Last Wednesday appeared to be a typical evening in downtown San Francisco: traffic bustling, people leaving work and some hitting nearby bars and restaurants. But at one particular building, dozens of game journalists like me awaited the reveal of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’s multiplayer. To anyone remotely familiar with the series, they know that online multiplayer is what keeps Call of Duty selling year after year. Before the press lay a small stage with a large steaming, mechanical doorway projected onto the wall that felt like the beginning of a ride at Universal Studios. As cheesy as the setup was, it was hard not to be excited about what was about to be unveiled.
Soon the fake metal doors opened and the explosive multiplayer trailer (which many of you have probably already seen by now) began to roll. Skeptical eyes stared at the screen followed by moments of cheers during slick in-game kills. Michael Condrey and Glen Schofield, co-founders of developer, Sledgehammer Games, took to the stage to brief us on the basics of the new multiplayer before we could jump in. Advanced Warfare appeared to be a different beast than last year’s Ghosts and definitely for the better.
Easily the most drastic change to Advanced Warfare gameplay arrives in the traversal department, thanks to the new exoskeleton your character is equipped with. Double jumping can be used to reach that high ledge or avoid incoming fire. You can also further confuse opponents and evade damage by dashing backwards or to the left or right side in mid-air. The exoskeleton can boost downward to the ground, as well, to pull off a damaging melee attack or to avoid sitting in the air and being an easy target. These new movement options did not particularly flow as fluid as say, Titanfall’s jetpack-assisted parkour, yet were responsive enough to prove themselves useful. The very mechanical and slightly clunky feeling very well could be what Sledgehammer was going for from an aesthetic standpoint. I reveled most in the new ways to travel through the battlefield and how a new strategic element was added into predicting opponent’s movements.
Exoskeletons aren’t only changing the way you move, but are also adding new abilities. Defensive players can use the Exo Shield to deploy a riot shield from their arm for protection or Exo Stim for improved health regeneration. A tactical stealth approach can benefit from the active camouflage provided by Exo Cloak or seeing enemy movements and firing positions in their HUD with Exo Ping. For the travel-minded, Exo Overlock boosts your foot speed while Exo Hover allows floating in mid-air. The Exo Trophy System is perfect for ballsy players who want to run headfirst into combat as it obliterates oncoming grenades and missiles. Your exoskeleton’s ability is powered by a battery that faces a cooling down period once it’s been completely expelled. Many of the abilities have been featured before in games preceding Call of Duty, but I found them to be welcome additions to the franchise.
Customized loadouts, now a multiplayer staple for the industry, were made popular by Call of Duty so it’s great to see the latest entry move forward with the Pick 13 system. The added freedom that many enjoyed with Black Ops II’s Pick 10 system is back and better than ever. For those unfamiliar, each weapon, perk, accessory, or exoskeleton ability will use up some of the 13 points you can spend on a loadout. Rarely use your grenade or sidearm often? Remove them to equip more attachments to your primary firearm or load in more perks. The added customization and flexibility is enjoyable to have back again and allows loadouts to be constructed based on how I want to play. Best of all, at any time in the loadouts menu, I can enter a virtual firing range to immediately test out my new combination without risking a bad performance in a match from going in blind. Lastly, customization continues on the aesthetic side as players can now change pieces of their character’s uniform gear, from sunglasses and helmets to boots and pants.
Unlocking items for loadouts and character customization, along with Reinforcements (one-time use perks or scorestreaks), come via Supply Drops. This is essentially Call of Duty’s new loot system. Supply Drops are rewarded when you complete a challenge, play time, and of course by leveling up. More than 1,000 rewards can be earned in Supply Drops with certain ones being rarer than others.
Advanced Warfare’s Virtual Lobby is unlike any multiplayer UI seen in Call of Duty. Instead of a static list of names on the right-side of the screen, you can page through each lobby member’s soldier and see how each player has customized the look of their character. Furthermore, you can better assess the competition with the new ability to view other players’ loadouts. People can view the rare gear and weapons you’ve earned, which adds another incentive to score more Supply Drops. The new interface is a good improvement in my opinion, particularly in the visual department. Being able to easily put your customized combinations on display makes the Virtual Lobby like a car show for your Call of Duty persona.
Most importantly, how does the gameplay, specifically the gunplay, in Advanced Warfare perform? Shooting is what we’ve come to expect from Call of Duty: smooth like butter with a very fast and twitchy pace. If an opponent spots you first, it’s still very likely you will be dead before realizing you are being followed. However, rushing to cover or dodging fire via the exoskeleton traversal moves adds a much-needed slice of a chance that you’ll survive an enemy encounter you didn’t start. Additionally, new exoskeleton moves also change how you approach traveling around each map. The higher jumping distance helps to increase the focus on the verticality of how you move around the map and where to spot enemies. I found the new class of futuristic weapons, named directed energy weapons, helps slow down the pace nicely for me when using them. Directed energy weapons are powerful yet are kept balanced with a cooling down period instead of reloading magazines. All the guns sound and feel powerful to use. No matter which weapon I was using to achieve a streak of kills, I felt like a gruff and tough action hero.
Overall, the core gameplay and shooting mechanics of Call of Duty have remained in the game and because of that, gamers who didn’t enjoy previous entries have no reason to hop on board the franchise this year. But for even casual Call of Duty fans, there are plenty of additions and variety providing incentive to experience the power of Advanced Warfare.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare releases on November 14, 2014 for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, and PC.
Travel and lodging was provided by Activision for this Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare multiplayer preview event.