Activision’s Call of Duty franchise has been running for 14 years now, with the majority of that time frame seeing annual releases. For the past few years, gamers have been grumbling over the Call of Duty series getting stale, yet fans flock to stores every November to grab the latest release. Sure, sales have taken a bit of a hit with the last couple of releases, but the series has shown no signs of slowing.
I personally have not loved a Call of Duty title since Treyarch’s release of Black Ops II in 2012. While I think Sledgehammer Games did a great job with the campaign in Advanced Warfare in 2014, the rest of the package did nothing for me. I absolutely hated Black Ops III and never bothered to finish Infinite Warfare. I still consider the best game in the franchise to be 2006’s WWII shooter Call of Duty 2.
Once I heard that Activision and Sledgehammer Games were returning to the series’ roots this year’s Call of Duty: WWII, I was instantly excited. The WWII entries in this franchise were easily my favorites and I was itching to go back to Thompson machine guns, M1 Garands and the the trenches of Europe. I’m happy to report that Sledgehammer successfully made me a fan of Call of Duty again with this year’s entry.
Call of Duty: WWII goes back to the basics of what made Call of Duty such a landmark series. No more futuristic weaponry, no more jetpacks, no more drone strikes. Sledgehammer delivers an authentic WWII experience once again with a compelling narrative and a solid campaign. The multiplayer even scales back to a more basic gameplay type by grounding things back into reality. Personally, I much prefer the more realistic, historical approach than I do flying around outer space and shooting at moon terrorists.
Let’s start with the campaign. Call of Duty: WWII delivers a more Band of Brothers, “no man left behind” type of narrative that we’ve all certainly seen before. The good news is that Sledgehammer added a few layers that formula to make the story a little more unique than we’re used to getting.
You play as Private First-Class Ronald “Red” Daniels, a man with a deep respect for his squad-mates and a pregnant wife waiting for him back in the States. Daniels and the rest of the platoon are struggling to survive through missions that aim to breakup major Nazi occupied strongholds in Europe. Along the way, the team must deal with the very unpleasant and sometimes wreckless sergeant William Pierson (voiced by Josh Duhamel) who’s universally hated by most who are underneath him.
The story in Call of Duty: WWII works better than you would expect. There’s a solid subplot dealing with Daniel’s best friend and squad-mate Robert Zussman, who Daniels tries to protect. Also, the dynamic of the team constantly clashing with Pierson and his questionable decisions adds an element of internal conflict aside from the obvious Nazi threat. By the end of the story I felt Sledgehammer took a cliche narrative and actually succeeded at keeping my interest through out the entirety of the campaign. For me, this is rare in a Call of Duty game.
Sledgehammer Games scales the gameplay back to the series’ more traditional roots similar to the original Call of Duty. The game no longer uses a regenerative health system and instead replaces it with old school health packs. This may turn some more modern, younger gamers off but luckily health packs are plentiful. Three members of your squad can throw health packs, ammo refills and extra grenades at you by using the d-pad, which makes regaining health and ammo a lot easier.
I played through the entire campaign on the standard difficulty and found it to be pretty easy, so those looking for a challenge may want to crank up the difficulty a few notches. The campaign consists of 11 missions that each last about 30min each. I blew through the campaign in about six hours, which is the norm for Call of Duty campaigns to be honest.
The majority of the single player missions are typical Call of Duty missions. Defend stuff, raid occupied territory, save another squad from being wiped out, etc. Luckily, Sledgehammer did throw in a few unique missions to break up the pacing, such as a really enjoyable espionage mission and an intense tank battle. Aside from a couple of moments where the game was ruthless with mortar strikes and random grenade throws ala Call of Duty: World at War, I really enjoyed my time with the campaign, even though it sticks to a fairly basic formula.
Visually, this is easily the best looking Call of Duty game in the franchise. Characters and enemies are highly detailed and cutscenes are wonderfully cinematic. The voice acting is solid all around, especially from Ving Rhames and Josh Duhamel. The frame-rate on the Playstation 4 Pro was consistently smooth with little to no dips that I encountered. My only complaint is that I wish the sound design was a little more bombastic in sections like Normandy Beach, which felt smaller in scope due to the lack of punchy audio design.
