Killstreak: A Call of Duty multiplayer timeline [Part 2]

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare had a profound influence on how first-person shooters would be designed, especially when it comes to multiplayer. With the recent reveal of Advanced Warfare's multiplayer features, we're following through history to see how COD's fast paced multiplayer became what it is, and what it will become. Part 2 covers Modern Warfare 3 to Advanced Warfare. 


Continued from Part 1...

When Call of Duty first released on October 29, 2003 for the PC, it reshaped the way World War II shooters were done, with on movie-like action and a focus on soldiers as they fought one of the most expansive and influential wars in history. Then the series made video game history again with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare by bringing shooters to the modern day. However, the game's greatest influence is arguably through its approach toward multiplayer, with an emphasis on fast-paced, close quarters combat and character progression. We follow the history of multiplayer progressions starting with Modern Ware and ending in the near future with the recent reveal of Advanced Warfare's multiplayer features.

Modern Warfare 3 (November 8, 2011)

In 2010, two senior employees at Infinity Ward were fired due to "breaches of contract and insubordination." Despite Activision reaffirming that Infinity Ward was central to Call of Duty's future, nearly half of the remaining employees resigned, among them lead designers and programmers that who worked on Modern Warfare 2. With the development of Modern Warfare 3 at stake, Sledgehammer Games (a new studio that was working on a Call of Duty action adventure game) was tasked with taking the lead with what remained of Infinity Ward while the company was rebuilt.

Although there was some doubts about whether Sledgehammer had what it took, especially after Infinity Ward established such a big reputation, Modern Warfare 3 turned out to be a critical and commercial success. It sold 6.5 million copies within the first 24 hours of release between the US and UK alone. Dedicated server support for PC multiplayer also made a comeback, but few in the media seemed to notice.

Multiplayer Changes:

The competitive multiplayer saw a number of changes, starting with an overhaul of the Killstreak system. Renamed to Poinstreak, kills were no longer the only way to get a score bonus. Completing objectives like planting a bomb or capturing the flag added to a player's Poinstreak. Poinstreak rewards fell into three different strike package categories: Assault, Support and Specialist. While the Assault and Specialist packages worked similarly to the classic killstreak system, the Support strike packages are awarded according to the player's total score during the match.

Additionally, the Ranking and Unlock system got some significant changes. Instead of using CODPoints to purchase unlocks, the player's weapons levels up alongside the player, and unlocks Proficiency perks and attachments. One Proficiency and two attachments can be placed on a primary weapon. A Prestige Shop was introduced, which allows players to use Prestige tokens to purchase features like double XP or an extra custom weapon class. Several perks from Modern Warfare 2 were removed, including Commando, which increases a player's melee distance.

New modes include Kill Confirmed, where players must collect the dog tags from fallen enemies to be credited with the kill. However, the opposing team can pick up the dog tag to deny the point. Team Defender has two teams vying for a flag. The team that has control of the flag earns double points for each kill. A number of private match modes include Infected (infected team recruits more onto their team by killing players), Drop Zone (a team must hold a drop zone for points and care packages), Team Juggernaut (teams play alongside an AI controlled Juggernaut), and Juggernaut (players battle against a Juggernaut, and whoever manages to kill it becomes it). Gun Game and One in the Chamber are brought over from Black Ops and can be played in private matches.

Cooperative (Survival of the fittest):

In the spirit of the Black Ops zombie mode, Modern Warfare 3 introduced a cooperative survival mode. Up to two players could team up and defend against waves of increasingly difficult enemies. However, unlike Nazi Zombies, enemies do no spawn from fixed locations. Instead, they come from tactical positions based on where the players are located. The cooperative mode can also be played on any multiplayer map. Special Ops also makes a return from Modern Warfare 2, this time with exclusive weapons that are not available in the main multiplayer mode.

Call of Duty Elite (Gaining Elite Status):

Developed by Beachhead Studios, the Call of Duty Elite service went live on November 8, 2011, coinciding with the release of Modern Warfare 3, however launched without support for the PC. Beachhead stated that the delayed launch on the PC was to endure a "safe PC environment." Even as summer 2012 rolled in, there were no signs that Elite would ever make its way to the PC.

