Over the last couple of weeks Activision has been running private and public betas for their upcoming World War II shooter, Call of Duty: WWII. Three of our editors dipped their toes into the beta and came back with a wide range of opinions and expectations for the full release this November.
I was surprised to hear that Activision and Sledgehammer Games were going back to the World War II well for the next Call of Duty adventure. Actually, I was pleasantly surprised. To see Call of Duty go back to its roots and shift away from the increasing nonsense of the Modern Warfare brand made me happy. I was more interested in a World War II setting for multiplayer because the technology of the era might mean I’d last more than two seconds on the field. I was, of course, wrong about that. While there are no futuristic nanobots, jet packs, and wall running, WWII is just as intense as any of the previous twitch-based Call of Duty online experiences.
Before jumping into the action, you’re tasked with picking a player class. Be it Infantry, Airborne, Armored, Mountain, or Expeditionary, these roles take a page from EA’s Battlefield series and gives you a specific set of perks and abilities that evolve over time. You’re not beholden to any one class and spending unlock tokens earned levelling up, other roles can be activated and switched to and from between matches. Each class has unique weapons and equipment loadouts that unlock through the tried and true progression system. Experience points can award new scopes, better guns and secondary weapons. What was readily apparent to me in my first online match (where the majority of players were already in the double digits) was that these unlocks matter. You’ll feel mostly useless against other people have kitted out their weapons with the best possible tweaks. You’re going to die a lot though this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has played Call of Duty within the last five to ten years.
The WWII comes with the requisite Call of Duty multiplayer modes. The only two worth talking about right now are Hardpoint and War. I like Hardpoint because it keeps you on your toes as special capturable zones cycle through different locations on the map. It’s sort of like Domination, where players have to capture and maintain a specific area. The difference is that the control zone moves to different locations which gives combat a nice ebb and flow. War is a mode that I’m at odds with. It’s Call of Duty’s answer to Battlefield’s Rush and requires a team to complete a series of objectives (building a bridge, capturing a command post, escorting a tank, etc) while the opposing side tries to halt the advance. It’s a neat idea and for someone who sucks at Deathmatch, I appreciate the opportunity to contribute in a way that doesn’t require my terrible reaction time. Regretfully, I was put into teams that really didn’t play the objective well enough. Also, the bridge building portion of the match isn’t fun for the Allies who have to throw themselves out into the open and get picked off by a dug in opposing force. With better people, I bet it’s a pretty exciting mode to play.
Though the setting is different, there’s a lot of familiar elements in Call of Duty WWII’s multiplayer that should appease those who have stuck with Infinity Ward’s and Treyarch’s model for this long. It has some neat ideas and the presentation is slick (I loved the introductory videos used to define each player class). The pace of the game will likely feel slower to those that have grown accustomed to the speed of Modern Warfare and BLOPS but it at least maintains the intensity typically associated with the series.
Call of Duty is a series that has been repeatedly criticized for its inability to change; however, alterations to a successful formula are difficult to pull off, and the series has been trapped in a frustrating limbo of sameness and small additions. While CoD WWII does not reinvent the franchise, the small changes have a much bigger impact than I expected.
Your multiplayer experience begins, incongruously, with a campaign-esque opening sequence. A narrator will detail a brief story, and you are dropped into a much more personal selection screen. From here, you are tasked with picking your soldier class, which is accompanied by a charming video detailing their skills.
These soldier selections are important, because CoD WWII features customizable characters with class-based restrictions. All of the available classes have innate abilities that were perks in previous games, with a few new additions. For example, the infantryman is equipped with a rifle, bayonet, extra magazines, and additional attachments to fit the jack of all trades theme. The Airborne units utilize suppressed SMGs, and have a slew of mobility advantages. The Armored division soldiers use LMGs, complete with bipods, and have protection against fire, explosions and tactical equipment. The Mountain soldiers have sniper rifles, and abilities dedicated to stealth, such as recon immunity, silent movement and protection from player-controlled killstreaks. Finally, the Expeditionary carries a shotgun with incendiary shells, alongside a host of close-quarters combat benefits. After you have selected your desired class – which you must use until you unlock the others – you can pick their class weapon, attachments, a sidearm, grenades, and “basic training”, which operates as a single passive bonus that covers familiar perks from past games. All in all, very little is new here, but the way it has been distributed is actually a significant shakeup of the formula.
My initial concern was that recon would become too effective. In previous games, a paltry 3-killstreak was enough to earn an updated map of enemy positions. Luckily, while only the sniper class is granted immunity – specifically while moving – the score to call in recon has been increased to the equivalent of 5 kills. Shotgun and SMG users are now incapable of getting into close quarters safely if recon is active, regardless of class customization; however, due to the increased cost, recon is no longer a perpetually active problem. This relatively simple change reveals Sledgehammer’s perspective on camping – they’re not fans. For those who scoffed at the killstreak immunity perks of the past, this game is on your wavelength.
