Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III is less than a month away, and despite Microsoft’s looming purchase of Activision Blizzard, Playstation players still got hands-on with the game first, thanks to Sony’s ongoing deal with Activision by way of the closed and public beta test.
So now that we’ve had some time on the sticks with 2023’s Call of Duty multiplayer, we’re here to tell you what to expect: what’s new, what’s carried over, and what is so old it’s basically new again.
The first 4-day beta started on Friday, 6 October, with two days just for the folks who have pre-ordered MWIII before opening up to all Playstation players. At the time of writing, the second weekend has ended, meaning that Xbox and PC players have joined in the fun.
So, first off, it’s more Call of Duty. If you’re already a casual fan of the gameplay in the series as a whole, there are no fundamental shakeups to the formula. If you’re lucky enough to have the kit, it runs at 120fps, looks great, feels good to play, and stays reasonably grounded as it has since 2019, so there are no double jumps or boost packs. Fast-paced digital paintball.
But for those who are a little more attuned to the minutiae of the series, there are some changes here. Whether they’re for the better or the worse will mostly come down to personal preference. MWIII has gone a little more arcadey and forgiving in terms of movement mechanics than last year’s Modern Warfare II, and there are a few other tweaks in service of players and away from the realism that MWII was going for. That’s not to say that MWII was trying to be a military simulator by any means, but the ability to cancel reloads mid-animation, exit slides back into a standing position at any point in the movement, and increase in the speed at which you can mantle objects or get ascending a zipline all demonstrate this slight shift. In practice, these changes add up to a more forgiving experience and make going for interesting vertical routes feel just that little bit more accessible. To put it another way, it feels less like you’ll be laser-beamed while your character fumbles their way onto a crate without having the ability to fire back.
Seen above: the view when you switch your operator into Tac Stance; less accurate than ADS but with slightly faster movement
There is also the addition of ‘tac stance.’ Basically, the developers seem to have thought, “it looks very cool when people tilt their guns over to the side a bit. Can we put it in the game?”. So they did. This translates to swapping between the standard aim-down sights view and this canted view, which is the midpoint between hip firing and ADS. Unfortunately, in my experience, the tradeoffs don’t make it worth using, leaving you feeling almost as slow as when you’re aiming down sights but without the necessary precision to get hits down on a target more than 5 meters in front of you. It has to be said, I think this will be a GREAT addition to PVE modes like the campaign, co-op missions, raids, or DMZ, but in the twitchy, fast-paced environs of multiplayer, it just feels like you’re stuck with the worst of both worlds.
Moving from movement to other change, there has also been a noticeable decrease in gunsmoke compared to MWII. I can see the design argument for gunsmoke; if you’re trying to engage a target at long range, but you’re only using iron sights or a low-powered optic, it levels the playing field just a little bit for the poor unsuspecting victim by making them that little bit harder to track while you’re blasting away in full auto. It also helps to encourage those fantastic players who can control recoil to think about using a longer-range optic, which then has the telltale glint, which gives opposing players at least some chance of noticing and taking cover rather than taking a faceful of hot lead while they nonchalantly wander down an apparently empty lane on the map. However, enough people didn’t like it that it’s been changed for MWIII, and your firing picture is noticeably cleaner and more precise when going for distant targets. So get ready to get wrecked by someone with a red dot on an ACR from the other side of the map a little more than in MWII.
However, it won’t be as much of a problem this time because everyone’s health has been bumped up by a complete 50% to 150, rather than MWII’s 100. In-game, the TTK doesn’t feel much slower than MWII’s blisteringly fast deaths when you’re at close to mid-range, but when you combine the greater health pool with the damage drop-off at longer ranges on assault rifles and SMGs, it feels like slightly less of a death sentence when someone starts taking potshots at you from the opposite end of the map unless it’s with a sniper, which is still a one-hit kill with a hit to the head or chest at any range.
The final significant change to gameplay, which notably won’t be crossing over to Warzone, is the perk system. Mostly, this is just a way to justify perks in the fiction of the game, so you apply different kit items to get perks. Your gloves can give you faster reloads, faster weapon swaps, or the ability to reload while sprinting. Your boots can make you run, climb, slide, or run silently.
The new/old XP font, brought back from the classic Modern Warfare titles
The rest of the changes in evidence are primarily cosmetic and aimed almost entirely at hammering the nostalgia and warmth of feeling towards the original Modern Warfare 2 and Modern Warfare 3. Level-up sound effects are back to the crunchy electric guitar, and on-screen XP popups and information have returned to those previous games’ vivid yellow and squared all-caps font. The other major concession to nostalgia is the maps, which will include all of the classic multiplayer maps from Modern Warfare 2 at launch. It has to be said, given how much the gameplay of the series has developed in the ten-plus years since they launched, these classic maps definitely have some renewed life with options for mantling and flanking that weren’t possible in the original game. These particular maps are iconic for a reason; they’re right at the peak of CoD’s three lane structure, and the matches have just the right balance between frantic firefights and strategic sneaking.
So ultimately, the question is: if multiplayer is your primary port of call for a CoD game, is it worth paying £70 for what was initially rumored to be DLC? In my opinion, as a long-time player, it probably is. If you didn’t enjoy the slower, more methodical pace of the 2022 offering, this has some nice tweaks in your favor. If you’ve invested in the ecosystem of MWII, all of your weapons unlocks, and character skins will carry over, and if you’re like me and enjoy playing through the annual campaigns, we’ll be seeing what is presumably the end of this rebooted timeline with the reappearance/introduction of Makarov, of ‘No Russian’ infamy. And, of course, there is also the new, giant open-world rendition of Zombies to sink your teeth into.