This has been a year of some really awesome shooters, like Destiny 2 and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus. I would even count 2016’s Battlefield 1, as it had additional content thrown in this year. However, it wouldn’t be a complete year of first-person shooters without discussing the biggest entertainment product known to modern society. Call of Duty (CoD) has arrived.
It has been ten long years since we were introduced to the original Modern Warfare, a truly revolutionary title that changed everything. By going back to its roots in Call of Duty: WWII, Sledgehammer Games is hoping to rekindle the flame of gamers, whose feelings have been eroded through a relentless race of futuristic technology and augmentations in a franchise that never needed it.
While the writing’s been on the wall for a reboot of sorts, the latest attempt at “reinventing” the CoD formula largely falls on its face and reeks of a decision dictated by a fatigued market and less of a passion project of belief.
Before I go into the nitty-gritty details, I have to admit, Call of Duty: WWII is an utterly breathtaking visual experience. This is extremely apparent in the campaign’s set pieces, and sound design is a joy as well. Nothing quite gets the heart pumping than being surrounding by booming explosions and bullets whistling by. If only the auditory and visual quality extended to the rest of the game.
The six hour long campaign has you (Ronald Daniels) and the 1st Infantry Division fight against the Nazi war machine from, Normandy Beach, to the Rhine. Along the way, you will meet friendly faces, scheming foes, and a war that seemingly will never stop. If it sounds like a cookie cutter plot, well, it is.
WWII lacks an emotional hook, and doesn’t really add anything new to a familiar story. Nor does it give you a captivating antagonist or speak profoundly about the nature of war and the soldiers involved. While some may consider these omissions as superfluous for a shooter, if CoD is going back to the well, it should not feel like a product of the late 90s and early 2000s.
The entire campaign, while beautiful, feels like an attempt to remind the player that we are back where we started, and as gamers we should be thankful for it. It all feels like an awkward attempt and pales in comparison to the storytelling of modern titles. The saving grace, at least, is new takes on the gameplay of WWII.
The game teams you up with a squad, with each individual serving a specific purpose during your time in the war. There’s a soldier for medical supplies, another for ammo, one for explosives, a spotter, and even one who can call down mortar strikes on your enemies. You can also say goodbye to recharging health and hello to a health bar, complete with medkits that can save you in a pinch.
It all appears to add a resource management aspect to the usual shooting, and gives players more freedom when it comes to using more rare armaments and ammo. This design choice also encourages you to stick more to your squadmates, but do not even think about spamming buttons for ammo and supplies, you will need to take part in the action to fill up a meter to access the goodies and not hide in the back.
It would not be a Call of Duty game without the multiplayer, and WWII is hit and miss once again. While the jetpacks and mechanical augmentations are gone, attachments for your weapons remain to help with recoil or increase damage amongst others (historical accuracy be damned). WWII also adds a new objective-based mode called War, where teams attack and defend points to determine the victors. I particularly enjoyed messing around in War with friends, but it can be frustrating if everyone is chasing kills for a better (imaginary) K/D ratio than trying to complete objectives.
There is also a new social space aptly named the Headquarters, WWII’s answer to Destiny’s Tower. Here, the game places you in a third-person mode and have you interacting with other players, showing off your unlocked uniforms and other activities, including partaking in a few Atari 2600 games.
The Headquarters is also where your loot crates come into the picture, dropping comedically out of the sky and opening for everyone to see. Could this be an attempt at baiting people to put down some cash for some sweet loot? Perhaps, but with CoD points and microtransactions not coming until November 21st, it is always a funny sight to see the falling loot crates in a “serious” game about World War II.
Now, the Headquarters certainly does not sound like a bad idea, but early impressions definitely soured the experience. Every time you get into or out of a match, you are dropped into the always-online Headquarters, except with the server issues at launch that WWII have been facing, it is an annoying hindrance every single time.
You can find yourself crashing the game, or loading into an empty Headquarters, or not even getting into a match at all. The entire idea of the Headquarters would have been better served by robust servers, but sadly, it wasn’t. However, the servers have been more stable recently, so you might not face such issues moving on.
Loadouts have also changed, with a new create-a-class style system in place. You first choose a Division which will then be leveled up as you play, granting bonuses like suppressors or faster reloads. While it may appear to give more freedom to players, ultimately your mix of perks and loadouts will come out quite similar to what was there before, which is disappointing.
There would be no firefights without some maps, and WWII does have a solid list of battlefields for you to fight in, maybe with the exception of a few (I am looking at you, Gustav Cannon). This is bread and butter for Call of Duty, and it should feel acceptable for returning players.
The third tenet of modern Call of Duty is the Zombies mode, now with even more celebrity power behind it. Ving Rhames, David Tennant, Katheryn Winnick, and Elodie Yung make up the cast of WWII, with Udo Kier voicing the menacing doctor. The general formula of the mode remains largely intact, survive and kill the zombies, but has been greatly expanded with even more consumables, loot crates, buildables, and a leveling system all its own. It all makes for a mode that is immensely more enjoyable with friends than randoms, and since the mode has a bigger focus on the overarching story of the Zombies universe, it can feel repetitive as you play multiple times. There is substantial material here for a spin-off title, and Activision should really consider it for the sake of fans of the Zombies mode.
Call of Duty: WWII is still the same Call of Duty experience you expect, albeit in a slightly different cover. The shooting remains great, multiplayer is as good as recent years, but the highlight that was supposed to be the campaign becomes a sore point with its poor direction and scope. While it was proclaimed that this would be a second coming of the storied shooter, WWII feels less of a revelation, and more of the same.