CALL OF DUTY: ADVANCED WARFARE
~A comprehensive rambling~
Call of Duty is quite the series, starting as a WW2 shooter series, then becoming the go-to run-and-camp FPS and eventually going into the realms of science fiction. Advanced Warfare is the first full Call of Duty game by Sledgehammer games, which did work on previous Call of Duty games like Modern Warfare 3. It is set in the mid-late 2050s, where North Korea hates freedom and Chechen terrorists have formed worldwide terror organizations with vague anarchist goals.
Part 1: The Campaign
(Plot spoilers below)
A brief overview of the campaign gives a standard action movie plot: A good ol’ boy fights in the Marines and is maimed because of it, then is recruited by a PMC and given a fancy mechanical arm because PMCs have infinite money. He then trots around the world killing terrorists until the PMC reveals that it used the terrorists to gain footholds in every country because nobody wanted to be blown up or otherwise terrorized. Then, after everyone is indebted to it, the PMC declares war on the world (well, just America, but in his speech he also basically said “once America’s done you’re all next”) in one of my favourite CoD cutscenes ever and declares it has a bio-weapon that kills only people they deem enemies. A climactic fight happens and the PMC defeats the world coalition by deploying the bio-weapon, and the remaining people who were immune to the strike because they defected from the PMC go around and stop a nuke launch and kill the PMC’s leader, saving the world forever.
Also the PMC leader is Kevin Spacey, which continues a trend of weird celebrity cameos such as 50 Cent doing voice work for Modern Warfare 2.
(Plot spoilers above)
It’s nothing particularly out of the norm. But nobody cares about the story.
The Good Things About The Campaign:
- It’s fun enough. If you enjoyed any amount of old Call of Duty campaigns, it’s basically that with a few twists.
- The exo upgrades make for a nice incentive to collect intel and complete challenges.
- The in-campaign challenges at a smidgen of replayability to the campaign, if not just to find the MDL and an ammo crate to get the required Grenade kills.
- Some of the gadgets, mainly Exo Overclock AKA Bullet-time, are fun and add a neat dimension to normal campaign “shoot these guys” bits.
- Some of the vehicle bits, like the Tank part of Bio Lab, were pretty fun. Not really as cool as the AC130 in MW1, though. Nothing has beat that yet.
- When you can use them, the Exo abilities add a lot of fun to the normal cover-shoot gameplay.
- The stealth mission was fairly interesting, although kinda shallow.
- After a point in the campaign, you get a grapple attached to your Exosuit. You can use it to do what you’d think a grappling hook would do: whoosh around to places you wouldn’t normally be able to get to. You also get a few neat contextual takedowns with them at times.
The Bad Things About The Campaign:
- The weapons are samey. Nothing really stands out at all, you can ace a game with the HBRa just as well as you could with the BAL or the SN6. This is more of a function of how Call of Duty campaigns play, though I still wish they tried to shake things up.
- It’s so easy. The campaign is so easy. So so easy. If you take the short amount of time to get the Exo maxed out, you are an utter beast. You carry a load of grenades (mainly the ones that let you wallhack!), reload insanely quick, have max battery for your abilities… The only time you’ll die at the hardest difficulty is if you’re REALLY dumb, or go too forward ahead when the plot demands you stay with the team.
- Remember when I said some of the gadgets are fun? Well, some of them are literally nothing. How many people used Exo Sonics? Or even the shield more than a few times? The vehicles suffer the same fate. The whole hoverbike level just wanted to be a cutscene. The plane segment was able to be done by holding the attack buttons and moving up and down even on the hardest difficulty.
- The level design. Remember when I said the grappling hook and exo abilities made fighting really cool? That only applied to basically one map in the entire campaign. I can’t believe Sledgehammer made such trash campaign maps when they did amazingly with the Multiplayer maps (more on that later). What the level design should have been for most of the campaign is many more open areas that are populated with enemies, such as multiple buildings, where you can use the vertical mobility the game gives you and take down the enemies in many different ways.
