As Summer draws to a close it is time to begin preparing for the Fall and Holiday onslaught of new releases heading our way. This is always the time of year when the big guns of gaming come out. This is often when the biggest releases of the year will finally hit the shelves, and when we usually see new installments of Madden, NBA 2K, Assassin’s Creed and, of course, Call of Duty (CoD). I know, many people sigh at the mention of a new CoD, but this year could be different. This could be the year when there is a concrete answer to the question of whether or not this is just another “cut and paste, annual release” or truly a step forward for the series.
This year is the beginning of a new era for CoD. First off, we are officially in a new generation of consoles. Sure, CoD: Ghosts straddled the lines of the old and new generations. But this year, both the PlayStation 4 and the Xbox One are the main players in the industry. Second, and most importantly, this is also the year that Sledgehammer Games officially takes the reigns for the entire CoD franchise. Sledgehammer's work with Infinity Ward on Modern Warfare 3 showed that they have the chops to take on the burden of Activision’s biggest franchise. They undoubtedly have the weight of the world on their shoulders, and after finally getting a chance to go hands on with the multiplayer portion of the Xbox One version of the game last week, it seems to me that they are more than capable of handling the pressure.
Right from the start, it is apparent that this is not the same CoD experience that we have gotten familiar with over the past couple of years. This game feels different right from the get go -- and that is a very, very good thing. This is undoubtedly the most drastic change that this franchise has seen since the original Modern Warfare. It’s faster and more frantic than ever, reminding me of a combination of Crysis, Titanfall, and perhaps some old fashioned Unreal Tournament. I am hesitant to call it a twitch shooter, but that is exactly what it now reminds me of, only with a ton of depth. While it feels new to play, the core mechanics of the game are rooted in the things players know and love, like kill streaks, score streaks, perks, and weapon customization. You’ll still level up and prestige your character through traditional XP, and all of the familiar weapon classes are included. It just all happens to feel incredibly fresh thanks to all of the stuff that Sledgehammer is adding on top of that.
There is a lot to discuss, so let’s just look at things piece by piece.
EXO equals power, power changes everything
Many fans have been excited at the glimpses shown in of the game’s new EXO suit in the campaign trailers shown previously. While they will no doubt add a lot to the single-player, they completely alter the multiplayer landscape. The EXO suit is the backbone of the Advanced Warfare experience; it is the core mechanic that separates this CoD from every other one you have ever played.
Thanks to this power suit, you now have the ability to maneuver and traverse the environment like never before. In its base form, you have access to boost jumping and dashing. These are simple, yet extremely effective maneuvers that really change the feel of the game. Thanks to both, you can reach areas on maps that you wouldn’t have been able to in previous games. You will be bouncing extremely fast up to rooftops and ledges and making your way over large gaps with ease.
Those are just the basic maneuvers, though, the things everyone is capable of. Your suit will expand and grow in its abilities as you play, thanks to the new version of the Pick 10 setup, known as Pick 13 (which we will discuss a little more later). It works exactly the same way as the old version, just with three more points to spend. With these options you can add abilities to your suit that will enable you to hover over the battlefield, cloak yourself, and even enhance your general movement. It can get insane when you find a good combination of powers and learn to string them together while in action. There are times when you will truly feel like a total badass.
Like the soldier, the battlefield has evolved
With all of these new movement options available to you, the battlefield is no longer a flat plain. Your line of sights are no longer horizontal to your character, but you now have to watch out above and below you as well. I don’t just mean someone perching their selves up in a sniper’s nest; I mean a full-scale attack that can now come at you from every single direction. Not only does it force players to change the way that they approach combat, it also changes the way that the developers approached the environments of the game. There is an entirely new level of verticality. Maps are designed to give players access to nearly every nook and cranny, both high and low and every space in between. This also goes a long way to making the game feel fresh and new.
There were four maps available for our gameplay sessions with the game. Each featured a unique setting and gave us plenty of chances to put the new gameplay mechanics to use. These were Biolab, Riot, Ascend, and Defender. I spent my gameplay time on Riot and Defender, both of which I found to be incredibly fun.
