“Nobody knows what anticipation is anymore. Everything is so immediate.” –Joan Jett
The excitement surrounding Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II (I’ll refer to the 2022 iteration using roman numerals to differentiate it from its 2009 predecessor) is quite tangible, and during the past weekend, the Modern Warfare II open beta was running, allowing me a chance to try the game out for myself: after building a new desktop machine and acquiring a RTX 3060 Ti, I’ve been itching to see how the latest iteration of Call of Duty would handle. The open beta represented the best opportunity to try things out, and while I spent only a few hours in-game, I now have a better sense of what the game requires from a hardware standpoint. On the average match, my machine effortlessly maintains 120 FPS with everything cranked up, and while I have played a few matches where latency was an issue, causing some rubber-banding, the game was smooth overall. Modern Warfare II handles extremely well; movement is crisp and responsive, while the gunplay is immensely satisfying. I never had any trouble moving my character precisely to where I needed to go, and Modern Warfare II‘s firearms feel consistent. While the beta only offers a small hint of what’s to come, Modern Warfare II is stable and performs well. Matchmaking was relatively quick, and once I got into a game, individual rounds were very tight and focused. For classic modes, new maps retain the classic Call of Duty arena-style design, offering fast-paced combat encounters where close quarters firefights and swift reflexes win the day. Modern Warfare II also sees the return of Ground War (a smaller version of Battlefield’s Conquest mode) and a sandbox-like mode called Invasion, which pits human and AI players together in a team-based battle on larger maps, which in turn provides a larger environment for experimenting with Modern Warfare II‘s longer-range weapons. The range of game modes seen in Modern Warfare II‘s open beta is a fraction of the full title, and while I historically have not enjoyed the smaller modes of Call of Duty, Invasion proved unexpectedly enjoyable, giving me a chance to get familiar with the weapons before hopping into a more frantic round of domination with a better idea of how to best use the tools available to me. Surprisingly, this time around, I found myself performing with some consistency: while veteran players and folks with a great deal of spare time will run rings around me, in more matches than I’d expected, I was also able to top the scoreboard.
While skill-based matchmaking meant I was more likely to pitted against players of a similar skill to myself, one aspect of Call of Duty returned to me in full during the course of Modern Warfare II‘s open beta. By default, the voice chat is enabled, and this meant, moments after slaughtering an entire team because of a bit of beginner’s luck on my end, I was screamed at and branded a cheater. In this instant, I immediately recalled why I typically don’t play multiplayer games with voice chat on. I endured the banter befitting of youth and young adults with far more time, and far fewer responsibilities than myself, for the duration of the round. After listening to another player on my team complain about how no one on the team besides himself knew how to play Modern Warfare II, I exited the lobby, dug around the settings and after a few minutes, located the options to completely disable voice chat. The remainder of my open beta experience was more peaceable, although it became clear that Modern Warfare II‘s UI is unintuitive and difficult to navigate. I’ve grown accustomed to Modern Warfare‘s UI, which, by comparison, is very clear and easy to use. The menu system in Modern Warfare II makes it difficult to access one of the game’s most anticipated features: the revised and updated Gunsmith. Modern Warfare II has streamlined the experience by developing a progression system in which one unlocks attachments for a weapon platform, and then these attachments are shared amongst all of the different receivers (weapon types) for that platform. This approach is intended to cut down on grinding, and shared attachments mean one is able to immediately kit out newly-unlocked weapons to bring their handling characteristics closer to what one already has for a previously-unlocked weapon for that platform. On paper, this means using new weapons will be a more enjoyable experience because one won’t need to go through the entire unlock process again. The Gunsmith upgrades are fantastic and cut down on time spent just unlocking stuff, allowing one to experience more of Modern Warfare II. This approach is quite welcome: contemporary titles often drag out the progression to encourage replay, but this makes for an exhausting experience, so seeing Modern Warfare II adopt a more streamlined approach is encouraging. For someone like myself, someone who’s got limited hours to game, a reduced grind means there is incentive to play occasionally without worrying about an overwhelmingly long journey to unlock everything; seeing this in Modern Warfare II does make the game’s multiplayer modes more enticing.
