At this point it’s becoming established that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3’s campaign may be the worst in series history, with the entire game feeling like a tacked-on addition to last year’s Modern Warfare 2.
As it turns out, there’s a reason for that, as revealed in a new Jason Schreier report about what exactly happened here. It should surprise no one that yes, this absolutely was a rush job that required Sledgehammer to crunch hard and turn around a campaign in 16 months when previously, Call of Duty games were on rotating three year cycles.
The idea was that Modern Warfare 3 was originally an expansion to MW2, not a fully new game, but that changed over time as Activision wanted a “real” Call of Duty game to be sold in the holiday season, as one always is. Activision denies this now, but according to Schreier’s report, a dozen current and former employees say that’s what they were told in some form or another.
Those working at Sledgehammer were upset about this new rushed timeline after they had to previously sprint to release Call of Duty: Vanguard, and were told that wouldn’t happen again. Instead, they had to make the new campaign in 16 months, by far the shortest dev cycle in series history, and the result was a short collection of missions that currently has a disastrous 53 on OpenCritic with just 8% of critics recommending it, a clear all-time low for the series.
Apparently the original plan was for Sledgehammer to make an Advanced Warfare sequel, adding on to the story of the 2014 game, but that was axed in favor of another Modern Warfare, where it’s become increasingly clear Activision has only wanted MW or Black Ops games these days.
Now, the debate around what to do with Call of Duty turns to Microsoft, as they are the new owners of both Activision and the IP. Back when the acquisition talks first started, there was this idea that Activision’s studio lineup would not continue to be hammered into being Call of Duty support studios, and some would be allowed to go back to working on other IPs. And maybe Call of Duty no longer needed to have a yearly release cadence.
But that was a long time ago, and we have no idea what Microsoft’s current plans are. While Modern Warfare 3 did not launch on Xbox Game Pass, it stands to reason that Microsoft probably wants the next Call of Duty game to release there, causing a surge in sign-ups, a realization of what the acquisition will do for Xbox players. And they probably want that to happen next year instead of two years from now.
It does seem pretty clear that Activision was starting to lose its grip on a coherent schedule for COD, and it seems like it would be wise for the continued health of the series to avoid situations like this one which can damage the brand and further perceptions of its decline. Again, this is all on Microsoft now, a company that Activision employees are hopeful will be different than their old overlords who demanded things like this, but it’s too early to tell what’s going to happen here. All we know for sure is that Modern Warfare 3 is a miss, and it’s not shocking, given its insanely tight development window that no one can blame Sledgehammer itself for.