- The enemy AI. They all play like they’re in a normal Call of Duty game. But they’re not. Most of the enemies after a point have exosuits too, yet you’re the only one who utilizes the boost, the jumps, even the bullet-time. The worst part of this? Advanced Warfare’s Exo Survival gamemode has enemies with GOOD AI, who use the suits correctly: they dodge gunfire, can use Exo Cloak and Exo Launchers… What the hell, Sledgehammer? The two HUGE gripes I have with the campaign are problems that don’t exist in the other gamemodes within the SAME game!
Part 1.5: Exo Survival But Mainly Just Talking About the AI
This part will not feature a good/bad bit, I’m just gonna gush on this one. Exo Survival is the Co-op gamemode (other than Exo Zombies, which I’m not going to cover because it’s trash) with a simple goal: survive. Exo Survival uses multiplayer maps where a team of up to four players must work together to survive. There are four classes, with different stats: Heavy, Light, Specialist, Demolitions. Heavy Exos have lots of HP and access to Heavy Weapons, but are slow and have limited Exo movements. Light Exos have low HP, but fast movement speed, unlimited Exo movement, and access to SMGs and ARs. Specialists have access to Sniper Rifles and Shotguns, and have average speed, HP, and limited Exo movements. Demolitions is the same as Specialist but has access to Launchers instead of Shotguns/Snipers. Like most survival gamemodes, enemies come in waves that increase in difficulty.
Now, this gamemode is a blast… With a full team. It can be done splitscreen two-player, but you need optimal strategies that limit the choices you make considerably. The Heavy kinda beats out the other classes, because this gamemode is by nature defensive and you start out with the EM1, which does not require ammo and is a fairly good weapon on its own. I talked about the AI before, so let’s talk about that now. The AI in this gamemode is amazing compared to the Campaign, and I don’t understand why the AI wasn’t added to campaign too. There are many different kinds of enemies in Survival, from lowly Grunts who barely can dodge with their Exo movements and are easily killed, to the Elites, who dodge, go prone, and wield deadly accuracy. Each type of enemy has their own behaviors, some stay back and provide suppressing fire, others charge ahead, and some try to hit with EMP grenades before fighting. It’s really cool and there are moments where you and your team are completely blindsided because you didn’t expect the enemy to do something. The upgrade system is nothing special but it gets the job done.
To prevent your team from turtling all the time, Challenges are injected into the game at random intervals. These range from defusing bombs across the map to picking up pieces of intel from dead enemies. If completed within the time limit, these challenges award extra points. If they are not completed, a punishment happens. These failure punishments range from enemies using smoke to reduce visibility, to removing all your weapons except for a Pistol for a set amount of time. Generally, it’s not worth ignoring the challenges, but save for the Pistol one, you can survive a punishment or two if you’re good enough. These challenges are meant to punish teams that are too defensive, and indeed the Heavy Exo has trouble completing all the challenges in time. In a four-man game, a rounded team would most likely have a Light Exo user complete the missions while the others cover him.
My only real complaint about Survival other than the difficulty is that the weapon sandbox doesn’t include weapons that were added in later updates. The maps from DLC can be played on, but only 1 weapon, the AE4, was added to the gamemode after launch. There are around 10 other weapons that were added to the game later on and are not able to be used. This may be due to thematic dichotomy, what with the Blunderbuss and other weapons from the past being those DLC weapons, but I feel like the gameplay addition would be worth the anachronisms.
Part 2-7: Multiplayer
Technically, Exo Survival and Exo Zombies are multiplayer, but they’re not important.
2: The Base Mechanics
The technology of mid-late 2050’s has allowed for soldiers to be equipped with Exoskeleton suits (most commonly just called Exos or Exosuits) which, although not adding much in terms of armour, allow operators to do MUCH more than a similar soldier without one. Although the Exosuit is featured in the campaign, it is highly limited compared to what Multiplayer’s Exosuit is capable of.
This is the meat of what the Exosuit provides to the discerning operator. The Exosuits that players use have several abilities that enhance mobility. There is the Exo Boost, which is similar to a jump jet, that allows the player to access vertical map elements and dodge attacks on the ground. In addition, while in the air, the player can Exo Slam, which cancels all momentum and immediately rockets the player downward. Directly hitting an enemy with the Exo Slam will kill them, and wounded enemies can be killed by landing nearby. On top of that, there is the Exo Dodge, which uses some kind of booster system to immediately dash in a direction. This can be used to dodge enemy attacks, close the gap between you and an enemy, or even increase the horizontal range of your Exo Boost. A final addition is the Exo Slide, which uses boosters to slide along the ground. Combined with the Exo Dodge, you can cover ground very quickly, but you must wait for some time before Exo Dodging more than twice.