Elite featured statistics tracking for Modern Warfare 3, Black Ops, and Black Ops 2. Additionally, it offered social network integration, access to downloadable content, competitions with real-life prizes, clan leveling, pro strategies and more. Originally a premium subscription service, it became free to use with the release of Black Ops 2. At its height, Elite had about 10 million members, 2 million of which were premium subscribers. The overwhelming demand caused frequent outages during the early months.

Call of Duty Elite shut down on February 28, 2014, a few months after the release of Ghosts, in favor of the Call of Duty mobile app.

Downloadable Content (Face-off in total Chaos):

A couple of noteworthy additions came with the release of Modern Warfare 3 DLC packs. Collection 2 (May 9, 2012) introduced Face-off, which are small maps specifically designed for 1v1, 2v2, and (later on) 3v3 matches. Collection 3: Chaos Pack (August 9, 2012) brought Special Ops Chaos Mode, which was offered to Xbox 360 Elite Premium members the day before the DLC's release. In it, players to survive against hordes of enemies by hunting and killing them all. Doing so earns points, which can be used to purchase perks and equipment. Chaos Mode can only be played on the Resistance, Village, Underground and Dome maps and introduced both the Juiced and Fast Health Regen perks to the game.

Modern Warfare 3 DLC Timeline:

  • Collection 1 (March 20, 2012 [Xbox 360]; April 19, 2012 [PS3]; May 8, 2012 [PC]): Liberation; Piazza; Overwatch; Black Box. Spec Ops Missions: Black Ice; Negotiator.
  • Collection 2 (May 22, 2012 [Xbox 360]; June 21, 2012 [PS3, PC]): Sanctuary; Foundation; Oasis. Spec Ops Missions: Kills Switch; Iron Clad. Face-off Maps: Lookout; Getaway.
  • Collection 3: Chaos Pack (August 9, 2012 [Xbox 360]; September 13, 2012 [PS3, PC]): Spec Ops Missions: Arctic Recon; Light 'em Up; Special Delivery; Vertigo. Face-off maps: Intersection; U-Turn; Vortex. Special Ops Chaos Mode introduced.
  • Collection 4: Final Assault (September 6, 2012 [Xbox 360]; October 10, 2012 [PS3, PC]): Decommisson; Off Shore; Gulch; Boardwalk; Parish.
  • Free Maps: Aground and Erosion Face-off maps (May 16, 2012 [Xbox 360]; June 15, 2012 [PS3]; June 21, 2012 [PC]). Terminal multiplayer map (July 18, 2012 [Xbox 360]; August 17, 2012 [PS3, PC]

Black Ops 2 (November 13, 2012)

Once again, it's Treyarch's turn to handle Call of Duty with Black Ops 2, and this time, it brings the series into the future using a sci-fi story that takes place in the year 2025. The game's multiplayer, which is also set in the future, was taken apart and rebuilt with a "one size does not fit all" approach.

Multiplayer Changes (Pick 10):

Firstly, Create-a-Class saw yet another revamp and was changed to a "Pick 10" system. As the title indicates, players are assigned 10 points to be used for weapons, attachments, and perks (each cost 1 point). The game also introduces Wildcards, which allows players to open up additional attachment and perk slots, or enable bonuses like more powerful grenades. A player can have up to three Wildcards equipped, but having them costs more points (1 for the card, 1 for its bonus). Completing Challenges for XP still unlocks cosmetic content, which can now be applied to secondary weapons like the rocket launcher and assault shield, which don't reset after prestiging.

Game Modes (Party time):

Most of the previous Call of Duty game modes make a comeback, including Kill Confirmed. With the removal of CODPoints, Wager Match modes are renamed to Party Games, which means that players fight for XP instead of betting. Combat Training receives some significant updates, such as integration with the player's multiplayer profile. There are also different types of training, including Bootcamp, where a team of player battle against bots for full XP until they reach level 10. Objective training allows players to fight alongside bots, but only rewards half XP.

One of the most significant additions is Hardpoint, where players need to capture and defend a fixed position on the map to gain points. The mode is similar to Headquarters, except the hardpoint always changes locations, even as a team is defending it.

Zombie Mode (Back to beginnings and the mob):

As usual, Black Ops takes its signature zombie mode very seriously... in an unserious way, starting with the reveal that the Nuketown 2025 map (based on the popular Nuketown map from Black Ops) could also be played in zombie mode.