Screenshots and Commentary
- I decided to start my open beta experience in the Invasion mode and immediately found myself netting a few kills about human foes. The larger size of these maps, coupled with how players are spawned into things, means that one isn’t likely to die instantly after spawning in: this is something that had dissuaded me from playing Call of Duty, and even in bot-only modes, I’ve found that the small map sizes and relative lack of sightlines means that sniper rifles and marksman rifles are less useful in more traditional modes.
- However, in Invasion, larger maps and the inclusion of AI bots mean that players have a chance to orient themselves and blend in. I started out with the M4, and this jack-of-all-trades assault rifle proved to be a perfect choice for combat at short to medium ranges. Throughout the open beta, the M4 became my go-to weapon choice for most maps and modes, and I ended up getting it to level sixteen before the beta ended. The fact that I could almost reach the level cap for the M4 over the course of two days shows that Modern Warfare II, at least in the beta, has a reasonable progression system.
- If the pacing is similar in the final release, Modern Warfare II would be a game that works with my schedule: lengthy progression pathways dissuade me from gaming because I don’t have the same time I did back in the day, and games that allow me to play at my own pace usually have the most longevity in my books. Back in Modern Warfare II, after giving Invasion a go, I decided to return to the modes that I typically have the most trouble with. Close quarters environments mean map knowledge is vital, and in Call of Duty, I’ve not learnt the maps anywhere nearly as well as I had say, Halo 2‘s Lockout (which I can still draw from memory).
- However, in the beginning, Modern Warfare II‘s skill-based matchmaking (SBMM, a means of matching players into servers based on their relative performance) system put me on a server with average players, and after spawning in, I achieved a feat that would not be seen again for the remainder of the open beta: I scored a Killtacular (in Call of Duty terms, a “quad kill”) after four of the enemy team’s players ran around a corner and surprised me, causing me to empty my entire magazine into them in a moment of blind panic. This ended up being the play of the game, and even though my team ended up losing, I ended up at the top of the scoreboard on my team.
- Domination is basically a scaled-down version of Conquest, in which players must capture and hold points to score for their team. The way maps are designed, there are many flanking routes and plenty of cover around some objectives, giving defenders and attackers a fair chance at doing their part. The maps in Modern Warfare II are intricately designed and features a great deal of clutter, giving them a lived-in aesthetic that stands in contrast with the sterile maps of Battlefield 2042. While Battlefield traditionally excels with larger scale maps, ever since Call of Duty entered the battle royale market with Warzone, their large-scale map designs have improved dramatically.
- While I don’t play Warzone and generally are not a fan of battle royale, I don’t mind admitting that Warzone is probably the best-designed battle royale game out there. Call of Duty‘s approach to the genre is skill-based: firefights can be turned around if one knows their map and weapons, and the game keeps things simple in its inventory management. Moreover, while Warzone does have weapon cosmetics, the emphasis on having cosmetics is reduced compared to the likes of Fortnite. Seeing MrProWestie and JackFrags in Warzone has piqued my curiosity for the past two years: ever since the global health crisis began, Warzone has offered players a novel experience to immerse themselves in.
- I sat out Modern Warfare and Warzone in 2019 because my desktop wasn’t able to handle it, and while I don’t feel that I’ve missed out on Warzone, watching people play it did get me interested in giving Modern Warfare a go. Here, I managed to get a five-streak in a match of TDM. I rarely strayed from the basic M4 loadout during the beta because it had been so reliable, and in fact, the only limitation about the starting M4 loadout was the fact that one “only” gets a 30-round magazine. Against individual foes or a pair of enemies, 30 rounds is more than enough, but handling multiple foes in a spray-and-pray situation is quite tricky.
- Unlike the Call of Duty: WWII open beta five years ago, where I fared extremely poorly, my performance in Modern Warfare II was somewhat improved to the point where I was having fun during my matches. The only exception to this was early on, when I hadn’t figured out how to disable the voice chat, and therefore, was privy to some of the nonsense other players were spewing. The Call of Duty community is known for situations where middle school-aged children play alongside adult players, and their actions on the voice chat have become quite unwelcome.
