Hands-on with Call of Duty: Ghosts – Exciting changes keep franchise fatigue at bay

One of the most established franchises in gaming and entertainment history, Call of Duty has shattered records and found itself in more homes than almost any other franchise to date. It’s this unrivaled success that has left gamers on the edge of their seats since the announcement of Call of Duty: Ghosts.

This longevity of the franchise also leaves many with a sense of dissatisfaction or disinterest toward new installments. Though I often find myself in this camp, I was able to spend over two hours with Call of Duty: Ghosts’ multiplayer at Activision’s reveal event in Los Angeles. I am happy to say what I saw and played far exceeded my expectations. As a Call of Duty game, it obviously brings back the familiar core mechanics that make Call of Duty recognizable, but it also comes packed with so much new and improved content that the multiplayer itself could be sold as a standalone title.

Seeing as the reveal was presented by Xbox, no Sony consoles were anywhere in sight; the several dozen stations available all had Call of Duty: Ghosts running on PC with Xbox One controllers. But if Call of Duty: Ghosts on PlayStation 4 plays anything like it does on the Xbox One, which is all-but-assured, Sony fans are in for a treat.

For starters, movement and gameplay are more intertwined than ever, especially with the introductions of vaulting and knee sliding. Your soldier is able to move more fluidly than ever before. Although the movement has become more refined, I personally had trouble adjusting to playstyle at first, mainly because of my recent obsession with Borderlands 2. In comparison to shooters like Borderlands 2, Call of Duty: Ghosts takes on a much slower pace movement-wise. Soldiers’ movements carry much more weight, and your limited sprint ability takes several seconds to fully refresh, encouraging conservative play on larger maps. It’s best to save your precious energy for when you need to cross a large, open area, as having that extra second of sprint could mean the difference between life and death.

Overall, Call of Duty: Ghosts controls exceptionally well. Sensitivity started a bit low for my tastes, and the comforting (though controversial) aim-assist feature didn’t seem to be active, but both issues are (presumably) easily resolved by changing settings. These options were expectedly disabled for the reveal’s hands-on time.

One of the most welcome changes made to the multiplayer is that Infinity Ward chose to focus on ground-based killstreak rewards. Less aerial-deployed rewards means that the overall game experience is, quite literally, more grounded, adding a new layer of strategy not previously seen in the series. Instead of calling in an enemy-detecting UAV, players now individually place a small drone. While maybe not seen as a big deal at first, this subtle change creates more interesting matches. Where special equipment like rocket launchers were needed to take out UAVs, any player can take out the drone regardless of loadout. So in order to use the drone to its full effectiveness, strategic placement is required.

Another killstreak change (or, addition) is calling forth Riley, the up-and-coming canine mascot of Call of Duty. When a player attains a 5-kill killstreak, Riley can be summoned as a personal guard and attack dog. He’ll follow wherever you go, and not only will he protect you with his life, but he will keep on fighting after you die, potentially killing opponents and awarding points with a Martyr Dog kill. Riley will stick around until he is killed by enemy troops and will always come running back to you when you respawn. Apart from terrifying your opponents, Riley will also begin to growl whenever enemies draw near, basically acting as a fuzzy enemy detector in Ghosts’ complex, ever-shifting maps.

The introduction of dynamic maps is much more than just a gimmick. Learning a map is given an entirely new meaning when environmental hallmarks can change at a moment’s notice. Not only will you need to know where every nook and cranny is to compete with the best, you’ll also need to know what the map is capable of–what’s destructible, what can kill you or an enemy, what can be made into cover, what cover is breakable, how can pathways be affected. You need to know the answers to all these questions and more if you want to come out on top. Many of these questions also don’t even take into account what happens when a player calls in a nuke. When that happens, the entire map is transformed into a pile of rubble. Everything is destroyed. This essentially means that you could end up playing on two different maps within a single match.

Regrettably, I cannot speak for the claimed evolution in sound quality that was talked about during the on-stage reveal. While each station was outfitted with a high quality Turtle Beach headset, the preset sound levels of the headset were overshadowed by the casted exhibition matches being held in the show floor’s center.

One of the largest and most robust additions to the multiplayer in Call of Duty: Ghosts is the ability to create a fully customizable ten-person squad that can be used to fight alongside you in 6v6 matches against another player’s squad. Each soldier has its own prestige level and will behave in a way that makes best use of their weapon and equipment loadout. Player squads can also be challenged even when their creator is offline. A non-player controlled squad that loses does not suffer from any negative consequences, but a non-player controlled squad that wins will gain XP for that player’s account.

The introduction of Clan Wars is also an idea that I can get behind. In past Call of Duty games, being part of a clan meant little unless you were among the top scorers in your clan. With Clan Wars, all members are able to contribute regardless of skill level. For the first few hours of hands-on time at the event, everyone took part in a mock Clan Wars, separated into the two clans of “Ghosts” and “Federation”. Every match that was played during that time affected which team or “clan” had hold on a certain virtual territory. Certain territories correspond with certain match types, meaning that one area will only count victories in Team Deathmatch, where another will only count victories in new mode Cranked. Every match won adds a point to your clan’s score, and every loss subtracts from it. In the end, it was the Ghosts (*cough* my team) that won. While this particular Clan Wars took place over the course of only a few hours, the final form of Clan Wars is expected to play out over a time period of two weeks.

Compared to the internet at large, I find myself more positive on Call of Duty: Ghosts’ multiplayer after hands-on time with its changes and additions. I don’t play Call of Duty religiously, as a hardcore-turned-casual franchise player, I can report that Call of Duty: Ghosts has decisively grabbed my interest. My time with the game left me wanting more, and for a series that may be seeing some franchise fatigue, that’s a pleasant surprise.