It’s fair to say that each Call of Duty release is a highly anticipated part of the gaming calendar. But it is 2017’s release that has seen many more gamers than usual rather excited thanks to Sledgehammer Games returning the series to its original boots-on-the-ground roots. For me, the chance to return to one of history’s biggest eras was something I had been waiting a long time for, not just because some of the finest stories in the series have come from the historical war-time adventures, but because Sledgehammer Games’ last entry – and their first in the series – provided one of the best Call of Duty adventures yet. With Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare feeling disconnected from what Call of Duty is all about, my hopes were on Sledgehammer to set things right once more.
This year’s campaign takes players deep into the cold heart of World War II, with an explosive arrival on the shores of Normandy proving just the start of things to come. You take on the role of U.S. Army Private First-Class Ronald ‘Red’ Daniels, one of the members of the 1st Infantry Division, known in battle as the Fighting First… and you’re a long way from home.
Throughout the campaign players will fight through many iconic locations and battles, such as the Hürtgen Forest and the Battle of the Bulge, before culminating in an intense fight to cross the Swiss Rhine and head into mainland Germany, all of which is done in typical Call of Duty campaign style. If you’ve been hoping this year’s entry will bring you something new and unique in terms of storytelling, you’d be mistaken. But even though Call of Duty: WWII continues the typical trend of linear heroic storytelling mixed with incredible and explosive action set-pieces, there are a few small changes that makes the whole experience differ slightly from previous campaigns.
The first amendment is the heavy focus on teamwork that’s now present throughout. During the adventures to the Nazi homeland, players are often placed in situations in which they’ll need to assist squad mates, save them from an attacking enemies – moments known as ‘Heroic Actions’ – or rely on them for refilling ammunition, stocking up on grenades, spotting enemies and providing health kits, to ensure you can keep on your feet long enough to see the end of each mission.
Although previous campaigns have often provided a lone wolf type experience, with the A.I. doing their own thing, Call of Duty: WWII really does a great job of giving off the whole teamwork vibe and actually making it work. Even though squad mates will still progress forward on their own path, it’s generally up to you to stick with them if you need an item they provide or want some extra covering fire whilst you try to move forward yourself. Because of this, the other new change, the non-regenerating health bar, really fits in well. Those hoping to progress by simply sticking to the side of their squad mates should note that the specific items such as ammo, health packs and grenades all have their own recharge period, so you will still need to at least be a little decent with a rifle in hand.
The changes brought by the new campaign may not exactly be the most original ideas we’ve seen, but they certainly do a great job of bringing about a more realistic and believable campaign experience, especially when compared to some of the things we’ve seen in recent series entries.
If you’re looking for a lengthy solo experience, you may be a little disappointed with what’s on offer, with the campaign taking no more than seven or eight hours – and that’s on the hardest difficulty setting. The adventure on offer is certainly an impressive one though and brings together some incredible visuals and an action packed, heartfelt story that is by far the best we’ve seen since Sledgehammer Games’ last outing.
But no matter whether the campaign is a true masterpiece or just another forgettable and predictable experience, there’s every chance that for many it will go completely unseen regardless, with a fair few gamers instead opting to jump straight in with the multiplayer portion of the game. This is probably in part due to the fact that Call of Duty garners and maintains a following of millions of players year after year with each release, but with the multiplayer feeling rather stagnant for some time now, what has been put in place to make things feel different this time round?
Much like the Campaign, the Multiplayer side of things also brings a few changes to the table to give a slight variety over what is usually offered, with the new War game mode and the Headquarters area proving to be the biggest differences this year.
