How Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer is being shaped by Warzone's sandboxes

Modern Warfare 2
(Image credit: Activision)

Don't be surprised if Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer feels like the offspring of Warzone and traditional Call of Duty multiplayer. After all, Infinity Ward created both, and now the team is taking all that it has learned about emergent play, sandboxes, and helicopter tricks from both the battle royale and the smaller-scale multiplayer experience to inject into Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

"We were really inspired by all the systemic, crazy gameplay that came out of that big sandbox," says multiplayer design director Geoffrey Smith, speaking to the influence Warzone's success has had on the studio's approach to Modern Warfare 2's development. "That really pushed us to look at all the stuff that we're making, to give everything inputs and outputs, and hope for these happy accidents of how they interact in the world." 

Infinity Ward is pushing to make a more reactive, bombastic multiplayer as a result of this new outlook. It's why the studio is introducing bold new features, ridiculous new equipment, and a suite of new modes that will hopefully result in a ton of those "happy accidents" – a more fun and freeform multiplayer that can not only pull Call of Duty into a new generation, but lay down the foundations for its future, too.   

Submergent play 

Modern Warfare 2

(Image credit: Activision)

Infinity Ward has sent us out to battle our buddies on historic, modern, and futuristic battlegrounds over the last two decades, but the studio has largely kept the action land-locked. With Modern Warfare 2 angling for more "emergent play", Infinity Ward is investing in a previously underused map resource: water. "We've always shied away from water," says Jack O'Hara, game director. "We've always been like 'let's not do it, because we can't do it to the quality we want.' And this time around it was like 'enough's enough, we gotta do it!'"

So, yes, you can swim in Modern Warfare 2 – and for the first time in a Call of Duty game since Treyarch's Black Ops 4 in 2018. But whereas Black Ops 4 used swimming as a new battleground, Modern Warfare 2 sees it as more of a means of escape. Impressive new water graphics include degradation of color and visuals as you swim deeper beneath the surface, giving you a chance to hide in the depths when fleeing an enemy player.

"Water shouldn't be a sand trap."

Joe Cecot, Infinity Ward

"It's murky, it's cloudy – if you're tracking someone and they dive in the water, they get harder to see as they get deeper," explains Joe Cecot, co-design director of multiplayer. You can only use pistols and melee weapons while underwater in Modern Warfare 2, and there are new water ballistics that can affect the deadliness of your weapon. "It just makes the gameplay space richer and gives you more options," O'Hara says.

There are also new water-based vehicles that let you make the most of the new aquatic areas, like an armored patrol boat with a mounted turret on the front and back, and a raft that can be used more for high-speed chases. Equipment has also been designed with water-based warfare in mind: the Wheelson killstreak is now amphibious, and throwing a proximity mine in water creates a special surprise for boats. "If you throw that in the water it automatically detects it and puts out little buoys – little floaties – and becomes a floating mine for boats," says Cecot, before explaining the team's thought process behind all of this Modern Waterfare: "Water shouldn't be a sand trap."

The sandbox 

Modern Warfare 2

(Image credit: Activision)

But water isn't the only feature that's promising to provide a more varied and unpredictable multiplayer experience. Inspired by Warzone hijinks, Infinity Ward is making sure Modern Warfare 2 feels more sandboxy than any of the mainline games that came before it. One way to give players more agency in a predesigned map is to increase their mobility within it, so the team is adding several new movement mechanics to complement your improved survivability in and around water. 

If you tap the slide button while running, Cecot says that your Operator will now jump forward into a dive to help you "get the hell out of dodge." But not all of the new mechanics are focused on speed, with the new ledge hang ability designed to give you a chance to peek over ledges before deciding to climb up to a higher level. "We're also testing you actually being able to pull up a pistol like we let you do with a ladder in the last game," says Cecot, as he mimes peeking over a ledge and lining someone up with a finger gun. As exciting as all that sounds, there's one new movement mechanic that has really piqued my interest: "You can jump onto helicopters and hold on to those, hanging."

Hanging off of helicopters is something out of everyone's action movie star fantasies, which Infinity Ward is heavily leaning into with the new features. According to Cecot "there was so much more [they] could do," after successfully getting vehicles into 150-player matches in Warzone, and many of those things include mechanics that feel ripped from a Mission Impossible scene. Cecot and IW see vehicles "as a toy that you play with", and Modern Warfare 2 is cramming its toybox. 

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Players can now lean out of car windows to fire weapons and mantle up onto the roof of cars for some action-movie-worthy maneuvers. And cars now have much more detailed destruction, with the ability to blow off bumpers and doors and flatten tires – the latter of which players can actually get out to fix.

