The Call of Duty community has never been as divided as it is right now. Despite great sales figures and a decent critical reception, last year’s Modern Warfare 2 was a bit of a breaking point for the hardcore Call of Duty community.
Call of Duty has been slowly moving toward slower, more tactical gameplay, handicapping player movement and advanced techniques in favor of a safer set of systems with broad appeal. While many of these systems were walked back last year — Warzone’s AI combatants were removed from Strongholds, time to kill was adjusted post-launch, and the “Warzone 2.0” branding was trashed — the core problems remained. On top of this, the traditional 6v6 multiplayer modes got the short end of the stick in favor of Warzone content.
While MW2 was a success, it was clear that public perception was slowly starting to trend negative. Seeing the writing on the wall, Activision took a proactive approach and let Sledgehammer Games cook with Modern Warfare 3. With Infinity Ward’s audiovisual talents, Treyarch’s Zombies expertise, and Sledgehammer’s masterful mechanics, Modern Warfare 3 is a return to the golden age of Call of Duty, featuring world-class multiplayer and one of the most engaging takes on the Zombies formula in years.
While the Campaign has always been the smallest of the three pillars of any given Call of Duty title, Modern Warfare 3’s globe-trotting single-player adventure is one of the worst the series has ever seen. The series’ first-ever back-to-back direct sequel is a bland, brief, and painfully boring ride through a small handful of uninspired missions.
It wastes one of the franchise’s most iconic villains and one of the original trilogy’s saddest moments on a wet napkin of a Campaign that solely exists to set up a more interesting sequel. MW3 was initially pitched as an expansion to MW2 and had this Campaign ended up as such, its length and lack of stakes might have been more acceptable.
To pad out its minuscule mission list, Modern Warfare 3 places the player in “Open Combat Missions,” nonlinear levels set in recycled Warzone locales. These lack the tight-level design and presentation that Call of Duty Campaigns are typically known for, leaving players to trudge through a pale imitation of Spec Ops and DMZ.
Allowing for stealthy playstyles and hiding unique gear like Night Vision Goggles or Ascenders throughout these levels is a nice touch, but Sledgehammer ultimately plays it too safe and requires very little thinking on the player’s part to complete these missions. There is one standout — a climb through a multi-story apartment complex that gives you free rein to dive into rooms and hop out of windows — but the rest of the Open Combat Missions feel as filler as filler can get. Their nonlinearity feels like an excuse for a lack of level design rather than an opportunity for player freedom and expression.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 features one of the best Multiplayer suites in the entire series. It’s the best Multiplayer the franchise has seen since Black Ops 3, and that was already a diamond in the rough amidst franchise fatigue with the likes of Ghosts and Advanced Warfare. Simply put, this is the best that Call of Duty has been in years.
Sledgehammer Games has walked back all of the restrictions placed on movement, unshackling the skill ceiling and letting players have fun without holding back. More responsive sliding, diving, and jumping really make me feel like I’m in control during firefights, and a longer time to kill adds an interesting dynamic to every enemy encounter.
Even if you’re not the slide-canceling type, you’ll still appreciate the buttery smooth movement and gunplay. Everything feels satisfyingly snappy, and Sledgehammer has been remarkably receptive to feedback and quick to make tweaks in the game’s opening week.
Grinding camos is as fun as ever with reworked challenges and a mind-boggling number of guns thanks to the Carry Forward system that brings MW2’s entire arsenal into MW3. The community’s pleas have finally been heard too, since map voting is back and the excellent War mode has returned. I haven’t seen a studio be this receptive to player feedback in a long time, and Sledgehammer’s transparency is very appreciated.
With a community stream and a Reddit AMA already under its belt (in the game’s first week, mind you), Sledgehammer has already proven its commitment to the COD community. Plus, an in-game Experimental Playlist and promises to investigate non-disbanding lobbies among other things shows that Call of Duty fans are in for a good year.
Sledgehammer’s gameplay design feels like the studio proudly proclaiming from the rooftops that Call of Duty is back. It’s fitting, too, since this year marks Call of Duty’s 20th anniversary. That’s why MW3 ships with all 16 original Modern Warfare 2 (2009) maps remastered, featuring fan favorites like Rust and Terminal plus maps that haven’t seen the light of day since 2009 like Wasteland.
As fun as it is to farm camos on Rust or recreate classic trick shots on Highrise, however, it’s disappointing that MW3 launched without a single original map. Even a handful of new locales would have been appreciated, and while new maps are coming in post-launch seasons, MW3 currently doesn’t have much of an identity on its own outside of being a greatest-hits collection.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a modern Call of Duty if everyone wasn’t talking about the elephant in the room: Skill-Based Matchmaking. SBMM is here to stay for better and for worse, but it thankfully feels much better tuned this time around. You’ll still get thrown into the pit with slide-canceling 14-year-olds hopped up on Adderall and energy drinks every now and then if you start performing well, but the SBMM system doesn’t feel nearly as aggressive as it did last year.
Sadly, it still doesn’t handle partying up with friends of varying skill levels very well. Simply put, playing with friends in Modern Warfare 3 Multiplayer is miserable. Your casual friends will hate playing with you if you’re even a little bit better than they are, and it feels impossible to have a good time if you’re just jumping on for a few matches with a casual Call of Duty friend.
Thankfully, Zombies is there for friend groups who want to avoid the SBMM meat grinder. Helmed by Treyarch, this year’s Zombies is a mixture of the open-world Outbreak mode from Black Ops Cold War and last year’s DMZ. You’ll drop into Urzikstan, complete contracts, and slowly gather resources as you move your way inward toward higher threat zones.
No, it’s not the round-based staple that fans wanted. However, MWZ is one of the best Zombies experiences in a long time. Once you get into the groove of dropping in, exfilling with perks and gear, and dropping back in to try harder stuff, it’s so easy to lose track of time. It’s just a great time all around, no matter if you’re interested in casual excursions with friends in the lower threat zones or intense survival sessions at the map’s center.
Still, MWZ is not without issues. Sledgehammer has already made some much-appreciated changes, like nerfing the damage inflicted by AI mercenary enemies, but Zombies could use some more work under the hood to make it even more addicting.
There’s currently very little reason to venture into the more dangerous areas of the map since contracts tend to have similar rewards regardless of difficulty, and making it to the high-threat zones is hard enough since your weapons reset their rarity and Pack-a-Punch levels between rounds. This is where the mode’s DMZ roots come into play, letting you extract weapon rarity upgrade tools and craft gear before deploying, but long reset timers make this system more frustrating than fun.
Since MWZ sessions are limited to 45 minutes, it’s easy to spend a lot of time gearing up for the fun part and have very little time left when it’s time for the fun to start. Small tweaks, like allowing you to extract plate carriers and gas masks instead of having them converted to points upon exfil, would make it so much easier for experienced players to get where they want to be. Still, MWZ is a blast and the mode will only get better with additional post-launch content.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is one of the best Call of Duty games in years. Even with an embarrassingly bad single-player Campaign, the Multiplayer and Zombies experiences are enough to cement this game as one of the franchise’s greats. With Sledgehammer’s approach to player feedback and transparency plus its commitment to the core 6v6 Multiplayer experience, Call of Duty fans are eating good this year.
This game was reviewed using a copy of the game provided by the game's publisher,public relations company, developer or other for the express purpose of a review.
- This article was updated on November 21st, 2023