Preview: Exoskeletons, supply drops, and more in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

If you’ve played any amount of Call of Duty: Ghosts since release, you’re probably hoping for some big changes in 2014’s Advanced Warfare. Ghosts was a game filled with promises of improvements and evolution that never came to fruition. Based on the few maps we were given the opportunity to play on at Activision’s multiplayer, we’re optimistic that Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare could bring the change fans have hoped for. Provided, of course, that the large promises hinted at can be delivered on.

Related: Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare review

Story/Concept

Power changes everything. Advanced Warfare takes place in the future. Soldiers are outfitted with exoskeletons, or Exos for short, that allow them to perform powered moves: boost-assisted jumps, dashes, slides, and ground pound-style melee slams. The difference is immediately noticeable; soldiers in Advanced Warfare move in a way that we’ve never seen in a Call of Duty game before.

Call of Duty Advanced Warfare first look

This changes the dynamic completely. Having more mobile soldiers opens up the maps, making it harder to camp. The increased verticality also diminishes the role of choke points. You’re not merely funneled from hallway to hallway. Changes like these require even seasoned Call of Duty players to approach Advanced Warfare with a different sort of thinking.

Gameplay

Gun control. Advanced Warfare isn’t about pure gun skill the way past Call of Duty games have been; movement is just as important. Staying mobile is vital when you’re navigating these new maps. The four arenas we fought in carried much more of emphasis on vertical spaces than we’ve seen in past games.

Perhaps the most welcome feature in Advanced Warfare is the return of the Pick 10 system.

The boost abilities of the Exos allow players to scramble to the upper reaches of any arena with ease. The suit also allows for quick dashes in any direction, introducing a new tool for zipping out of an enemy’s field of fire. The controls – simply click the left stick and move it left/right/back to dash – feel intuitive to the point that they should quickly become reflex to longtime players.

Now, when you turn a corner and see an enemy ready to fire, you don’t simply have to run into a hail of bullets and get on with the next spawn. You can leap or boost clear, using the momentary surprise to turn things around on your ambusher.

Suit up. In multiplayer, your powered suit bolsters the new dash and jump capabilities with an “Exo Ability” class slot. These special enhancements are powered by the suit’s battery, which usually lasts a handful of seconds. For example, the Exo Cloak turns you invisible for a short period of time. The Exo Shield, on the other hand, is essentially a deployable Riot Shield that can be used for any period of time as long as you have some charge left in your Exo’s battery.

The Pick system returns! Perhaps the most welcome feature in Advanced Warfare is the return of the Pick 10 system – reimagined now as Pick 13 to account for new class slots – from Treyarch’s Black Ops 2. It works like this: every custom class in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare gets a budget of 13 points to spend on filling out weapon, perk, grenade, wildcard, and Exo ability slots.

Custom class setup sheets are essentially the same as they were in Black Ops 2’s Pick 10, but you can also assign as many as four scorestreaks here (previously, killstreaks/scorestreaks were separate). Since they now count toward the class setup’s point limit, you can forgo these in-match bonuses in order to get more points for your class loadout. Don’t give a crap about killstreak rewards? Skip them and fill out six entire perk slots, or cart more gear into battle.

Rethinking scorestreaks. Most of the scorestreaks we saw amount to slight variations on those found in previous Call of Duty titles, but it’s not all same old, same old. New co-op scorestreaks allow you to work toward the reward with another player on your team, allowing you to possibly earn these bonuses in situations where you might not have been able to do so by yourself.

Related: A closer look at what’s new in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare‘s campaign

Players also now have the option of jumping in on and contributing to a teammate’s streak reward. So you might join in on firing rockets down from above when another player activates their reward.

Presentation

Looking simple. Interface design has transformed quite heavily over the last few years as we’ve seen games shift from loud and boisterous UI to minimal and simple UI. Advanced Warfare is no exception as it carries what is undoubtedly the most minimal UI of any Call of Duty game to date.

The newly redesigned user interface focuses primarily on slightly blurred boxes with the in-game HUD displayed on top. It was designed to present information in a straightforward way that doesn’t get in the way of gameplay. But when you’re in the heat of battle, that doesn’t make it easy to find what you’re looking for. The streamlined look of objective markers and the on-screen minimap makes it more difficult to know where to direct your focus at any given moment.

Fan-favorite game modes like Capture the Flag and Hardpoint that work perfectly on these new maps.

Higher ground. We got to play around in four of Advanced Warfare’s new maps: Ascend, Biolab, Defender, and Riot. They all felt smaller initially than many previous Call of Duty maps, but what they lack in comparative horizontal space, they make up for in vertical space.

Take Riot, arguably the largest of the four; it’s set in a destroyed prison and is all about traversing the multiple vertical levels of the prison, both inside the prison facility and in the yards outside. Ascend seems to be designed with eSports in mind, with three lanes that are perfect for objective-based gameplay. It’s very reminiscent of Raid from Black Ops 2 in this regard, and opens the way to great long-distance battles for the objective(s).

Defender is an outdoor map based around ruined buildings under the Golden Gate Bridge that seems fairly standard for the series… at first. Sometime during any given match, the arena is overtaken by a tidal wave that moves the action to higher ground and requires you to use your Exo abilities to stay alive.

Biolab is the most visually striking map of the four maps we saw, taking place in a snow-covered bioengineering lab located somewhere in the mountains. The sharp contrast of bright white snow to cool, interior environments covered in white and orange paint is wonderful, and it offers unique pathing that requires players take advantage of the Exo’s capabilities, and leads to cool firefights.

Fan-favorite game modes like Capture the Flag and Hardpoint that work perfectly on these new maps. Uplink is a new match type that tasks teams with capturing a ball and carrying it to their enemy’s portal. It’s a simple yet very challenging and competitive game mode that fans are sure to latch onto.

Loot hunt. Multiplayer progression in Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is still built on players leveling up and resetting ranks via Prestige, but random loot now offer a new way of earning rewards for putting in playtime or completing specific challenges. These come in the form of Supply Drops. There are three different types — Reinforcements, Weapon Loot, and Character Gear — broken down across three quality levels: Enlisted, Professional, and Elite.

Reinforcements are one-time use items like perks and scorestreaks. Weapon Drops reward players with customized weapons that are fitted with stat enhancements, such as decreased reload time or lessened recoil. There are 10 custom gun attributes in all, which creates a lot of flexibility in the way these randomly earned weapons can be set apart from one another.

Character Gear is purely cosmetic, allowing you to alter the appearance of your character, much like you could with similar unlocks in Ghosts. However, for the first time in a Call of Duty game, characters are displayed in a virtual lobby that allows you to scroll through the team list and see how each character looks, giving some extra weight to how you design your character.

Takeaway

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is shaping up to be the COD game that fans have been asking for. Sledgehammer addressed nearly every concern that regular players had with Ghosts, with the exception of the return of Black Ops 2’s League Play competitive mode. We just hope that the implementation of all these new features is tweaked and perfected before release.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare comes to PC (Windows) and PlayStation/Xbox consoles on November 4, 2014.

(Images courtesy of Sledgehammer Games)

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