- While I didn’t encounter any middle school-aged players, it turns out that the older players are equally as immature: when I joined a TDM round and got a few lucky kills on the opposing team, I was met with screeching and expletives. When I die in a given game, usually, I’ll either handle it quietly and move on (if I was legitimately outplayed), or laugh at the results (especially if I lost in a way that was unexpected or hilarious). Games are about having fun, and I’ve never felt that my sense of self-worth was determined by my KDR or W/L ratio in a given game.
- Once I blocked out the voice chat in the Modern Warfare II open beta, my experienced improved dramatically. While a squad of friends would definitely find squad channels valuable, playing with what are colloquially referred to as “randoms” (basically, people one doesn’t know in real life or have any sort of online friendship with) means that little is to be gained by using voice chat, especially if said randoms are being immature and spamming chat with juvenile comments. Playing Modern Warfare II with just the in-game ambience and dialogue is more than enough, although on the flip-side, it does show that Modern Warfare II‘s voice chat system is working as expected.
- The same couldn’t be said about Battlefield 2042‘s open beta: while the game was still functional and mostly stable, the beta from last year was nowhere nearly as smooth as Modern Warfare II. It is clear that, from the state of their respective open betas, Modern Warfare II is in a much better position for launching in October. Here, I’ve switched over to another domination match on what would become my favourite of the maps during the open beta: Farm 18 is an abandoned cement plant turned into a live fire training ground, consisting of a kill house surrounded by flanking routes.
- In most of the games I’ve played, matches end up being quite close, and I found that while there were times where I ended up losing, my performance would never be so bad as to be demoralising (as I had experienced during the WWII beta back in 2017). I’ve heard that SBMM for Modern Warfare II‘s open beta was very aggressive – when watching MrProWestie, he’d remarked that after doing moderately well in a game, he was subsequently matched into a “sweat” lobby, one where everyone was try-harding to the point where even a full-time content creator was having trouble keeping up.
- There were a few occasions where I did feel that SBMM put me into a game with players far more skillful or determined than myself, but even in these games (which were rare), I would eventually get into the swing of things and manage to hold my own. In the worst matches I played, my team still ended up losing by a few points, and similarly, in the best matches I played, my team won by a small margin. I did find that during games against tougher foes, I would always gain a sudden burst of performance and mow down foes one after another – while not enough to single-handedly turn the tide of battle or turn my KDR positive, such moments were fun and encouraged me not to drop out of a game mid-match.
- Breenbergh Hotel was another map I particularly enjoyed. For domination, two capture points are located inside the hotel (one in the restaurant, and one in the lobby). The last capture point is located outside. The corridors and clutter in the hotel meant that long-range weapons aren’t viable here, and for this particular match, I spawned in with the base M4 without any attachments; I levelled up far enough to unlock custom loadouts, and as I worked on ranking up the M4, I eventually picked up the 45-round extended magazine for it.
- Between the extended magazines and suppressor, I suddenly found myself much better equipped to score back-to-back kills before needing to reload: while tap-firing works well for medium range combat, in close quarters, the sheer chaos means that automatic fire ends up being the norm. Having fifty percent more ammunition to work with increases one’s survivability in these situations, and while the tradeoff is a longer reload time, reloading when out of combat offsets this particular disadvantage.
- The new gunsmith has a similar UI to the gunsmith from Modern Warfare, but the largest difference now is that players can change out the weapon’s receiver. I didn’t get quite far enough to unlock the M16 receiver, but this approach represents a significant improvement over the original Modern Warfare, which had separate weapon unlocks for each individual weapon. Modern Warfare II allows players to unlock attachments for a weapon family, and then unlocking receivers grants access to some (or most) of one’s existing attachments. In my case, had I actually reached the M16 receiver, most of the attachments I already had for the M4 would carry over, allowing me to instantly start using the new gun without needing to work my way back up from the iron sights.
- For kicks, I ended up equipping a slow-firing marksman rifle and got the first kill of that match. Such a weapon is unlikely to work out in the close-quarters environment that makes up the domination mode, but it was quite amusing to score kills in this way. The nature of Modern Warfare II‘s more traditional maps and modes mean that most players will prefer automatic weapons. To level up and experience longer-range combat, one must either play Ground War or Invasion, both of which provide a larger-scale match which changes up the play-style.