Riot is set in a bombed-out prison, giving you access to both the buildings and the prison yard. Fights move frantically between the buildings, with the main choke point existing in a centralized cell block that offers great, close-quarters combat. One of the unique features of this map is the prisoner tracking system which is still online in the prison despite the devastation that has occurred. As a result, it becomes very hard to hide outside without the AI pointing you out to both your teammates and your enemies. You also get a great chance to practice your aerial attacks here, as you will want to enter many of the structures from above, including a small outpost with a glass ceiling that you can break through and surprise the opposing team.
Defender is set under the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. At first this seems like your standard, rocky-terrain map. You get to fight along the shore under the bridge amongst abandoned shipping containers and rock formations. The map evolves, though, in an extremely dramatic fashion. Eventually, nature will step in and send a giant tsunami towards the shore, completely washing out a good portion of the map. You will want to be sure that you head for higher ground when the alarms start sounding, warning of the impending wave. Those who get caught in the water will be sitting ducks for those higher up as they struggle to swim for land. It was very impressive to see visually, and fun to experience. The shoreline area seems to be the choke point for the map, where a majority of the fighting happens, so there is always a good chance that a number of players are going to get caught up when the tide comes in.
Did someone say loot?
Destiny isn’t the only game this year that will have you searching for loot. Sledgehammer is introducing loot drops to CoD with their new Supply Drop system, which are earned in a variety of ways. You might earn a drop for racking up an impressive streak during a game or perhaps taking out the top player in your match; you might also get one for hitting benchmarks of time played within the game. They come to you in a variety of ways and they give you a chance to fine tune the experience to your liking. Basically, the more you play, the more you earn.
A Supply Drop might give you a new helmet to outfit your custom character, maybe a special scope for your sniper rifle, or maybe even a new gun all together. You never know what you are going to get and they come in a variety of rarities. It isn’t like you will see the same drops that your friends do, so what you find within the ones that you earn will be random and different than someone else who earns a drop in the same match. Some of these items are simply cosmetic, like the character customization items or the camo jobs for your guns. Others, like attachments, give you the ability to tweak your favorite guns.
The first thought that came to my mind: This it is going to be very easy for someone to create an incredibly overpowered weapon and dominate the game. The developers were very quick to assure us that this would not be the case. There has been a ton of time and effort put in to make sure that all of these tweaks and additional abilities are balanced in a manner that will keep things fair. Sure, you can increase a weapon’s fire rate or accuracy, but not to ridiculous levels.
What is better than Pick 10? Pick 13!
The Pick 10 concept has evolved or, better yet, simply grown -- to 13. When crafting your loadouts, you now have 13 points to spend on perks, attachments, EXO abilities, and score streaks. You get a couple of slots in each category and you can load up heavily on one and light on the others, however you like to play. This isn’t necessarily groundbreaking, but it adds that traditional level of customization that allows you to tailor your loadouts to your personal playstyle.
Yes, as I mentioned above, score streaks are back and they have evolved as well. This time around they are completely customizable. You can modify them at will, but for a price. For example, let’s say you are electing to add an auto turret to your loadout as a 500-point score streak. You can then modify that turret (after earning the upgrades through gameplay progress) from a machine gun to a rocket turret, but the score requirement will increase by 100 points. Perhaps you now want to make that rocket turret detachable and lug it around the battlefield to hunt down your opponents; you can do just that, but it will increase the required score by another 200 points.
There are even cooperative score streaks, too. This doesn’t mean cumulative scores, but rather the ability for your teammates to team up with you and use your earned reward. Perhaps you have earned a Warbird to fly over the battlefield and fire rockets at the opposing team with; other players on your team can elect to accompany you and take over the machine gun on the chopper and provide assistance. This is really cool because it allows players (like myself, honestly) who never really get a chance to use the most elite score streaks to experience them with their friends.
Try before you buy.... err, equip
There is nothing worse than modifying your weapon only to find out in the heat of battle that it wasn’t exactly what you had hoped for. Perhaps that new barrel really throws off your timing with your favorite machine gun, or that new grip just isn’t all it's cracked up to be. It would be great if you could find out these things before the match starts. Well, now you can.
Advanced Warfare features a virtual firing range that is accessible right from the loadout screen between matches. With a simple button press, you can instantly jump into a holographic firing range with targets to test out your weapon modifications and make sure that they are to your liking. It doesn’t take any time to load this feature and happens almost instantaneously, so you can modify to your heart’s desire.
