When you hear the name Modern Warfare 2, it evokes certain memories, along with specific expectations. MW2 defined what Call of Duty is for many of us, even if CoD4: Modern Warfare launched the series. What we largely envision Call of Duty should be generally comes from that game, at least for me. It was the most I’d ever played a multiplayer game, up until the relaunch of Modern Warfare back in 2019. The moniker is a high bar for any game to live up to, and with Infinity Ward retreading holy ground in “II”, it’s up to us, the gamers, to evaluate if it makes the cut.
I recently watched Amazon Prime’s show “The Terminal List”, and it really scratched an itch. Here is a military tale that focuses on a Lt. Commander pushed past his limits, with the twist that his mind might be compromised. I don’t want to say much more for spoilers sake, but its bombastic storytelling is one of the first things I thought of when playing through the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II campaign. Sure, the main theme isn’t the same, but the seriousness of what is going on resonates from both. In the midst of that similarity rises something else though, a largely familiar phantom of narratives past, but more one that reminds us of what once was while ushering us into a new generation of warfare.
Let’s start with the basics. You’re playing as many characters in the ragtag band of Task Force 141 that we all know and love. The likes of Captain Price, Laswell, and Gaz return from Modern Warfare, joined in this story by Soap McTavish, the ever hated General Shepherd, and the much beloved Simon “Ghost” Riley. New to all of this are the Mexican Special Forces, with Colonel Alejandro Vargas and Major Rudolfo Parra. What’s great about the gang that’s here is that you rarely feel like you get a lack of time with any specific party, with each one getting their time in the limelight. Ghost feels especially highlighted in Modern Warfare II, showing Infinity Ward knows who fans want to see.
The conflict you’ll be in the middle of is a common one; somebody has missiles and unfortunately it’s a band of terrorists, go stop them. How the missiles got there is the main mystery, and while the game immediately hints at a coverup on a massive level, you’ll be doing a bit of globetrotting to figure it all out. After a few turns in the road, you’ll make your way towards the cartel controlled territory of Las Almas, where you meet up with Alejandro and company. One area I wish was a little more prevalent was the drug trade, in that I’d have really enjoyed the focus being on breaking that up rather than a side show in another story about somebody blowing up the world. Admittedly, that’s what Task Force 141 is here for, so it should come as no surprise that’s what’s up.
I know I shouldn’t be shocked by it at this point, but the stage set before you in the campaign is at an extraordinary scale. The cutscenes feel pulled out of a movie, they’re so good, with amazing performances by the entire cast, villains included (oh yeah, Valeria is awesome). I do want to call out Alain Mesa, the actor for Alejandro Vargas, for giving his all in mo-cap. You can feel the passion of Colonel Vargas every moment he’s on screen, and it’s all because of Alain.
Even greater in scale is the level design, and after Modern Warfare II the staff in charge of it should be asking for big raises. The game slowly builds, and you really don’t recognize how large it can get until the Cartel Protection mission. As you exit the back of the small village you began in heading to the mountain trails, the scope of everything starts to click as you see the mountains in the distance, and the jump off of the cliffside into the water below just cements that.
It gets even grander when you move from that into Recon By Fire, a mission with Price and Gaz that mimics All Ghillied Up, arguably the greatest campaign mission in Call of Duty history. While nothing will ever top that one, Recon By Fire does an incredible job of lovingly reminding you of that mission, while still making its own mark as a sneaky sniper assignment. The scope of it will blow you away, a huge coastal space where you’ll be crawling around trying to see if the cartel has hidden any missiles there. It’s the ultimate Modern Warfare playground, and exactly what I’d think of if asked what next-gen Call of Duty is. Modern Warfare II dips into the concepts of the past often in this game, but always as an Easter egg rather than copy and pasting something. It’s why it works so well.
Modern Warfare II succeeds in the small stuff as well, even when the levels aren’t Michael Bay explosions everywhere or nearly open-world. There are several street-level stealth based sections that are tough, both in number of enemies and in dying quickly, but that just made me want to beat them all the more. Infinity Ward tried quite a few new things in their design here (like a small amount of crafting), and it mostly works throughout the story, beyond the heavily-armored enemies that made me want to pull my hair out at times. I really like the idea in how they end the story for Modern Warfare II, but the execution of the final bullet left me a bit unsatisfied. I’m not too upset at it though, with the final mission of the previous Modern Warfare feeling mostly the same. There’s some transitions that could have been done better, and that’s all I have to say on the matter.
