Modern Warfare 3 review: Incredible multiplayer comes at a Price

Liam Mackay
Captain Price in MW3Activision

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is the franchise’s first-ever back-to-back sequel, bringing the best multiplayer in years alongside an interesting new take on Zombies. However, its lackluster campaign does little to justify the price.

Another year, another Call of Duty, and this time Sledgehammer Games take the helm to bring a sequel to 2022’s Modern Warfare 2 with a globe-trotting campaign, classic multiplayer, and a brand-new take on Zombies.

Despite Call of Duty having some great campaigns over the years, it’s the multiplayer that keeps players loading in all year round. So it’s lucky that Sledgehammer Games have created the best Call of Duty multiplayer experience in years, more than making up for its disappointing single-player.

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 key details

  • Price: $69.99/£69.99
  • Developer: Sledgehammer Games, Infinity Ward, Treyarch
  • Release Date: November 10, 2023
  • Platforms: PS5, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC

Contents

MW3 campaign review

Ghost at Verdansk Dam in MW3Activision

Call of Duty’s story modes have always been the video game version of a popcorn movie, bringing a short but fun experience with slick combat and memorable characters. Modern Warfare 3 certainly delivered on the short but lacked the fun.

MW3’s campaign is a direct sequel to not only Modern Warfare 2 but also the Raids and multiplayer storyline that was added through post-launch seasons. It reunites players with Task Force 141 as they take on legendary Call of Duty villain Vladimir Makarov who’s wreaking havoc by carrying out false flag attacks around the world, trying to start a war between the East and West.

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The combat was as slick as ever, the cinematics looked good, and the performances were strong, but it all felt incredibly rushed. The story only took around five hours to complete, ending just as it felt like it was going somewhere, leaving me asking, “Is that it?” once the credits rolled.

MW3 introduced Open Combat missions, semi-open world levels where you explore areas of Verdansk and Urzikstan, completing objectives and looting equipment to build your loadout. While it was nice to see Verdansk again, they felt cobbled together from parts of Warzone without much suspense or urgency, and I quickly grew tired and wanted to rush through and get them out of the way.

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Modern Warfare 3 Gora Dam locationActivision
MW3’s Open Combat missions are a slog to get through.

The more traditional levels where Task Force 141 was together were much better than these Open Combat missions, but having to slog through the semi-open world sections to get there was a missed opportunity. There was even a mission where all you do is walk through an area of Verdansk, murder a couple of people, walk through a door, and then run away. With the campaign being so short, this felt like nothing more than nostalgia.

Makarov was a good villain that could have been so much better. You immediately get the impression that he’s someone to contend with, sowing worldwide chaos within hours of escaping prison. However, despite spending time with him away from Task Force 141, we never got much of a sense of his motivations outside of setting the East and West against each other.

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Just as things begin to ramp up, we get the shocking ‘conclusion,’ and then the game ends. We had the set-up but there’s nothing close to a resolution, and the post-credits scene only adds another plot thread, rather than wrapping up one that was already loose.

While there was some good stuff in there, the short single-player campaign simply isn’t worth $70 on its own.

MW3 multiplayer review

MW3 OperatorActivision
Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer improves on MW2 in almost every way.

Thankfully, Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer is great. By taking 2022’s Modern Warfare 2 as a base and applying feedback, they’ve created what last year’s multiplayer should have been.

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I didn’t hate Modern Warfare 2 as much as it seemed most did. Sure, I didn’t like the changes to Dead Silence, the minimap, or sluggish movement, but I still had a good time with it for the most part.

Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer is better in almost every single way. With smooth and fast movement, increased health for longer gunfights, a traditional minimap, and the Dead Silence Perk, I feel free to move around the map without enemies pinpointing my exact location through footstep audio, and I can find where the action is thanks to the minimap.

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Although I would have liked to see some more original maps at launch, it’s hard to complain about what we’ve got. All 16 of the original MW2 2009 maps have returned and while there are a few duds, they’re so much better than the new maps we’ve had in recent years.

I have a lot of nostalgia for coming in from the autumn cold and playing Call of Duty, and thanks to the map pool and overall feel of the game, I feel like I’m back there in a way I haven’t with the last few releases.

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While the big game modes aren’t what I come to Call of Duty for, they can be a nice break from the sweaty 6v6 grind-fest. It’s also good to see the large-scale War mode make a return, but playing the one map over and over gets repetitive.

