The legacy of the original Modern Warfare trilogy is the entire reason why the Call of Duty franchise surpassed all other mainstream shooters in the late 00s. Its captivating campaigns and refreshing and reinvigorated multiplayer defined the genre, and the addition of further modes only served to bolster the series ever more. When Activision decided to return to the Modern Warfare brand, it instilled excitement, offering a new pace to multiplayer, the return of iconic guns and, in Modern Warfare 3, an essential remaster of Modern Warfare 2, arguably the best received CoD release of all time.
Yet, despite the return to these glory days, the popularity of the Modern Warfare name, and the carry-over of some of the greatest and most popular maps of all time, it does not automatically guarantee success. You may ask yourself why, and the large response is that, in Modern Warfare 3, there’s too much Warzone and not enough Modern Warfare.
For the past few years, Call of Duty: Warzone has dominated CoD‘s console player base, even overtaking the multiplayer modes with its size and its reinvigorating take on a genre still in the molding process. Once again, the Call of Duty crew took the trending genre of the time and made a prime example of it. Yet, with the way Warzone is designed - hooking free-to-play players into buying each year’s CoD entry in order to continue their evergreen Warzone experience - Modern Warfare is naturally inheriting too much of Warzone.
We saw an example of this with the Modern Warfare 2 campaign in 2022, and while the scavenging and crafting elements made the campaign feel a little different - and even a bit more immersive in some of the story points - there is simply too much of it in Modern Warfare 3.
You knew MW3 was designed to hook Warzone players when the trailer for the campaign revealed that the game featured the Verdansk gulag. Did that stop there being a hype moment? The answer to that is no. Perhaps you loved a Stadium drop, yeah you got that too. And while the map appearances fall short there, the obvious Warzone elements throughout the entire campaign don’t stop.
Modern Warfare 3 introduces Open Combat Missions. These try to take the open nature and loot-gathering aspects of Warzone and apply them to campaign missions with few objectives. The first Open Combat Mission wasn’t too bad, but after playing through a few others it got very tiresome, very quickly. The major issue is that all of these Open Combat Missions feel the same. Do a few objectives, explore a relatively large campaign map, loot some guns, and then call it a day. It feels classless and lacks those iconic CoD moments.
Open Combat Missions are a major part of the campaign, but they are mostly boring & repetitive.
The majority of the campaign fails to really deliver major moments and explosive cinematic scenes. Most of the important context-building is done in cutscenes, leaving you to be just a boot on the ground, alongside your overpowered SAS squad. There isn’t really a memorable moment in the campaign as the few rehashed larger sniping level scripts, and a few timer-related missions that get annoying with endless enemies chucked at you. Throw in the bullet-sponging Juggernaut enemies and make an already boring experience even more sluggish. The campaign is super-short, which is maybe its only saving grace, despite this realization being typically negative in a full-price game.
One final note, I had to play MW3 on its “recommended” settings, despite having a top-end PC. If I didn’t, most missions would drop from the 165 FPS cap I set to around 40-60 FPS and suffer frequent crashes. Considering the official system requirements, PCs with eight-year-old parts can still run this game, and high-end PCs are in the competitive bracket. This leaves me with doubt about the future stability of the title on PC.
Other Gamer Guides staffers, playing on console, have also suffered some issues with MW3 crashing. It could well be a problem with an unpatched, pre-launch title, as there has since been a 100 GB update on both consoles and PC. But this is certainly an issue that might happen more often as pre-orders offer players Early Access. Welcome to early access versions of games, except everyone pays money for it, rather than allowing reviewers to play and test games first, write their opinion, and let the paying public decide whether to buy the game or not. Paying money for issues leaves both journalists and paying customers alike frustrated, and who can really blame anyone at this point?
The plus points of the MW3 campaign
The narrative team clearly had a ball with the storyline of Modern Warfare 3. At first, the story doesn’t feel particularly great, with the ending already leaving many fans confused and disappointed. Those opinions are valid. And yet, the narrative team is using quite a lot of foreshadowing, and they have, apparently, been using it throughout the 2019 and 2022 MW campaigns too.
There are certainly a lot of loose and newly created story threads. So, I will say that there is some intrigue on what may come from the inevitable Modern Warfare 4. We won’t go over it here, for the sake of spoilers in the review, but you can take a look over on our MW3 Ending Explained page to get a deep dive into spoiler territory and why these events have happened.
I just hope, when Modern Warfare 4does arrive, that it is a bit more Modern Warfare, and a little less Warzone.