While many Call of Duty games have looked good in the past, Modern Warfare II takes it to a whole new level. I already talked about how the cutscenes leave you engrossed in the story, but the whole game looks phenomenal. I may step down my graphics settings in multiplayer, but during my campaign playthrough I pushed everything up to the max. It was well worth it too, looking over the plethora of environments the game had to offer. I don’t know that I can even pick the best looking level, with ones like Dark Water and the aforementioned Recon By Fire and Cartel Protection standouts.
We shouldn’t really have to say much on it, given it is the industry standard, but the gunplay in Modern Warfare II is certainly world-class. I spent a lot of time intentionally picking up different weapons to try them out, or retrying a checkpoint because I wanted to try something different. There’s nothing like firing a gun in a Call of Duty game, because you feel it when you do. The audio team at Infinity Ward never misses. We’ll find out a lot more about the final product in multiplayer, but for now I’m satisfied with each of the weapons and can’t wait to configure them differently.
Overall, this campaign brought me back to the beginning. There’s deja-vu here, with familiar missions and faces, but that takes you off the beaten path into something more awe-inspiring than it’s ever been. I felt completely immersed in the seven or so hours I spent with Ghost, Price, Soap, and the others I grew up with, riveted to the screen, and I kind of want to do it again. Modern Warfare II is not something you’re going to want to put down, and I get the feeling this is just the start of it.
The crown jewel of the Call of Duty franchise is of course, the multiplayer. Whether or not you like the campaign or whatever third pillar mode that’s included, most stay for the multiplayer. We’ve taken a few trips to the past since the last time modern war graced our screens, and picking back up today’s weaponry along with current settings, and everything feels like it should. Modern Warfare launched Call of Duty to new heights after all, and after mixed feelings following the previous two entries of Cold War and Vanguard, Infinity Ward getting a full development cycle excites even the most tired gamer.
Let’s start with the elephant in the room: pacing. We talked about it in our beta preview, but Infinity Ward has definitely aimed for something more tactical in Modern Warfare II. Gone is slide canceling, gone is the ninja perk; they’ve even nerfed the bunny hop since we last spoke. As my opinion was before, this isn’t to the detriment of the game. While the skill gap is no longer based around movement, the best players still find a way to make it work.
With these changes in place, I’ve certainly noticed myself doing what I can to push pace even without the extra tools available, and I think I’ve been able to do that. Some of that stems from Infinity Ward really tuning this build of the game; I’ve found everything much smoother than it was in the beta, though it still needs audio work with footsteps. There are going to be (and are) plenty of players who are going to get mad at losing the ability to run straight at people, but if you take time to learn what Infinity Ward has built, you will stand more than a chance at taking out the so called “sentinels” (players who stand at headys and don’t move).
Getting into the weaponry, Infinity Ward has provided a bevy of new toys, with a lot we know and love. Many we’ll probably call by the old name, like the “Lachmann Sub a.k.a. MP5”, but it’s still largely the same gun. These have all been faithfully recreated, and using them is an absolute joy. Like I said when talking about the campaign, between gunplay and audio cues, it’s extremely satisfying to play a Call of Duty game. Something I didn’t expect; sniping has again become amazing. I loved it in Modern Warfare, but it became so situational in Cold War and Vanguard. In Modern Warfare II, sniping is back, baby.
Where things get a lot more complex is Gunsmith and the leveling system, and boy is it something. To unlock new weapons, instead of just getting your personal rank to 55, you’re going to have to actually use different weapon platforms. This is a tree which different platforms of guns belong to, e.g. the M4 platform includes the FSS Hurricane, FTAC Recon, 556 Icarus, and M16. Most of these look very similar, and that’s because they’re all in the family. Even so, they have different functions, some ARs, some SMGs, some LMGs, and so on.
The rubber really meets the road in the attachments, and this both detracts and adds complications. For one, gone is the old seventy tiers of gun leveling, leaving you to grind less. So far, most of the weapons I’ve used have maxed out around twenty tiers, which is a lot less time invested. Even better though, once you have an attachment, it’s unlocked permanently, meaning you can use it with any weapon you have that it fits. There’s also a new attachment tuning mechanic I had hoped to talk about, but given several bugs it was causing, it’s been disabled for now.
