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Why I Love Modern Warfare (Again)

In the early 2000s, the Call of Duty series was just one of many first-person shooters set in World War II. The fourth installment, however, took the franchise to a whole new level and helped make Call of Duty a fixture of pop culture and one of the top selling franchises of all time.

2007's Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was the first of the series to be set in modern times. It had you jumping from character to character, across the globe, and featured some of gaming's most unforgettable levels. In one, you find yourself as a gunner on a AC-130, providing air support through infrared cameras for a heavily outmanned squad below. In another, a seasoned vet guides you on a recon mission through the abandoned town of Pripyat, Ukraine which goes south.

The All Ghillied Up Level of Modern Warfare
An intense recon mission through Pripyat in 2007's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (remastered in 2016).

While the single-player campaign was incredible, it was Modern Warfare's multiplayer mode that really shined. Fast-paced action with modern weapons and tactical gear was a ton of fun. Call of Duty became so popular that Activision began cranking them out every fall, each one raking in more money than the last. I was hooked.

After a dispute with Activision, the founders of Inifinty Ward (the studio behind Modern Warfare) split to form a new company called Respawn Entertainment, taking a number of the team with them. They went on to make Titanfall, a futuristic first-person shooter where players could battle on foot or within the cockpit of a giant mech. Titanfall added a bunch of innovations to the FPS genre, taking the pace of Call of Duty even higher with wall-running and double jumping, and an increased emphasis on verticality. Needless to say, I LOVED Titanfall.

With the popularity of Titanfall, Call of Duty games tried to ape it, taking the series into the future and copying a lot of the mobility mechanics. They just didn't quite pull it off, and it lacked Titanfall's mech vs. pilot mechanic that was so skillfully designed. Each Call of Duty's multiplayer kept trying to one-up the next with crazier abilities and kill streaks until it just became unaccessible to all but the most die hard fans.

I eventually lost interest and veered more towards games like Battlefield, which featured bigger battles, vehicle combat, and support roles that allowed you to contribute to the team without strictly having to have a high kill/death ratio. Eventually I got sucked into Destiny, which really became my go-to FPS game. When the magic of Destiny finally wore off after several years, I was itching for a new experience.

Welcome back, old friend

In 2019, Infinity Ward reset the clock and took Modern Warfare back to its roots with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. The new Modern Warfare features one of the best FPS campaigns I've played in years, second only to Titanfall 2, since the original Modern Warfare. After beating the campaign a couple of times, I was content to put the game on the shelf, not even touching its multiplayer.

Modern Warfare included a new Battle Royale mode, Warzone — the first in a Call of Duty game — and I didn't really give it much of a shot. But earlier this year, after being mysteriously banned from Twitch, popular streamer Dr DisRespect resurfaced on YouTube and I started watching him play Warzone with another streamer ZLaner.

Doc and Z made Warzone look incredibly fun so I dipped a toe back in and… well, you can probably guess what happened next.

Michael Corleone in Godfather Part 3: Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.
There's no escaping

Warzone

But Mike, I thought you hate Battle Royales?

Yes. I found games like PUBG, Fortnite and even Apex Legends to be pretty tedious. While they have the potential to deliver thrills, the moment to moment gameplay felt like a lot of sitting around.

Warzone addresses this in a few unique ways:

The Gulag When you die in Warzone, the game doesn't immediately end. You're placed into a prison shower room reminiscent of the 1996 Michael Bay masterpiece The Rock, forced to duke it out 1v1 against another player who met an early demise. The winner immediately parachutes back onto the battlefield.

Buy Stations If you lose the Gulag fight and are playing with teammates, they can buy you back into the game at one of many buy stations scattered across Warzone's vast map.

Contracts These can be found scattered across the map and task you with completing different types of objectives within a certain time limit. Everything from killing a specific player whose general location is marked on the map to collecting three loot crates. Contracts give your team something to do to earn money and XP without necessarily needing to win gunfights.

Warzone also has a ton of weapons, attachments and cosmetic items to unlock via playing the game or completing challenges. The incentives to continue playing are many.

Aside from that, Warzone is like a lot of other Battle Royales, mechanics-wise. But it has a level of realism and polish that other BRs lack.

Zombie Royale

With Halloween around the corner, Inifinty Ward released some limited-time events in Warzone, including Zombie Royale. This mode is similar to normal Warzone except it takes place at night, making equipment like thermal optics all the more useful.

Oh yeah, and instead of dying, you come back as a zombie who can run fast, jump high, throw gas grenades and release EMP bursts. Retreiving two vials dropped by dead players will cause you to immediately parachute back onto the map. There is no Gulag.

Zombies roam the streets of Verdansk at night.
If you can't beat the zombies, join 'em!

In addition to that, the circle of gas that forces players together starts much tighter, causing 150 players to land much closer together than normal and creating a quick influx of zombies to the world.

The ability to get back into the fight quickly makes this mode incredibly fun as zombies scramble to kill living players and pick up their vials in hopes of respawning.

I introduced my friend Dave to Warzone last weekend, just before Zombie Royale launched. When it came out on Tuesday we hopped in to try it out and were matched with a third, random player. In a wild finish, Dave was the last of our team alive and somehow survived to the end thanks to some clutch plays and we won our first Warzone match. It was incredibly thrilling and I couldn't fall asleep afterwards for at least an hour, I was so jacked on adrenaline.

Multiplayer

Modern Warfare's regular multiplayer mode goes back to boots-on-the-ground basics of older Call of Duty games. It just feels… right. The game has been out almost a year, so there's a ton of maps, including a few remasters of classic Call of Duty maps.

The progression system is shared between multiplayer and Warzone, so multiplayer is a much more efficient means to level your weapon and player experience and complete challenges. In Warzone, you're lucky (and pretty skilled) if you get 10 kills in a 30 minute match. Multiplayer is so much more fast-paced, even a terrible player can luck into 10 kills during a 10-minute match.

Multiplayer also serves as good practice for fights in Warzone and you can also use it as a way to test out new weapons and loadouts.

The Mike Seal of Approval

Modern Warfare is the deepest and most fun Call of Duty in over a decade. Between a stellar single-player campaign, a return to its multiplayer roots, and the addition of Warzone, Modern Warfare has a little something for everyone (assuming you're a fan of first-person shooters, that is).

I'm really excited (and also kind of nervous) to see how they evolve Warzone with the next Call of Duty, Cold War, coming out in just a few weeks. Will they add Cold War characters, items and locations to the existing Warzone? Will there be two different maps? Will Zombie Royale become a permanent fixture in the playlists? We'll soon find out!