The third entry in the Modern Warfare reboot project ships on November 10. A direct sequel to 2022’s Modern Warfare II, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III’s campaign follows Task Force 141 as they attempt to prevent a global catastrophe. Its single-player campaign promises more open, freeform levels than usual, while aiming to still deliver the cinematic flair for which many come to the series. Sadly, the cracks from MW3’s allegedly rushed development cycle are apparent, resulting in a campaign that’s both unlikely to satisfy longtime CoD players while also feeling too empty and hollow to appeal to more general FPS fans.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III’s campaign is a skeletal framework of a game that could’ve (and should’ve) been much better than what it presently is. Its attempts to divorce itself from the more linear traditions of CoD campaigns, while interesting in concept, mostly fail in execution. What’s on offer instead is a largely unsatisfying series of levels that make up a roughly five-to-seven-hour campaign (if that). The game flirts with interesting, even promising, concepts, but fails to stick the landing with its narrative or gameplay, leading to an empty-feeling conclusion.
All kitted up with nothing interesting to do
Leading up to Modern Warfare III’s launch, the open combat missions were the most interesting to me conceptually.
When I can do the emotional work of putting CoD’s thematic content to the side (something much harder these days given what’s going on in the world), I do enjoy the feel of CoD’s running and gunning, augmented by neat tactical equipment and weaponry. I tend to enjoy it even more when free of the sweaty pressure of multiplayer.
But the problem I’ve always had with CoD’s single-player offerings (aside from how gross it can get) is that most CoD campaigns rarely let me play around with these toys at my own pace and with my own style. They want me on rails, following someone else, shooting when the game tells me to. MW3, in theory, should shake that up. On paper it does, but there’s just something missing.
The open combat missions feature wide areas that feel like mini-Warzone maps, or maybe large team deathmatch excursions. In fact, upon a passing glance, the gameplay looks like Warzone or DMZ without other players.
These missions let you choose how you wish to engage, with a selection of discoverable equipment and guns to let you change up your playstyle, ranging from stealthy sneaky business, to all-out explosive offensives. But most of the maps are just too bland, with objectives that feel uninteresting and AI that will border on feeling too unfair for most stealth approaches.
The AI enemies are numerous and quick to alert and shoot at you. On one hand I find that compelling: These forces feel like they’re actively preventing me from gaining entry and moving around; it can make for a substantial challenge. But it’s so easy to alert someone that the “perfect stealth runner” in me often just gets frustrated. To be fair, I enjoyed the challenge from time to time, but it was fleeting at best, especially when the gun fights just sort of turned into a mindless shootathon that usually just resulted in me getting overwhelmed and dying.
There’s glimpses of the concept working well, however. One open mission in particular sends you through a building complex with a nice gritty, urban aesthetic, leading up to large shootouts on a roof. But far too often the open combat missions just rip the linear spine straight out of Call of Duty without much else to replace it with aside from what feels like Warzone in offline mode. That said, I hope CoD doesn’t discard this idea for future games. Conceptually I think this mini open-world kinda thing could be a nice fresh take on the modern treatment of single-player first-person shooters, it’s just not really working well here.
The more linear missions of MW3’s campaign are also more freeform. This I like. Missions like “Payload,” which sent me to infiltrate an enemy base with the help of an aerial drone I could switch to to get a sense of where the enemies were and plan my approach without much narrative scripting, was actually enjoyable. I felt in charge, free to come up with how I’d like to engage with the enemy, not just following the orders of whoever it was talking in my ear. Again, I think CoD could stand to learn from these and apply the ideas to more interesting scenarios (and certainly more interesting stories) in future games.
But it must be said that while a gamer like me appreciates something unconventional, experimental even, the open-ended and largely empty feeling of MW3’s levels are unlikely to satisfy traditional Call of Duty fans. And neither will its storyline.
A dramatic regression in narrative
I was far from in love with the story of 2022’s Modern Warfare II, but I did enjoy its characters a fair bit, and I was looking forward to checking in with them again in Modern Warfare III. While I enjoyed hanging out with Price, Ghost, Laswell, Farah, and crew yet again—a few clever lines of dialogue here and there reminded me why I like this cast— the only emotional beats I felt during the game were because of the narrative precedent established in the much better storytelling of Modern Warfare II.
The full-of-life performances of Modern Warfare II are nowhere to be found here. And while I struggled to fully understand exactly what was going on in MW2, the narrative twists and turns, such as Graves and Shepherd’s betrayal, hit if for no other reason than that their voice actors breathed so much life into them.
But there’s just nothing here like the satisfying dynamic between Valeria and Alejandro in MW2. And why those characters aren’t permanent members of CoD’s cast is beyond me; they were simply fantastic in last year’s game. Bring them back, Activ—err, Microsoft.
When MW3 narratively entertained me, it was only because MW2 introduced me to this world and these characters in a far superior way. When I found myself audibly saying “oh, this asshole” after Graves came onscreen, it was only because he was such an enjoyable asshole of an antagonist in the previous game. MW3 stands too often on the narrative work MW2 did and frequently fails to meaningfully contribute to it. It feels like a direct-to-VHS sequel. That’s a problem considering the heights it’s aiming for.
I failed to get a sense of the big bad, Makarov, his intentions, or who he was as a person. I didn’t love to hate him the way I did Shepherd and Graves in the last game. But unfortunately with MW3, some pretty serious plot events in this game mean that it’s gonna be a harder one to forget about. These narrative beats, which seal the fates of certain characters, deserved a better telling.
MW3‘s campaign is a poor presentation of neat ideas
Modern Warfare III presents some interesting ideas for Call of Duty, but they’re blueprints at best. The narrative presentation is painfully lacking, doing a disservice to otherwise entertaining characters. Time will tell how the multiplayer fares, but in terms of its contribution to the story of the current reboot of Modern Warfare, it’s at best a net neutral experience that feels rushed, and a boring waste of charismatic characters at worst.