- Prior to Modern Warfare, Call of Duty was known for valuing speedy reflexes above tactical play. While I’ve fared moderately well in these ranges as a result of preferring close-quarters combat from my Halo days, after I made the jump to Battlefield, I slowly acclimatised to more tactical, methodical gameplay at medium ranges. The maps in Call of Duty don’t always cater to this style, but I found that, rather than dying to a bad flank, I ended up suffering most at the hands of campers, who prefer remaining concealed in an area and scoring kills by ambushing unsuspecting players.
- Camping will become a more popular approach in Modern Warfare II, since the minimap now hides all foes unless they’ve been spotted by a UAV or other equivalent means. The result of this is that the UAV became one of the more popular score-streaks, since it allowed one to reveal the position of enemies on the minimap for their entire team so long as the streak was active. In the absence of the UAV score-streak, I ended up using my grenades more generously, tossing them into a room and letting them detonate before I entered for myself.
- One map I ended up playing a great deal of was Valderas Museum, which is a complex of corridors and rooms surrounding a large, open central area. The combat flows very rapidly on this map, so unsurprisingly, the M4 was my go-to weapon for this map: it fires fast enough to deal with foes at close quarters, but is accurate enough to pick off foes from across the courtyard. I ended up trying out the SMGs, and while they’re fantastic at close ranges (like their counterparts from Battlefield, they’re reasonably accurate even when hip-fired), larger maps with long sightlines make them a little less viable.
- Besides the killtacular I got early in the open beta, I would end up scoring several double kills and triple kills once I found my flow – my customised M4 and its extended magazine proved to be an invaluable tool for clearing out capture points from attacking foes, while the ACOG sight gave me better clarity at longer ranges. Since Modern Warfare, Call of Duty has done a fantastic job of ensuring all attachments have their pros and cons. While I cut my teeth in the Battlefield camp and prefer the larger-scale all-out warfare of Battlefield over the close-quarters chaos that characterises Call of Duty, recent Call of Duty titles have shown me how Infinity Ward is catching up in terms of engine sophistication.
- After nearly a decade of being on the backfoot, I feel that Call of Duty has now matched DICE and their Frostbite Engine in terms of sophistication, and moreover, Call of Duty appears to be using their engine more effectively than Battlefield uses the Frostbite Engine – Battlefield 2042‘s beta suffered from performance issues that endured even into the game today, whereas Modern Warfare II was very smooth. DICE has worked tirelessly to fix these issues, although in my case, I’ve found that the massive upgrade in hardware is what allows me to play Battlefield 2042 now.
- While the open beta was a fantastic way to ascertain that my machine can handle Modern Warfare II, what I’m most excited about is the campaign, which is the main reason why I play and enjoy Call of Duty. Call of Duty campaigns vary in size and scope, but they always offer an engrossing story that gives me a chance to discuss topics that I otherwise wouldn’t talk about – the political aspects in first and third person shooters invite conversation surrounding these matters, whereas most of the anime I watch tend not to cover such topics. I have found that anime tends to use politics to convey very specific messages, whereas Western entertainment is a bit more open-ended.
- In earlier Call of Duty games, the “overkill” perk allows one to carry two primary weapons, and the default loadouts in Modern Warfare II‘s open beta similarly have two primary weapons. Here, I swapped over to the shotgun and promptly downed a foe defending one of the capture points. I don’t play the multiplayer extensively, so I don’t know which perks are the most effective for different scenarios, but I have heard that Modern Warfare II changes the way perks work: besides two base perks, players will automatically unlock two special perks to change the game dynamic.
- I ended up returning to the Invasion mode so I could do some sniping, and en route to a good vantage point, I ended up being ambushed. The sniper loadout comes with the Signal 50 by default – this was the only long-range weapon available in the open beta, and it was obscenely powerful. However, being a sniper rifle, players are left at a disadvantage if they’re in close quarters. Fortunately, the sniper loadout comes with an automatic pistol which works in a pinch. Battlefield 2042 recently introduced the PF51, which fulfils a similar role.
