have to say that the multiplayer beta was a pleasant experience. We had a great time testing the new multiplayer modes, especially during the first weekend when people had not yet found out how to abuse the game’s mechanics. Things got more and more hectic as more players started to join in, and the net code started showing its cracks. Matchmaking was never something we expected to improve, yet somehow we’re still disappointed it’s as bad as ever.
The core gameplay loop is more than good enough, and that’s what matters the most. The gameplay will be largely enjoyable when the full game comes out, or at least that’s what the beta signs point towards. We didn’t come across any game-breaking bugs, aside from a couple of visual glitches, and nothing was extremely overpowered to the point that it would greatly affect gameplay (remember claymores and shotguns in MW2019?).
This looks like a Call of Duty title that’s worth playing. We definitely won’t be skipping this year’s Call of Duty. See you in a month’s time for the full review, where we will look at the Campaign mode, and any changes made to the Multiplayer.
We would like to thank AVE Tech for providing the review keys we used for this review.