Technically an exo ability, the Exo Launchers are small cannons attached to the arm braces of your Exosuit that fire grenades. Gameplaywise, these are basically just a fancy way of doing a grenade throw animation.
That’s right, the Exosuit’s enhancements to an operator’s strength allow you to one-shot-kill enemies by punching them. The enemy’s ragdoll will also fly as if killed by an explosive, to add to it. This replaces the Knife melee from previous games, but if you really want you can still use a Tactical Knife or use the Combat Knife that replaces any empty weapon slot.
3. Virtual Firing Range
I didn’t really have a good place to stick this, as it’s not a map really, nor is it a base game mechanic, and it only tangentially deals with weapons/balance. Nevertheless, an integral part to playing ANY CoD multiplayer is brewing the perfect loadout for you. Now, before (and from what I understand, after) Advanced Warfare, you were supposed to theorycraft you way into a loadout. Maybe the suppressor is good on this weapon? How long does it take to switch to my secondary? When does this weapon stop killing in three shots? All of these questions had to be answered by joining a match and potentially equipping a sub-optimal loadout, when you learn that the suppressor is in fact not good on this weapon, it takes centuries to switch to your secondary, and your three-shot-kill range is half the range of your knife.
But not in Advanced Warfare. While in the Create-A-Class menu, you can instantly boot up a virtual firing range. As shown in the above video (not mine), there’s lots of different firing ranges with moving targets, and also a stationary adjustable target that highlights hits, allowing you to get a feel for the spread pattern of your weapon at different ranges.
This may not SOUND like a huge addition, but upon playing other Call of Duty games (both released before and after Advanced Warfare) I instantly wished that I had it. It removes so much frustrating guesswork from crafting a good class, and you could load it up while you were waiting for a lobby to go to the next game. It is such a neat little addition that it gets its own part in this article, and should be a part of EVERY Call of Duty from now on.
4. The Maps
Maps in Advanced Warfare are infinitely more accessible and vertical than predecessors, or even its successors. This is due to the Exosuit completely changing movement in every dimension. Advanced Warfare’s maps have plenty of rooftops, underpasses, and tiered buildings to allow you to fully use your Exosuit. My above video of crossing the popular map Riot is an example.
Advanced Warfare’s maps are all good… Okay, one of them, Instinct, is kind of trash. I blame Instinct’s problems on Call of Duty’s spawn system more than anything; it allows spawns to become too close and you end up just getting clusterfucked in the caves. But most of the others are good. I especially realized how well Advanced Warfare maps are designed in context of their game mechanics when I played the newly-free Atlas Gorge map, which is a port of an older Call of Duty game. Guess what? It plays like SHIT. The map has too much dead space, the verticality is really weird and not as fluid as the other maps, it feels CLUTTERED and way too large.
Maps in AW feel small. Even the largest maps can be crossed fairly quickly provided you aren’t killed when you are crossing them. However, small should not be confused with bad or cluttered – It feels like you can CHOOSE where you’re going to fight most of the time. If anything, the maps are dense – Technically, you can cover most of them quickly, but fights can happen in countless different ways.
5. The Items/Cosmetics
Advanced Warfare did a first by introducing an item system to the game! Okay, I think Ghosts had a cosmetic system but this is much more game-changing. Or even warping? Items can be weapon variants, cosmetics, or short boosts such as double XP for x minutes of gametime or even ones that let you get your next time-based Supply Drop faster.
Items can be acquired a few ways:
- The main method is from Supply Drops, which are given for every ~45 minutes of in-game play, and also daily “Supply Drop Challenges” which are things like “Get 30 kills with LMGs” or “Win 3 games of Domination.” These challenges vary in difficulty but most of them can be done in a few games. The wins challenges are notoriously hard to get, especially on less-played gamemodes. But most of the time, they aren’t wins and you’ll be fine.
