Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is here, as is Call of Duty Elite. The stat-tracker/social network developed by Beachhead Studios is currently working through some growing pains, but it promises to offer fans a whole new level of engagement once it's fully up and running. The thing is, I'm not sure how many out there realize it.
This is something I noticed after Elite was first announced over the summer and then again later when the features were fully detailed at September's Call of Duty XP event. There seems to be a vocal contingent that looks at Elite as a cash-grab and nothing more. Since I've spent a fair amount of time exploring the service, both in its beta form and now in its post-MW3 release state, I thought I'd take some time today to lay out what Elite offers and what it can do.
Dollars And Sense
There are two sides to Call of Duty Elite: the free service and the subscription-based premium service. A one-year subscription goes for $49.99 --if you didn't get one free when you purchased the Hardened Edition of MW3.
The first and most important thing to understand is that Elite is in no way essential to the Call of Duty experience. It is a reference tool first and foremost in its current form. Social features like Groups and Clans will be coming soon, but those are geared entirely toward community-building. Using Elite will not give you an in-game advantage, and similarly, you won't be disadvantaged if you choose to skip it entirely.
Beyond the premium Elite TV content, certain premium-only competitions and a few clan customization options, just about everything in Elite is available for free. While the above premium features are nice, the real draw for a potential subscriber is how it handles downloadable content releases: your premium subscription also buys you all of the upcoming MW3 DLC packs for the coming year.
It's not yet clear how that content will be delivered, but Elite subscribers will also be able to access this content ahead of non-subscribers. Based on what Activision has said of the release plans so far, it sounds like each map in a future bundled map pack release will be doled out to premium members in the weeks leading up to the full collection's release. So if a DLC pack set for release in two months contains four maps, they'll likely be made available one at a time in two-week intervals until the full pack is released for one and all.
Bear in mind, this is just speculation based on what was revealed at Call of Duty XP. Activision hasn't released any sort of schedule for when and how DLC will be rolling out. That's the scenario that was laid out in September.
In addition to the early map access there's also the fact that your subscription is essentially a discounted bulk DLC purchase. That $50 gets you -- again, according to Activision's stated plans at XP -- four Duty map packs which, based on past pricing, would amount to a total of $60 if purchased a la carte.
Putting Elite To Work For You
The stat-tracking side of Elite ought to be immediately familiar to longtime Halo fans. It goes deeper than what you get from Halo Waypoint, but the idea is basically the same. Pages upon pages of stats, for both Modern Warfare 3 and Black Ops (and all future CoD games), relating to match types, guns that you use and overall career performance. It's everything you get from your in-game Combat Record, only with a bit more detail and a much more attractive layout.
The Recent Matches section of Elite's Career channel is probably your most useful reference tool. More than just a breakdown of a match's stats, you can watch an unfolding timeline of your performance and apply filters to a "heat map" that shows where you died, where you killed and how you moved. For a serious fan, this is a helpful tool for getting a handle on where a map's potential trouble spots are.
In a similar vein, the Improve channel also offers helpful advice on the multiplayer mode's various tools. Everything from weapons and equipment to game modes, maps and perks are covered. Select the item that you're interested in and then check out the "Tips" tab to see what the recommended usage or strategy is. You can also customize your Custom Classes from Elite's various portals, including the PC and as-yet-unreleased mobile apps.
The social side of things isn't yet up and running, but the Connect channel offers some interesting opportunities for bringing together like-minded gamers. Groups are essentially interest-based gatherings of people, covering everything from colleges and U.S. states to any number of hobbies. You can associate yourself with as many groups as you like and, through this, expand the base of fellow gamers you play online with.
This functionality is integrated into the game as well. The Recent Players tab in MW3's multiplayer mode now adds an icon next to the names of those who are in one or more of the same Groups as you. There's also Facebook integration which helps you keep track of your actual friends.
Clans offer a more oganized social construct to game in than Groups does. Anyone can join a clan (if they're invited), but only premium subscribers have access to clan leveling and clan-based operations (i.e. competitions). The two key rules to keep in mind with clans: you can only belong to one at a time, and no clan can have more than 100 members. The team leader sets things like clan title, emblem and message, and you can compare your stats with your fellow members in a clan-specific leaderboard.
Call of Duty Elite is still in its infancy, but you can already start enlisting in various competitions through the service's Compete channel. There are group challenges and lone wolf challenges, competitions that measure highest number of kills, most defends or captures and even things like best team photo. The top winner will generally receive an actual, physical prize, but the best performers by the numbers have a shot at taking gold, silver and bronze badges -- displayed in your Elite profile -- for placing in the top percentages.
Elite TV is partially online as of now, with a gallery of player-created in-game videos available to browse through. The subscribers-only premium side of that channel should hopefully be coming soon, offering original Duty-themed programming signed off on by Hollywood talents like Ridley Scott and Will Arnett. It's hard to say how valuable this content will be without having seen it, but the attached names at least get your attention.
There are many more possibilities for Elite down the road. Beachhead isn't confirming any planned feature adds, but adding in stats and other tools for Spec Ops seems like a logical direction to move in. The above pretty well sums up what you get right this moment with Elite (er... once it's fully up and running, that is), however. If you got the Hardened Edition, then you're already in and subscribed for a year. If you just got the standard game and are on the fence about going premium, this hopefully gave you a better idea of what to expect.
Adam Rosenberg is a freelance journalist based in Brooklyn, NY and living at the whims of his lovable chow, Loki. You can find his work plastered all over the Internet, or just follow him on Twitter @geminibros for daily doses of his crazed, nonsensical ramblings.