I’ll just jump right in and say it: Activision and Sledgehammer games weren’t lying in saying that Call of Duty is back.* After an iffy year for the Call of Duty franchise with Infinite Warfare, Call of Duty: WW2 brings the series back to where many felt like it needed to be, and is it good to be back. From the action-packed yet grounded story, to the “classic” style multiplayer, Call of Duty: WW2 embodies what made the franchise so popular so many years ago. Although the phrase gets tossed around so much nowadays with games, Call of Duty: WW2 really is the video game equivalent of comfort food. But really, let’s just jump into the nitty-gritty.
The campaign. Ah, the campaign. Probably the biggest component for CoD: WW2 I was looking forward to, and it did not disappoint. While it did run a bit short clocking in at around the 6-7 hour mark on my first playthrough on the Normal difficulty setting, the bombastic and harrowing tale of a band of brothers was too enjoyable to even notice the short playtime. Players assume the role of “Red” Daniels, a farm boy whisked away to the war as part of the 1st Infantry Division. Throughout the story, players only really see the US side of the war, as you storm through the beaches of Normandy and push through Germany as the end of the war is near. While I won’t dive into spoilers, many of the stereotypical WW2 set pieces are used throughout the 10 story missions. One in particular, a mission taking place in Paris (I won’t go any further to not spoil the mission), is surely to go down as one of the coolest Call of Duty missions ever. I’ll just say this: fans of Inglorious Basterds rejoice.
The characters throughout the story are, for the most part, pretty interesting and unique. “Red” himself is a fascinating character, only for his internal dialogue and diary entries narrated throughout the game. Josh Duhamel as Sgt. Pierson was also a fantastic performance that really brought a sort of grit and heart to the story.
What’s really fantastic is the new gameplay mechanics the story introduces to the Call of Duty franchise. Taking cues from the likes of Doom, players no longer regain health after a certain amount of time and must instead rely upon health packs. After some embarrassing moments in the opening of the game, this new health system really fell into place for me and actually forced me to play more cautiously; as one should while running through an open field during WW2. Another great mechanic is the squad system, a sort of toned-down Battlefield-esque system that has your AI squadmates acting as replenishment system for your various needs. One squad mate provides ammo, while another provides health packs if you need it, and so on. It’s a really great system, because combined with the new health system, it really allows you to play more cautiously while also never slowing down the action to search a cleared out area for supplies. It also built up a great sense of camaraderie with your squad.
So yes, the campaign is as gritty and dirty as I was hoping it would be. However, I do feel that Sledgehammer could have maybe gone a bit deeper and darker with the horrors of WW2. While I’ll avoid spoilers, after finishing the game I did feel as though some of the more horrific parts of WW2 were kind of dodged. What makes many first person shooter’s stories nowadays so impactful is their willingness to not hold back on some of the darker details, even if they aren’t pleasant to hear or look at. Call of Duty: WW2 played it safe in a lot of different ways, and I only wish they took the opportunity to dive deeper.
When they said Call of Duty was going back to its roots with WW2, I along with many others were interested to see how they would handle multiplayer. How will players react to not having double jumping? Wall-running? Super duper crazy upgraded guns that melt people? Well I’m happy to say this: who needs that stuff? Call of Duty: WW2 features some of the best multiplayer I have played from the franchise in years. I honestly don’t think I have had this much enjoyment out of Call of Duty multiplayer since the original Black Ops way back in 2010! Yes, it may not be as fast-paced as some of the more recent CoD games, but it works to its benefit by feeling fresh, new and very nostalgic.
I had the opportunity to level up to about level 25-30, and then was boosted by the developers to see what prestiging (at level 50) was like. For the most part, all of the different Divisions players have the option of picking from (you are still able to unlock all the others after you pick your initial one) feel and play differently from each other. For the most part, I played as part of the Airborne Division, which focuses on SMGs and has bonuses for using that gun class while in that division. Multiplayer enthusiasts will find plenty of customization options within these divisions, and I felt it really encourages experimentation to really find a division/gun load out that fits your playstyle.
