Around four years ago, Call of Duty transitioned to the 'jetpack' era. Fans of the series were growing tired of the same old thing year after year, and Sledgehammer Games offered a super-soldier theme and an all-new 3D movement system to change the pace. The reception was mixed. Some fans felt jetpacks were not the innovation they wanted. After a few more years of jetpacking titles, Sledgehammer is once again switching up the formula, bringing back the boots-on-the-ground gameplay with Call of Duty: World War 2. New, old and even non-Call of Duty fans will find something to love in WW2.
Call of Duty has always offered great value for the money, with three almost full $60 game experiences in one $60 (OK plus a season pass) package. While other games are shipping as multiplayer-only titles, CoD delivers every year with a multiplayer, around seven hours of campaign and co-op Zombies. This year, WW2 is bringing along a fourth way to spend your time: Headquarters.
Set in an Allies camp shortly after the invasion of Normandy, Headquarters is a living menu hub like you would find in an MMO. Much like the Tower in Destiny, you can pick up quests, check out loot or even just emote around with friends. Unlike the Tower, however, Headquarters offers minigames and activities capable of making you lose track of time.
The main star of these new games is certainly the 1v1 mode. At some point in our gaming lives, we inevitably say “1v1 me bro,” and now Call of Duty gives you a chance to back up your playful taunts. Inside Headquarters is a pit where 1v1 matches take place. If you want to play, simply walk up to the board and put your name on the list. The matches do not take place in a separate instance, so the entire HQ can watch the current battle going on.
The winner of the 1v1 will stay in the pit for the next opponent, while the loser must get back in line for another chance. Headquarters will track all of these stats for you, like win streaks, so you and your friends will always know who the 1v1 King or Queen is. Playing 1v1, or even watching other people play while trash talking or emoting, is a social experience unlike anything we’ve seen in Call of Duty before.
The social element of WW2 does not end with the 1v1 mode. Headquarters also has a theater room where you can watch highlight videos, community creations, even full esports tournaments while hanging out (online) with your friends. You can also build a social score by completing various tasks around HQ, and you can now open or watch other people open Supply Drops in-game. Activision and Sledgehammer noticed how popular pack openings were on YouTube, so they put it right in the game. Of course, Supply Drops are not without controversy.
At this point in time, Supply Drops are cosmetic only, cannot be bought with real money and most items are also available to unlock with in-game credits. Other CoD titles have launched with the same concept as WW2 but then added weapons and real money down the road, so it is worth keeping an eye on the situation if you are upset over DLC practices.
Headquarters also has actual classic arcade games to play. You’ll find classics like Skiing, Enduro, Pitfall and Boxing in the R&R area of HQ. While not period accurate to the World War 2 era, you can play these arcade games in their original colors, or with a black-and-white overlay that feels a bit more 1940s.
With all there is to do in Headquarters, it's easy to forget that its main purpose is to connect the actual game modes of CoD: WW2.
An unsettling war experience
Call of Duty campaigns are where the series originated, but the multiplayer and zombies modes have surpassed the single-player experience in popularity. We do not see CoD: WW2’s campaign reversing this trend, but if you like single-player campaigns, this is a very good one.
In the futuristic Call of Duty games it was easy to turn your brain off and fire at robots or outlandish people from countries and worlds that do not exist in real life. Being a soldier in a real war where millions lost their lives, however, is a very different experience. The campaign in Call of Duty: World War 2, with its brutal recreation of a WW2 battlefield, can be difficult to stomach at times. Your fellow soldiers will die all around you, asking for help as they drop. These moments can stick with you after playing, much like certain scenes in Saving Private Ryan.
Instead of being a battle-hardened super soldier, capable of single-handedly destroying entire armies and saving the world, CoD: WW2 puts you in the boots of Red, a 19-year-old kid from Texas who has never seen battle before. That’s not to say Red isn’t capable of classic CoD moments - at one point he crashes his jeep into an armored Nazi train - but he needs his squad alongside him.
The campaign tells the story of Red and his squad and how they deal with the war, it is not the story of America vs Germany, or Allies vs Axis. This gives the narrative a Band of Brothers kind of feel - you are aware of the giant war around you, but the story arcs are intimate and personal.
The bulk of the gameplay is not too different from previous CoD campaigns, with the notable exception of health packs. You cannot regenerate health, which makes staying near medics an important tactic to stay alive. However, there are a few inspired missions to be found in CoD: WW2. One sees you as a French spy undercover at a casual party behind enemy lines, and the other has Red rescuing a little girl from an occupied building. You won’t fire your weapon in either of these missions, and the stealth-based tension is a refreshing change of pace from what you find in action shooters today. Plenty of vehicle sections, including tanks and planes, break the monotony of firing a rifle.
If we have any complaints, it's that the main theme of the narrative is risking lives vs completing a mission, but the game never puts you in a position to make that difficult decision. There are no branching storylines.
The campaign can be beaten in 6-7 hours, but that does not include looking for collectables. Also, there are missions that offer different paths to completion, action or stealth, and you may want to go back and replay a few. If you love war stories or shooter campaigns, you will find plenty to like in CoD: WW2. If you are a multiplayer person, it won’t hurt to fire up the campaign first and give it shot.
