Given the Call of Duty series’ less-than-sterling reputation when it comes to loot boxes, and the long history of cash-hungry “free-to-play” games turning out to be overly aggressive with their monetization – especially on smartphones – a free-to-play, mobile version of Call of Duty sounds like a perfect storm of microtransactions. Surprising no one, Call of Duty: Mobile is chock full of opportunities to spend money, ranging from season passes to full-on shameless loot boxes, and some of these can be downright predatory. At the same time, it’s not as bad as it could be.
There are two forms of currency in Call of Duty: Mobile: Credits and COD Points. Credits are the currency you can earn by playing, and they’re about as useless as you would expect. I’m certainly not the best Call of Duty player, but in my 10 or so hours of playtime I’ve only earned a little over 1,000 Credits. A weapon skin in the store can cost anywhere from 1,500 Credits for a more common skin, to 20,000 for the rarest available skin, the M4LMG – Black Gold. If you extrapolate that out, at my pace you’d have to play for roughly 200 hours to earn the most coveted skin.
For the rarest Credit skin, 200 hours of playtime for an average gamer like myself just isn’t feasible. Better players will earn more Points than I have in the 10-hour time period, but even then it’s a significant timesink. On top of that, the Credit portion of the store is extremely limited, with only a few skins available for Credit-only purchase. If there’s something you really want from the store, there’s a very good chance you’ll need to buy some COD Points.
Points cost $1 per 80 points, although you get some for free if you buy in bulk. Spend $10 and you’ll get an extra dollar’s worth, for a total of 880 Points. The largest bulk amount of Points you can buy at once is 10,800, which will set you back $100. That means things can get expensive quickly if you want to buy more than one or two items from the store.
Weapon skins in the Points store are currently either 800 points ($10) or 1,600 points ($20). It’s important to note, however, that primary weapon skins aren’t purely cosmetic, because a lot of them provide skills as well. For example, the AK117 – Color Burst that’s currently on sale for 1,600 Points gives you a skill that increases movement speed for a bit after respawning. Thankfully it’s all minor stuff like that, so there’s there’s nothing attached to weapon skins that make Call of Duty: Mobile feel like it’s pay-to-win (yet). Of course, it also raises another question: if the skill isn’t really that significant, then how is it worth $20?
On top of that, not every primary weapon skin has benefits. The PDW-57 – Zombie Gene skin that was given away in an early in-game event is just cosmetic, and offers no benefits over the normal PDW-57. It isn’t known if any event weapon skins will have abilities attached or not, but it’s still disappointing that not every unique skin will have an ability, even though most of these skins are locked behind microtransactions. Skins and camos for other weapons and vehicles are also purely cosmetic, but that doesn’t stop most of them from costing at least 800 points, or $10, to buy. You can sometimes buy these skins in bundles, however, and those are generally a decent deal. But if your dream skin isn’t available in a bundle you’re out of luck.
Battle royale skins are cheaper than other multiplayer skins, which is sort of strange. If neither skin has any effect other than a cosmetic change, and most skins can’t even be seen when you’re playing in first-person mode, then what determines the higher price for multiplayer skins? It may be that there are simply more skins for battle royale mode, as there are separate skins for each class – perhaps Activision expects the lower price to be a low barrier of entry for players to buy more skins.
Any way you slice it, all these store items are way too expensive. By comparison, Apex Legends’ skins cost $11 for limited-time skins, and Fortnite’s can go between $8 and $20. Even at those prices, both games are constantly under fire for asking so much, but Call of Duty: Mobile has weapon skins that cost even more than the average in either one. There could be a method to this madness: Activision may be attempting to drive people toward buying loot boxes, where they are effectively gambling at a chance to win the skin they want for cheap.
In Call of Duty: Mobile, there are currently three types of loot boxes – which it calls Weapon Crates – that you can buy for varying prices. The Season Weapon Crate costs 160 Points ($2) for one and gives you a tiny chance to win one of two epic (the rarest) weapon skins. The Royal Crimson and Prophet Soldier Crates are half that price at 80 Points ($1) apiece, but they only have the chance to win one epic weapon skin or character skin, respectively. You can get the price down a bit by buying 10 loot boxes at a time, but it’s not a significant amount.
And by definition, just because you buy a loot box doesn’t mean you’ll get that epic-tier item. You only have a 1.3% chance of getting an epic, a 40.7% chance of getting a rare, and a 58% chance of an uncommon item. While even uncommon items can be useful, buying multiple weapon crates for an epic item and getting only uncommons and rares will almost certainly be a waste of money.
Loot boxes are also well known to prey on people’s addictive tendencies, which is made even more unsavory by the fact that these are limited-time affairs that people will have to fear missing out on. The Prophet Soldier Crate is expiring soon, and I’m left wondering if I’ll even be able to get my hands on the skin that’s exclusive to it when the crate is gone. There are currently no epic character skins on sale in the Points store, so if you really want that particular skin you’ll have to shell out however much money it takes to hit that 1.3% chance before it’s gone.
So most of it feels sleazy, but one way Activision and Tencent get microtransactions right is with the Premium Pass. With each new six-week season, you can buy a Premium Pass for 800 Points ($10) that gives you extra rewards for each tier you complete during the course of the season. Buying this pass gets you the character skin for Ghost and some special weapon skins on top of the extra tier rewards as well.
Unlike the Points store, this is actually a pretty good deal. Gaining new tiers is pretty easy in Call of Duty: Mobile and the Premium Pass gives you even more tasks to complete to rise in tiers faster. If you’re in a rush, though, you can buy the Premium Pass Plus for 2,000 Points ($25), which gives you everything from the Premium Pass and 25 tiers. That doesn’t seem quite as worth it, but the option is there. You can even earn some of the easier tiers and then buy the Premium Pass Plus to shoot forward 25 more tiers.All things considered, while Call of Duty: Mobile’s microtransactions do contain the dreaded loot boxes and overpriced item skins, and that inherently tarnishes what is otherwise a fairly solid mobile shooter, they could be worse. The saving grace of the Premium Pass option makes paid content attainable at a reasonable price if you know where to look for it, providing enough value that many long-term players will probably get their money’s worth. And even though certain paid skins do give you additional in-game abilities, none of them seem to be significant enough to alter the balance of the playing field (which should definitely make you think twice about paying to get them).
No, it’s a free-to-play game with no required microtransactions. Most of what’s for sale is completely cosmetic, though a few high-end items include very minor perks that don’t meaningfully change the balance, so it’s not pay-to-win at this point.