Although it's difficult to match Call of the Dead, Black Ops 2 seeks to do so with Mob of the Dead, included in the Uprising DLC pack (April 16, 2013). In it, the mode gets more of a Hollywood makeover, with characters that feature the likeness and voices of Michael Madsen, Joe Pantoliano, Chazz Palminteri, and Ray Liotta. The map takes place during the Prohibition-era America, starting on Alcatraz Island and ending on the Golden Gate Bridge. Each of the four characters are based on real-life inmates what were imprisoned on Alcatraz. The map also introduces Afterlife mode, where a dead player has the temporary ability to pass through walls, reach normally inaccessible areas, and power up utilities. Additionally, players meet Brutus for the first time. He's a zombie boss that has the ability to temporarily disable Perk-a-Cola Machines, workbenches, Mystery Box, and plane if they've been powered up using Afterlife mode. Brutus also has enough strength to shatter the Zombie Shield with one hit.

Origins (included in the Apocalypse DLC) takes the zombie story all the way back to where it all started with the discovery of Element 115 to power the Nazi Wonder Weapon project. The Revolution and Vengeance DLC packs feature a mode called Turned, where players take the role of zombies. The first zombie to reach the cure turns human, and must survive against both the AI horde and other players using a changing primary weapons, similar to what happens in Gun Game. The zombie that kills the lone survivor is cured and becomes the new target. Zombies are given special senses like the ability to see through walls and have the target player highlighted.

Downloadable Content (Things get personal):

Black Ops 2 is the first game in the series to have a Season Pass and a series of small Personalization Packs, so that players can make their characters stand out further. To support these, and Extra Slots Pack (March 13, 2013) was released, which provides additional Create-a-Class slots, and significantly expands storage capacity for emblems, screenshots, and films.

Black Ops 2 DLC Timeline:

  • Revolution (January 29, 2013 [Xbox 360]; February 28,2013 [PS3, PC]): Hydro; Downhill; Grind; Mirage. Zombie maps: Die Rise (The Rise). Weapon: Peacekeeper. New zombie mode: Turn.
  • Uprising (April 16, 2013 [Xbox 360]; May 16, 2013 [PS3, PC]): Vertigo; Studio; Encore; Magma. Zombie map: Mob of the Dead.
  • Vengeance (July 2, 2013 [Xbox 360]; August 1, 2013 [PS3, PC]): Cove; Uplink; Rush; Detour. Zombie map: Buried. Weapon: Ray Gun Mark II.
  • Apocalypse (August 27, 2013 [Xbox 360]; Sept 26, 2013 [PS3, PC]): Pod, Takeoff, Frost, Dig. Zombie maps: Origins.

Ghosts (November 5, 2013)

Call of Duty: Ghosts was officially unveiled on May 21, 2013 during Microsoft's Xbox One reveal presentation. This made it one of the premiere games to usher in the new generation of consoles. With the Modern Warfare storyline concluded, the series moved on to a new sci-fi setting. One where the United States is devastated by an orbital strike.

Multiplayer Changes (More dynamic than ever):

Once again, the multiplayer character customization system gets an overhaul. Create-a-Class is changed to Create-a-Soldier, with more character customization options (helmet, gender, uniform, etc.) than ever. Even your weapon and shield can get custom camouflage. New movements make their way into the series, like leaning around corners, vaulting over obstacles, and sliding. Guns do more damage than any previous game in the series, which means much faster kills... or deaths. The guard dog, Riley, is brought in from the single player campaign and will attack enemies on command.

Bucking the tradition of close-quarters combat, Ghosts features some of the largest maps of any Call of Duty game. This necessitated the creation of an all-new class of weapons called Marksman Rifles, which are hybridizations between sniper rifles and assault rifles. Some of these maps have dynamic events, such as blowing the bus apart in Chasm and flooding the building with Halon Gas in Sovereign.

