Once a franchise reknown for its World War II stories and gameplay depicting infantry combat in war, the franchise hasn’t returned to their roots in quite a while. In fact it got far away from them, with the last three entries in the annual shooter each being a giant step away from the traditional combat mechanics and grounded storyline. For many, Call of Duty is annual purchase. Traditionally the shooter has seen minor differences to the gameplay mechanics, a change in setting, and some other tweaks to the formula to warrant the purchase for fans. In recent years, Call of Duty as a series saw a huge shift in terms of gameplay. Introducing new jumping mechanics that allowed for more vertical movement, the last three games in the series were big steps away from the traditional. The Call of Duty series has come full circle. With Sledgehammer Games at the helm this year, Call of Duty looks to return to its World War 2 roots, in the aptly named Call of Duty WW2. With a campaign that takes a Band of Brothers story telling approach, a return to “boots on the ground” multiplayer gameplay, and a zombies mode that allows the former Dead Space developers to revisit their ability to deliver jump scares — Call of Duty WW2 is one of the more compelling and well rounded games for the series in recent memory.
Call of Duty WW2 is well rounded in terms of quality across all of its modes
Perhaps the most tactfully handled Call of Duty game in years. Sledgehammer Games dramatizes the actions of a 12-man squad in the American 1st Infantry Division and their role in numerous battles of World War II. A story that takes you from Omaha Beach to the Rhine, Call of Duty WW2 doesn’t alter the events of history, rather tells the stories of friendship and brotherhood formed during the war from the perspective of this dynamic group. While it still features all the bombast of recent Call of Duty games, there’s much less of a focus on a single antagonist here. There’s no diabolical terrorist to stop. We all know how this story ends, but Sledgehammer makes smart choices by really drilling down on one squad in the war, focusing on their trials and tribulations.
The gameplay hammers home the importance of the squad around you. This is something entirely new for modern Call of Duty games. Your A.I. controlled squadmates must be utilized for their different abilities. This includes things like ammunition refills, spotting enemies, calling in airstrikes, or refilling your health. Unlike recent games which relied on auto-regenerating health, Call of Duty WW2 forces you to rely on these teammates in battle. For the most part, this system works and is a breath of fresh air for the series. The only problem being that it’s such a big deviation from what fans are used to it can sometimes be hard to remember all of the different abilities that your squad can perform.
Campaign changes some of the tried and true gameplay mechanics
The campaign in Call of Duty WW2 features a number of different mission types. From all out mayhem in Storming Omaha Beach to more stealth oriented missions that have you teaming up with Special Forces from other countries, there’s a good bit of variety here. This includes non-traditional Call of Duty missions that have you infiltrating a Nazi headquarters as a spy where you must commit to memory your cover story in order to get to turncoat commander. It’s got your obligatory driving missions, tank missions, turret sequences, and just about every other scenario that’s been thrown at you in a modern shooter. While that might sound dismissable, it’s quite good how it all comes together. There’s enough variety in terms of the narrative structure and the gameplay missions that campaign never wears out its welcome. It’s the perfect size to tell the story it wants to tell and during that time players will get treated to one of the best looking shooters that’s arrived from Activision this generation.
Sledgehammer Games is well known for their entries in the Call of Duty series now, but their roots come from the survival horror genre. The co-founders of the studio both worked at the now defunct Visceral Games and are responsible for the highly popular Dead Space. With this iteration of the Zombies Mode in Call of Duty WW2, it seems that Activision has given Sledgehammer the green light to make something wholly of their design. While this year’s iteration of zombies in a mode called “The Final Reich” is similar in terms of structure to other cooperative zombies modes from the other Call of Duty teams, there’s a definite survival horror stamp on the game as well as a tighter narrative.
There’s a survival horror feel to the The Final Reich Zombie Mode
The mode features a prologue which introduces us to four treasure hunters reclaiming the treasures that Nazis seized during the war. While on a mission they stumble across the abominations that the Nazi Regime has engineered in undead Nazi soldiers. Yeah, it’s not an entirely new premise but Sledgehammer really goes all out with this mode in terms of character models and trying to give the game a more creepy feel. This definitely does feel more like a survival horror game than it ever has before. Zombies will pop up out of nowhere, offering jump scares throughout the wave based affair. A coupling of grotesque character models, awesome sounds, and this tension make for a great experience.
