Call of Duty: Modern Warfare: How to succeed in Special Ops co-op mode

As has become the norm with each year’s annualized Call of Duty release, this year’s Modern Warfare reboot from Infinity Ward spreads its gameplay across several core pillars. In addition to the story campaign and competitive multiplayer suite, players also have access to a robust cooperative multiplayer experience called Special Ops (a returning feature from the original Modern Warfare trilogy).

The Modern Warfare reboot’s take on Special Ops drops a team of four players into various co-op scenarios where they must explore unique maps, complete specific objectives, and, naturally, fend off hordes of hostile AI combatants. In this guide we’ll explain the finer points of the Special Ops cooperative suite, covering the ways in which it differs from competitive multiplayer, the unique ancillary mechanics of each Special Ops mode, and how players can best prepare for success.

If you’re an existing Modern Warfare fan, certain aspects of the reboot’s cooperative multiplayer suite may look and feel familiar. As you’ll soon learn, however, this new take on Special Ops is very much its own beast.

Operations, Survival, and Classic Special Ops

The Special Ops cooperative multiplayer suite is divided up into three separate gameplay experiences: Public Matches, Survival, and Classic Special Ops. Public Matches are comprised of four distinct “operations” that expand the Modern Warfare reboot’s story and all follow the same general format of dropping the four-player squad into an open map where they must travel around, complete objectives, and fend off roving bands of AI enemies. Public Match players can use the same weapons and custom loadouts they use in competitive multiplayer, and they even gain both profile and weapon XP, albeit at a much slower rate than in competitive matches.

As its name infers, Survival is the opposite of the Public Scenarios in many cases. Instead of exploring an open landscape, players hunker down in a much smaller map where AI enemies come directly to them in waves. There are also no objectives to complete in Survival, the only goal is to hold out as long as you can against increasingly difficult enemy compositions.

Survival is also unique in that it uses a “cash gathering” mechanic where players are awarded cash for every enemy they kill and wave they complete. All Survival players start off with a basic pistol and must either scavenge weapons from defeated enemies or purchase weapons, equipment, and kill streaks using the cash they earn. This also unfortunately means that, unlike in Public Matches, Survival players can’t use their custom multiplayer loadouts, though they still gain XP as they play.

Lastly, Classic Special Ops is a bit of an odd duck. As of this writing, it consists of only one mission called ‘Safeguard’ which repurposes the same Al Qatala highway ambush combat scenario from the Modern Warfare reboot’s story campaign (we assume the name Safeguard references the co-op mode of the same name from Call of Duty: Ghosts).

Similar to Survival mode, the Classic Special Ops Safeguard mission involves an entrenched team of players fending off waves of AI enemies. However, unlike in Survival, there is a definite endpoint players can reach where an extraction chopper arrives and players must quickly escape before they’re overwhelmed. Again, players start the mission with only a standard issue pistol, and there are no cash gathering mechanics like in Survival. Instead, players can find weapons and equipment scattered around the area they’re defending, and after every wave a supply plane drops in several Munitions items (more on those in a moment) for players to pick up and use at their discretion.

As of this writing, there’s not much point in playing Classic Special Ops other than having the bragging rights of beating it. Not only is there a mere single mission to play through, but unlike in the Public Matches and Survival, players also don’t earn any XP from playing the mode. The Classic Special Ops end-of-match screen hints that some sort of rewards system “unlocks in November,” though we’re guessing that’s just related to the previously promised battle pass system that’s part of Infinity Ward’s post-launch content plan.

Also, one final unfortunate thing to note is that, due to Sony’s ongoing timed exclusivity deal with Activision, Survival is only available to PS4 players during the Modern Warfare reboot’s first year of operation. Xbox One and PC players will have to wait until October of 2020 to try out Survival for themselves. In the meantime Infinity Ward hopefully has plans to expand both the Public Matches and Classic Special Ops missions to take at least some of the sting out of Survival’s year-long absence.

Roles and Munitions

Aside from the obvious difference of fighting actual players vs. fighting AI enemies, the biggest way in which Special Ops differs from competitive multiplayer is through its Roles and Munitions systems.