A very cool new feature introduced into multiplayer this time around is the Headquarters, a sort-of hub area that is very heavily inspired by The Tower in Destiny. Players are able to accept daily/weekly challenges to earn in-game currency, test out new weapons using the gun range and the best of all: face off in the 1v1 pit, which I can foresee being the most popular part of Headquarters. For the most part, Headquarters is an awesome addition to multiplayer, but has some notable flaws that may or may not be fixed in the future. The biggest being player’s ability to visit the Headquarters between matches. As it stands in the time of this review, players are able to visit the Headquarters in-between matches while remaining in the lobby. That’s great, but what isn’t so great is how I never seemed to have enough time to do anything in the Headquarters between matches without having to leave the lobby. There were only ever maybe 30-45 seconds before the start of the next match, and I would immediately get pulled into the game while I was either accepting some new challenges, visiting the Mail Officer or opening the loot crates (which I will get into in a second). More often than not, after I was pulled into the game, I lost track of what I was doing in the HQ. I would open a loot crate and then get pulled into the game before seeing what I pulled from the crate! It was quite frustrating.
Speaking of loot crates, yes they are in the game. No, I never felt like I ever needed to buy them with my real money (although I was unable to do so if I wanted while reviewing the game). From what I could tell in my crates, I only ever pulled purely cosmetic items; emblems, character skins, etc. were all that I got from the crates. A cool feature, which may or may not play on people’s addictive tendencies, is how you open the loot crates. While in the HQ, you call down a sort-of supply drop that other players can gather around and see what you pull out of the loot crate. I’ll admit it was pretty cool gathering around another player’s loot crate to see what they just pulled, and then feel super jealous when they got that ONE emblem I wanted for myself.
But that’s enough of the classes and the HQ, let’s jump right into what you’re really here for: the gameplay. Call of Duty: WW2 introduces one very cool new game mode, and brings back many of the fan favorites from the past. War, the newest addition to the multiplayer game modes, is an objective based, multi-part game mode. Consisting of three separate sections, attacking players push to complete all three main objectives before winning the game, while defenders look to stop the attackers dead in their tracks. The best sort of comparison I thought of was a scaled-down version of Battlefield 1’s Operations mode, but with an emphasis on different objectives for each map. For example, one map the Axis forces are tasked with ensuring their tank(s) push through the map and cross a bridge, while on another map players see the Allies pushing the Normandy beachhead to take the remaining Axis bunkers.
In particular for War mode was the Operation Neptune map, which opens with the Allies storming the Normandy beaches in an epic and terrifying manner. What’s so unique about the opening to this particular map, is that the Allies actually have AI teammates storming the beach with them. For the most part these AI teammates are cannon-fodder, but it was a cool addition to make the map feel more grandiose and epic. The other maps for War are also dynamic and interesting, but I was just blown away by the Operation Neptune map. It just felt as though they took a campaign mission, and threw it into multiplayer.
My, my, my…what a breath of fresh(ly dead)** air WW2’s Zombies mode is. Featuring the likes of David Tennant, Ving Rhames, Kathryn Winnick and Elodie Yung as the inspired artifact-hunter turned zombie-hunters, WW2’s Zombies is awesome. Again, like the campaign, I won’t jump into spoilers because it’s best played attempting to solve the various puzzles as a team. The story of Zombies follows a group of “Monument Men”-esque artifact hunters as they seek to find various artifacts stolen away by the Doctor Peter Straub (played by Udo Kier), and uncover the reason as to why he has stolen these specific artifacts.
What surprised me the most about the mode was how reminiscent the teamwork it required was to that of the Destiny 2 raid. Players need to call out positions, colors, etc. to progress through this particular slice of Zombies. The review group I was playing with got very close to what we imagined was the “end” of the story, but weren’t never found out after being devoured by zombies. But just getting to that part alone had us calling out numbers, symbols and the like just to try and solve a puzzle; an experience I was delighted about and look forward to attempting to complete the “story” with my own group.
Another great aspect of this years Zombies mode is just how dark and brutal it is. You can really tell Sledgehammer went to great lengths to ensure WW2 Zombies was as survival-horror as it ever has been, if not more so. There were plenty of times I was spooked by jump-scares, unexpected events, or being snuck up on by a super quiet zombie. At the end of my playtime with Zombies, my hands were not only shaking, but I felt as though I needed a few shots of hard liquor before I attempted it again. It’s that good.
All in all, Call of Duty: WW2 truly is the return many fans (myself included) have wanted. The campaign is bombastic, the multiplayer grounded and fun, and Zombies is a scary roller-coaster ride. While I tried to avoid as many spoilers as possible for the story and Zombies, just rest assured you’ll get no less than an exciting ride with plenty of ups and downs.
*For FTC purposes, I must acknowledge that Activision flew a group of journalists (including myself) to San Francisco to review Call of Duty: WW2. Thanks to Activision for covering travel expenses, and providing an early review copy of the game.
**Sorry, I had to.