Returning to your roots is the textbook way to reboot once things go a bit off the rails. While sales are still staggering for the COD franchise, the futuristic themes and gameplay has become a bit stagnant in the last few entries. Not that they’re bad games— the most recent entries still present explosive first person action with pinpoint accuracy— but they also have felt uninspired and dull in comparison to when the series had yet to become a yearly expectation. Call of Duty II was a breakout moment for the series and also helped boost the launch of the Xbox 360. While Modern Warfare became a blueprint for the series to come, many were wondering just how long it would take before things came back around to the Greatest Generation.
So here we are, it was bound to happen: We have Sledgehammer Games making a WWII Call of Duty with all the trappings the series is now known for. There’s score streaks, a progression system, a zombies mode, and of course a story campaign. But because its 2017 there are now loot boxes, and the ability to pay actual money for “COD Points” to open more loot boxes, and you run around in a social hub watching other players jump around and stand idle and… open loot boxes. It’s weird, on the one hand it makes looking at footage of that second COD game seem so dated and primitive. But, on the other hand it was just a video game back then, it didn’t exist as a platform created to generate reoccurring micro transactions and to profit off an annual release of DLC content for bottom-lined focused board members.
While COD WWII is not pay-to-win and the loot boxes are basically cosmetic options for your characters or guns, there are some special weapons that give you a boost in XP when used. It’s a hot topic right now in gaming on whether or not this type of thing should be in full-priced games at all, and how fair it is for somebody to level faster than somebody else because they pulled out their credit card. But in actuality, the difference in this game would be fairly moot and would apply to only the rare weapon not the entire class or character you play as— it wouldn’t give any kind of tangible advantage in the battlefield. It just reminds you that this game is just as concerned about playing the hits as it is getting you to open your wallet. It’s not a surprise that COD is published annually to make money, but more so than before it’s in your face. The contrast between this and the backdrop of Nazi Germany is maybe borderline blasphemous.
In other words, video games don’t give two shits anymore about where the line is when it comes to finding ways to bait and switch gamers into spending more money. And maybe that’s a more complicated matter than I’m giving Activision— as a publisher of Triple A games you are responsible for thousands of employees remaining employed, and have to appease your board members, shareholders and in the case of Call of Duty the overall health of the gaming industry. In actuality, you can play this game and enjoy it and just roll your eyes at this stuff, but it’s a slippery slope, and one that is magnified by it’s attempt to treat the WWII subject matter seriously with it’s story campaign. And while it’s still a video game at the end of the day, having you storm the beach of Normandy on D-Day still echoes a reality many of our families have been affected by in one way or the other.
The story is engaging, but not super deep, and at times is guilty of leaning towards the bombast instead of being reflective and somber. When compared to previous campaigns, it ranks as one of the better ones but don’t expect it to inject any innovation into the formula. The rush of taking out Nazis never really goes away, and the scenarios you find yourself in continue to escalate and thrill. The graphics are even better this time around, with better character models, more realistic backdrops and detailed lighting. Of course the game moves at a consistent 60 frames per second and this is also true for the multiplayer. The Zombies mode this year takes a more serious tone, especially when compared to last year’s 80’s themed B-Movie inspired romp. The multiplayer suite gives you the modes you’d expect, with one fantastic new addition: War.
War mode should be the direction Activision pushes for their stable of COD developers to focus on as it combines all the best elements of the various multiplayer modes into one walloping tug of war between teams. While there’s only three maps, they each have three stages within them that offer different objectives. It may be storming a mansion, or escorting a tank, or blowing up anti-air guns, but no matter the goal the game’s matchmaking creates surprisingly tense matches that usually come down to the wire. And the best part is if you got hosed on a round, you flip sides and you have a chance to still show the other team that you have a fight left in you. The result of this is a more enjoyable mode to return to when you want to get a COD fix but aren’t looking to be mowed down over and over after a long day in the real world. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of Overwatch, a game that achieved the same feeling of satisfaction no matter how hardcore of a player you were.
The pace of the game has slowed too, and its for the better. There’s no wall running, there’s no sliding and guns take much longer to reload and use. It means fire fights are more reactive and give greater satisfaction on either side of the outcome. There’s something more gratifying about going on a score streak with a creaky old gun than with some futuristic sci-fi death machine. The maps are smaller than normal, typically comprised of three lanes and are built fairly flat. This feels deliberate to get players moving and while sometimes it feels limiting, the result is very dramatic action— not dying from far away bullets. Camping and spawn killing are still present, but not the worst the series has had. There’s also some really fun score streak kills to work with, and unique ways to load out your character. This year there’s class divisions that give bonus perks that can prestige along with the weapons and character that provide additional layers of ways to play.
As far as Call of Duty games go, WWII is top tier. At the same time, it’s a product of the times we live in and because it follows the ever so illustrious dollar sign, it does compromise it’s integrity and class. Your mileage with this game really depends on your personal interest in COD. If you’ve left for awhile, I think you’ll find this a welcome return. If you’re an annual COD player, it will really depend on if you prefer the older or newer style. The Zombies mode provides a rich experience as it always does but to be fair it does lack some character. But overall, COD WWII feels rejuvenated to be back in the trenches. I found the War mode and the campaign to be some of the better content the series has provided in some time, and while it’s not industry changing, it still represents some of the most articulate and competitive shooting available. The question becomes is this generation of gaming going to be remembered for the gameplay, or will it be remembered for the greed? Has the Greatest Generation already passed us by?
Call of Duty: WWII Gets
Out of 5
+Shooting mechanics are unmatched
+Fluid 60 fps graphics
+War mode is engaging and fresh
+Emphasis on movement not camping
+WWII setting feels fresh again
-Paid loot boxes on the beaches of Normandy
-Only 3 War maps
-Campaign can’t quite handle the subject matter