- A secondary method is Advanced Supply Drops, which are given at levels 20, 30, 40, and whenever you Prestige. Additionally, they can be bought from a microtransaction store. These supply drops have a fancy gold/orange item card and contain better rarity distribution (A guaranteed weapon and a guaranteed drop that is above Common/Enlisted rarity). They also contain cosmetics that are exclusive to ASDs.
- One last method is only for weapons. Master Prestiges, which are Prestiges 16-30, give you a specific Elite weapon each time you attain them.
There are six rarities in AW. In no real order: Permanent*, Retired, Enlisted, Professional, Elite, Legendary. Above is a look through my Armory, where items are stored, to get an idea of how many items a player can get over time.
- Permanent Items technically correspond to enlisted, Professional, or Elite, but they have their own item card colour so whatever. Permanent are technically the easiest to get, as they don’t require ANY supply drops. They are unlocked a few ways, some are from achievements such as beating the Campaign or maxing out your Exosuit in the Campaign. However, most of them are Marksman challenge unlocks, which are unlocked after completing a specific Marksman challenge (Get X kills with this weapon). Permanents don’t take up space in your inventory and can’t be deleted.
- Retired are what they say: items that aren’t distributed anymore. Most of these are weird in that they were either weapons that weren’t even that good to begin with, or cosmetics that for some reason were retired. Either way, pretty hard to find now that the game’s pretty old and most old players have gone.
- Enlisted items correspond to the conventional “common” rarity. Cosmetics-wise, Enlisted sets contain lots of parts and look fairly normal, foot-soldier or grunt dress. Weapons will be covered later.
- Professional items are uncommon. Cosmetics-wise, Professional sets tend to require less pieces but are harder to find than Enlisted items. There’s not really a unifying visual theme, but I’d say that the cosmetic sets tend to be taken from specialists within the campaign.
- Elite items are the Rare of the bunch. Comsetic sets of these are visually striking and require the least amount of pieces to assemble, but are also much harder to find than the others. A small caveat is that ALL of the exosuit pieces of gear sets, from Enlisted to Elite, are Elite rarity. The Enlisted Sentinel Medic set is completely Enlisted-rarity, except for the Sentienl Medic Exo, which is Elite. This is probably due to the fact that Exosuits are very visually striking and getting one is supposed to be special. Note that this makes assembling sets much harder.
- Legendary Items are Mythic/Ghost rares. They are very low chance of appearing, and tend to be very visually striking (with the exception of maybe the Shinobi set, which is a recolour of a stock set). These were not part of the base game, and cosmetics-wise they probably break the style or setting.
All in all, the rarities are fine I guess. Assembling even ONE set takes forever, though. I only managed to amass the Sentinel Medic set after 23 prestiges and over half a year of play. To be fair, there are some sets you can get from achievements, like the Atlas Campaign armour (which is one of the best-looking sets in the game anyway) but if you want a consistent look from the random drops it will take a long time.
Base game’s cosmetic style is great, really. There’s quite a bit of variety: if you want to look like a spacemarine, get the Atlas Campaign Set or try for the Atlas Recon sets. If you want to be a gritty operator, some of the Marine or Sentinel loadouts can be up your alley as well. But they all tend to fall into the setting well enough, you have mixes of old (Well, old to the setting, new to us) tech mixed with high-tech.
But… Like all things, it has to be ruined. Wacky sets such as the Clown gear set were added to the game in an update, and they ONLY drop from ASDs. ASD-only drops vary from distinct, but still completely within the bounds of the setting (Like the KVA Believer set) to “what the fuck Sledgehammer” (the Clown set) to somewhere in between (Shortwave set).
Scorestreaks are what you get for earning Score without dying. Made to reward good play and staying alive, Scorestreaks allow your operator to call in all sorts of support.
Every CoD game’s streaks tend to be rather oddly dispersed, some sounding good but being awful and others sounding awful but being good. Scorestreaks in Advanced Warfare are fairly balanced, although some are overcosted. The best scorestreaks can be countered by someone that has a launcher capable of shooting down the offending Streak vehicle, which also rewards points (a fun little tactic is to throw a launcher on a class that doesn’t need a secondary. With that launcher, you can shoot down enemy Streaks to potentially get the extra 100 points necessary for your own streaks!). Because streaks can be stopped by a single death in such a high-lethality game, generally they are not a problem. On top of that, there are stealth perks that make you unaffected by the enemy’s Streaks passively.