This zombies mode is also a deeper one in what’s being called “The Final Reich.” While fans of the mode will find all sorts of challenges within the map in terms of secrets, easter eggs, and progression, there’s also a much broader customization element than other games in the series. Weapon parts can be collected and stored for later use, your characters can be outfitted with special abilities that charge throughout the matches, there are custom perks for each class, and there are consumables that can be used throughout the game. The mode has come a long way since the original Nazi Zombies arrived in Call of Duty: World at War. Sledgehammer does make this mode a little bit more accessible than other modes like it. While they don’t go so far as to give you all of the answers to their riddles, they do a good job of showing the way to your objectives. If Infinite Warfare got one thing right with last year’s game, it was in the variation found in the Zombie modes that released for that game. While they were light-hearted and fun, Sledgehammer plays a stark contrast here in terms of tone while offering the same type of depth and secrets to uncover.
Sledgehammer’s brand of Zombies isn’t as light-hearted as last year
The final part of this equation is the competitive multiplayer. The return to the WWII era strips the wall-running and jet pack boosting out of the game, slowing the pace the pace and keeping players grounded. This style of competitive play feels like a return to form for the series. Call of Duty WW2 very much feels like a throwback to the good old days of the franchise. It’s familiar territory and Sledgehammer doesn’t necessarily go out of their way to reinvent the wheel in terms of gameplay or map design. As the gameplay has changed with the removal of jump packs, maps are certainly designed with this in mind. They feature more flat settings, with a number of variations on the tried and true three lane approach. There are some standout maps in multiplayer for Call of Duty: WW2. USS Texas for example is one of our favorite. The London Docks is another, and Saint Marie Du Mont is another. In fact, almost all of the maps in Call of Duty WW2 competitive have their place. Though it’s easy to see that there are certain map shapes that work better than others with the game’s spawn system.
Where they do take some risks and make healthy additions is in the game modes for competitive multiplayer and new Headquarters social space. While the battle-tested modes like Team Deathmatch, Search and Destroy, Kill Confirmed, Domination, and Hardpoint will likely be the most played stuff in the game, the new War Mode is something brand new to Call of Duty. Here you have three unique Operations that have players switching off attacking and defending objectives. The settings are unique and it’s a nice change of pace to the traditional Call of Duty formula. A stand-out War Operation is Operation Neptune which has you fighting on Omaha Beach, attack or defending the beach head. If you’re looking for something wholly different than anything Call of Duty has shown us in the past, this objective based mode is certainly that.
Multiplayer gets back to basics while offering a brand new addition in War mode
Regardless of the mode you play, Call of Duty WW2 is still very much also about character progression, customization, and Sledgehammer appears to be attempting to foster a better community with their new Headquarters mode. This is essentially a main hub for all of your online activities. Instead of a system of menus, this social space has been developed that allows players to perform their customization and progression tasks, while also allowing players to compete in different events with one another. Things like Prestige are handled here. Contracts and Orders can be taken on that ask the player to tackle specific objectives for different types of progression rewards. There’s even a Gun Range and one versus one arena for players to play competitively. Whether it actually accomplishes it’s goal of making Call of Duty a less toxic social space is anyone’s guess, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Whether you’re all about the multiplayer life or just want to check out the sights and sounds of the brilliant campaign, Call of Duty: WW2 has something for everyone. While last year’s Infinite Warfare may have been the biggest misstep the series has made in quite some time, WW2 comes in to save the day at exactly the right moment. It’s a reminder of all the things that have made Call of Duty so much fun in the competitive, cooperative, and single player spaces. While we may never see the lofty highs that the series has seen in the past in terms of mass adoption for the Call of Duty brand, Call of Duty WW2 is a good reason to come back to the series if you’ve recently put it down or were turned away by Infinite Warfare.
Call of Duty WW2 is a return to form for the series. Sledgehammer Games and the other Call of Duty developers that contributed to this massive release have put together something really special here. The developers hammer home what made Call of Duty so great in previous years, while also adding a bunch of modern content and gameplay twists of their own. As far as Call of Duty games go, WW2 is an instant classic.