Guns can only get annoying in one way, the need to use nearly every single weapon if you want to build the best loadouts. To get the MP5/Lachmann Sub for example, I had to use the Lachmann 762 battle rifle up to level 13, then the Lachmann 556 until level 12. It’s a whole lot of busy work, and for some that will be frustrating. It’s taken a step further in the attachments, with say needing to use a sniper rifle just to get the right grip for my submachine gun class. I personally like the intention to push me out of my comfort zone, which leads me to try new things even if I never return to them afterwards.
Something that really needs to be discussed is how the new field upgrades work in a fantastic way. Often it’s tough to add newer things because of how overpowered they can be, but I haven’t encountered that so far. One of my buddies used the tactical camera to give us a hand during Search and Destroy, giving our team an extra eye on a bomb site with a lot of angles. That’s just a single example, and I can see many using the default trophy systems and dead silence, but there is some merit to choosing these other tools. Same with equipment like the shock stick, which makes you think twice to approach an area or bomb site.
What’s disappeared into the background though are the perks. In the new system, you start with two, then gain a third and fourth as the game progresses. I’m not really a fan of it, but I’ve also noticed perks almost don’t seem to matter much now. I’m at least happy things like High Alert don’t come into play right away, but I haven’t actually given a crap about my perks since starting Modern Warfare II. It leaves me mixed on them, okay with the more cheesy perks being afterthoughts but frustrated that an entire mechanic isn’t impactful in the process.
One of the biggest concerns many will have is with the maps, and while I’m enjoying them so far, they aren’t catching my attention yet. I say that remembering how much I didn’t care for Hackney Yard back in Modern Warfare 2019, and then watching it become one of my favorites. These feel like they’ll take a little time to grow on you, and that’s okay. Learning to play them has been a fun time though, with maps like Zarqwa Hydroelectric providing an interesting flow when considering the underwater paths you can take. The concept is certainly more novelty than game-changing, but it has been the difference between my team flipping the map or losing positioning to the enemy.
I’ve only played it once, but one I can’t wait to be on more is Crown Raceway. The lanes are a bit more defined, with a shape that resembles a more classic map, and the Search and Destroy match we played on it was thrilling. Another that’s unique, but not in as good a way, is Santa Sena Border Crossing. My team has figured out how to play it, and we’re pretty good at it to be honest, but its long design and tons of cars leaves it a rough one to play on. Call outs to teammates are nearly impossible, and players are probably going to sit at headys as much as possible.
Something that might become worrisome is Infinity Ward’s decision to make maps based on real world properties. You may remember Crown Raceway by another name, and it never made it to the beta because of a supposed legal issue. Thankfully it made the final cut, but word is the Call Of Duty League might not be able to use it because of aforementioned issues. At launch we haven’t seen Valderas Museum, which also might be tied up. Now we’re hearing that Breenberg Hotel might also be part of more legal action? It’s one thing for this to be a one time problem, but losing multiple maps will hurt player retention pretty badly.
Another thing I have to commend the team on is the focus on decluttering the camo system. Sure, there are still plenty to unlock, but being able to get gold is much easier, along with the other mastery ones. As soon as you accomplish the four base camos, you’re on to your gold challenge, and the base ones have been quite easy so far. This will cause me to actually invest some time into camo hunting, something I quickly stopped in Vanguard due to its obtuse and overwhelming system.
Where Modern Warfare II kind of loses me is the choices in UI. The last three Call Of Duty’s have been easily manageable, moving between menus fluidly and easily. This one isn’t as kind, and it feels like I’m almost relearning everything. It doesn’t flow well, and that’s apparent in almost every aspect of the menu, from Gunsmith, to social interactivity, to filtering game modes. I don’t know why we had to blow this up and start over, but I probably wouldn’t have.
The missing stat tracking also stands out. In previous games we’ve had a barracks allowing us to see how we were holding up, but so far we don’t have anything. Maybe it’s partially due to the UI redesign, but to me there’s no reason to launch without something that would be considered a basic function. That could be said double for hardcore (renamed Tier 1) MIA. I know people who won’t even play the game without it who will now be forced to wait until Season 1 arrives.