Squad Mode (Make some friends):

Squads consist of 10 custom created multiplayer characters and set in unique game modes that include: Squad vs Squad (1v1 match against another squad); Wargame (A player takes up to five squad mates to fight a team of enemy bots); Safeguard (Up to four players survive against waves of enemies, with variations like Extended (40 waves) or Infinite (100)); Squad Assault (players fight alongside five friends or squad mates against a custom created enemy squad, then battle against other custom squads). Players control the look of their squad mates, and the weapon selection directly impacts their behavior. Giving a character a sniper will give it long range tactics, while an SMG will make it prefer up-close combat. Like the player, squad mates are leveled up through gameplay.

Extinction Mode (Alien invasion):

The cooperative gameplay in Ghosts is inspired by the Black Ops zombie mode, but instead of fighting against the undead, a team comes together to fend off an alien invasion in Extinction. The monsters are Cryptids, an ancient species that predates the dinosaurs, and have risen to the surface due to the events in the storyline. Players must plant and defend a drill to destroy a series of hives without being overwhelmed by the horde of Cryptids. The story is told across five episodes, with one included in each of the four main DLC packs.

Players can customize their loadout and choose a class before jumping into battle. The four classes include Weapon Specialist, Tank, Engineer, and Medic; each with a unique set of abilities and perks.

Downloadable Content (Snoop Dogg in your ear):

While Black Ops 2 may have been the first stepping stone, Ghosts is where Call of Duty really goes crazy with the DLC. There is a long list of premium customizations that will change the look of your soldier, weapons, dog, and squad. In addition to skins of iconic Call of Duty characters like Price, Makarov, and Soap, there are special generic characters like the Astronaut and Hazmat. Players can also purchase unique weapons and special celebrity voiceovers as the multiplayer announcer, including Snoop Dogg (Snoop Dogg Voice Pack) and R Lee Ermey (Drill Instructor Voice Pack). Both voiceover packs were released on April 22, 2014 for Xbox systems, and May 22nd for the PlayStation and PC.

The first three major DLC Packs (Onslaught, Devastation, and Invasion) all include a special Easter egg for those that complete the right Field Orders. Players can take the role of Michael Myers (from the Halloween movies) in Onslaught's Fog map and hack people up. The Ruins map in Devastation hides a secret, where a player can become the Predator alien from the movies. Lastly, players can join a Death Mariachi band while playing the Departed map in Invasion. As part of the Death Mariachi, you'll be equipped with Akimbo .44 Magnums and speed perks. Killing an enemy in this mode adds them to the band as squad mates, but you can only have two at a time.

Ghosts DLC Timeline:

  • Onslaught (January 28, 2014 [Xbox]; February 27, 2014 [PS, PC]): Fog; BayView; Containment; Ignition. Extinction maps: Nightfall. Weapons: Maverick; Maverick-A2.
  • Devastation (April 3, 2014 [Xbox]; May 8, 2014 [PS, PC]): Ruins; Behemoth; Collision; Unearthed. Extinction map: Mayday. Weapon: Ripper.
  • Invasion (June 3, 2014 [Xbox]; July 2, 2014 [PS, PC]): Pharaoh; Departed; Mutiny; Favela. Extinction map: Awakening.
  • Nemesis (August 5, 2014 [Xbox]; September 4, 2014 [PS, PC]): Goldrush; Subzero; Dynasty; Showtime. Extinction map: Exodus.

Advanced Warfare (November 4, 2014)

Sledgehammer Games makes a return with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, and it's looking to change things up in a big way. The plot takes place in the near future, and soldiers are outfitted with high-tech exoskeletons (EXOs) that give them powerful abilities on the battlefield.

Multiplayer changes (EXO Power):

Advanced Warfare completely redesigns multiplayer to emphasize EXO abilities, starting with new moves like the EXO Boost Jump (a double jump), Boost Slide, Boost Dodge, and a powerful melee move called Slam. Maps are designed to take advantage of verticality, which the EXO Jump naturally lends itself to. Players will even be able to combine moves and change direction while in mid-air.

Advanced abilities like Hover, Cloak and Shield use up battery. Perks enhance these abilities, such as Overcharge, which provides longer battery life. Blast Suppressor prevents players from showing up on the minimap when using the EXO movements, and Gung-Ho lets you fire while running and sliding. Additionally, the dynamic maps from Ghosts are going to be used, but with a significant upgrade. In Advanced Warfare, dynamic events like a tsunami flooding the coast, will they layout of the map and require new strategies.