While Special Ops players can use the same weapons and custom loadouts from competitive multiplayer, they don’t use the same kill streaks system. Munitions are basically Special Ops’ version of kill streaks, with players able to equip three specific Munitions at once. Many of these Munitions are actually straight carryovers from the multiplayer suite’s kill streaks system, things like UAV’s, Sentry Guns, and even uber-powerful armaments like a Juggernaut suit or a Gunship. However, each Munition can only be used once before it’s gone for good, though players can find additional Munitions as item pick-ups in Special Ops Public Matches.

Rather than earning Munitions through kills (as they would with kill streaks in multiplayer), Special Ops players must instead reach certain point thresholds by killing AI enemies, completing objectives, and performing other supportive actions like reviving teammates. More powerful Munitions naturally cost more points, and there’s also a basic level of Munitions (deployable crates that can provide ammo, armor, or grenades) that don’t cost any points at all. Similar to kill streaks, a player must also reach certain profile levels by gaining XP and leveling up (either in multiplayer or Special Ops) before they can equip specific Munitions.

Roles, meanwhile, are wholly unique to the Special Ops cooperative suite. Every Special Ops player can designate themselves with one of six different roles: Heavy, Recon, Demolition, Medic, Assault, or Engineer. Of those six, the first four are unlocked by default, but a player will have to reach profile level 19 before they can pick the Assault role, and level 46 before they can squad up as an Engineer.

Each role has a role-specific active and passive ability. These abilities are only available when a player has selected that role, unlike their Munitions loadout which is role-agnostic. The different roles and their abilities are listed below.

Heavy

  • Active: Grant the entire team heavy armor
  • Passive: Double ammo capacity for all launchers

Recon

  • Active: Pilot a drone that can mark nearby enemies
  • Passive: Significantly reduced recoil for all weapons

Demolition

  • Active: Wield a custom grenade launcher that fires thermite rounds
  • Passive: Defeated enemies can drop grenade pickups

Medic

  • Active: Instantly revive all downed teammates no matter where they are (you can’t use this ability if you yourself are downed)
  • Passive: Revive teammates much more quickly

Assault

  • Active: Give your entire team high-power ammunition that deals bonus damage
  • Passive: You reload all weapons much more quickly

Engineer

  • Active: Pilot an EMP drone that can disable enemy equipment and vehicles from afar
  • Passive: You deal extra damage to enemy armored targets and vehicles

Each active ability must be charged up before it can be used, and different active abilities have different charge-up times depending on how powerful they are. Naturally you should pick a role that suits your personal tastes and playstyle, but you should also consider which roles your teammates are playing and adjust accordingly as needed. If you’re playing Special Ops with your friends and can therefore coordinate who plays which roles directly, so much the better.

Tips for Succeeding in Special Ops

All three Special Ops modes technically support matchmaking, but if you’re planning on sticking mainly with Public Matches and/or Classic Special Ops (or you’re just playing on Xbox One or PC and thus don’t have access to Survival), you’ll want to play with friends if you can.

As of this writing, there are no adjustable difficulty levels for any Special Ops mode, and the default difficulty is cranked up so high that it’s virtually impossible to successfully complete a Public Match or Classic Special Ops mission while playing with matchmade strangers. Public Matches are especially egregious in how much they stack the odds against you, routinely tossing literally hundreds of AI foes at your small band of four players and expecting you to prevail.

This will hopefully change in the future as Infinity Ward tweaks and balances the Modern Warfare reboot, but for now the best advice we can offer if you plan on investing seriously into Special Ops is to play with friends. Survival mode is a bit more forgiving in its difficulty curve, but it also doesn’t allow for custom weapon loadouts and unlocks (thus mostly defeating the point of accruing XP and leveling up), and of course it’s currently only an option if you’re playing on PS4.

If you are playing with friends, try to diversify your chosen roles, Munitions selections, and custom weapon loadouts so that you’re prepared for any situation. Sniping is technically a viable option in the more open Public Match maps, but once the AI enemies are aware of your position they’ll converge on your squad with surprising speed and aggressiveness, so it’s always good to have a close-range weapon like an SMG or a shotgun on hand. Enemy reinforcements in Public Matches also often drop in via helicopter, so if anyone on your squad fancies the Heavy role, they should definitely bring a launcher secondary weapon.

Much like the Modern Warfare reboot as a whole, the Special Ops cooperative experience doesn’t exactly make the greatest first impression. However, it does have some promise, mainly in the number of different co-op game types it offers to players. Here’s hoping Infinity Ward has big plans to not only expand the Special Ops suite, but to also tweak and refine what’s already there.