Now lets jump to the competitive multiplayer. Again, Call of Duty: WWII scales things back to the basics here in terms of gameplay. Anyone yearning for Call of Duty to return to a more simplified system found in the likes of Modern Warfare, you’ll be happy here. The WWII era weapons are still a blast to use and are satisfying in multiplayer. No more crazy jet packs and wall running here.
The new additions to WWII’s multiplayer mode consist of three elements. First, the multiplayer mode has an Allied military base that acts as a hub world for online players. In this military base, you can customize your loadouts, assign time-sensitive contracts that earn you extra experience and interact with other players similar to Destiny’s tower. While it feels like Sledgehammer took a little too much inspiration from Destiny here, it works and it is welcomed.
No longer will players create classes that cover the whole spectrum of weapons and perks. Call of Duty: WWII now has Division classes that dictate what type of solider you will be. Want to take the role of an assault solider? Join the Infantry division. Is sniping more of your gig? Join the Mountain division. Each division will assign different classes of weapons and perks to your solider that help you stick to a certain play-style. You can, of course, create your own loadouts within those divisions and swap divisions when needed.
Call of Duty: WWII also includes… loot boxes. Yes, Activision decided to embrace the loot box craze in Call of Duty this year, but luckily it isn’t too bad from what I’ve noticed. Players will earn loot boxes, coined Supply Drops, by ranking up, completing contracts and earning them randomly at the end of matches. Loot boxes can be purchased with real money, but during my time with the game that feature was not yet enabled.
Personally, I didn’t mind the loot boxes too much here. Would I have been happier without them? Sure, but they don’t seem to be too intrusive. Most items consist of cosmetic items for your soldier and currency for weapon and perk unlocks. I have also received weapon attachments in them as well. Call of Duty multiplayer has always been about gaining an advantage the more time you put into it, and this is really no different here as well.
Sledgehammer also brings back their objective-based game type in WWII with War mode. Basically, War mode is a 6 on 6 multiplayer mode that includes various objectives, such as stopping tank assaults and sabotaging bridges, that alternate throughout the match. A small narrative is included in this mode too, which is neat, but overall it still feels like a standard objective-based mode that we’ve seen before, just on a smaller scale. Regardless, I did have some fun with it.
So what about the new zombies feature? This year the co-op feature is called Nazi Zombies: The Final Reich. It plays almost identically to previous zombie modes in Call of Duty games. You will team up with three other players, gun down waves of zombies and earn credits to purchase weapons, power-ups and unlock new paths throughout the large, narrative-driven level. Really nothing deviates from this formula here aside from a few new elements.
Nazi Zombies does include a narrative, with characters voiced by Ving Rhames and David Tennant. It’s nothing that I felt was compelling but it’s there. This year’s zombie mode also includes character classes now such as medic, offense and support roles that offer their own unique abilities. Loot boxes have been stuffed into this mode too, which now include power-ups that help aid the team.
I’ve always found these zombie modes to be frustrating to play, and this one is no different. It’s difficult to know what to do with little direction provided from the game. I’ve participated in matches where players who knew what they were doing became increasingly frustrated with those who did not, leading to your typical racial and homophobic slurs being tossed around. After spending a lot of time shooting zombies and wandering around aimlessly, I grew bored of this mode and never returned to it.
Call of Duty: WWII is a great package overall. It contains one of the best campaigns in recent memory with a narrative I actually cared about. The multiplayer peels back all of the excess layers and brings it back to a more grounded type of gameplay. The Nazi Zombies mode still did nothing for me personally, but for those who enjoyed previous co-op modes, they’ll love this too. Yes, loot boxes are here, and I would rather they not be, but overall I sort of ignored them.
Sledgehammer Games has proven again that they are arguably the best developer of the Call of Duty holy trinity and I’m excited to see what they’ll do next. I think Treyarch and Infinity Ward need to step up their game within the next two years. That said, Call of Duty: WWII is definitely worth your time this year and one of the best games in the series since Black Ops II.
Call of Duty: WWII was reviewed on a Playstation 4 Pro with a copy purchased by The Gaming Outsider.