The "Pick 10" system from Black Ops 2 returns, and is being expanded to "Pick 13." From this loudout screen, players can choose their weapons, attachments, and EXO abilities. Points can also be modified for Scorstreak functionality, like adding missiles to a turret, then making the turret detachable, enabling players to carry around a rocket turret for big scores. The points system is being further revised with cooperative Pointstreaks. For example, when two gunners are in a Warbird, one can mark targets while the other mows them down with turret fire, and they both get score points.

Supply Drop Rewards System:

Advanced Warfare will use Supply Drops as its version of a loot system. However, instead of strictly being based on Pointstreaks, Supply Drops reward for total time played. The loot found in these drops can improve weapon stats, and will come in three different rarities: Professional, Enlisted and Elite (Elite being the rarest). Primary weapons have 10 points of customization, not including the attachments.

The training area is further integrated into the game via the Virtual Firing Range, which can be accessed between matches, and lets players test their equipment and loadouts.

Character customization

The Create-a-Soldier system is being renamed to Create-an-Operator as it receives a massive expansion, with hundreds of personalization options to choose from. That also includes the look of the exoskeleton. No doubt, the options will be further expanded with DLC in the future.

Maps and Modes

Announced maps include Biolab, Ascend, Defender, and Riot, which takes place in a Baghdad prison. All the standard multiplayer maps are making a return, along with Hardpoint and Kill Confirmed from Black Ops 2. Brand new modes include Uplink, a sports-like game where teams vie for control of a ball-shaped satellite drone. Drones can be thrown for various effects, and tossing it through the goal scores a point.

Clan Wars was hinted at during the Advanced Warfare multiplayer reveal, but details are still forthcoming.

The Future of War

Call of Duty 4 brought fans into the present, and soon Advanced Warfare will bring them into a new future. The series has seen a lot of changes over seven years, and although fans can't always know where it's headed, it's almost always an exciting ride.

Managing Editor
From The Chatty
  • reply
    August 25, 2014 1:00 PM

    Steven Wong posted a new article, Killstreak: A Call of Duty multiplayer timeline [Part 2].

    Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare had a profound influence on how first-person shooters would be designed, especially when it comes to multiplayer. With the recent reveal of Advanced Warfare's multiplayer features, we're following through history to see how COD's fast paced multiplayer became what it is, and what it will become. Part 2 covers Modern Warfare 3 to Advanced Warfare. 

    • reply
      August 25, 2014 1:14 PM

      Man reading this makes me realize how fucking great the original BLOPS was. I don't know if I ever had as much fun with any other shooter I ever played. I'll probably get shat on here for saying that but that game was so damn good.

      • reply
        August 25, 2014 1:14 PM

        P.S. talking about MP, not the campaign.

      • reply
        August 25, 2014 1:19 PM

        I really liked BLOPS also. Got so addicted to Wager Matches. Wasted all my CODPoints and hit rock bottom...

      • reply
        August 26, 2014 4:22 AM

        I enjoyed the mp in Black Ops as well, but there is still something about the mp in Modern Warfare that I absolutely love. One thing that comes to mind that I think they got right was the sound. The weapons sounded so good! Also, nothing was more satisfying to use than the mp5 :)

      • reply
        August 26, 2014 5:34 AM

        BLOPS was so fun. I think that was the pinnacle of COD MP for me.

    • reply
      August 25, 2014 1:32 PM

      I really hope Advanced Warfare is a step in the right direction. I badmouth Ghosts all of the time (including in the thread for Part 1 of these Timeline articles), but despite the inconsistent MP maps, Fish AI, questionable loadout system, and various other issues with the game, it really would have been a perfectly solid COD entry if the time to kill (TTK) wasn't so short.

      I'll never understand why they chose to go with such a short TTK. It made you feel as if you never had a fighting chance in a gunfight even if you were the more skilled player. I've watched several videos on TTK for Advanced Warfare and supposedly it's not quite as bad (and also helped by the fact that you can maneuver a lot more easily).

    • reply
      August 26, 2014 11:50 AM

      How do you talk about the "innovations" and changes for COD's MP, yet don't mention the perk system of Ghosts? It was... interesting, how they broke up all of the previous perks into a gamut of something like 35 perks total that had different point values.

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