While CoD WWII features standard game modes, there’s one notable new addition: War pits two teams against each other in an attack and defend style game mode, but does a few things to shake it up. For example, one map features objectives consisting of point capture, bridge building, bomb planting, and payload all in the same game. The defenders have better positions at almost all times, but they also have a 2 second spawn timer, whereas attackers can spawn immediately. Most of my games were fairly even, so while I found some conceptual problems in some of the objectives, they worked very well in practice.
In terms of general balance, no weapons or killstreaks stood out as particularly egregious. While I heard constant complaints through the microphone about the power of shotguns, I saw very little difference in their performance compared to past games. Or perhaps I’m just biased because the shotguns can now use incendiary ammo, and they’re a joyful spectacle that I’m absolutely in love with. Artillery strikes come across as a little too weak – given that I didn’t get a single kill in a dozen uses – but if the point is to lessen the prevalence of killstreaks in general, that’s hardly an inherent flaw.
Overall, CoD WWII has some hurdles to overcome if it wants to prove that it’s more than a minor shakeup in the long-term. This is a formula that takes the pre-CoD 4 approach in some aspects, and the post in others. It remains to be seen whether or not that can satisfy the fatigue of players for another full year, but much to my surprise, CoD WWII makes a damn good first impression.
It’s been A MINUTE since I played a Call of Duty multiplayer, holy crap. I used to love Black Ops, which had a great set of maps and modes, but it was also the first and last that I played in the series. It’s been a full 7 years since I checked one of these out - so how’s it all changed since then?
Not much! It turns out! Still going around doing the shootyman thing, still calling in scorestreaks, still the one or two weirdos who keep their voice chat on for some reason and don’t say anything worth listening to. It’s actually a little surprising how quickly I was able to jump back in like I’d never left, but it makes sense - this is the back-to-basics Call of Duty, after all, and gone are the mech suits, wall runs, uh… jetpacks? Were jetpacks a thing? I think so, right?
So it’s like this combination of nice, but unusual, to feel a game like this that’s so back-to-basics. After excellent shooters last year like Titanfall 2, high-mobility sorta-future shooters like this seemed like they were on their way to becoming the norm. Call of Duty itself has been moving that way, and the sudden shift back to the past takes that all away and makes it be just one simple thing again - you have a gun and many men to shoot with it.
And well… beyond that, it’s Call of Duty, I guess, and since I haven’t kept up so well with the year-to-year changes going on in it, it’s difficult for me to say how this one compares with, say, Infinite Warfare. It’s quick and it’s smooth and it runs well and looks great, and it’s weird that “this game is super great and an awesome multiplayer experience!” is like…. Par for the course with these games.
This series definitely suffers from what TVTropes calls “The Seinfeld Effect.” It’s basically the idea that some things are so seminal, and have affected so many things that have tried to ape them, that they kind of look less impressive in retrospect. This series has long been the standard bearer for online multiplayer - but it’s starting to feel like we’re running out of ideas for ways to innovate in this space here?
I mean, at least in the beta, there are less modes, and most of the ones that are there aren’t much that you haven’t seen before. Even the War mode that they’re touting so much isn’t much out of the box - it’s rolling objectives, going from “hold this point until the bar fills!” to “escort this tank!” and it’s fun, but it’s also, y’know, exactly like what you’d see in Overwatch or other games of its ilk. The levelling, the class system, the modes… nothing is surprising or particularly new here. It’s taken itself back to World War II, and honestly even all of the modes feel like they’ve gone back to Call of Duty 3 type stuff.
But I don’t know, man, there’s still that je ne sais qois that this series has. The shooting still feels good, the perks that pop up are still satisfying, and it runs and looks so smooth! Even as I write this I still want to jump back in and play more, and honestly getting a press code for the beta made me more likely to get a copy of it for later. But that’s because it’s been almost a decade (!!!) since I played one of these, so I really just feel it would be fun to get back into another! But if you’ve been on and off on the series, this one doesn’t do much to win you back - it’s fun, but fun in like the exact same ways? Maybe WWII is enough to get you back because at this point it’s a weird novelty, but just know you’re coming back to the exact same feeling thing!
I'm the Owner & Editor in Chief of Darkstation.com. After spending seven years as the reviews editor I took over the site in 2010. The rest is history. Now I work with our amazing staff to bring you the best possible video game coverage. Oh and I really like sports games.