Nobody can be told what Call of Duty: Elite is – you have to see it for yourself. Well, no, that’s not true – but it certainly will help to hear about Activision’s latest expansion to the Call of Duty franchise from somebody who got to see, play with and fiddle with it – which is why I’m here.
Before showing us the full demo of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, Activision ushered us into a room heavily decorated with Call of Duty: Elite logos so it could be explained to us what Elite, internally codenamed ‘Project Beachhead’, is all about.
Long story short: As you’ll know from the posting by the Wall Street Journal who was allowed to publish their story ahead of the embargo the games media are deferring to Call of Duty: Elite is a subscription-based service for Activision’s popular Call of Duty games. It’s not just a Modern Warfare 3 thing – it locks right into Call of Duty: Black Ops and will also lock into all further Call of Duty releases going forward.
What we got to experience was how Elite works through Black Ops – we had Xbox 360s hooked up to Xbox Live and we were playing real people online who had no idea that they were a part of a game showcasing the future of Call of Duty. Our journalist team went in, promptly got our asses collectively kicked by these regular COD players – but then we got to see the new stuff.
Next to us was a laptop loaded up into a private Call of Duty Elite site. Within around 90 seconds of the game being finished the results were showing up on Elite in detail, and that’s Elite’s bread and butter – telling you more about how you can play the game and how you can get better.
It’s based around four key principles – Career, Connect, Compete and Improve. It’s hard to hear the Career aspect without thinking of Microsoft’s Halo Waypoint – Career tracks your recent performance, personal best and other statistics across all Call of Duty games to track your performance over a long period of time.
Connect is all about connecting the different Call of Duty experiences – from Modern Warfare to Black Ops and beyond, but it’s also about Connecting to other gamers. With groups you can create or join groups for anything – from fans of a particular band to those who suffer from hayfever to your own private clan, and within that there’ll be group leaderboards, comments and even communal statistics for you to check out.
Compete is about events, sweepstakes and other competitions that you can participate in through Elite. One competition we saw titled ‘Bring the Heat’ was a Black Ops screenshot competition where submissions had to include fire – and some of these competitions will have real prizes. Rough examples we saw included iPads and Cars up for grabs as well as in-game Badges for smaller wins.
The final pillar – Improve – is probably the most significant of the bunch. This is where those extremely detailed in-game statistics come into play. I’m reminded again of Halo somewhat, as this is like a fleshed-out continuation of what Bungie achieved with Bungie.net for Halo 2 onwards.
There’s top-downs of every map in the game that are fully interactive – you can turn on and off objectives for various game modes to plan routes through the map and also bring up various overlays that show you how and where people were killed. You can see a heatmap or see every individual kill laid out including who was responsible, what weapon they used, and if they had any help.
Speaking of weapons, every single weapon in the game is listed with detail stats as well. If you want to see exactly how many kills you’ve been landing with the M4 and at what range, that information is available to you. If the answer to that question isn’t as awesome as you’d hoped, there’s some very cool text and video guides built into Elite to show you how to handle that weapon better.
Improve aims to make players better at Call of Duty, and it does that by offering up detailed statistics on past performance and also by becoming an ever-evolving digital strategy guide that’s regularly updated with the latest strategies by both the developers and the fans.
All of the ridiculous statistics are also available for Perks, Kill Streaks, Mods and Attachments, too – so if you want to see what your best streak is with an AC-130, that information is also available in Elite. Best of all these statistics are platform agnostic – meaning 360 players can finally compare their in-game performance to their rivals on PS3 and PC directly.
Activision’s hope is that having such detailed stats will allow players to identify their weak-spots and failings and address them and become better players. Being able to quickly compare career stats with friends or rivals across multiple games and matches through Elite is a way of cultivating the Call of Duty community, too, we’re told. Elite is created with the intention of becoming the “best online social network on the planet,” Activision’s VP of Digital at Activision said during the demo.
The Elite features listed above, and others, will go into a free Public Beta “this summer” in Black Ops, but then will launch properly alongside Modern Warfare 3. Being built for Elite, MW3 will feature more robust options than Black Ops.
In Connect there’ll be Private Clans, and a way to show your Group & Clan Identity in MW3, while Compete will see Group vs. Group, Clan vs. Clan, Leagues and Competitions all built into the menus of the game hooking directly into Elite. The stats offered in the Improve section will be deeper and more detailed than Black Ops, too.
What I played of Elite seemed pretty bloody cool. It seems like a natural conclusion of the path that Bungie set down with the PC-based stats for their Halo games, but the big difference here the intention to charge for parts of the service have allowed Activision to flesh it out and do things that otherwise would’ve been prohibitively expensive for them to do.
As such the stats and options on offer are more detailed than any other out-of-game service out there and the community offerings are really very cool in concept – though it’s hard to call how well that stuff works based on an hour-long playable demo. The interface of the Elite website was slick and fast – and that’s about all you can ask for from such a service.
While Activision weren’t going too deep on what aspects of Elite will require a subscription, they were clear that there will be one when it officially launches. Career stats and basic Group functionality will be free with regular copies of Black Ops and Modern Warfare 3, though, and there’ll be no ‘online pass’ style one-time use code with the game.
Every copy of Modern Warfare 3 will include multiplayer free of charge out of the box – even if it is second hand – and Activision aren’t stripping features out of the game for Elite. Their intention is to add some freebies on top and charge for features past that – at least for now.
Activision made no bones describing to us why they’re charging. They created a whole new studio and they’re also founding a standalone Call of Duty Elite customer service team that will be available Worldwide 24/7.
On top of that, Elite is an all-inclusive membership, meaning any map packs made available for Modern Warfare 3 will be included as part of the subscription at no extra cost. Non-subscribers can still buy the map packs separately if they wish.
Activision promise more details on additional features and content as well as final pricing to land in Late Summer, though they said that Elite will cost less than “all other online gaming services today.” Take from that what you will. Elite is a service that has the potential to change online gaming forever if it takes off – but it’s optional. It’ll be very interesting to see how the public reacts to Activision’s plans for the future.
Call of Duty Elite will have a Public Beta this summer and launch alongside Modern Warfare 3 for PS3, 360 and PC this November. Elite will be viewable on the major consoles, PC, and via a mobile app.