Campaign Score: 2/10
Zombies: A stale DMZ rehash, or a needed modernization?
Zombies is a fan favorite of the Call of Duty series, and each era of the game has brought with it differences in the mode. Some players loved and called for the days of the horde-based wave survival mode. Meanwhile, others enjoyed the objective changes to complete Zombie levels. Yet, in this new era of Call of Duty, the mode is taking on the DMZ style gameplay.
It was clear something had to be done after the terrible state of Zombies in Vanguard. And a drastic shakeup in MW3 is certainly one that players will either love or hate in equal measures.
The Zombies mode opens with a Cinematic of Z's stumbling around the denser urban areas of Al-Mazrah.
Fans of the classic mode will feel slightly disappointed, with no wave management, leaderboard, or types of original content. Yet, there are certain objectives in the game that will task you with ever-increasing waves of enemies. So, it’s not all doom and gloom. The ones who loved the objectives will enjoy the large array of missions and objectives via the DMZ Contract system. Ping a contract on the map, launch it, and you get a new mission in a nearby location. Sometimes you might be tasked with clearing an infestation, while at other times, you may be tasked with defending an area while you clear up a mess with waves of zombies coming at you. If you fancy a challenge, head into higher threat areas and do objectives there - you’ll be in for a much harder challenge, but greater grinds and rewards are on the line.
In terms of its successes, there’s an opportunity for players to really get a lot out of MW3 Zombies. The changing spawns, the open world, the similar challenge contracts yet new locations do offer a degree of replayability not really seen in the Zombies mode etc. Add in the ability to extract weapons and other equipment for use in multiplayer, and camo grinds, then you may have a lot of fun in this mode.
Complete objectives, extract with weapons and play with team, random or premade at your own benefit or expense.
Yet, the downside of the mode is that you can’t play Zombies by yourself. Players will have their own missions to do before going into lobbies, and if for instance, someone is on a specific camo grind, then it becomes very easy for parties to become disjointed on their goals. It’s very possible that the Zombies experience may start getting rough for those of you who don’t play Zombies in premade groups and lobbies. It was noticeable in the first few games of Zombies with random players running around trying to do their own thing, and doing your own thing in Zombies as the game gets harder will lead to lost loot, deaths, and failed rewards to extract. Or a more frustrating camo grind. So, there are certainly flaws and cracks in the new design of Zombies, which may either improve or be an issue for the majority of Modern Warfare 3 playerbase. It’s not a perfect Zombies experience, but it’s at least fun and refreshing at the same time.
The other factor is the mode is obviously not designed for Zombies, but rather just plastered over. If you hate DMZ, you may find that Zombies give it some new life. But, with the core features the same, that Zombies recolor may only deceive you for so long.
Zombies Score: 6/10
Multiplayer: TTK, movement, and offense changes for the better?
With the launch of the MW3 beta, it became clear that MW3 was going to be a different beast compared to MW2. The new faster gameplay, remastered legacy maps, new Tactical Stance, a better loadout, and Gunsmith strength and weakness system. The tools are in place for a much better experience. Yet, there were some concerns drawn from the beta. These pros, cons, and impressions from the beta are an important framework to address whether MW3’s multiplayer has hit the nail on the head. Spoiler, for the most part, it has.
Classic Modern Warfare Multiplayer is back, with a few twists here or there to standard systems. Image via Activision.
For starters, the game’s new fast-paced gameplay, and its Tactical Stance introduction offer a new twist on the genre. Players can now be rewarded for playing the game fast, with their slick slides, dolphin dives, and the new Tactical Stance granting offense where players were previously exposed. As for the TTK, players are typically rewarded with better accuracy and better aim or getting a jump on an enemy. This means shotgun players and campers can retain advantages, while players who are good at aiming can also win fights in their respective elements. If you’re a pusher, and like to deal with campers, your new tools for fast pace, Tactical Stance, and other pushing factors will reward you with even more opportunities to get those entry kills. Overall, every gameplay style is significantly better in MW3. And, to top it off, the new gunsmith changes with its strengths and weaknesses help push that further.
And, for the most part, the gunsmith, or at least for the MW3 weapons feel much better. There’s more freedom for creative loadouts. You’re no longer punished for using a sight. Not to mention the importance of ADS and recoil - control battle isn’t at the forefront of gun design. Many guns are much more accurate, so you can now even place silencers on your guns again, or maybe try some better hip fire type builds, or maybe mess around with the Tactical Stance style gameplay, or even attachments for jumping if you’re really into the fast movement the game can offer. Each build and playstyle is much more viable due to the nature of TTK, accuracy, and managing your weapon in the right damage ranges to win fights.
