Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare Multiplayer Preview - COD XP 2016
We go hands-on with the upcoming shooter at Call of Duty XP
For a few years now, Call of Duty has settled into a comfortable annual release rhythm. Though not every entry turned out to be great, Activision has certainly made efforts to keep this best-selling franchise moving along, recently introducing three year development cycles with three separate dev teams being involved. This year’s upcoming entry is the very futuristic Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. Earlier this year, we got a chance to check out a segment of the campaign in our Infinite Warfare E3 preview. But now, it’s time to dive into what the franchise is arguably best known for – multiplayer. We had a chance to hear more about the online modes and go hands-on at Call of Duty XP 2016.
At our presentation, Infinity Ward studio head Dave Stohl briefly took to the stage to introduce the game, and show us the reveal multiplayer trailer. Following that, multiplayer designer lead Joe Cecot offered a quick look at the inspiration and foundations behind the online play in Infinite Warfare. The team had a core vision, to redefine the player and the playspace when it comes to multiplayer. They hope to have achieved this by making a variety of changes to the classic formula while still maintaining that unmistakable Call of Duty feel.
Redefining the player will be done via the introduction of so called Combat Rigs. These special suits act as combat classes and thus provide the variety and flexibility to play in the style that you want. These tactical suits also mean that players have the ability to make adjustments at any time, even mid-match, if they feel there is a need to change tactics. The Combat Rigs can be customized via two means – Payloads and Traits. Each Rig has a choice of three unique Payloads and three unique Traits. Players can bring one Payload and one Trait into battle. Payloads are basically unique items that can be equipped once a meter has filled as the match goes on (think Specialist Weapons from Black Ops 3), while Traits are essentially perks that are always active. Payloads only last as long as you live after activating them, so there are occasions when they feel wasted if you die too soon after deploying it, and must wait for the meter to fill again.
In total there are six Combat Rigs in Infinite Warfare multiplayer. First up is the Merc rig, meant to be all about defense and suppressing fire. Consequently, his Traits range from faster health regen after taking damage, to increased ammo capacity and swift movement regardless of chosen weapon. One of his Payloads is a machine gun-like heavy beam weapon called Steel Dragon. Another rig is the FTL, a prototype battle rig that’s focused around hit and run guerrilla tactics. Its Traits are highlighted by Perception, giving you a HUD notification if an enemy you don’t see is taking aim at you. FTL also gets an Eraser handgun as a Payload that evaporates enemies.
Next is the Stryker rig, a support and area of denial class. He can use a Trophy Drone Trait that will sacrifice itself on any incoming lethal grenade. As a Payload, the Stryker can deploy a mini turret, or Centurion which destroys enemy projectiles. Then there’s the Warfighter – the general, all around class. His Traits aren’t overly unique, but he does get the choice of using Persistence – letting you keep scorestreaks even if you die, but they require more points to activate. The Warfighter’s Payloads are also rather general-use; the Claw is rapid fire weapon with rounds that can ricochet.
The Synaptic rig is actually a remotely controlled robot that players assume the role of, who is focused on speed and close quarters combat. As expected, his Payloads reflect this – the Equalizer gives you dual machine guns for devastating close range damage. His Traits include speed boosts after each kill, and ability to dash. Last but not least, the Phantom rig is the sniper class, focused on long range combat. His Payloads include the ability to become almost completely invisible even when in combat. And his Traits allow for a back-shield that temporarily reduces incoming damage if you’re flanked, or one that marks enemies for death by disabling their health regen for 5 seconds. You can find the complete list of all that each Rig has to offer by heading over to our complete list of Combat Rigs in Infinite Warfare.
When it comes to evolving the way players interact with the game, the Combat Rigs are just the first step. Next up is the weapon customization. As in any modern Call of Duty, players will be able to outfit their guns with a variety of attachments, and the classic ballistic based weapon types make a return, though they have been re-imagined with a futuristic look. But there are also new directed energy weapons, which use battery as ammunition and allow for multifunctional use. Players may need to adjust their strategy and decide if they should reload or wait for the battery to simply recharge overtime. Then, there’s crafting.
In Infinite Warfare multiplayer, players will need to collect a new currency called Salvage, earned the more you play. With this, players can craft so called prototype weapons (for both primary and sidearms). There are four rarity classes, which define what Gun Perks the weapon may have. These Gun Perks are like bonus abilities for your guns – they can be anything from giving you more ammo or increased range, to allowing you to deploy a small tactical nuke. The weapons with the greatest abilities will be called Epic, and will have unique looks and very strong Gun Perks. We didn’t get a chance to try out the crafting systems during our time with the game.
The player equipment has also been tweaked. A variety of classic items will be back of course, from flashbangs to frag grenades and other deployable tech. New items include a small deployable seeker node that will run to the nearest enemy and blow itself up; or the black hole projector that will literally suck enemies in and dispatch them. New in Infinite Warfare is the ability to deploy equipment with your other hand, thus still being able to fire your main gun while throwing a grenade for example. Tactical items include a personal radar, cryomine, blackout grenade and even a new adrenaline drip, which can restore your health after a firefight. Scorestreaks are back of course, offering a variety of new and returning super abilities, such as the new R-C8 combat robot that can lay waste to the enemy team. Perks are back as well, split up into three categories as many players will be familiar with. Overall, the 10 point system will be used, forcing players to balance their loadouts and perks.
We had a chance to play Infinite Warfare multiplayer for a few hours and try our hand at all of these mechanics. Using the Create a Class option, we went through all of the available Rig choices and played a few rounds with all of them. In the loading screen before the match, players can view which rig everyone else has chosen, including the opposing team. This perhaps lets you adjust your expectations and team goals accordingly. Initially, there was no mistaking it – this is Call of Duty multiplayer, with all its fast paced, frantic action, bottleneck shootouts and intense individual showdowns. The PS4 version felt smooth, quick and responsive as ever, and included the familiar wall-running and boost mechanics from the likes of Black Ops 3.