Headquarters is Sledgehammer Games’ approach to bringing a social space similar to the one seen in the Destiny games. Headquarters is a fairly large area, at least when compared to the usual size of playable areas in a Call of Duty multiplayer, and comes with a bunch of features for players to dig into. Features include a shooting range – complete with a competitive score based mini-game – a 1v1 area for show-boaters to pit their skills against one another, a scorestreak practice area complete with bots to test them out on, an emblem editor to create and upload your own in-game emblems, and a gunsmith to customise weapons with custom crafted paint jobs. Whilst this sounds like plenty to keep players occupied, each of these options feels a little like an opportunity missed, with none of them really providing anything of value to the game – unless of course you really want to spend the time customising a paint job for a weapon you’ll likely swap out for something else you as you close in on that Prestige option.
That’s not all there is to the Headquarters mode though, and other options available allow players to visit the Quartermaster or Major Howard to take on a bunch of contracts that are constantly changing. The Quartermaster contracts are game mode based objectives with a shortened time limit that can give out big rewards if you manage to meet the requirements, such as getting 100 kills in a particular game mode within 30 minutes, with Armory Credits and Supply Drops usually the reward for successful soldiers. Meanwhile Major Howard’s contracts come in the form of orders, or daily and weekly challenges.
The final feature worthy of mention in Headquarters is the R&R (Rest and Relaxation) section. This rather easily missed area is something of a treasure trove for fans of retro gaming and nostalgia, opening up a collection of 15 classic Activision titles of old for players to jump into once more – the option to play Demon Attack was a definite win.
Unfortunately, whilst Headquarters may have been advertised as loads of players meeting together, it’s not really a true social space. Instead the only way of joining with other players is to have them physically join your game, which wasn’t the vibe given off by the promising showing at E3. I can’t help but feel the option to join in with random players, much like in Destiny’s social space, would have been a better choice to have, especially given the fact you now have the option to view each other’s Supply Drops as they land in front of you.
As for the game modes on offer, the only change this time around comes in the shape of War, my new go-to multiplayer mode. War is very similar to the Rush game mode seen in the Battlefield series and provides places for attackers to capture and defenders to… well, defend. It’s a simple yet intense mode to play and with expanding maps that prove to be the largest in the series yet, it’s certainly a welcome change. The one issue with this mode however is that it doesn’t feel like it’s yet been truly integrated as a proper game mode – this is due to the fact that any kills and deaths in the War mode aren’t recognised within the statistics data, meaning those hoping to climb the leaderboards will be out of luck if this is the game mode you prefer to play.
As for the rest of the options available, there’s nothing new to speak of; all the traditional modes are in place such as Team Deathmatch, Domination, Search and Destroy and so on, but with the same modes and the same general feel to the multiplayer that we’ve seen since Call of Duty Modern Warfare, there is nothing to really get excited about. Of course, hardcore Call of Duty fans will be keen to climb the usual Prestige levels available and progress onto Prestige Master, but if you’re just a casual to the series looking for some multiplayer FPS action, you’ll find nothing different other than the maps and appearance to that of previous entries – other than the boots on the ground combat of course.
There is a local multiplayer option in place for those wanting to play through things via split screen, however with this also available for the online multiplayer, local play is almost an unnecessary feature. Nevertheless, should you want to jump in to some local play, it’s once more as smooth as ever and great for some couch multiplayer.
Zombies mode is also back, and with the series returning to World War II, we’re back to Nazi Zombies once more. However, the return to the era that sparked it all doesn’t bring anything overly different into play. Naturally players are still required to survive for as long as possible against the waves of undead, and there are objectives in place that tell a short story for those interested, but the overall premise of a near standalone level experience is still much the same as recent Zombie outings. Even though the visuals are certainly remarkable, the overall experience is really just more of the same old stuff that players have seen previously. That obviously makes it great for those who love the game mode, but is slightly disappointing for those hoping for something a little more.
Call of Duty: WWII is most definitely a more than decent entry to the franchise. The return of boots-on-the-ground gameplay is certainly welcomed and it’s good to see Sledgehammer Games take a little risk and try out some new features. With such a strong story on offer, those who jump in would be a fool not to get involved in the linear experience, and yet again Sledgehammer Games have created another memorable and exciting battle.