It is easy to say Call of Duty should return to boots on the ground gameplay, but it is much more complicated than that in practice. Recent titles are blazing fast, offering unlimited sprint, wall-running and boost jumping all over vertical maps. It is not only CoD that had this kind of speed - Titanfall, Destiny and Overwatch all offer gameplay styles that can get you where you want to go in a hurry. Simply going back to a soldier that needs to take the stairs could be a jarring experience. Thankfully, Sledgehammer has found a balance between the old and new schools, producing one of the most consistently fun multiplayer experiences in recent memory.
WW2 will please the purists with its boots firmly planted on the ground, but little things like mantling, ADS and sprint-out times will add to the pace that will also keep the newer CoD fans happy. You will not cover ground like you could in Black Ops 3, but you will get into as many gunfights as you want in a very short amount of time.
The familiar Create-a-Class system is gone, but its spirit lives on with Divisions. The perks you know and love are still here, but they are split up as either Division abilities or Training. This split means you have fewer non-weapon options to bring with you to battle, making WW2 more about gunskill.
There are dozens of weapons and attachments to unlock and level up, and most of them feel viable. Sniper rifles have struggled to adapt in the jetpacking era for all but the best snipers, but the long-distance weapons feel right at home in CoD: WW2. Just about every map has a sniper lane, and players no longer being able to boost around makes keeping them in your scope easier. LMGs also benefit, as their movement penalties are now less drastic compared to the faster soldiers.
All new for WW2 is War Mode, a new kind of gameplay for players bored with the same old TDM style. War is best described as Call of Duty meets Overwatch - team composition is important and objectives will change based on what map you are playing on. A typical War match will see you capturing points, building bridges, destroying machine gun nests or escorting tanks. War is a nice change from typical Call of Duty gameplay.
There are three maps at launch, with plans to add one with each DLC pack. Players who have not liked CoD multiplayer in the past might love War mode, but with three maps, it might not be enough to stand on its own for long.
Aside from War, you will recognize the other mode options. Search & Destroy, Hardpoint and Domination join Deathmatch as the old standbys, while Uplink gets a 1940s makeover with Gridiron. Instead of dunking a high-tech satellite through a floating goal like in Uplink, Gridiron sees you carry a leather ball through goals firmly planted on the ground. The lack of mobility makes objective-based game modes more tactical, and will be hits among those of us who are losing our snapshot reflexes.
There isn’t much in multiplayer not to like, and all types of Call of Duty fans will find a mode to spend hours in. If there is a negative to be found, the classic M1A1 has a fire rate cap, making it kind of pointless to use over the Garand. A few other weapons aren’t worth a look at launch either. Of course, weapon balance is a constantly changing subject, and WW2 is off to a great start.
Michael Condrey and Glen Schofield led the production of Call of Duty: World War 2, but before they were a part of the CoD machine, they created the sci-fi horror classic Dead Space. The Dead Space influence is clear in WW2 Zombies, and it is the scariest iteration of Zombies yet.
Zombies can pop up from anywhere, at any moment, contributing to a sense of dread and fear we’ve never felt in CoD zombies before. Seeing a zombie pop out from a grate as orchestral music plays, it is hard not to think of the Necromorphs jumping out of vents all those years ago. Since zombies involves playing the same map over and over, it is hard to tell if the fear will remain in the coming weeks and months, but at least at launch, Zombies will scare you.
Zombie fans can jump right in knowing most of the mechanics - there's a Mystery Box, upgrades scattered throughout the map, and plenty of secret Easter Eggs to discover. Newcomers, however, will find the new objective system helpful, as you no longer have to comb Reddit for hours to figure out what you should be doing. Importantly, the objectives tell you what to do but not how, so hardcore players will not have to worry about hand-holding.
As far as difficulty goes, WW2 feels like it fits between Black Ops 3 and Infinite Warfare. The wide open, train-friendly areas of Zombies in Spaceland are nowhere to be found, but the map is not as cramped as something like Gorod Krovi. It is always hard to tell how a community will play, but expect average players to struggle past round 15 at launch. YouTubers will take the round number to ridiculous heights eventually, but WW2 Zombies is not easy.
All new to Zombies this year are classes. Each player can bring in a special ability to help deal with the unending hoards. The offensive class can shoot without reloading, while the medic can go invisible. Tank and Support classes are also available, and you can also create custom classes that combines a bit of each ability. Weapon loadouts return, allowing you to buy customized weapons off the wall as you level them up. More so than ever, Zombies feels like an experience worthy of its own game.
Bringing it back
Call of Duty: World War 2 is the most expansive CoD to date, offering crazy amounts of content. People who stopped playing CoD 10 years ago will feel right at home jumping back in, while players who never stopped will love the refreshing take on multiplayer. The campaign is a great experience worth dedicating a few hours to, while sci-fi and horror fans who never gave CoD a glance might find something they love in the new Zombies mode. Tying it all together is Headquarters, an experience in itself. Call of Duty is back, and it has something for everyone.