Having said that, the new loadout system of vests and perk swap does make it hard to get exactly what you want from the new perk system. Some players will like the new loadout options in Gunsmith, while the perk system is going to be one to adjust to and one that can lead to frustration with the strange placements of many of these items.
The MW3 spawning system was a worry for many in the early impressions, but, for the most part, they are better. (Quarry has a few issues, though.) Image via Activision.
The other pressing factor for MW3 is the spawn system. MW3‘s beta spawns were terrible, and it scared many players away. But it seems like the MW3 multiplayer is pursuing a more classic spawning system. Players will only spawn switch if it becomes very apparent they are spawn camped, or an enemy pushes deep. For the most part, you will always spawn on the side of the map your team controls, especially for game modes like Domination. While the spawn system is much better for being able to figure out angles and spawn objectives, it does come at the cost of players being able to trap you while not pushing your spawn. Due to the most part of easy spawn funnels and long-range camping angles, many maps do lead to several-second walks before you’re presented with a plethora of potential kill angles. So, while you’re no longer spawning into random battles, or having someone spawn directly behind you and ruining your streak, there is an issue with the spawning system. For the most part, it’s better, but with SBMM in place, it may mean smarter players will abuse the system and make life harder. There are strengths to this system, and weaknesses too.
While, for the most part, MW3‘s multiplayer has a string of strengths, one of the new features leaves a lot to be desired. The new level 25 Armory unlock system offers players the choice to grind some things that they want. At least that is how it is supposed to look. On paper, selecting the rewards you want is a nice touch: these rewards range from core perks, killstreaks, desirable weapons, new aftermarket parts, and more. But each challenge also requires a set number of daily challenges to complete. There’s only so many daily challenges you can get, and some are even locked behind other armory unlocks. Add in some daily challenges being bizarre, or counterproductive to your camo grind and/or attachment grind, and the system easily breaks down into an awkward, artificial grind. If you’re someone who can pump through it, then the Armory Unlock system is likely something you can easily get through without too many issues. Yet, if you find daily challenges to be something you often despise doing, the Armory Unlocks will be a thorn in your side. Thankfully, many of these issues are circumnavigated via finding something in Zombies and extracting the item. So, ignore the weapon unlock sin that is Armory and instead, grab them in Zombies to make a grind that bit better.
Some other issues with the MW3 mutliplayer are more personal pet peeves than direct negatives. The newly remastered map designs seem to have a new, rather ugly filter applied to them. It makes some of the maps browner than they should be, or annoyingly, makes distant enemies harder to see. Moreso, some of the maps, aka Rust are noticeably larger, and have less cover than the original in 2009, and the 2019 remaster. It means that some of the chaos is even more frustrating than normal. Considering how the TTK and the movement is, it feels like some maps are designed to make life harder with the new systems in place.
And while I’m on the point of UI and UX design, the new CoD HQ is a cumbersome Netflix-interface-looking mess to navigate. Nevermind the restarts to switch game modes (MW3 - Warzone 2 for example), fiddly auto-queuing for multiplayer games, and other strange implementations. It does ruin the floor this mode has.
Multiplayer Score: 7/10
Value for Money?
On a final note, it is very hard to justify the $70 price tag. 30 extra weapons, one of the worst campaigns in CoD history, and a Zombies mode reskinned, with launch maps that were maps that already existed in MW2, it becomes increasingly difficult to recommend this game at full price. If the reports from Bloomberg are to be believed, (developers only having 18 months to make it and originally intending it to be Advanced Warfare) then it makes sense why it is in such a poor launch state. Honestly, for $70 with the current content on offer, no one would blame players for sitting this one out for a while. At best it’s Zombies with a Multiplayer slightly improved from MW2 but it’s hard to escape the fact that most of the Zombies and Multiplayer changes could have been patches or DLC to MW2. So, take from that what you will.
Modern Warfare 3 has moments of Call of Duty classics, with a reinvigorated multiplayer, and a twist on Zombies. However, there is too much Warzone polluting the base experience, and the franchise should try harder to keep both experiences unique.
While Craig graduated from university in 2018 with a degree in History, he spent his uni downtime writing about esports and video games. It turns out a career in gaming journalism would come calling sooner, with Craig spending several years freelancing before moving into the full-time world as a Staff Writer and a Guides Editor. He now writes for Gamer Guides as an Editor, working on some of the biggest and best titles to launch every month and debunking everything there is to know about a game.