Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II (Review)

The sequel to 2019’s iteration of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was a game that not only revitalised the franchise but with the addition of Warzone catapulted it to a whole new level. For players it offered a good campaign and a large number of multiplayer options. A sequel was going to have a lot to live up to but after a wildly successful beta there were some positive signs it was going to do just that.

Thoughts on the campaign

With the campaign being available a week early for anyone who preordered the digital version it was a great opportunity to dive in without any distractions from the rest of the game. While it has its fair share of hits and misses it still does what Call of Duty does best and that’s spectacle.

Campaign hits

  • Ghost, Soap and Alejandro get room to develop. Ghost has always been a Boba Fett type that had a cool look and plenty of ability but here a couple of moments give the character some drive to be part of the team
  • The variety between levels is perhaps the biggest I can think of. It has been described as feeling like a “greatest hits” with many levels obviously being inspired from past efforts and little connecting them but it does keep things moving.
  • Two different types of stealth levels with one an obvious call to “All Ghillied Up” and another adding a crafting mechanic for improvising weapons.
  • All the characters live to fight another day, like all classic action movies.

Campaign misses

  • Farah and Nikolai, from the 2019 game, only have cameos – Farah was such a great part of that game and its story it’s a real shame we don’t see more of her. Unfortunately I think the same fate may be in store for Alejandro when a Modern Warfare III arrives.
  • Having to deal with a boss fight that feels out of place and lacks a rewarding conclusion to a story thread. It comes across as a quick way to remove one character.
  • The crafting goes too far and hits a point of playing out like a combination of Die Hard and Home Alone.

I find it amusing to read a lot of reviewers criticising the game’s campaign – this is not the franchise to expect deep and meaningful stories. They all have their fair share of twists and turns with the occasional controversial moment thrown in too but it’s never going to be Spec Ops: The Line and the devs know it so they stick to what they do best with high octane spectacles and I am totally OK with that.

Thoughts on the multiplayer

And next we get into the multiplayer and it’s safe to say that there are no shortage of modes and maps for players to face off within. These can be broken up into three types: the traditional versus maps and modes, the large scale battles and finally the co-op modes. Some of the locations in these maps will also be present in the new Warzone map which will give players a small taste of the incoming release.

Map design on the regular multiplayer modes really plays on variety and asymmetrical layouts with a couple of exceptions. More importantly they appear to work well with all the modes on offer from Deathmatch to Hardpoint/Domination to Knock Out. Most of them offer players areas for both close quarters battles and open sections for snipers. I’m also happy to report that respawns are handled better here than on Vanguard’s maps and while there are still a number of bad spawns it’s not as bad as that game at launch.

The Ground War and Invasion modes are where the game starts getting into Battlefield territory with a big map, lots of players and vehicles thrown too. The maps don’t fall into the trap of being too big either which is a smart move on the designers part as you are always able to respawn and return to the fight quickly. Invasion adds bots into the mix which adds a bit of a MOBA element by farming them for cheap points but also gives players of different abilities an opportunity to also contribute score to their side.

Co-op is a little different this time to the 2019 version with it being limited to only two players but the missions themselves feel more like large sandbox missions that could have been part of the campaign. Not supporting four players like 2019 seems like a big loss though as it does prevent groups used to previous game’s modes (like zombies) from not continuing to keep their teams together. It sounds like this mode will be expanded over time with more missions so I’m hoping they consider upping the player count too.

Multiplayer hits

  • Map variety provides incentive to mix up tactics and loadouts. It’s also a great way to try out the different weapon types.
  • Weapon leveling and progression gets players to focus on learning the fundamentals of the default weapons before delving with the more exotic options.
  • Invasion gives everyone a fair chance to contribute to the overall game.

Multiplayer misses

  • Some maps have been slow to appear in the rotation and at least one from the beta still hasn’t shown up.
  • PC hackers are already at it in games and for those on Xbox there’s no simple way to switch off crossplay to avoid them.
  • Already known balance issues, gameplay glitches and exploits that can decide games, and it’s frustrating.
  • Lobbies are badly broken.

Final thoughts on the game

The first thing that becomes clear when you start the game is that the production standards are top tier. The game’s visuals, audio and cinematics are better than ever. I spent the first five seconds on the opening mission admiring how good rocks looked and the Amsterdam level is an impressive piece of work. Audio has also advanced with perhaps the best positional audio in a Call of Duty game in a long time. Best of all it runs as well as it looks.

Downsides are currently the game’s lobbies are a mess with players getting redirected to inoperable screens for Warzone 2.0 even though that mode is still a week away. There’s also a tendency for the game to crash out which is disappointing – the game itself is stable but those lobbies need a lot of work. I’m hoping it’s just because of the game being in a semi-complete state until Warzone ships. With luck, when that’s out it’ll be less of a problem. The UI, while looking better, unfortunately feels less intuitive initially and is missing simple things like double XP timers which is a strange omission considering past games had the same issue and needed to be patched post launch… how did it happen again?

It’s pretty clear that this is just the beginning for Modern Warfare II. It wouldn’t surprise me if once we get into the first battle pass we will get a better picture of what the future of Call of Duty will be as a platform. With this game aiming to be the foundation from which future titles will build on its got big shoes to fill but impressions so far is it’s heading in a direction that makes me think they might just deliver.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II is out now for PC, Xbox and PlayStation.

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