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Your guide to what’s new in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare’s campaign

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare shakes things up. In a series where changes from game to game are often measured by the number and types of guns you can equip, this latest entry feels like an atomic bomb. Powered exoskeletons! Individual cloaking capabilities! Freaking hoverbikes! Advanced Warfare embraces its future world war setting, and in doing so it introduces a number of new concepts that we’ve not seen in a Call of Duty game before.

Related: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare review

What does all of this mean? There’s a bit of a learning curve. Not a terrible one; in truth, the campaign seems to exist, in part, to introduce the new mechanics so you’re comfortable with them by the time you get to the multiplayer modes. But for those who prefer to read first, try later, we’ve put together this handy little guide that runs through what’s new on the campaign side of the game, and how to best take advantage of it.

Your Exo suit and you

Save for rare circumstances, every single mission in Advanced Warfare sets you up with a different Exo suit. There’s no one “standard” loadout; everything is use-specific based on the needs of the upcoming mission. You always have a sense of what’s coming, gameplay-wise, if you pay attention during the pre-mission cutscene. At the tail end of each one, a brief cinematic plays that lets you know what type of Exo you’ve got and what its abilities are.

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While many of these tools, such as cloaking capabilities, pop up just once, a few surface more than a few times throughout the campaign. Boost jumps are the easiest; you can more than triple the height of a standard leap if you press the jump button a second time, preferably at the apex of a jump. This is a handy power to have in some of the game’s more open battlefields, especially for those that like to snipe.

There’s no one “standard” loadout; everything is use-specific based on the needs of the upcoming mission.

Boost dodges are similarly straightforward. If you click and hold the left stick — just like you would to sprint — while you push it left, right, or back, suit-fitted jump jets kick in to give you an extra boost of speed in your chosen direction. You can pair this ability with boost jump as well, for increased mobility in mid-air. It works exactly the same, save for the fact that you can also boost dash forward in mid-air; just click the stick as you push it in the desired direction.

The Exo also allows for a ground pound-style attack, which you can initiate by clicking the right analog stick while you’re in mid-air. Combine all of these skills to clear out entrenched positions more effectively. First, boost jump toward your target, then quickly boost dash at the apex of your jump to close the distance. Finally, when you’re above your target, click the right stick to come crashing down on the heads of your enemies.

The grappling hook is another Exo skill that comes up more than once during the campaign. Watch for the LB icon (on Xbox consoles) appearing on ledges that you can grapple. Just tap it and you’ll instantly zip to that position. The grappling hook can be used as a weapon as well, to a limited extent. You can perform grapple kills on unsuspecting enemies by hitting LB whenever a special icon appears over a target. You can also use the hook to tear pilots out of their AST mechs; simply circle behind the mech and, again, press LB when an icon appears.

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Most of the time, you can manage by simply following the on screen instructions. That’s not to say there’s zero skill to using the Exo suit during the campaign, but a lot of its unique abilities appear only a handful of times, and at specific moments. Something like the Land Assist, which engages hover jets while an energy meter drains, can help you grab a temporary bird’s-eye vantage point, but it’s limited to only being useful during the early mission that it pops up in.

It’s best to play around with all of these tools as much as you can. They’re altered somewhat when they appear in Advanced Warfare‘s multiplayer modes, but getting a feel for how they work gives you a better idea of how to build your loadouts in non-campaign play.

Building a better soldier

Persistent character upgrades are another major new feature in Advanced Warfare. The Exo suit stuff is all scripted, but you also earn points for completing a handful of challenges that can then be spent on stat increases.

How does it work? Well, between each mission, a stats screen pops up that shows your progress toward one of four different milestones: Overall kills, headshot kills, grenade kills, and Intel (Call of Duty’s collectibles) collected. There are multiple milestones for each of the four categories, and you earn an upgrade point each time you hit a new one. So you get one point for pulling off 15 headshots, and then another one for scoring 15 more, which brings your headshot total to 30. The simple bar graphs that chart your progress show the previous and next milestone totals on the left and right sides of the bar, respectively, and the number remaining before you get another point.

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Unlike Exo suit skills, which deliver a variety of gameplay-changing mechanics, upgrades relate more to stats. Each one can be upgraded twice; once for one point and then a second time for two points. There are four “sets” of upgrades that each branch in a simple tree. Invest a single point in one of the starting upgrades and you unlock access to the pair it connects with.

All of your unlocked upgrades carry over into any repeat playthroughs, regardless of the difficulty.

How you upgrade is really a player’s choice situation, based on your particular style of play. We’d recommend investing your first point in Resistance (reduced explosive damage), and then your second, third, and fourth points on fully upgrading Armor (increased health), which Resistance unlocks. Sprint (increased sprinting time) and Reload (increased reload speed) are also worth a look for early upgrades, as is the second level of Resistance. Really though, it’s down to the way you play. If you hang back and let the AI friendlies soak up most of the damage, making a beeline for Armor may not be the best choice.

However you choose to spend your points, there’s one important point to keep in mind as far as upgrades go: They’re persistent. If you complete the game on a low difficulty and unlock a whole bunch of upgrade points/upgrades, all of it carries over into any repeat playthroughs, regardless of the difficulty setting. None of the upgrades are game-changing to the point that Veteran, the hardest difficulty setting, becomes a cakewalk when they’re all unlocked, but they do make the going more manageable. That said, purists might find a fun challenge in tackling Veteran first, while not spending any upgrade points.

War never changes

That’s really the extent of what’s different in the way Advanced Warfare‘s campaign flows. Everything else feels like a Call of Duty game should. You’re always fighting for inches, pushing back against endless waves of enemy forces until you reach specific, invisible checkpoints that push the events of the story forward. Exo suits and upgrades lend a new wrinkle to it all, but the moment-to-moment action is much the same as it’s always been.

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For Call of Duty newcomers, make sure you always stick with the AI friendlies (at least until your comfortable with the rhythm of the game). Find cover as quickly as you can in any combat situation, and crouch behind it while your health regenerates whenever you’re wounded. There’s no trick to it. The Call of Duty series has perfected many of the genre conventions that Halo: Combat Evolved introduced. The gameplay here is as quintessential as first-person shooters get.

Just take your time, line up your shots, and make sure all is clear before you leapfrog to the next defendable position.