- The Signal 50 proved to be a remarkably fun weapon to use, and I ended up going on killstreaks with it. Here, I unlocked the Cruise Missile, which lets one drop a missile onto a target similarly to how Battlefield V allowed players to call in a V1 or JB-2. While higher kill streaks offer powerful bonuses, I found that overall, the best score streak unlock is the UAV owing to its ability to instantly reveal enemy positions on the minimap. The removal of enemies on the minimap after they discharged an unsuppressed weapon became a point of contention for long-time players. Some argue that this encourages camping, while others hold that this means players can equip other attachment besides suppressors.
- One of my favourite moments during the Invasion game mode came when I managed to score a kill at 295 metres. Unlike Battlefield 2042, Modern Warfare II retains a means of showing players the distance of a particularly impressive kill, and I admit that it was quite satisfying to land this kill. During this match, I ended up climbing onto the water tower at Sarrif Bay and spent the better half of the game sniping foes from afar.
- Towards the end of the beta, I unlocked a battle rifle. Although I’d initially struggled with the weapon, after getting a few kills with it, I ended up hitting my stride. During this game, my team was outmatched, and I don’t mind admitting that I was more interested in trying out the battle rifle than I was in playing the objective. However, despite losing the match, I led the team on the scoreboard: I was finding that I was regularly finishing first or second in spite of my generally poor knowledge of Call of Duty mechanics.
- Overall, I found myself having a great deal of fun during the Modern Warfare II open beta, significantly more than I’d anticipated, and considerably more than I did during the WWII open beta. I had sat out the Modern Warfare and Cold War open betas in previous years because I’d modified my previous machine in a way that prevented it from being updated to Windows 10. Last May, I ended up merging the user profiles back together and then updated my machine to Windows 10, but by that point, the i5 3570K was beginning to show its age. With my new desktop, I’m looking forwards to having the hardware needed to run games for the next six to eight years.
- I’ll wrap this post up with one final kill from the Hurricane SMG and remark that I’ve just finished Modern Warfare‘s campaign. I’ll write about my thoughts on this come October, and in the meantime, I’ve got one more post lined up for September – I’ve finished Spy × Family‘s first season and found it a remarkable anime, so I look forwards to sharing my thoughts on why this anime is universally acclaimed, as well as some of the things that Spy × Family does especially well from an espionage and surveillance perspective.
With the open beta in the books, I now have a much better sense of what Modern Warfare II entails. Beyond my usual reasons for keeping an eye on a Call of Duty title, I know that Modern Warfare II now offers a fantastic alternative to the close-quarters combat of the usual maps, and the unforgiving environment of Warzone, which requires a squad and time commitment to yield maximum enjoyment. Invasion has proven to be a surprisingly enjoyable change of pace: maps are significantly larger than the typical maps for domination and TDM, giving one a chance to snipe and use vehicles, but at the same time, the allowance for respawns means that there is tolerance for making mistakes, and applying learnings from said mistakes immediately. The last time I played a Call of Duty open beta, it would’ve been five years ago, when WWII was released. Back then, the multiplayer gameplay proved underwhelming and clunky. However, it is plain that Activision has improved their game considerably since then: Modern Warfare II looks incredible, and for the first time, I see myself playing a Call of Duty game’s multiplayer component. In conjunction with a campaign that looks excellent, there is a very good chance that I will be checking out Modern Warfare II shortly after it launches. Between a promising title and the hardware to do so, I am presently leaning towards picking the game up after I’ve had the chance to to preview the campaign’s content and see for myself how things handle following launch. I’ve traditionally picked up Call of Duty games for their story missions and therefore don’t get much replay out of the games, but in the case of Modern Warfare II, between the presence of multiplayer modes that interest me, in conjunction with a Spec Ops mode and the fact that I’ve enjoyed all of the Call of Duty campaigns I’ve previously played, I am reasonably confident that Modern Warfare II would be a game that engages me. All that’s left now is for the early-adopters to give me a bit of additional insight into what I’d be getting into, and then I’ve got enough to make a decision as to whether or not Modern Warfare II is worth the full price of admissions, or if it will join my library at a later date.