If you tend to follow what we can charitably dub 'the Call of Duty discourse' every year, you've likely been exposed to what appear to be the same complaints, same arguments, and same suggestions made ad nauseam. This is obviously true for the yearly Call of Duty releases, but the new Modern Warfare series has been a particularly sore spot for the most devoted fans.
The Modern Warfare 2 beta just ended its first weekend – available on a single platform – but already, we're seeing a high level of engagement from players who jumped in since servers went live.
What struck me as a little strange wasn't the volume of posts on Reddit, and social media, it was that the complaints being made about Modern Warfare 2 are the same exact ones we heard during the Modern Warfare 2019 beta and launch – often by the same people.
Modern Warfare 2019 is the most successful Call of Duty in history. It managed to bring back the older, lapsed players who gradually drifted off from the franchise over the years, and create a popular free-to-play phenomenon in Warzone. Infinity Ward's technical advancements in visuals, animations, and sound also made it enticing for general shooter fans who swooned at its unparalleled presentation.
To many on the casual side, Modern Warfare 2019 was a monumental release. To the diehard players, however, it was one of the worst Call of Duty games in recent memory. The criticisms fall squarely on certain design decisions Infinity Ward made with the reboot.
Now that we have the sequel in our hands, many of the same people are surprised that the studio doubled down on much of what enraged them three years ago. The developer even took it a step further, messing with genre staple systems like perks in a way many see as unnecessary; a change for the sake of it.
The chatter around the game's minimap still revolves around the fact it doesn't show enemies by default, requiring a UAV for what was once a basic, baked-in feature. This change was first introduced in the 2019 reboot, and though the behaviour remains the exact same in Modern Warfare 2, it nonetheless aggravated some players all over again.
Even before the discussion gets into what the minimap should and shouldn't do, you can tell a lot of players are still unhappy about Modern Warfare's more slower, tactical gameplay. The same was obviously true with the 2019 release, but the maps' porous design exacerbated the effect of that change in gameplay pace, which isn't quite the case this time around.
Infinity Ward – at least judging by the beta maps – appears to have taken that feedback to heart, making map layouts more predictable, reducing clutter, and cutting down on elevated power positions. Beyond that, however, the developer pretty much stuck to its guns on the rest of design.
Dead Silence is another hot-button issue. The once passive perk, available for players to quip and benefit from 100% of the time, has been turned into a Field Upgrade – something you have to wait for to recharge, and can only use for a limited time.
Once again, this is exactly how it worked in Modern Warfare 2019, and players who like to rush and play aggressively made the same exact observations back then. Dead Silence greatly reduces footstep audio, giving players who like to run around the map an advantage against campers.
But emphasis on Dead Silence wouldn't be so pronounced if it weren't for Modern Warfare’s loud footstep sounds, which many felt was a major contributor to the 2019 game’s perceived campiness. You wouldn't be surprised to learn that Infinity Ward didn't really make any changes there, and loud footstep sounds are yet again a major topic of feedback featuring the same arguments.
It's interesting that the series' more vocal players haven't taken the hint that certain changes will remain going forward for reasons that go beyond in-match balance. Player retention is the number one goal for game publishers today.
One way Call of Duty does this is through engagement-based matchmaking, or skill-based matchmaking as it's typically known. The system attempts to match players with and against others within a similar skill level, but those ratings are hidden.
How much the player's connection is weighed in the matchmaking's algorithm vs other performance-related factors is unclear. The fact of the matter is that the more aggressive, highly-skilled players are finding it more difficult to succeed on the same level they enjoyed pre-SBMM, which is a major reason why this is a particularly sore spot for many.
A key part of why this style of matchmaking has been successful in three consecutive games (beginning with Modern Warfare 2019) is scrambling player lobbies at the end of every match and reassessing their skills. Disbanding lobbies, as the community has come to call it, is unlikely to go away anytime soon considering its role in the algorithm and how long it's been in the game.
And yet, disbanding lobbies is still a constant complaint from the same group of players, even after three years of it becoming a reality.
As time has proven again and again, it's unlikely Infinity Ward will change its position on such fundamental parts of its modern design. It's even less likely that Activision would mess with systems like matchmaking because of their clear relation to player retention.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is out October 28 on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X/S.