Infinity Ward has been paying particular attention to how players use vehicles in both Modern Warfare and Warzone – and we're getting an impressive new vehicle as a result. "In the last game, we had the big truck that was kind of like a moving platform. Players could pile on the back, place down trophy systems… we wanted to take that to the next level," Cecot explains. "So we added the troop carrier – a big helicopter. It's got a huge back opening, two side doors, and you can take that off and carry a bunch of players with you whether you're in Ground War or Warzone."

But Infinity Ward isn't just content with introducing a big-ass helicopter, as Cecot explains: "The pilot can hop out and exit back into the back of the helicopter and run around, and it'll actually hover and become a hovering platform." All of these new vehicles and mechanics are part of Infinity Ward doubling down on emergent play, which O'Hara tells me is the team's "bread and butter." But emergent play is only as strong as the maps and modes it'll emerge from – luckily, Modern Warfare 2 has that covered as well.

The toybox 

Modern Warfare 2

(Image credit: Activision)

Modern Warfare 2 is breaking down maps into two categories: battle maps and core maps. Battle maps are effectively an extension and evolution of the Ground War maps from 2019's Modern Warfare, though Infinity Ward is now expanding its large-scale maps and reframing how it looks at them moving forwards. "If we think of our battle maps as presenting large-scale combat and warfare, we now think of our core maps as places in the world that special forces would be deployed to take down different bad guys," Smith explains. 

The core maps are built exclusively for 6v6 gameplay, and Infinity Ward is "trending a little smaller and a little bit simpler" this time around. These "little bespoke maps" include a Spanish museum, an Grand Prix racetrack in Asia, and an abandoned cement factory. The maps will offer several new game modes too, like Knockout and Prisoner Rescue. Knockout is inspired by Gunfight and the final Warzone circle: it's a round-based mode with eliminations and revives – and an added twist. "It's like that kid's game Steal the Bacon," Smith explains. "There's three different locations where a bag will spawn, if you're holding the bag when the time runs out, you'll win, no matter how many players are on the other team." 

Where Knockout is focused on quick eliminations and aggressive plays, Prisoner Rescue is designed to take advantage of the new equipment and toys being introduced to Modern Warfare 2. These include a tactical camera, a drill charge that will bore a hole in a wall and drop a lethal grenade behind it, and a DDOS that can emit an electromagnetic pulse to shut down enemy vehicles and equipment. While these tools are a little more out there than what you might traditionally expect to see in an Infinity Ward game, Cecot hopes that the new equipment will bring "breaching and sieging gameplay to Modern Warfare" – one team spawns behind the prisoners they're meant to protect, while the other team's goal is to extract them, with the round won by either eliminating the entire enemy squad or extracting hostages. 

The next Modern Warfare  

Call of Duty

(Image credit: Activision)

Infinity Ward claims Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer is heavily inspired by Warzone's sandbox and the myriad gameplay opportunities it affords. From what I've seen, the sequel looks set to deliver an experience that sits squarely between traditional, tight Call of Duty multiplayer and the wild Warzone battles. By refusing to stay landlocked and opening up water as another playground, Modern Warfare 2 has set its sights on a version of multiplayer that is unfettered by boundaries set in previous games. Hopefully, this translates into actual gameplay in the way the studio intends: emergent moments that make you mutter "holy shit" during a session and a toolkit that keeps on giving, with players finding new ways to pull off ridiculous stunts. 

It's clear that Infinity Ward has learned a lot in the last few years, and is now weaponizing its successes and failures to craft a strong multiplayer experience with Modern Warfare 2 (and Warzone 2.0) – not to mention a rock-solid foundation for the future of the franchise. "Last time, we were making the toolset as we made the map…there's stuff that we wished we could go back and change. We're very proud of it, it was so much fun to make and to play…I think in this one we feel like it's gonna be even better," O'Hara promises. From what I've seen, I think he may be right.

Menu bugs and lingering issues have me ready for Warzone 2.

Alyssa Mercante

Alyssa Mercante is an editor and features writer at GamesRadar based out of Brooklyn, NY. Prior to entering the industry, she got her Masters's degree in Modern and Contemporary Literature at Newcastle University with a dissertation focusing on contemporary indie games. She spends most of her time playing competitive shooters and in-depth RPGs and was recently on a PAX Panel about the best bars in video games. In her spare time Alyssa rescues cats, practices her Italian, and plays soccer.