Such a showoff!
Of course, one of the biggest things in a multiplayer game is being able to make sure you stand out from the crowd. That is where the new “Create an Operator” comes in. In the past, we have been able to customize our multiplayer characters in a variety of ways, including different uniforms, helmets, and camouflage options. You still have those options, as well as a ton more.
Nearly every aspect of your multiplayer character is customizable now. We’re talking about helmet, gloves, boots, vests, goggles, you name it. While these don’t do anything for you from a gameplay perspective, they do give you an unprecedented level of visual customization that you can use to make yourself stand out. A lot of these items will come to you in the form of the aforementioned loot drops, while others will be unlocked as you progress your rank through gameplay.
You also get a really good chance to show your created character off in the new-and-improved multiplayer lobby. While you are waiting for your matches to start, all of the players in the match will appear standing in a warehouse sort of environment. You can pan around to each character and zoom in on them and see an intricately modeled render of each one. At the same time, you can also look a little closer and view each player's selected loadout and configuration. This is beneficial to those trying to figure out how one player seems to be getting the one-up on them in battle; you can check out just what tools they are taking into battle and perhaps make adjustments to your own to even the odds.
So, what did I think?
OK, you know what’s in there, but the important thing is: How does it all function? I have been a constant fan of the series over the past couple of years, liking some entries and disliking others, but I have given them all a fair shake. That being said, I am more excited for Advanced Warfare than I have been for any other entry in the series since CoD 4. I absolutely loved the new pacing of the game which is the perfect combination of frantic action with methodical tactics. The inclusion of the EXO suit really changes the basic feel of the game, and then when you pile up everything else on top of that it becomes something fresh and exciting yet extremely familiar.
Returning players will be able to jump in a hold their own, without a doubt, but there is going to be a lot for them to learn. The loadout options for your EXO suits almost feel like you are customizing or creating specific character classes. You can tailor it to be a fast-moving, quick-striking offensive machine or go with defensive options that make you almost tank-like. I found myself tailoring things to my opponents as the night went on, adjusting my settings based on what I was seeing when the bullets started flying.
It also proved very beneficial to tailor my loadouts to the game types that we were playing. Obviously, games like capture the flag benefitted from taking the defensive approach. Considering the large mount of game types that Advanced Warfare will have, there is room for a lot of strategy. There will be 12 game modes out of the box for multiplayer, including classics like Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Kill Confirmed, Hardpoint, and Search and Destroy. Plus a variety of new game types such as Momentum and Uplink.
Uplink was featured in our playlists at the event and is very fast paced. You have to deliver a device to a certain point on the map and activate it, which creates a little portal-like sphere in the air which you and your teammates needed to boost through in order to score points. The fun thing here is your ability to hand it off between your team when carrying the device; no longer do you have to wait for the carrier to drop it to pass it along. It can be done at will. You can also toss it into the hands of an opposing player to take their weapon(s) away momentarily while you take them out.
The weapons in the game feel great as well, which they almost always do. They all feel familiar yet with a futuristic configuration to them, like a shotgun that shoots sonic waves to blast your opponents back rather than filling them with buckshot. Some other changes included the new ability to dual wield heavy weapons, which I thoroughly enjoy. You can truly become a mobile death machine when you are carrying two high-powered machine guns. Plus, most of these include stationary modes that allow you to plant yourself on the map and increase their strength and effectiveness.
There is always an increasing amount of players who criticize the CoD series for failing to change or evolve. I don’t think that will be an issue this year; this really feels like something completely new, or at least something completely different than CoD. This can be both good and bad. Some players are going to be very pleased, while the CoD hardcore may not like the drastic alterations. I, for one, am completely thrilled to see the evolution of the series and cannot wait to get my hands on the final version this November.
**Activision paid for my travel and lodging to this preview event which was held in San Francisco, CA.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
If you have been here before, you know the basics: lifelong gamer, father, and of course, certified news monkey. I have been blogging on the industry for close to a decade now, in some form or another. It wasn't until I landed here at Gaming Nexus that I really dove in head first. Now, writing about games has become what I do for fun (and sometimes work) and something I intend on doing until the day I die.
I'm a huge fan of just about everything you can interact with using a controller, no matter how old or new, good or bad. If you put it in front of me, I will play it... end of story.