Call of Duty XP is developer Activision's first crack at pulling together a fan-focused mass gathering, and it kicks off today, and there are few titles in the publisher's library that are as suited to such an event, given the widespread popularity of the Call of Duty franchise and its focus on competitive and cooperative group play.
On Thursday night, members of the press were shuttled to the 12-acre compound that will be home to the Friday/Saturday event for a brief welcome from Activision Publishing CEO Eric Hirschberg and lead creatives at "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3" co-developers Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games.
A number of new facts were revealed about the November release during the presentation, including the first hard details on what Activision's Call of Duty XP social network -- which launches alongside "Modern Warfare 3" -- will involve beyond in-depth stat-tracking and basic community features. Hirschberg also confirmed the price for a yearly subscription as $49.99.
An awful lot of value is packed into that figure. The highlight is undoubtedly the free, downloadable content players will be getting. Every single map and add-on -- new content will be coming to the game's cooperative Spec Ops mode as well as the multiplayer -- will come to premium Elite subscribers at no extra charge.
More than that, you'll be getting content early, in the form of monthly releases, most likely with proper "map packs" arriving for the non-paying masses at different intervals. Hirschberg promised no less than 20 pieces of add-on content in the year following "Modern Warfare 3's" release. In addition, subscribers will also gain access to special community features, including tournaments designed specifically for various skill levels and the ability to level up clans as a group, though it wasn't fully revealed how this will work.
On top of all that, subscribers will also have access to EliteTV, which offers episodic video content through CoD Elite. Two "shows" are confirmed so far. The first, called "Noob Tube," springs from the minds of Jason Bateman and Will Arnett. They'll take user-submitted videos and have people supplying smack-talk in a voiceover, a nod to the popularity of comments threads on video sharing sites like YouTube.
The other confirmed series is "Friday Night Fights," the brainchild of executive producers Ridley and Tony Scott. The duo will pick "Call of Duty" fans to represent real-life rivalries -- could be anything from Boston vs. New York City to Mac vs. PC -- in competitive "Duty" gaming match-ups. Expect to see celebrities here, along with a mixture of gameplay footage and shots of the actual players doing their thing.
"Call of Duty Elite" is currently in beta and only accessible from a web browser, something that will change when the service officially launches. Activision has iOS and Android apps in development, as well as a console front-end. Users will be able to adjust custom class load-outs from anywhere, even on the go. They'll also be able to take advantage of Facebook integration on the Xbox 360 to keep up with who on their friends list is playing and even join matches from there. It's a new level of community involvement that hasn't really been seen in this series, or any other for that matter.
After the briefing, the gathered attendees were ushered into a massive, adjacent room containing a multitude of Xbox 360-equipped gaming stations, all networked together with "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3" multiplayer, with a separate section for Spec Ops Survival mode, a wave-based scenario for two players in which the goal is to survive as long as possible by collecting money from downed enemies and spending it on new weapons, explosives, boosts and air support.
Spec Ops details first emerged at E3 this year, and it's largely the same as it was then, though a new map set in Paris is now playable. The multiplayer, on the other hand, was showcased for the first time last night and it introduces some dramatic changes into the "Call of Duty" formula.
Perhaps the biggest change is the elimination of a single list of kill-streak rewards. Instead, players now select a focus for their soldier: Assault, Support and Specialist. Assault kill-streak rewards are geared around laying down the hurt on the enemy through things like air strikes and other direct damage-dealing attacks. Support rewards instead boost that player and his/her team. Specialist is the most unusual, allowing players to temporarily unlock every one of the game's perks for use mid-match by earning kill-streaks.
The game's progression system has also been tweaked, starting with an 80-level climb to the top -- oddly, the last weapon you unlock is a standard RPG launcher. We didn't get to see Prestige mode in action, but those who opt to reset their stats and go back to level one will apparently be able to customize what sort of rewards they receive for doing so in the Prestige shop.
Finally, weapons themselves can now be leveled up with proficiencies. The more you use a particular firearm, the more experience you'll earn for it. Eventually, proficiencies that boost the weapon in various ways unlock, things like increased bullet penetration damage or the ability to use it with two attachments instead of just one. You choose one for your weapon when you set your class load-out.
The multiplayer feels largely unchanged, but that's a good thing for a series which so many are already so comfortable with. The action feels like it moves a little faster and the graphics are certainly improved yet again, but the moment-to-moment experience of moving around on the battlefield is largely the same. Weapons still feel nice and hefty, and maps are marked by multiple routes and various nooks and crannies for you to take advantage of.
We tried out one of the multiplayer game's new modes, called Kill Confirmed. In this mode, it's not enough to take down an enemy. When the virtual soldier falls, he drops a set of dog tags which must be picked up in order to secure points for your team. It adds a new layer to the game's combat, forcing more close-quarters engagements and minimizing the rewards for those that luck out with cross-map grenade kills.
It also adds a new layer of strategy. Imagine taking out one enemy and then concealing yourself nearby with the dropped dog tags in full view. As other enemy forces pour in to collect the tags and deny you the points, you mow them down from your concealed position. It works, trust us.
All told, "Modern Warfare 3" is looking and feeling as tight as ever, and the plans Activision has for the coming year promise lots of exciting developments for "Call of Duty" fans. Elite introduces some potentially revolutionary ideas, which is probably why Activision is handing out a free one-year subscription to the service for all of those who purchase the Hardened (or Prestige, presumably) edition of "Modern Warfare 3."
Look for more coverage from CBR on the ground at Call of Duty XP!