Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is here, and this is what we think so far

We’re officially in “Day Zero” territory for Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, the first game in Activision’s venerable series produced with Sledgehammer Games as the lead developer. Reviews are starting to surface from those who have had extended time with the game, but we’re holding off until the end of launch week to give you a proper critique. It’s important to see how the game behaves in a “live” setting.

For now, we’ve managed to knock out the entire single player campaign and spend a handful of hours messing around with both Exo Survival, Advanced Warfare‘s new cooperative mode, and competitive multiplayer. How do these pieces stack up?

Related: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare review

Let’s start with the campaign. As Call of Duty roller coaster rides go, this is a good one. In a series that survives by being reliable and never changing, Advanced Warfare‘s six to eight hour story mode feels like a fresh twist. Much like Black Ops II and Ghosts did in years past, Sledgehammer isn’t afraid to introduce new ideas. In a first for the series, these ideas bleed into the other modes as well, but we’ll get to all of that in a bit.

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare 5

The story is as coherent as it’s been since the very first Modern Warfare waved smelling salts beneath the noses of World War II-fatigued gamers. Much like the 2007 release did to shake the series out of its Saving Private Ryan-induced funk, so too does Advanced Warfare come along with a confident step away from familiar, predominantly brown settings and convoluted war stories set in a convoluted modern world. Sledgehammer leans on simplicity: Go shoot the bad guys, and do it with style.

Related: What kind of monster computer machine will you need to run Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare?

Style matters in Advanced Warfare, though not for any concrete gameplay gains. You’re just compelled by the tools the game equips you with to make like a badass. The heart of this is the new Exo suit, a powered exoskeletal armor that allows you to jump higher, hit harder, and bring an assortment of other tools to bear on surviving the game’s constrained battlefields.

The story is as coherent as it’s been since the first Modern Warfare waved smelling salts beneath the noses of WWII-fatigued gamers.

The familiar constraints are eased in Advanced Warfare. For every sequence that sticks to a pre-ordained script — sneaking through a moon-lit forest under the cover of cloaking technology, raining hell on an enemy force from the cockpit of an attack fighter, that sort of thing — there’s another that kicks down the doors and opens things up. We’ve seen wide open Call of Duty battlefields before, but Exo abilities make them feel bigger somehow, more like the lethal playgrounds the series has always aimed to capture.

There’s a brand new upgrade system that rewards players for reaching body count, headshot, grenade kill, and intel (collectibles) milestones with points to spend in a simple upgrade tree. These amount to stat boosts, buffing everything from overall health to explosion resistance to reload speed. There’s choice in how you spend your points, and it really depends on your style of play. Like to wade into the mess with everyone else? Boost up that health. Prefer to hang back and snipe while the AI maintains the front lines? Invest in recoil reduction.

More game-changing abilities, like the much-talked-about boost jumps, are defined by the overall purpose of whichever Exo suit you’re wearing in a given mission (it’s a scripted thing). The aforementioned forest creep kits you out with a sweet cloaking device, but limits the enhanced mobility that other suits enjoy. A couple of scenarios set you up with a handy grappling hook, used not just for traversal but also for stealth kills and quick, one-hit mech takedowns that drag pilots out of their powered “Goliath” suits, but limit your warrior tools in other ways.

The result is a varied campaign experience, moreso than it has been in a very long time. The pace is just right, alternating between traditional (yet still Exo-enhanced) run-and-gun warfare and a range of other activities where you’re given special tools that suit the situation. Sometimes it’s an Exo that allows you to make yourself invisible, and other times it’s a tank equipped with armor-denting explosive shells, swarm rockets, and EMP blasts.

As much as the campaign stands on its own as a Call of Duty thrill ride, the variety, particularly in the Exo abilities, serves equally well as training for Advanced Warfare‘s multiplayer. On the competitive side, boost and dash capabilities are standard for every player, with more unusual functions reserved for a special slot in the Create-a-Class menu.

Related: Here’s our first hands-on with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare‘s multiplayer

The result is a dramatic shift in the way Call of Duty’s multiplayer feels. There’s an easy point of comparison in Titanfall, with Respawn Entertainment’s high-flying, parkour-inspired traversal feeding into the same spectrum of entertainment that Advanced Warfare‘s Exo suits. The latter feels more grounded in the known world. These aren’t Pilots, they’re soldiers. They don’t run on walls, and they don’t (often) summon towering mechs down from the heavens. Sure, they jump a lot higher than they have before, but there’s no hang time. For all of the enhanced mobility, much of this latest Call of Duty’s gunplay still plays out on the ground.

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare 1

And that’s fine. Changes to the multiplayer create a shift in the flow of the action, but it’s not so dramatic that this feels like a different game. There’s a definite learning curve, and likely a frustrating one for most since the same servers that host Joe and Jane Gamer are also the training grounds for a growing eSports community. Though it’s apparent even after just a few rounds that the speed and immediacy of Call of Duty multiplayer is intact in Advanced Warfare.