In addition, bad players or players that can’t be arsed to play for Streaks can use a few Streaks that can adapt a Support module, which allows them to earn streaks regardless of how often they die (but they will earn them much less often). Support streaks are, as the name says, generally streaks that do not have main offensive capabilities and support your team instead. The support streaks are Recon Drone (which can mark enemies but not hurt them), UAV (which show enemies on the map), Remote Turret (stationary machine gun turret), and Care Package (A box that drops from the sky and awards a random Streak. These can be intercepted by enemies or even meanie teammates!).
Each Scorestreak has three “module” slots, which alter the performance of the Streak in exchange for making the streak require more score to earn. These modules add another dimension of customization, as you can choose to have expensive streaks with lots of modules or barebones streaks that are easier to reach.
The general balance of the modules is fine. Many people opt to never equip modules because they don’t add enough to require those extra kills or objective captures. The ones that really enhance a Streak generally cost the most (like the Rockets on Assault Drone costing 300 extra points, almost doubling the Score requirement).
Modules can allow some streaks like the Assault Drone and Goliath to be used when the base variant is trash. However, a Streak like the Missile Strike costs too much from a base standpoint, and Modules (which unviersally increase the cost to achieve a Streak) can not help in that instance. However, I think that modules are amazing and I definitely would want to see them in the future, as they are one of the least harmful additions to the CoD formula in this game.
7. The Weapons
I was planning on doing a review of every weapon slot and talk about their effectiveness here, but with a few exceptions, each weapon in the game has its niche. I’m also going to include the weapons that were added in later updates, although they are not TECHNICALLY part of the base game.
- ARs are good everywhere, and amongst them there is a varying power level, but it’s all fairly high. Basically, there’s not a particularly bad choice in this category, but you can make the best choices here as well. However, the Semi-Auto ARs (M1 Garand and Mk14) are undeniably the worst, with the M16 as a runner-up.
- SMGs are good basically everywhere because the wicked amount of mobility you have. The SMGs have a wildly varying power level, from the god-tier ASM1 to the trash-tier SN6. I would say that this is probably the most unbalanced category in the game, but without Variants included, it’s still not that bad.
- LMGs are a very weird category. Some are good only at range, others are only good up close, one is only good on Hardcore mode, and one is also a shotgun. LMGs are the epitome of situational weapons, they all have their niche and are very good in them, but they have horrible mobility and reload times.
- Snipers in this game are in a weird spot. People can move faster than ever, and you are very easily flanked. Despite that, the snipers in this game are still good, but they are limited in their potential by their mags and scopes. You will kill more people faster with ARs or SMGs, but you will be able to kill people and stay alive more conistently with a sniper (you better be good at sweeping for people flanking you though.)
- Shotguns are good in this game, who would have thought? Giving everyone rocket packs makes shotguns pretty scary. Much like the ARs, most of the options here are fine with maybe one better choice peaking above. I’d say that the Bulldog is probably just the least useful out of all of them but is still a fine shotgun.
- Special Weapons are trash and only used in specific situations except for the M1 Irons, which is wildly inconsistent. The Riot Shield is good when you can put it on your back as a little bit of added protection. The MDL is trash because its function times are measure in seconds and not milliseconds, and also because people can dodge grenades really easily in this game. The M1 Irons are basically a pistol that was buffed and put in a primary slot; it can definitely drop people, and do it probably the fastest of almost any non-one-shot weapon, but you are gimped by its reload. You can only kill 1 person per mag consistently.
They’re all good. Except for the MAAWS and Crossbow. The pistols in this game are some of the deadliest weapons in close quarters, with good handling traits and two-shot-kills. Anyone who underestimates a pistol wielder will be dropped in a matter of milliseconds. Launchers serve their purpose: The MAHEM can kill people, the Stinger can kill vehicles. The Crossbow is trash because everyone is that much more mobile so hitting them with a crossbow bolt is unfeasible to do consistently. The MAAWS tries to be the Stinger and MAHEM but is bad at both roles.
Variants mess up the whole base balance of the game. Well, they’re not as bad as you’d expect, really, but they definitely introduce problems along with all the fun they bring.
Remember when I went over the rarities? Well, weapons have them too, and they influence how much stats are changed (this is a soft guideline, some weapons break these rules).
