Hands on: ‘Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare’ multiplayer

Infinite Warfare adds tons of new customization options to the Black Ops 3 core

COD Infinite Warfare Multiplayer
For most players, the biggest changes coming to Call of Duty this year are in how busy it’ll keep you.

For more than a decade, the arrival of fall has meant a new Call of Duty game, with a new campaign — and new multiplayer. But Call of Duty never changes that much, as critics complain and fans obviously appreciate.

When Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare hits store shelves on Nov. 4, it’ll take players to space for the first time, but its multiplayer will feel grounded with gameplay familiar to anyone whose played the last two games in the series, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Call of Duty: Black Ops 3.

The framework for developer Infinity Ward’s latest take on the series is definitely the same one that players have grown used to over the past couple of years. Aerial maneuvers, quick movement, slides and wall-running are all back this year, pretty much exactly as we left them in Black Ops 3. Making a return with a slightly greater emphasis is the “squad” mentality that permeated Black Ops 3: Rather than simply picking a loadout with various guns and perks, as in previous Call of Duty titles — they picked an actual character, and each character had a particular special ability that charged up over time. The same idea returns in Infinite Warfare, but with more emphasis on player choice.

At Call of Duty XP 2016 in Los Angeles, Activision is giving fans and journalists a chance to check out Infinite Warfare multiplayer for themselves for the first time. And while there are a lot of seemingly big-deal changes, nothing about this year’s multiplayer is coloring too far outside of the series’ recently established lines.

All About the Tactics

What’s really new about Infinite Warfare are an influx of options for how to outfit yourself when you head into a multiplayer match. Infinity Ward stacked high the Call of Duty metagame — the game within the game where you work to unlock the best perks and weapons with which to customize your loadouts. The most noticeable change right at first glance is the addition of “rigs,” a set of named exosuits that effectively serve as a general blueprint for your multiplayer character. There are six rigs that function like highly customizable versions of Black Ops 3’s characters.

Each rig sports three “payloads” — which are similar to Black Ops 3’s special abilities (or Destiny’s super abilities) — and three “traits,” which are rig-specific special perks, like a quick dash move, an improved radar screen, a lengthier slide, and much more. You can pick one of each when you load out into a match, and you can change rigs on the fly whenever you’re killed while playing, introducing an Overwatch-like ability to shift your tactics as you’re getting pummeled by the opposing team.

Payloads don’t matter a whole lot most of the time, depending on how long it takes for them to charge, but they can be devastating if deployed correctly. The Warfighter rig, for instance, functions as your basic standard soldier: The rig packs a payload that functions as an assault rifle that can take down multiple players at once. Like Destiny’s Golden Gun, the Eraser handgun for the “FTL” rig is a one-shot kill that instantly vaporizes enemies. The support-emphasizing Stryker rig can deploy an auto-turret for a brief period as its special ability. Payloads don’t get used often and don’t last long, but they can turn the tide, or save your life at key moments.

The traits, on the other hand, seem like they will allow players to build around a specific style. They’re not especially world-shaking — the Merc rig, which emphasizes defense and area-denial, has a trait that kick-starts healing a little quicker than most. The Synapse rig, a man-sized robot drone, has a trait that gives players a quick dodge move that can be executed in any direction. They’re relatively small tactical bonuses, but can give you an edge when you know how to use them.

In practice, at least after a few rounds played at XP, Infinite Warfare seems to look more class-focused than it actually is, though. Jordan Hirsh, project director for multiplayer on Infinite Warfare, said that’s by design: Infinity Ward wants to give players lots of options for how they want to play the game, without straying too far from the core Call of Duty style of play.

Infinite Warfare goes a step further by adding “prototype weapons,” rarer classes of guns you can uncover throughout the game.

“We started by going much more class-based, like a very strict class-based system, early in development, and we went down that road for a good while, creating mechanics for that class-based system,” Hirsh explained. “So for instance, in that iteration, the (sniping and stealth-focused) Phantom rig would have been a strict sniper, and all his tools would have been built around sniping, essentially. And going down that path, we felt like the game didn’t feel like Call of Duty anymore. We felt like we took it a step too far by forcing players into these specific roles once chosen. So to combat that, we kept a lot of the mechanics — most of the mechanics — that we pushed into these specific archetypes, but pulled them back and created a suite of tools that each of these rigs could use. And with those tools, players can either create that very pure sniper experience, or they can play like a sniper but use a different weapon, or play like a sniper with more situational awareness, but still run and gun. So it created a lot more flexibility for players.”

So in practice, you can choose a rig, traits and payloads that will put additional emphasis on your play style, without necessarily rewriting how you play Call of Duty. Just as loadouts can shift you from running and gunning to laying low and sniping, rigs can give you advantages when played in a certain way, but they don’t lock you into a certain playstyle by forcing a sniper rifle into your hands or making you useless if you’re not sprinting around, flanking enemies. You could play Infinite Warfare without thinking about your rig abilities at all, if you don’t want to.

But it’s clear that players who are thinking about their rigs will get some mileage out of those payload deployments and trait advantages. It’s mostly just a matter of spending the time to find the ones that work.