Besides that, many basic functions haven’t been working, with ping having to be taken out due to a bug, constant party disconnects, and crashes galore. Yeah, I give it a little bit of a pass given its launch day (I feel the same way with spawns but those always need tweaking), but the beta didn’t have this many issues. Things will get better, but they’ll have to do so in a hurry; Season 1 and Warzone 2.0 are just over two weeks away, and it could be disastrous if they aren’t careful.
Spec Ops is generally a forgotten mode in Call of Duty. Largely this is due to it just not being Zombies, but also because it’s been somewhat underutilized. In any case, I don’t really remember it. After messing around in the newest iteration, not only is there promise, but I might be back for more soon.
Truly, there isn’t a lot to how Spec Ops is set up. You pick one of the three available missions, grab a second player (currently it’s only a two player experience), and pick your class. The classes are not that intense, with an Assault, Medic, and Recon. These just give you a specific kit, like armor plates or a quick revive gun, and certain perks that benefit that class. Once in the mission, you’ll have a pre-set loadout of weaponry, but you’ll have plenty to pick up or buy as you play. After rewatching footage of Modern Warfare 2019’s Spec Ops, I can see it follows in its footsteps, although with less choice in order to provide a tighter experience.
Where things get much more interesting is how the missions are built. All three take place in locations from Al Mazrah, the Warzone 2.0 map (similar to MW19 taking place on Verdansk). I expected these to all be pretty small, but to my surprise one is decently sized with the other two being absolutely gigantic. There’s even a cutscene at the beginning of each of them, telling a tale of war to add context to what you’re doing.
The Defender: Mt. Zaya mission takes place around the Observatory area of Al Mazrah, which includes the old Radar map from the original Modern Warfare 2. This plays out much more similarly to older Spec Ops missions, with waves of enemies for you to put down before they destroy certain areas. Survive those and you win. The BR twist involved here is that a buy station is nearby to plot out your defenses, be it a cruise missile, sentry turret, and so on.
If this doesn’t tickle your fancy, then Low Profile and Denied Area should. These are almost campaign missions, just without as much story behind them, and are easily my favorites of the three. Low Profile involves a halo jump (more Warzone 2.0 vibes), and three nuclear devices to grab before extracting via a helicopter at a designated point (DMZ vibes). This one is fun because it’s at night, and it’s best to be as stealthy as possible. I sat on top of a water tower sniping guys at the A location roof, while my partner went in through the bottom to clear out other hostiles I couldn’t see. We were able to grab the device pretty easily using that method, but had to change tactics once we were on the ground and moving to the next location. I love stealth based missions, so this one takes the cake.
Denied Area may start in a sneaky manner, but quickly escalates. That’s because your first task is blowing up a SAM turret at an enemy compound. This is easy enough, but once you start getting chased by helicopters it gets rough. It’s definitely the toughest of the three missions; there are three additional SAMs to take out before exfiling, with a huge map to traverse and tons of combatants to make things challenging. I never completed this one, but I want to go back and right that wrong soon.
The coolest things about Spec Ops is two-fold, experiencing pieces of Warzone 2.0 and the incoming Raids. Getting to somewhat test run the Al Mazrah map, engage with the buy station and backpack, all are awesome ways to utilize a known quantity in a unique way that benefits a less traveled mode. The missions are extremely cool, but they also make me even more excited for Raids, three-player missions that will challenge you in ways we haven’t seen yet in Call of Duty. When I heard the term at Call of Duty NEXT, it made me double take. Destiny has been known for these intense, puzzle-solving, intricate missions for a long time, and now they’re making their way into Modern Warfare II? Infinity Ward has managed to make me care about Spec Ops again, so I can’t wait to see their take on what a tactical, military shooter Raid looks like.
David Burdette is a gamer/writer/content creator from TN and Lead Editor for Gaming Trend. He loves Playstation, Star Wars, Marvel, and many other fandoms. He also plays way too much Call Of Duty. You can chat with him on Twitter @SplitEnd89.
Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare II
There’s room for improvement, but Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II’s move into a new generation of warfare is a reminder of why Modern Warfare is the best timeline. The campaign hits hard, with some of the best performances in a Call of Duty story, the multiplayer beckons with new complexities, and a refreshed Spec Ops opens the mode up to new possibilities. A couple of misses in the UI and basic features cause some frustration, but Infinity Ward has made THEIR game, and it’s an important step into the future of Call of Duty.