- Enlisted/Common weapons change 2 stats: One stat is increased, one stat is decreased.
- Professional/Uncommon weapons change 4 stats: Two stats increase, two stats decrease. Some variants can have an attachment included with the variant (such as the Noob Tube giving the AMR9 an underbarrel Grenade Launcher) and if they do, it counts as a stat increase/decrease.
- Elite/Rare weapons change 6 stats: Three up, three down. Attachments may count as an up/down stat change, so Elite weapons with attachments will increase 4 stats as if they were a Professional weapon.
- Legendary weapons: All bets are off. Some legendaries have attachments and asymmetric stat increases, some legendaries simultaneously increase and decrease stats (increase minimum range but decrease maximum range)… These are the rule-breakers.
- Permanent weapons generally follow Professional weapon conventions.
Now, an obvious problem that you may already see is that some stats are more important than others. For example, would you compare the speed in which you aim down your sight equal with Fire Rate or Damage? Many downsides are covered by attachments – Quickdraw Grip decreases aim down sight speed, Advanced Rifling increases weapon damage range, Grip decreases recoil, etc. Below is an example of one variant that decreases fire rate compared to one that increases fire rate.
Many weapons have a “best” variant that covers up the base weapon’s problems or enhance its best stats. For example, the Bal-27 Obsidian Steed increases the damage at mid and long range, which is a main drawback for the base Bal-27, and its downsides ping its fire rate and accuracy, two stats that can take the hit fairly well. This results in the Obsidian Steed’s upsides far outweighing the downsides. The S-12 Compliant increases the magazine size, which is VERY important because the S-12 is an automatic shotgun and it burns through mags quickly. I literally don’t even know the downside for the Compliant, it might be worse hipfire accuracy, it doesn’t even matter.
Other weapon variants are broken – and this is in all directions, from good to bad to ugly. The entire suite of EPM3 unlocks, for example, mainly increase the weapons Range value. Range is used in calculating long-medium-close range damage, so a weapon with good close-range damage but bad medium-long range damage wants a lot of range. However, a weapon that deals the same damage at all ranges does not ever benefit from range increases. Guess what the EPM3 has! A flat damage model! That’s right, basically every single variant in the game of the EMP3 are useless. An example of a good brokenness is the Pytaek Eradicator, which makes the LMG deal an equal 35 damage at all ranges. Its downside? It decreases range (which, as stated before, doesn’t matter if your weapon has a flat damage model). So it is a pure upgrade from the base Pytaek. Others, like the Atlas 20mm – Virtuosity, have downright erroneous stats – it says that it decreases damage by THREE ticks (a lot) but it doesn’t do anything to damage, making it another pure upgrade.
On top of this, weapon acquisition from supply drops is pure RNG. There is no crafting system, you have to pray to the winds and open supply drops. This causes some people to play the entire game without encountering a weapon! Between that and the balance of variants, it’s the main cause of problems within Advanced Warfare.
Some parts, like the REALLY unbalanced weapon variants, such as the Speakeasy, Insanity, Obsidian Steed should have been rebalanced. Other parts, like the glitched or broken weapons, should have been patched or reworked. The RNG could have been mitigated by letting the player pick out a specific variant that they’d want every prestige. (The Master Prestiges kind of do this, they give you a predetermined variant every time you prestige.).
Now, I still say that the variants were a good idea. They should have been monitored a little closer, is all I’m saying. Some weapons, like the SAC3, have a good spread of variants that allow for different playstyles, and it’s great! I can never say that a particular one is the best.
If any part of this is a major complaint about Advanced Warfare, it’s the fact that these concerns are easily addressed. But they haven’t been addressed. Sledgehammer had two years realistically to deal with these problems, but they didn’t ever. They did rebalance base weapons during the two years the game was “alive” but they didn’t address many of the problems that existed from the start and persist to this day.
I say without hesitation that Advanced Warfare is my favourite CoD game. But it is not without its flaws. Some of them, like the campaign, can be blamed on how Call of Duty games are made. But others, like MP variant balance, those SHOULD have been taken care of years ago. Hopefully, Sledgehammer will see its failures in its first Call of Duty and right them. If they do, it’s without a doubt they’ll make something even better than their first entry.