Finally, Exo Survival should be immediately familiar to anyone that enjoyed Modern Warfare 3‘s similar mode. It’s wave-based survival gameplay for up to four players, with currency points earned during each round spent on upgrading gear and — fittingly — Exo abilities. It’s a challenging hold-the-line type of scenario that favors teams capable of working together and rallying around a single, defendable point.

In a blockbuster series like this, there are good games and there are bad games. This happens to be a good one.

Though Exo Survival mixes things up by introducing objective rounds that give squads one of several tasks like collecting all the dog tags that appear, searching enemy corpses for intel — that sort of thing. Complete the objective and you’re all good, and go to the next round. Fail, and you’ll have to deal with some horrible disadvantage when the next wave approaches. Maybe your primary weapons jam, relegating everyone to pistols only, or maybe your whole Exo suit system is hacked … at which point you might as well pack it all in, because the screen distortions are nigh impossible to play through.

We’ve still got a ways to go with  Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, but if you’re looking for a kneejerk summation: It’s great. Yes, it’s undeniably Call of Duty. A few tweaks to movement and an arsenal of future-world weapons doesn’t change the basic style of play to the point that it’s going to usher in a whole new audience of fans.

But is that ever the point with a Call of Duty game? In a blockbuster series where iteration generally trumps evolution, there are good ones and there are bad ones. This happens to be a good one. Go get it, fanfolk. More to come on Friday.

Deals

Amazon Prime Day deals are ending, but you can still get great bargains

Prime Day 2019 has come to an end for Amazon, but that doesn't mean the Prime Day deals are over. With deals from Walmart, Best Buy, and Amazon still going on, this massive shopping event is continuing on through the week.
Gaming

Wage war on a budget with these fun and free first-person shooters

We all know about Halo and Call of Duty by now, but what about quality titles that won't cost you upward of $60? Check out our picks for the best free first-person shooter games from Paladins to Quake Champions.
Gaming

These Xbox One exclusives are the definition of quality over quantity

Xbox One has a prestigious collection of handpicked titles that you can't play on other consoles. Here are the latest and greatest Xbox One exclusives, including some that are also available on PC
Deals

Best Prime Day camping deals: Marmot, GoPro, and LifeStraw discounts

Prime Day 2019 is underway! While you may have spent your time looking for the latest tech gadgets at rockbottom prices, did you know that Prime Day is actually a great opportunity to score deals on all kinds of camping gear?
Deals

Best Prime Day Camping Deals: GoPro, Marmot, and LifeStraw discounts

Prime Day 2019 is underway. While you may have spent your time looking for the latest tech gadgets at rock-bottom prices, did you know that Prime Day is actually one of the best opportunities to score deals on all kinds of camping gear?
Deals

Walmart extends Prime Day sale into Sunday: 4K TV, Apple, and Smart Watch deals

Prime Day 2019 has come to an end for Amazon, but that doesn't mean the deals are over. Walmart's Prime Day sale has been extended into the weekend. With 4K TVs, Apple Watches, and Nintendo Switch deals, there are great savings.
News

A fan re-created a FF7 Remake battle scene using Dreams and it looks awesome

Final Fantasy 7 Remake will arrive early 2020 but someone has made a modern spin on the classic JRPG using the tools available in Media Molecule’s Dreams. It follows the formula of the remake and looks pretty impressive.
Gaming

Clobber Innocence with this FFXIV: Shadowbringers Crown of the Immaculate guide

Congratulations on making it this far. This FFXIV: Shadowbringers Crown of the Immaculate normal mode guide will teach you all you need to know of this enduring brawl against the final Sin Eater.
Gaming

Did your PS1 favorite make our list of the best PlayStation games?

Take a stroll down memory lane with the 50 best games ever released for the original PlayStation. From all-time classics like Final Fantasy VII and Resident Evil 2 to quirky gems like PaRappa the Rapper, the PS1 had it all.
Gaming

Here's where to find Xur and what he has for wares this week

The weekly vendor in Destiny 2: Forsaken always brings Exotic weapons and armor, some of the toughest loot to find in the game. Here's everything you need to know to track down Xur: Where he is, when he shows up, and what he's stocking.
Gaming

Celebrate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 with these awesome space games

50 years ago on July 20, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the Moon. In celebration of their momentous accomplishment, we put together a list of the top ten space games.
Gaming

Send Hades packing with our FFXIV: Shadowbringers guide to The Dying Gasp

The final stretch of the FFXIV: Shadowbringers storyline brings you here: to The Dying Gasp. If you're already feeling the pressure from past battles, you'll want to read on.
Gaming

History unfolds in this Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers Amaurot dungeon guide

Practically throwing you back in time with his fancy creation magicks, you'll bear witness to the calamity that befell Amaurot, the ancient city of his people. In this FFXIV: Shadowbringers Amaurot dungeon guide, we'll see you through what…
Mobile

Get your game on with the best controllers for Android smartphones

If you're looking to do some serious gaming on an Android device, you're going to need a gamepad. Here are the best controllers for Android games on smartphones and tablets, with rechargeable and wireless options.