The Rigs certainly added another level of customization to ponder and decide on, and can be tweaked to your own playstyle. Using the Warfighter with Persistence will help players who can’t usually stay alive long enough to get scorestreak rewards. Playing as the Merc, it was satisfying to ram enemies funnelled together with the Bull Charge. FTL didn’t feel overly powerful or engaging though, offering a few situational Traits that didn’t feel all that impactful. Stryker was more of a strategic choice, with his turret Payload providing good distraction and Trophy Drone saving my life on a few occasions. Phantom was obviously geared for snipers, and his Rearguard was helpful on a few occasions to prevent too much damage from behind. Finally, the Synaptic is perfect for close encounters on small maps and doesn’t even need a shotgun to do tons of damage through melee. All of the rigs have a fairly clearly defined role to fill on the online battlefield, and depending on what Payload and Trait you choose, players can become more effective at their combat roles than ever before. My teammates and our opponents were also fairly quick to come to grips with the rigs and find their favourite combinations. Becoming a Marked Target of the Phantom, or being sucked into a Black Hole (which you can try and resist, by the way) certainly created a whole series of player experiences that are new to Call of Duty.
There’s no question that the changes being introduced do have a noticeable and immediate impact, if used to their full effectiveness. Having said that, due to the game’s very fast paced nature, not all of the new abilities and changes are as highly impacting. The developers are clearly trying to strike a balance between keeping these various combat abilities fair, while still maintaining the Call of Duty feel. As such, while those players who choose to carefully select their role and rig will have an upper hand, those who just want to jump in and play will still be able to compete. It’s a tight balancing act, and through our hours with the game, the rigs do make an impact but not enough of one to turn the familiar gameplay on its head – and that’s probably just fine with the fans of the franchise.
As alluded to earlier, the other big aspect that Infinity Ward focused on with IW multiplayer is the player spaces. This of course refers to maps and modes. The multiplayer maps were designed with four pillars in mind – fast time to combat, force head to head encounters, new environments, and varied layouts. A couple of maps were revealed to be in the game; Frontier is a fast, tight map with 2 lanes that takes place on a space station out in orbit. Throwback is a 3 lane, medium speed map; Frost is a linear 3 lane map that is medium size and takes place on an isolated planet with great views above. Breakout is a 3 lane, slower paced map that’s set in a maximum security prison. Finally, Terminal is back with a new look and feel, but maintains its circular layout.
The maps will support a mix of returning and some new gameplay modes. There will be two new modes, one of which is the Defender. Played as a keepaway, the teams compete for control of a drone that randomly spawns on the map. The longer any player on your team holds the drone, the more points you’ll score. The drone resets after a minute to ensure both teams have to keep engaged and can’t just hold on to it for the whole round.
The very first Infinite Warfare multiplayer match I played was a victory for my team, a classic team deathmatch encounter. I scored 19k-16d, and from there maintained that decent kill death ratio for the rest of the day. Our next map was another victory, a Domination mode played on Breakout, the small map inside a research facility. The three control points were fairly well positioned and the action was fast and furious. We also played the new Defender mode, which was quite fun and a little chaotic, but it kept the action flowing nicely across the map in a way that Domination cannot. We also played TDM on the Breakout map, which was by far the largest and didn’t abide by the lane design because it is rather open. The engagements were often at distance and there was enough time between firefights to regroup with the team and catch your breath.
Though there is still time before release to finalize the presentation, the game already looked and sounded quite solid. The visuals were up to par for the series, with a smooth framerate and booming sound effects. One rather notable change is the addition of player health bars, for both your team and the enemies. This helps easily gauge how much damage you’ve done, or if you’re about to engage in a firefight with a near-death enemy vs one that has full health, and so on. It can also be used as a clear point to focus your eyes on during an engagement. Also new is the text under the minimap that identifies the name of the area of the map you’re on, similarly to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, which should help players coordinate and communicate better. On one of the maps, dead enemy ragdolls slowly floated upwards into space, implying low gravity, though we did not play on any maps where this had a gameplay or movement effect.
Another new element that should be mentioned is Mission Teams. It essentially acts as another way to encourage player progression, another thing for you to level up in. Anytime you play in multiplayer, you can join one of four different mission teams. These teams basically provide you with goals to hit, such as playing a certain way and reaching milestones. By completing tiered missions for any team, players will increase their standing with that team and earn team-exclusive customization items and even weapons that can’t be unlocked any other way. Mission Teams is another way that Infinity Ward wants to keep players engaged in multiplayer and working towards progression goals. We didn’t get a chance to see this content in action.
On the whole, my time spent with Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare’s multiplayer was solidly entertaining. The changes being made to the multiplayer formula have a clear goal in mind, and their execution has already resulted in notable changes to the flow of the gameplay. And yet the addition of new weapons, rigs, and perks is still doing a good job balancing it all with the fast paced shootouts that the series is known for. At least based on what we’ve played at the event. Maps seem well designed, though they don’t feature any dynamic elements; the new Defender mode is fun and the UI additions should improve communication between teammates. Black Ops 3 seems like a strong source of inspiration for Infinite Warfare, and we'll see if fans appreciate these similarities. There’s more to look forward to that we weren’t able to see in action – like the gun crafting system and the Mission Teams. Look for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare to launch this November for PS4, Xbox One and PC.
Disclaimer: Activision has covered travel and hotel costs for New Game Network to attend and cover Call of Duty XP 2016.