Review: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II’s Campaign

It’s pumpkin spice season, which means this year's annual Call of Duty release – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II – is upon gamers. Activision-Blizzard is counting on developers Infinity Ward to kickstart the upcoming two-year COD cycle. After completing the campaign (light spoilers ahead), do we think Activision succeeded?

Big Shoes to Fill
The franchise has been in a bit of of slump since 2021's disappointing Call of Duty: Vanguard and Warzone lost its pandemic-era luster. The two immediate comparisons for MWII are 2019's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and the original 2009 Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2. MWII’s campaign, a partial reboot/sequel, is competent, if less memorable.

  • MWII is sufficiently bug-free & technically impressive – what you expect from the gold standard of AAA shooters
  • Gameplay feels great, even if levels doesn't always take full advantage
  • New mechanics like crafting and more stealth add spice
    • But they’ve been done better in other games (i.e. The Last of Us)
COD may not be known for Oscar-quality writing, but entries has provided ample popcorn entertainment. Modern Warfare II is more forgettable, an uninspired blend of Narcos, Tom Clancy fan fiction, and real events.
  • MW2's memorable plot twist, shamelessly over-the-top story & levels, & "No Russian" controversy boosted the franchise to new heights
  • MWII’s decision to recycle fan-favorite characters (available as purchasable multiplayer skins, of course) negates the plot twist
    • In MWII's defense, its target demographic may not have played MW2

These shortcomings hardly matter though. COD campaigns largely exist to steer gamers toward post-launch services. MWII makes sure to amply showcase the new vehicle mechanics and armored enemies that will be integral to Warzone 2.0. Given how lucrative the original Warzone was, it’s hard to fault Activision. 

Leaning into Live Service
Activision made a few strategic changes for Modern Warfare II.

  • Online pre-orders got access to the campaign a week ahead of launch – a franchise first
    • Free grassroots marketing
    • Clever way to outsource some quality assurance testing to gamers
  • Returning to the Steam store
    • COD was a (Activision-Blizzard’s launcher) exclusive since 2018-2021

The much maligned appears to be here for the long haul. To avoid revenue-sharing, Activision is not transferring COD Points (in-game currency bought with money) to Steam. Expect additional bonuses for future releases.

Does Activision Have a Hit?

Activision appears to have a hit on its hands this year. With EA still struggling to salvage last year’s horrific launch of Battlefield 2042, there's next to no competition. MWII has the modern setting gamers seem to prefer currently, an acceptable campaign, and the well-executed gameplay needed for multiplayer and Warzone 2.0. In an era of industry consolidation and franchise iteration, that’s good enough. 

Feature image: Activision-Blizzard