One of the few constants in life is that nothing is ever perfect for everyone, and gaming is no exception. The latest Call of Duty, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, may have an excellent single-player campaign, but the multiplayer has been met with rather mixed reactions. Even a month after release, the general consensus doesn’t appear to have changed much. This was an inevitable outcome perhaps, given all the small yet integral tweaks that Infinity Ward made to an otherwise familiar set of gameplay mechanics.
There have been weapon balancing issues of course, which Infinity Ward was quick at addressing. Then there’s the fact that certain audio cues are way too loud. A slightly more difficult problem to be sure, and one that Infinity Ward is slowly working on. Such issues are certainly pressing, yet when they’re compared to some of the most common complaints about the multiplayer, they are practically trivial.
The elephant in the room is currently Modern Warfare’s matchmaking system, or perhaps more accurately, the implementation of Skill-Based Matchmaking. As the name suggests, SBMM prioritizes player skill when forming matches, making for more fair matches in theory. In this case, SBMM appears to be designed in such a way to aggressively push everyone to a 1.0 KD ratio. Do too well, and your next game will probably be a complete loss. Naturally, Infinity Ward is completely silent on the issue, but most evidence, anecdotal or otherwise, seems to indicate that SBMM is in effect. Hardly a scandal, given that virtually every modern multiplayer game has some kind of competitive multiplayer mode—except for the fact that Modern Warfare doesn’t actually have a competitive multiplayer mode.
This means that while other games have some sort of indicator that shows that you are moving around the ranked ladder, Modern Warfare lacks this feature. There’s no bronze-silver-gold rank bracket, no skill number, and certainly no reward for doing well. For that matter, it’s still not entirely clear how the game determines skill to begin with. You’re essentially forced to put on your best performance every single time with nothing to show for it. The further you are on each end of the skill bell curve, the more pronounced the effect.
It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that the strict SBMM of Modern Warfare is amplifying some of the other innate faults of the game. Unsurprisingly, weapon diversity is going to suffer the most since people will want to use the best guns—or more than usual anyways. There’s not going to be much room for experimentation when it guarantees that you’ll be at a disadvantage, doubly so given that you need attachments to make certain weapons usable. If it didn’t take a dozen hours of nonstop usage to unlock every attachment for a gun, perhaps it would be more tolerable, but that’s another issue entirely. It was especially noticeable when word got out that the M4A1 assault rifle and 725 shotgun combo was basically unstoppable. Fortunately, things have gotten a little better thanks to quick balancing updates.
Unfortunately, map design is not something that you can just hotfix. Modern Warfare‘s maps are not great to begin with, though one can argue that because everyone is playing the game at a competitive level, the flaws of each map are pushed to the limits. People have a greater incentive to hold a “power position” for long periods of time if the alternative is instant death. Every nook and cranny can have someone sitting in it because getting the drop on someone almost guarantees a kill. You can’t really blame people for playing so passively when the average time to kill is measured in milliseconds.
Even if you took SBMM completely out of the equation, Modern Warfare‘s maps are just not great. Not all of them are terrible, but the ones that are completely suck the fun out of playing. Euphrates Bridge remains a sniper’s paradise since it’s literally just a bridge in a desert. Piccadilly seems to have been made specifically for spawn camping. The Palace map wouldn’t be so bad if the palace didn’t exist. A whole separate discussion can be had over how the game’s respawn logic is nonexistent. Highlights include spawning a whole five feet away from an enemy that had also just respawned, deciding that a team that’s being trapped in a spawn area by killstreaks doesn’t need to flip spawn locations, spawning people in airstrikes, and so much more. The best part is that these aren’t fringe cases where there’s a one-in-a-million chance of it happening.
That’s not to say that Modern Warfare‘s multiplayer isn’t good. Parts of it, especially the gunsmith, can even be considered groundbreaking. It’s just that there’s a difference between good and great, and so far most of the problems that prevent the game from being great will take a long time to fix. That Infinity Ward is outright ignoring even the most basic questions about SBMM and the dumpster fire that is Spec Ops isn’t particularly reassuring. It’s one thing for a game to release with problems that can be patched out within weeks. It’s another for the problems to be built into the core gameplay, thus requiring a major overhaul to address.