Graffiti. Call of Duty is subject to change, and may actually continue this time.
You can map the evolution of first-person shooter games almost over the past 1.5 decades with our annual Call of Duty releases. There was an era when everyone was passionate about modern military shooters, followed a few years later when our boots rose off the ground and started running against the wall or jet-setting. When hero shooters hit hard, Treyarch responds with unique Black Ops 3 characters and ultimatums. That was a little fun, but then, reset the clock and Activision thought, hey, maybe WWII could be fun again. Not so.
This brings us to our current age, which I think is On his way out the door (Opens in a new tab): Battle Royale. Activision committed to battle royale early on and captured a large audience with its free-to-play indie game Call of Duty: Warzone. The most popular way to play CoD in 2022 is in a lobby of 149 other people, something I would never have imagined back in 2007. But now nearly three years later I’ve noticed waning interest in the same royale ol game and I think Activision has it too. Infinity Ward brings back the battle royale in Warzone 2.0, but at the same time gets big on its next bet: AI and PvPvE.
If you haven’t noticed, there are AI fighters all over Modern Warfare 2. In fact, every support mode in Modern Warfare 2 implements AI in some way:
- Multiplayer: AI grunts join the battle in 20v20 البرية land war modes
- Warzone 2.0: AI spreads across the new farm in strongholds protecting rare loot
- Special Ops: Co-op missions for players against AI
- Raids: Destiny-style co-op missions with complex AI encounters and combat puzzles
- DMZ: Warzone’s mysterious new PvPvE extraction mode launching alongside battle royale
We’re getting our first taste of CoD’s AI push this weekend Modern Warfare 2 beta (Opens in a new tab). In the new mode Invasion, an Attrition mode showdown in Titanfall, unknown grunts join a large-scale 20v20 team deathmatch where AI kills deserve fewer points than players. I wasn’t expecting much from Invasion, but it’s actually my favorite beta mode so far. Moment by moment, it’s still TDM, but the additional objects spinning around the map saturate the map so that it gives the illusion of a big Battlefield-scale conflict in a much smaller space. It is also satisfying to have an entire gang of AI collapse with one or two bullets.
I’m very interested in how Modern Warfare 2 handles raids. Infinity Ward draws comparisons to Destiny 2 in describing raids as “a collaborative engagement that requires teamwork, strategic thinking, and puzzle-solving between bouts of intense combat.” Destiny Raids are universally viewed as the best parts of those games, yet only a fraction of the people who play them see them due to the level requirements. Infinity Ward seems to be speeding up this process by doing raid missions that anyone can play.
I think the real test of the Call of Duty AI experience will have to wait until Warzone 2.0. I’m skeptical that the anonymous grunts wandering around the map in a battle royale would add anything more than target training. Infinity Ward says AI enemies have “various lethal levels” and “defend their territory like CDL professionals,” but revealing content broadcasts of grunts during the Warzone 2.0 live show was just a quick game. I’ve yet to see any AI that really threatens players the way you do, for example, Hunt: Slug monsters, bug killers, and water tentacle freaks.
If AI is more of a distraction in battle royale, I hope it takes center stage in the demilitarized zone. My newfound love of extraction shooters may color this a little, but I feel the DMZ is a big deal for Infinity Ward. There is a growing interest in coordination that splits the difference between high-risk survival and battle royale shooters. Recently, many shooter games have appeared – which are free to roam the map, fight players, complete objectives, and leave whenever you want. This booming genre has been dominated by cowboy shooters Hunt: Confrontation (Opens in a new tab) and milsim Escape From Tarkov, but newer competitors include the diesel shooter the thieves (Opens in a new tab) And the Course: Boundaries (Opens in a new tab). Even Battlefield 2042 gave the extraction format a turn last year using Danger area (Opens in a new tab)although it did not spread there.
The blog post announcing the Warzone 2.0 DMZ describes it as a “passionate project” within Infinity Ward and the contributing studios, a language you don’t use in Modern Warfare 2’s other 200 mode. It’s also the only mode with its own logo, and it’s completely separate from the Warzone branding.
To make DMZ feel different from Warzone, Infinity Ward should really think about creating with AI. Think bigger than grunts: One of the Hunt’s greatest strengths is how the unique behaviors of their monsters force you to change your strategy (like the human torch-like Immolators that explode if you pierce their skin with anything sharp). There must be environmental hazards and other things to do instead of running from place to place and shooting other players. Think very small with shooter games and you’ll end up in the ominous danger zone of Battlefield 2042.
If Infinity Ward can do to extraction shooters what it did in battle royale, it could really be something special (and even beat Fortnite this time). I can see that this is a fitting departure for the PvPvE trend as all the battle royale games slowly creep closer to Escape From Tarkov or Hunt. Hope it pays off, because I definitely finished shrinking circles.