Almost exactly a year ago, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare was released. I didn't actually review the game – Kat did – and she called it "a solid, but ultimately unexciting entry in the series."
However, when I say that Advanced Warfare is without doubt my most-played CoD of all time, it becomes obvious there's a fairly big difference of opinion between Kat and I in terms of what we thought of the game. But regardless of the review, what I'm here to talk about is whether or not it still holds up a year after release.
What we said at the time
From the review: "Too often, it is easy for development teams to get lost in the echo chamber created by their game's most vocal fans, which has the effect of encouraging them to prioritize balance changes over more ambitious endeavors. That is what I feel has happened with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, which tries very hard to capture the essence and the flavor of the series, and is ultimately a little too successful. Chalk it up to new studio jitters; after all, taking on a franchise as huge as Call of Duty is a big task. But if Sledgehammer Games is looking to truly make their mark, then they may have to be prepared to risk the ire of the very fans that they are so intent on pleasing."
I think Kat's right in many respects here. Call of Duty is a series that doesn't take big steps forward, but incrementally evolves year after year. With such a huge and fervent fan base, Activision and whoever is developing the latest version of the series is never going to take any big chances: there's just too much at stake to risk alienating CoD's audience with completely new-fangled ideas and concepts. At least, that seems to be the general feeling you get from looking at CoD's conservative, iterative development. However, where Kat and I differ in terms of opinion is that that I'm part of the target audience who wants what Call of Duty ultimately delivers – a fast-paced, enjoyable multiplayer shooter that is refined, well-balanced and fun to play. I don't really care at all about the single-player campaign. I played through a bit of Advanced Warfare's, but gave up fairly quickly. When it comes down to time spent with the game, I'd much prefer to be playing multiplayer than working my way through a campaign. It's just not as much fun to me, no matter how good it may be.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare scored well in most reviews, hitting an 83 and 81 Metacritic score on PS4 and Xbox One respectively. The PC version didn't do quite as well, and scored 78, with reviews dragging that number down citing similar sentiments to Kat – that the series is beginning to feel somewhat stale and needs an injection of something new. However, to me I think that Advanced Warfare did bring something new to the table in the form of its new exo-suits, and that helped deliver a dynamic new feel to the game – especially its multiplayer aspect. Going back and playing older Call of Duty games, they feel quite pedestrian and boots-on-the-ground compared to Advanced Warfare, which is comparatively smooth and free-flowing as you parkour your way around its multiplayer maps.
The other aspect of the game that I thought was great was the customization. Supply drops added another new dimension to the game. They contain interesting weapon variants that enable you to tweak and fettle your loadouts to suit very specific tactical situations. Even though the difference between weapons is small, that's all that matters in a game like Call of Duty where the difference between life and death can be a matter of nanoseconds – and I found experimenting with weapons to see what worked and what didn’t was a lot of fun.
Content since release
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare has had four rounds of DLC over the last year – Havoc, Ascendance, Supremacy, and Reckoning. All of them pretty much followed the same formula: four or five new multiplayer maps, a new chapter to the Exo Zombies storyline, and a new weapon.
The new maps were a mixed bunch, but were generally well designed – especially Ascendance's multi-level Perplex map that really made the most of the exo-suit abilities. The most interesting aspect of the PvP DLC was seen in the latter three packs, which introduced and then built out the exo-grapple playlist. This brought another additional aspect to the gameplay that enabled skilled players to quickly work their way around grapple maps as though they were playing Bionic Commando.
The zombie campaign was a lot of fun, and slowly built momentum during the year to become a really engaging multiplayer game. My only issue with it was that by the latter stages of this year, it was hard to find other players who wanted to play it, even during busy peak times. I think this is the biggest issue with paid post-release multiplayer content – it splits the player base into increasingly smaller groups, and by the end of a game's run, you end up with a relatively modest pool of players participating in it.
So does it hold up?
I put a lot of time into Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare this year, and was playing it almost nightly for several months. I think it's a great multiplayer PvP game – one of the best in the series for years. The exo-suits give a great feeling of freedom, and deliver fast and fluid gameplay that's a joy to experience.
Supply Drops were a real stroke of genius, and add a new layer of interest to the game in terms of both customizing your loadouts, and also giving your avatar its own unique set of looks. There's a huge amount of different clothing to collect, and I really enjoyed dressing up my soldier. Yeah, I know some people probably think that's a little lame, but I just love messing around with the looks of my avatar.
The question as to whether or not it holds up is a tricky one to answer. On its own merits, I think it does. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is very well designed, plays very well, and is slick and buttoned-down to deliver some really great PvP. The big issue is that it's about to be superseded by Call of Duty: Black Ops III, which I've already put a lot of time into thanks to pre-release demos and its open Beta, and looks phenomenal. It's not a huge step forward – but it continues to evolve the CoD formula to make it better than ever. So in that respect, the moment Black Ops III comes out, Advanced Warfare will become pretty much obsolete, and the vast, vast majority of its player base will move across to the new game.
But at the end of the day, I think I have to answer in the affirmative that, for now at least, Advanced Warfare still holds up. Regardless of the incoming Black Ops III, Advanced Warfare is still a really enjoyable multiplayer shooter that has certain aspects that are unique to it – particularly its comprehensive visual and loadout customization.