The multiplayer side of Call of Duty gets a pretty significant overhaul in Modern Warfare 3, which hits stores today. You can read our Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 review for a broad rundown of what's new, but there's enough that we felt a more focused "what's new in multiplayer" guide would be useful for you returning fans.
One of my colleagues compared FPS appreciation to fine wine on Twitter this morning (though the thinking could fairly be applied to just about any genre). To an outsider, the changes in a game on a yearly release schedule like Duty is probably feel pretty bland and minimal. To a serious enthusiast though, a change like the move from Killstreaks to Strike Packages is a monumental shift in how the game is played. The idea here is to educate you on what's new in Modern Warfare 3's multiplayer, so you can be aware of those nuances as you first set your virtual feet on the virtual battlefield.
Killstreaks Become Strike Packages
Strike Packages are by far the most dramatically different new feature in MW3's multiplayer. In past games, you earned single-use rewards for scoring consecutive kills in the space of a single spawn. Call of Duty 4 introduced the feature to the series and subsequent releases have improved upon that idea, offering players the option of customizing which three rewards they'd like to receive for their efforts.
Strike Packages rethinks everything. There are now three separate "sets" of reward packages available. Assault is the most similar to what series fans know, with rewards coming as you streak through multiple kills in a single spawn. The Assault Package rewards are built around that death and destruction, offering things like Predator missile strikes and covering fire from an attack chopper.
The Support Package works a little differently. You earn rewards as you rack up kills, but the kill counter doesn't reset with each new spawn. So if your top-level Support reward is given at 18 kills, then you'll just need to score 18 kills over the course of the entire match to earn it, no matter how many times you die along the way. Just like Assault, Support Package rewards are built to favor more of a supporting role on the battlefield. You'll get UAV support, care packages and recon drones to play with; most of these rewards won't score you direct kills, but they'll aid the whole team's efforts.
Specialist is the final of the three Strike Packages, and the most unusual of the bunch compared to what we've previously seen in the series. This package is built for more lone wolf players. Like Assault, Specialist rewards come from uninterrupted killstreaks. They'll always unlock at two, four, six and eight kills. The difference in this package is the reward you're getting: perks.
Perks, as most fans ought to know, help to further distinguish your customized multiplayer classes. Offering battlefield aids like faster reloads (Sleight of Hand) or descreased explosive damage (Blast Shield), perks offer a varied assortment of options for giving yourself an edge in one area or another. Specialist's perk rewards are assigned by the player; you choose which perk unlocks at two, four and six consecutive kills.
There's a certain amount of strategy required here, as Sleight of Hand is often useful from the get-go as a base perk, whereas Scavenger, which lets you collect dropped ammo on the battlefield, might make more sense as a four- or six-kill reward. There's also the cherry on top for this package, the eight-kill reward that activates every single one of the game's 15 perks for the remainder of your spawn.
Keeping Track Of Battlefield Assets
This is a pretty minor change, and an easy one to miss if you're not looking for it, but it's very welcome all the same. In past Call of Duty games, it was entirely possible to stack up two or three different killstreak rewards. The problem there is, the most recently unlocked awards stacks to the top. So even though it might make more sense to use a UAV reward to reveal enemy positions before you lay down an airstrike, it simply wasn't an option.
Modern Warfare 3 offers an elegant solution to that problem. Strike Package rewards and airdrops still stack as they always did. The difference now is that you can easily switch between them using the D-pad. A Strike Package counter is always visible during a multiplayer match at the bottom right corner of the screen; that counter also tells you which rewards you have unlocked. Using the D-pad allows you to cycle through which reward is highlighted.
Simple, yet effective.
There Are Many Like It, But This One Is Mine
The other big change in Modern Warfare 3's multiplayer comes in the form of weapon proficiencies. All player leveling multiplayer since the first Modern Warfare game has been built around the basic idea that you're working with one master set of levels and unlocks. Weapon proficiences turn all of this around. Now you're going to be rewarded for taking the time to shower favor on one firearm or another, a fact that applies to both primary and secondary weapons.
At the end of every multiplayer match in MW3 you'll notice that you now pick up two experience point boosts, one for your character level and one for your equipped weapons. Each of the game's weapons features its own set of levels to plow through. As you become more proficient with a given weapon, you'll unlock new weapon-specific perks as well as the usual assortment of attachments.
Only one perk can be equipped at a time for a given weapon. The boosts that they offer are pretty expected overall; one might reduce the kickback on your weapon, improving accuracy, while another might up the damage you do when firing through cover at a concealed enemy. In some cases, these weapon perks replace what used to be standard character perks, such as one that allows you to equip your gun with two attachments (replacing Warlord from the previous games).
The Guts, The Glory... The Prestige (Shop)
The Prestige Shop throws yet another new wrinkle on an older Call of Duty concept. Starting with the first Modern Warfare, players were offered the opportunity to reset their level stats after maxing out on unlocks, essentially starting the climb up through the game's multiplayer experience levels over from square one. The reward for "going Prestige" has traditionally been a new player icon next to your name and an additional custom class slot.
That's all changed with the introduction of the new Prestige Shop. Now you'll earn a token whenever you opt for a leveling reset. You'll also start MW3 with one token in the bank for each Call of Duty game that you've Prestige'd in. There are a few things you can spend these tokens on: additional custom class slots, specialized player emblems, even two-hour windows of double XP. There's one standout though, an option that most fans will probably favor ahead of the others even though it doesn't unlock until you've opted to Prestige for your first time: Unlock Gear.
Basically, once you hit Prestige level one, you can spend a single token to unlock any weapon, piece of equipment or perk before it opens up over the natural course of leveling. More importantly, the unlocked item stats that way across all future Prestige resets.
Let's say you're a big fan of the AK-47. In Modern Warfare 3, that assault rifle doesn't unlock until level 68. Spending your token on Unlock Gear for that item opens it up immediately, as soon as you unlock Create-A-Class options at level four. You do that, then make it all the way up to level 80 and Prestige again. The next time you circle back around to level four and start building your classes again, you'll notice that the AK-47 is still unlocked and waiting for you to play with. Smart stuff.
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.