For years now, the annual prospect of a new Call of Duty game typically meant more of the same—familiar beats, samey campaign missions, and an already well-refined multiplayer package with little tweaks and scenery changes. But with this year’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III, “more of the same” feels more on the nose than ever.
Released last week, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III has broadly faced indifference or negativity from professional reviewers, saddling the PlayStation 5 version of the game—which has the most published reviews of any platform so far—with a meager 56 out of 100 Metascore review average from Metacritic, based on 48 reviews to date.
That’s a considerable dip from last year’s Modern Warfare II, which scored a 75 Metascore on PS5, or the previous year’s Call of Duty Vanguard, which landed at a 73 average. In fact, it’s the worst review average for any core Call of Duty entry in the franchise’s 20-year history, with only crummy spinoff games (like Black Ops Declassified on PlayStation Vita) scoring worse.
Franchise fatigue potentially plays a role. The old formula may be wearing thin after 20 years and nearly as many mainline Call of Duty games. This is also the second Modern Warfare trilogy in the series, following the influential original from 2007-2011, so it’s truly a well-worn path even within the broader franchise.
More specifically, reviewers complain that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III feels like a compilation of existing pieces of the franchise, with multiplayer maps carried over from 2009’s Modern Warfare 2 and dull new campaign missions built around chunks of existing maps from multiplayer and the free-to-play Call of Duty Warzone battle royale game.
It reeks of a publisher desperately trying to stick to its annual Call of Duty release cycle, as the game is undoubtedly Activision’s biggest cash cow. Activision now has four main studios dedicated to alternating development on Call of Duty games and pitching in as needed, with numerous other support studios also helping to keep the machine running.
Something went wrong this time around, however. Bloomberg reported last week that Modern Warfare III’s campaign mode was developed in half the time that Activision studios usually have to craft a Call of Duty experience and that the game apparently started life as an expansion pack of sorts before it was converted into a full-price game.
Leading video game publication IGN described the campaign mode as “Mundane Bore-fare” in a blistering 4/10 appraisal. Meanwhile, competitor GameSpot slammed the new “Open Combat” missions in a 5/10 review, saying that the missions—which provide more player choice—are frequently boring and lack the cinematic punch of typical series missions.
“Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III’s Open Combat missions are too much of a bad thing,” surmises Game Rant. What’s dressed up as a step forward for player agency is ultimately hitting many players as a lazy way to reuse existing Warzone and multiplayer locations to pad out what’s still a relatively short campaign, reinforcing the report of a rushed development cycle.
Modern Warfare III’s online multiplayer suite, which served up solid fun during the recent beta test, is generally yielding more positive takes—but the lack of originality keeps it from being as exciting of a draw as before. All of the core launch maps are from 14 years ago and given a fresh coat of paint. They’re still strong maps, but die-hard fans have played ‘em to death.
“So far I’m not impressed by a sequel that basically feels like little more than Modern Warfare II with new maps,” wrote IGN in a multiplayer review-in-progress. “I get the appeal of wanting to recreate old maps for nostalgia’s sake, but this sequel’s multiplayer comes off more like a glorified DLC pack when they’ve been touched up as little as they have here.”
While it’s true that some of the Modern Warfare III reviews are based solely or primarily on the campaign mode, and the Metacritic average could tick up with more positive appraisals ahead, the current review average appears to reflect the general malaise around what feels like a $70 game assembled primarily from existing parts.
And it’s not just professional critics that are down on the game. Steam users have collectively given Modern Warfare III on PC “Mostly Negative” reviews, with over 3,800 appraisals logged, while Amazon buyers have the PS5 version at a meager 2.7 stars out of 5.
YouTube reviewers have called Modern Warfare III the “biggest disappointment of 2023,” a “colossal failure,” and an “absolute disgrace.” There are less aggrieved takes out there, but this is arguably the loudest pushback seen to a new Call of Duty entry to date.
At this point in the series, most gamers already know whether they want to plonk down another $70 for a new Call of Duty each year. For millions of players, the prospect of new maps and other additions easily warrants the spend.
But with Modern Warfare III, even dyed-in-the-wool series fans appear to be fed up with the latest result of Activision’s yearly appetite to pump out another blockbuster entry. And with Activision now owned by Microsoft, we’ll see where the series goes from here—and whether it’s worth finally taking a year off from the grind.