Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III (multiplayer) review for PC, PlayStation, Xbox

Platform: PC
Also On: PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Treyarch/Sledgehammer Games
Medium: Digital/Disc
Players: 1
Online: No

Another year, another Call of Duty.

Modern Warfare III was released on November 10th to a very loud, very mixed reception. Right out of the gate, I was underwhelmed. While being billed as an entirely new game, it runs in the same “Call of Duty HQ” that the previous Modern Warfare does, making the “new game” little more than a different box to click inside the “old game”. The (notably hated) UI in the menu is the same, your operators, guns, and camos all carry over from MW2, and the only thing reset is your level progression. Hell, the current Battle Pass running in this season of MW2 is the SAME Battle Pass you have in MW3! The store bundles in 3 are still the SAME bundles that you have in 2, with the only weapons available in those packs being the MW2 ones as well. The first official Modern Warfare III season doesn’t kick off until December 6th, which all begs the question, why the hell did they release this back in early November?

This entire month of Call of Duty feels like early access, while also not feeling new or fresh enough to justify a standalone release. All of the Multiplayer maps in Modern Warfare III currently are re-releases of old maps from the original Modern Warfare days. Rust, Estate, Wasteland, all of the maps you enjoyed back in the day are back! And… worse than ever. Call of Duty doesn’t play the way it did in 2009 when the first Modern Warfare 2 came out, so shoving all of the old maps from those days into this new gameplay style just feels off. The nostalgia of these old maps is ruined by the fact that current playstyles, movement, shooting mechanics, weapon design, ALL clash with the straightforward run-and-gun style that Call of Duty was built on originally. This is one of the main reasons that the current state of Modern Warfare III Multiplayer feels so *bad*. If the game had launched with a full slate of new maps built for this game, with a few of the original MW2 maps included? It would have been fine. I argue that these maps still wouldn’t have played great, but you would play them sporadically enough that it would have been fine. Having these maps be the ONLY maps you include in your new game, however, causes the frustration to boil over almost immediately.

On top of the gameplay failures that are highlighted by exclusively using maps from nearly 15 years ago, it just feels LAZY. Unfortunately, lazy is the most apt descriptor for all of the various game modes that Modern Warfare III has to offer. Our Modern Warfare III campaign review was less than kind, pointing out the absurdly short time to finish as well as the weak story and a shift to an almost Warzone/DMZ style of gameplay that doesn’t belong anywhere near the campaign, begging the question “what happened?”.

It is entirely fair to give grace to the actual developers who were initially looking at a 3-year development cycle and then abhorrently thrust into a 15-month window, but that is a grace I only extend to the humans building this game, not the game itself. Everything about Modern Warfare III feels half-cooked and thrown together from parts of other, better Call of Duty games. The Multiplayer *IS* simply an extension of Modern Warfare 2. The campaign is a poor retelling of the original trilogy’s story with random open-world/looting elements tossed in there from Warzone and DMZ. Zombies is an unrecognizable DMZ clone, with Zombies taking the place of the majority of the human enemies you would encounter in that game mode originally.

Zombies is perhaps the most interesting game mode in Modern Warfare III, while also being the most frustrating. Zombies has been one of my favorite modes across all of Call of Duty, going all the way back to World at War (the best Call of Duty game, in my opinion). Open World Zombies sounds ideal, but in practice, it feels incredibly hollow. If you played the DMZ mode in Modern Warfare 2, you have already played this Zombies mode. It is no longer wave-based, it is no longer a “survival” game mode, and perhaps most bafflingly of all, it only supports 3 players on a team. This is an unforgivable shift to one of the most iconic game modes in shooter history. Zombies is such a popular game mode that Activision has been able to sell standalone versions of it! Zombies marked which Call of Duty game a lot of fans who skipped the annual releases would pick up! To throw a “Zombies” mode at us that is little more than a reskinned copy of a relatively unpopular game mode from Modern Warfare 2 is unacceptable.

That being said, after my initial few hours of adjustment, it has almost become the game mode that I default to when I just want to relax. I hit level 55 in the multiplayer over the very first weekend with the game, (which I will touch on here soon) and am simply not enjoying it enough to keep playing the recycled old maps. Fortunately, you can still level your guns up and unlock the attachments in the Zombies mode, so my buddy and I have been dropping in, grinding out meaningless contracts and “missions” to unlock weapon attachments, then swapping back into Multiplayer once the rest of our group gets on (which is required, because our four-man squad is no longer able to load into Zombies together). There are things to enjoy in this mode, but even that enjoyment is cut out from under you with the 45-minute timer. You have 45 minutes in the main game, followed by a last-ditch 15-minute timer with an ever-expanding “aether storm” that does constant tick damage to your character, to do everything you want to do and extract. This forces you to truly rush through the game to do as much as possible as fast as possible to try and get decent enough weapons upgraded to be able to do anything in the center “Level 3 area” where the good loot is. Even rushing, this leaves only a few minutes to spend in the “final” area before you have to extract, lose 90% of what you came in with, and start all over again.

Wonder Weapons are here, you can upgrade the rarity of your guns, and you can pack-a-punch, but once that timer runs down and you extract, it is ALL GONE. You can slowly acquire blueprints that allow you to craft some items that increase rarity, grant you the well-known Zombies perks, and even pack-a-punch your gun right away, but even THESE are forced into an artificial scarcity. Want to craft the item that pack-a-punches your gun? GREAT! Now have fun waiting 8 real-life hours to craft it again. Want to craft a perk? 3 hours of real-life waiting. I understood the artificial scarcity and timers in DMZ because you could run into and get into combat with other human players. In Zombies, there ARE other human players around but you cannot interact with them in any way, so putting timers on everything and forcing you to always start from basically scratch while ALSO not allowing your game to ever run for long enough to actually spend any time with the late game content is an utterly baffling design decision.

The cherry on top of all of this is the utter lack of incentive to play right now. It was unbelievably easy to reach the max level, and with probably 75% of the guns, attachments, and operators all coming over from Modern Warfare 2, there is very little to progress toward. Launching with no prestige system in place, no new battle pass, and no “MW3” season 1 until next month leaves the game feeling empty and far short of “gold” at the time of launch. This entire game is so clearly an artificially inflated DLC pack for Modern Warfare 2 that players are just expected to purchase for $70, and I find that both gross and disappointing from a franchise and a company of this size.

I have spent around 50 hours with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III since it launched, and I spent around 200 hours with Modern Warfare 2 last year. I am having some fun playing with my friends, and the gunplay feels just as good as it always does, but Modern Warfare III feels like a shell of what it could and should be. I have high hopes for the future, and there is a solid roadmap in place for the game, but we will see what ultimately comes of it. If nothing else, this should be the sign that Activision (and now, Microsoft) needs to stop the annual Call of Duty crunch and give these games and developers some time to breathe.

Grade: 4