Call of Duty's merged world has everything a player could want, except logic.
By MIKE HUME | The Washington Post | Published: December 24, 2020
Call of Duty's new merged world, in which the annual installments of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War have been integrated with the live service battle royale game "Warzone," has a ton to offer. Three stand-alone games working as one! Battlepass and XP progression across all titles! Cross-platform, cross-generational play! Use weapons from either game in Warzone! It's great ... in theory. But it is also lacking an essential ingredient that threatens to undermine Activision's ambitions: Logic.
After the merger and the launch of Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Season One, there's ample evidence either this plan hadn't been properly conceived, or that the technical barriers to merging these games were too big to fully overcome. Instead of syncing the three games in any intelligent fashion, everything just feels lumped together. The user interface is complicated and messy, largely due to the sheer volume of stuff being forced to coexist in the same place. Transitioning multiplayer parties to or from Cold War to one of the other games usually results in dropped players. Similar components, like finishing moves, are equipped differently in Cold War than they are in Warzone or Modern Warfare. Double XP tokens accrued in Warzone before the merger now can't be used in Warzone. Some of the Cold War weapons brought into Warzone behave so poorly it's comical.
Warzone received the biggest content dump with the unification, absorbing Cold War's weapons into its offerings. But the infusion feels as deft as duct taping a trunk to the roof of a station wagon. For reasons that defy logic, there are multiple versions of the exact same gun. There's a Cold War MP5 and there's a Modern Warfare MP5. There's a Cold War AK-47 and there's a Modern Warfare AK-47. And what's even sillier is that they both have different stats and behave differently when fired. There's even a Cold War AUG, which is a burst marksman rifle, and a Modern Warfare AUG, which is a fully automatic SMG.
Then there are weapons like Cold War's Bullfrog, which looks pretty similar to Modern Warfare's Bizon SMG. Ditto for the Type 63/SKS and DMR/FAL. Did we really need them both? Logically? No. But practically, including both versions appears to have resolved one big integration issue, which is how to handle the fact Cold War and Modern Warfare have totally different weapon attachments. That difference carries over into Warzone (Cold War guns can't use perks like Fully Loaded, for example) and the only rationale explanation is that it was easier for the developers to execute the merger.
Rather than curate the players' arsenal, Activision has taken all of Call of Duty's many features and thrown them into a closet. Looking for something specific? It's in there somewhere, you just have to know where to look. Want to compare a Cold War AK-47 loadout against a Modern Warfare AK-47 to see which is better? Trial and error is the only way. It's a lot of work to answer a question that shouldn't even have to be asked in the first place. (Which of the two nominally identical guns is better?)
If you're a player who just believes "more is more," or if you just favor a Cold War gun but haven't played Modern Warfare, you're probably okay with this. But if you're a Modern Warfare player, a game that set a very high bar for gunplay, the experience with Cold War weapons is jarring. And if you were hoping for a smart, sleek integration of elements across all three titles, you're going to have finger nail marks on your scalp from all of the head-scratching decisions.
And so, mere days after the much ballyhooed megamerger between Call of Duty titles and the debut of a new map, and we're talking about Warzone's warts instead of the glorious addition of the Rebirth Island map. Reddit is chock full of posts about a see-through scourge haunting Verdansk. Modern Warfare players are crafting memes about their new unwelcome reality in the "Cold War"-dominated ecosystem.
I totally understand the appeal of uniting the worlds of Modern Warfare and Black Ops under the Warzone banner. It makes sense. Create a full Call of Duty world with a different version of the game for every type of COD player. Want to play tactically? Mount your weapon to your heart's content in Modern Warfare. Want to quickscope? Snag your sniper rifle and boot up Cold War. No matter what they're playing, they're playing Call of Duty, so why make them choose?
But that thinking ignores the basic fact that the three games are very different. These three games may all carry Call of Duty in their titles, but the reality is they were crafted by different developers. They use different terms for the same items. They have different DNA. You can't just toss all of that into the same place and expect it to make any sense. Either Activision needs to peg all Call of Duty titles to a standardized core experience and game engine, or players are unlikely to ever see good integration between the different titles.
Part of the appeal of the merger for Modern Warfare players was the possibility they would receive continued support for the game instead of the usual Call of Duty cycle of simply moving on to the next game. The first disappointing sign that may be a pipe dream? When you start up Modern Warfare there's no reference to the game anywhere on the screen . . . just Cold War and Warzone.
Even though players can still earn XP for Warzone and Cold War, and the new battle pass by playing Modern Warfare, the only benefits they can apply to Modern Warfare are things like vehicle paint jobs and calling cards. The new battle pass weapons are for Cold War, and the Cold War weapons aren't available in Modern Warfare. It makes you wonder if future battle passes will have any significant content (character skins, new weapons, weapon blueprints) that can be applied to Modern Warfare. Right now, it doesn't seem like it's in the cards. And so while Activision may tout how Modern Warfare players are still included in the plans, the only players really benefiting are those of Cold War. Warzone just happens to sit at the epicenter of the mess.
It doesn't seem like this union of titles was planned from the outset. It feels like it's being forced. It feels like no one tried to figure out if commingling these games is actually a good thing for any of them. The early returns suggest that slapping them together may not be as smart as it first seemed.
Can they all exist under one umbrella? Sure, but it's going to require more creativity than simply crunching them together in the same place. Right now, players may have one Call of Duty progression system for three games, but to play all three games they still must have at least two Call of Duty apps on their console home screens that currently total 349 GB with all modes downloaded on a PlayStation 5. At that very basic level, there has to be a better way.
Somewhere down the line, Activision's ultimate vision could be realized, but it will require a break from convention. Imagine, one Call of Duty app for consoles and PC. Within it, there would be individual downloadable components, similar to what the games have now, where players can select modes from all different COD titles that they want to keep and ditch the ones they don't. Identical weapons from an ever-expanding arsenal would behave consistently from game to game (an AK-47 is the AK-47 and not the Cold War AK-47) and feature standardized attachments that allow the same guns carry the same statistics across all games. It would be a more streamlined, tailored experience, and certainly better than what we have now: A too-big-for-its-britches version with so much stuff crammed into it that it's splitting at the seat of its pants.
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One