Crazy Customization

Infinite Warfare has added a ludicrous amount of new weapons, items and scorestreaks to get used to, and an overabundance of choice seems like it’ll be the biggest hurdle for most players in finding a rhythm with the game.

COD Infinite Warfare Multiplayer

Rigs add 54 new potential loadout combinations to Infinite Warfare. On top of that, there are a bunch of new additions to players’ stock of weapons, grenades, items and perks to get through as well. Loadouts follow the same “Pick 10”  formula Call of Duty has used since Black Ops 2 — you have a certain number of points to use up, and each item you take with you into the field costs a point. So you can swap out your sidearm for more perks if you prefer, or carry two pistols, a ton of grenades, and nothing else.

Regardless of what you choose, you’ll be spending a lot of time unlocking and learning new weapons. In addition to standard bullet-based guns, Infinite Warfare has added “directed energy” weapons — basically laser blasters — that operate differently from your traditional ballistic weapons. Directed energy weapons work with batteries rather than bullets, so some guns have dual functions that require different amounts of battery life (the hybrid sniper rifle-assault rifle, for instance). Some can recharge when you’re not using them, and some have other functions. Some perks, like those that hide you from enemy radar, have effects that change based on which weapons you’re using (or are being used against you) as well.

In-game, energy weapons feel just as meaty as your usual assault rifles and shotguns, offering a futuristic feel that’s just as lethal. Moment-to-moment, what’s coming out of your gun matters much less than whether it’s an submachine gun or a shotgun. It seems like the major focus for energy weapons — like just about everything in the new Infinite Warfare multiplayer scheme — comes into play when you’re considering what to pair it with. The question is always, is this the right weapon for this perk, this loadout, this game mode, and this opposing team?

Infinite Warfare goes a step further by adding “prototype weapons,” rarer classes of guns you can uncover throughout the game. They’ll use a currency system called “salvage,” which wasn’t in the hands-on demos available at Call of Duty XP, the concept seems very similar to the upgradable weapons in Destiny. Players can craft rarer guns using salvage they earn in matches, ranging from common to “legendary” and “epic,” adding specific “gun perks” to those weapons. One weapon described in the video briefing for Infinite Warfare multiplayer described an epic handgun, capable of firing seven-round bursts — dumping half the magazine with one devastating pull of the trigger.

Hirsh said that, while prototype weapons are something players are going to pursue and earn as they play, Infinity Ward didn’t want to introduce a bunch of game-breaking superguns to Infinite Warfare, so they focused on different areas with gun perks.

“The line we try to draw the most on is increasing that moment-to-moment lethality,” he said. “We don’t want a gun that’s just purely going to kill another player faster, or better, we want those weapons to add utility to that gun or that play-style. For instance, the seven-round burst handgun — that’s going to be really good at close range, but at a distance, you’re going to be at a severe disadvantage, because you’re going to hit with one shot and miss with the other six, and waste six bullets.”

Other metagame additions include four “mission teams” who provide players with different mini-objectives they’ll try to compete in multiplayer matches. These range from things like killing opposing players with particular weapons, or racking up a certain number of points in objective-based matches, and the like. They sound a bit like Destiny’s “bounties” in its multiplayer Crucible arena, and they’ll function to get players trying different game modes and tactics. Ranking up with a particular team can unlock special prototype weapons that aren’t available any other way.

The salvage system, such as Infinity Ward has described it, sounds like a plan for micro-transactions that will allow players to buy, or at least increase their accumulation of, salvage currency. Hirsh said he didn’t know if micro-transactions would be coming to Infinite Warfare, and with eSports a major focus for Call of Duty, it seems likely Infinity Ward would be careful to add any system to the game that could be contrived as being “pay to win.” That said, salvage seems like this year’s take on adding an in-game system driven by real money as the one seen in Black Ops 3.

Going Where Black Ops 3 has Gone Before

Despite the bevy of new features, after spending some with Infinite Warfare’s multiplayer it’s clear that this is a game that games prizes continuity from year to year. With eSports becoming an even bigger thrust for Activision’s shooter franchise, it also seems as though the four studios that are working on the franchise — Infinity Ward, Treyarch, Sledgehammer Games and the multiplayer-focused team Raven Software — are going to be iterating on this new template rather than drastically changing it.  For a competitive scene to flourish, the game driving it needs to remain consistent, and it feels like Infinite Warfare is a suggestion of the consistency we can expect, at least for the time being.

For most players, the biggest changes coming to Call of Duty this year are in how busy it’ll keep you. The expansion of the meta-game, the new gear to unlock, prototype weapons to craft, and new missions to complete, seem positively enormous. Folks who enjoyed the iterations of last year’s Black Ops 3 will find Infinite Warfare fun and familiar. Players who don’t like the mobility changes and other additions that first came into the series with Advanced Warfare may not be too excited about what’s in store.

Highs

  • Big emphasis on tactics
  • Space setting offers some cool new weapons
  • Class-based focus means a more rewarding experience for a variety of play styles

Lows

  • Classes add some variety but not enough to feel truly distinct
  • Underlying Black Ops 3 framework feels pretty much unchanged
  • Some maps feel a little too claustrophobic for the game’s movement mechanics
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