Call of Duty: Modern Warfare has a real shot at swaying Battlefield fans, but it needs to evolve past its own community’s expectations

By Sherif Saed, Thursday, 8 August 2019 15:01 GMT

Infinity Ward should own the fact some of its ambitious ideas for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare have been poorly received by the core community.

When multiplayer gameplay from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare flooded YouTube over the last few days, two distinctly at odds reactions to some of the released footage started to emerge. Infinity Ward evidently gave fans so much food for thought, but none of it stood out to me more than the reaction to 20v20 TDM and five-flag Domination.

The promise of 50v50, which we haven’t actually seen, garnered similar sentiments.

The first has been from the Call of Duty community – or I should say, the CoD YouTubers who got to play the game early and share their thoughts. Almost all impressions were negative. CoD players either vehemently disliked 20v20, or didn’t think it belonged in CoD. Most agreed they’d rather – and plan to – stick to the default 6v6 action come October. These feelings could not be more different from what I have seen from the Battlefield community.

Battlefield YouTubers and players were all excited about 20v20, and even the 50v50 version Infinity Ward teased. Though a Call of Duty reveal is guaranteed to turn the heads of even hardcore Battlefield fans, the discourse is often about surface-level features. Outside of professional cautious optimism, I have never seen this much excitement from content creators who traditionally stick to Battlefield, let alone anticipation. For the longest time, Call of Duty simply had nothing to offer Battlefield fans.

Call of Duty games couldn’t compete on scale, visual fidelity, features, and never cared to have a comparable gameplay experience. As big as it is, Call of Duty always existed just outside the periphery of Battlefield players’ vision, who are more likely to get into Rainbow 6 Siege, Insurgency or World War 3. Things gained a bit of momentum with Blackout last year, but that excitement quickly dissipated after launch.

This year, however, things are seemingly changing. Modern Warfare is the first to use a new engine that, while still nowhere near as good-looking as the latest Frostbite, is a significant step-up for the series. Setting aside the staple Call of Duty modes and features Battlefield players never cared about, what they do care about is suddenly also being offered by the same game.

The scale of 20v20 is comparable to Conquest Small in Battlefield games, a 48-player version of Conquest Large that takes place on the same maps, with large chunks sectioned off. The only major absence in this comparison is destruction, a Battlefield hallmark. It’s doubtful destruction will magically materialise between now and launch, but I am willing to bet many will happily trade it for the rest of what Modern Warfare is peddling.

What I saw of five-flag Domination reminded me of Battlefield more than anything else I had ever seen in Call of Duty, which is part of why so many Battlefield fans are suddenly paying close attention to Call of Duty.

Then there’s the discussion of setting and themes. Battlefield players have been asking for a return to a modern setting for a while now, and these calls only got louder as DICE decided to eschew the more familiar WW2 battles in Battlefield 5. For many, Battlefield is synonymous with modern warfare, despite the most recent modern-day shooter – Battlefield 4 – being only six-years-old.

Regardless of whether these feelings are justified, no one can deny the appetite for another Battlefield set in the world of today.

Infinity Ward is pitching a game more grounded in reality, doing away with some of the arcade-y elements introduced in recent years. The developer is happy to replace hitscan with accurate bullet physics, creating a game where calibres matter, recoil is hard to control and weapon customisation is paramount. These are all things Battlefield players are not only familiar with, but have come to expect from every Battlefield game.

Call of Duty is slowly moving in on Battlefield’s territory, then, but Infinity Ward, Treyarch and the rest of Call of Duty’s houses at Activision will need to do more than just up the player counts.

In my mind, two major changes need to be made in order to truly convince Battlefield players to stick with Modern Warfare past the launch honeymoon.

First, killstreaks have no business being in objective modes. The constant pursuit of KD padding Call of Duty modes typically encourage is an element the large-scale, objective-based style of gameplay de-emphasises. Take advantage of Call of Duty players’ resentment towards these large-scale modes by breaking free from their expectations altogether and going completely experimental.

Vehicles, too – now that we know the engine can handle them – need to be tied to zone captures or spawn regularly at base. There are dozens of ways the power and availability of vehicles could be balanced, but they need to be an element independent of killstreaks. None of this has to even follow Battlefield’s way of doing things, as even DICE changes up the rules from game to game.

Call of Duty could easily stand out with its greater emphasis on infantry combat if true combined arms is something out of reach, but bigger modes practically demand the existence of vehicles, attack and transport.

In the same way Call of Duty fandom is divided into three chunks (multiplayer, Zombies, campaign), multiplayer could, too, splinter into two branches of its own. One that delivers the same tried and true close-quarters experience CoD players crave, and another, more grandiose that appeals to Battlefield fans.

As it stands, DICE’s relationship with the Battlefield community is as its worst. Battlefield 5 is now a nine-months-old game that still suffers from major bugs, to the point it has become a joke on forums to chronicle what every new patch breaks.

If Activision is ever going to have a shot at converting lapsed Battlefield fans, Modern Warfare is it. If Infinity Ward is willing to break just a few more moulds.

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