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Rust from Modern Warfare 2Activison
Modern Warfare 3 brings 16 remastered maps from MW2 (2009).

It’s not perfect though. Packet loss and desync issues can make the multiplayer feel choppy and of course, strict skill-based matchmaking (SBMM) is as prevalent as ever. If you’re unfamiliar with the feature, it’s designed to pair you with other players of a similar skill level but the stark difference in difficulty after having a good match feels punishing.

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Getting to use all of your Operators, weapons, and Blueprints from MW2 is a nice addition, but the Gaia skin has been plaguing matches. This Operator from MW2 Season 6’s Battle Pass completely blends in with the environment and should never have been added as it is.

I’m also in two minds about the new Armory Unlock system. Instead of unlocking items as you go, you must complete Daily Challenges, and then win games to continue to unlock more. I like that it incentivizes players to play the objective, but having so many crutch items locked behind the system feels unnecessary. There have also been a couple of days where I couldn’t unlock anything as the challenges were broken.

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The UI is still just as complicated and unintuitive as ever and Call of Duty HQ is fine if you’re primarily playing MW3, but trying to navigate to Warzone or MW2 is a nightmare.

Modern Warfare 3 is the Call of Duty multiplayer I’ve been waiting for and despite some teething issues at launch, it’s the best experience in years.

MW3 Zombies review

Mimic in Modern Warfare 3 ZombiesActivision
Zombies brings an open-world experience in Warzone’s Urzikstan map.

Other than a short campaign and multiplayer, the new Zombies experience is the other main mode to justify that $70 price tag.

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This new take on Zombies combines the classic mode with both Outbreak and DMZ, taking place on the new Urzikstan Warzone map. Here, players must infil, complete objectives and slay the undead, and then exfil from the map within an hour.

I’m not the target audience, but there’s not a lot there to draw me in. The gameplay loop of completing straightforward objectives does little to encourage me to come back and there’s no difficulty scaling for playing solo. Sure, you can join with other players on the map but it feels frustratingly difficult to go after the bigger objectives and rewards by yourself. The amount of crashes and lag issues I’ve experienced haven’t helped matters either.

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However, if you enjoyed DMZ, there’s a lot to like here – especially if you didn’t like its PvP aspects. The gameplay loop remains very similar but without any PvP to disrupt the flow of completing missions and getting new gear. It can be a great place to experience the new story and play CoD with friends without having to sweat it against other players. Plus, it’s excellent for leveling up weapons.

I’d prefer to be constantly battling wave after wave of Zombies in round-based or playing against other players in the risk-reward nature of PvP extraction, and MWZ doesn’t satisfy either itch.

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But, MW3 Zombies has done a great job of bringing DMZ and Zombies communities together and if it continues to bring new Acts, areas, Easter eggs, and Perks, Zombies and DMZ fans should be in for a good year ahead of Treyarch’s return in 2024.

Verdict – 3.5/5

Captain Price and Ghost in Modern Warfare 3Activision

If you’re someone who plays Call of Duty for its campaign while dabbling with multiplayer, Modern Warfare 3 probably isn’t for you. The half-baked five-hour adventure isn’t worth your $70 alone, so you’re probably better waiting for it to arrive on Game Pass or pick it up at a discounted price.

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For me, CoD campaigns are a few hours of blockbuster fun that will be largely forgotten after a couple of weeks, and multiplayer makes up 90% of the experience. With Sledgehammer doing such a great job, it’s looking like this could be a great year for Call of Duty. While there aren’t many new additions, quality trumps quantity in this year’s 6v6.

Zombies offers a new PvE experience that will attract both long-time fans and those who played DMZ last year, but multiplayer is what shines through.

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As someone who grinds the multiplayer all year round, Modern Warfare 3 is a breath of fresh air. By bringing back all of the staple features that were removed, it feels like Call of Duty again. If Modern Warfare 3 was a massive update to Modern Warfare 2 instead of an attempt to bring the full $70 experience, it’d have been nearly perfect.

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About The Author

Liam is CharlieIntel's Editor who focuses on Call of Duty but also plays lots of fantasy RPGs or anything else in his massive gaming backlog. After graduating in Journalism from Edinburgh Napier University, Liam freelanced in games journalism before joining CharlieIntel in November 2020. You can contact Liam at [email protected].