It has been a long while since a Call of Duty game has been on my radar. Being a yearly series rarely offers anything new or exciting and I have long felt that the franchise as a whole had gotten stale and repetitive. It had gotten to the point where I could, with a fairly high degree of accuracy, predict the story beat for beat. I was very skeptical of the Call of Duty going back to it’s World War 2 roots given the success Battlefield had the year prior with it’s first World War setting. I became even more skeptical with the inclusion of loot boxes in multiplayer. Was this all just to chase a perceived trend in the market or is Activision taking the criticism of it’s yearly juggernaut to heart before their core audience becomes jaded and abandons the franchise?
There are two types of gamers when it comes to a game with both a story campaign and multiplayer; those that are excited to play through the story missions and those that jump into multiplayer to level up as fast as possible. I’m the type that plays through the story because to me that is the selling point even though that means I will usually end up getting frustrated after the two or three days it takes to finish the campaign and visit the MP. This is because I’ll be thrashed by those that have prestiged three of four times already since the game launched. What I found in the 6 hour campaign was a mixed bag. You play as Private Daniels, a farm boy from Texas fresh out of basic. He is joined by Zussman, a wise cracking hustler from Chicago, Stiles, a hopeful photographer and Aiello, a slightly racist prodigal son from Brooklyn. They are lead by the hard nosed Sgt Pierson and Lt Turner. From the introductions and throughout the first mission the game makes it very clear who you are supposed to care about and offers some pretty obvious foreshadowing, in true Call of Duty fashion. The start of the campaign has you storming the beaches of Normandy and if it weren’t for the shiny new graphics I wouldn’t be able to tell you what game it was from. What is noticeably different, at least to someone who has skipped the last few, is that you no longer regenerate health. You can hold up to four med kits that can be used at anytime by pressing a button and can be obtained from your squad mate or picked up. Each member of your squad now serves a purpose. Zussman gives you med kits, while another keeps you stocked up on ammo or grenades, one can call in air support or another can spot enemies. All of these are on a cool down mechanic while enemy kills decrease the total time you have to wait. I do like this change although you have to be very near to the member you want to interact with and looking directly at them to request the the action. This proved to be frustrating at times when squad mates don’t move up with you or go off in different directions. The mission breakdowns often seemed like copy paste jobs with a few memorable missions thrown in. In one, you’ll drive a jeep only to move to the gunner position in more than one mission. In another, you’ll need to clear an area then defend it which will continue to pop up in future missions. You’ll be pinned down and need support only to have gameplay switched to vehicle combat for more than one mission and there will be stealth missions thrown in a few times for good measure. These bouts of repetitiveness really make the two or three stand outs that much better and I would be lying if i didn’t say the end game gave me some chills. You still have collectibles or mementos to find in each level as well as a few “heroic moments.” These moments can be done by helping NPC characters escape from an attacking Nazi soldier or dragging a wounded soldier to cover. The dragging mechanic often felt clumsy leading to many soldiers bleeding out while you were trying to find the right place to set them. I played through the campaign on normal and at times it felt punishingly brutal. I found myself getting really frustrated at points because I would die and respawn only to die three seconds later in the same spot the same exact way. One mission in particular has you walking up to get bazookas under enemy fire, only to find that you can get shot as soon as you pick up the required weapon. The guns still handle and sound great and it was actually really nice to hear the “ting” of reloading your M1 Garande. Overall this was the Call of Duty experience I have known for years now, pretty but shallow where it counts. It tries at times to make statements and ring an emotional response from you but quickly washes away for empty repetitive spectacle.
Nazi Zombies are back and in a way as big a chunk of the game as the campaign itself. You can play as one of four characters all voiced by some top talent. David Tennant, Ving Rhames, Katheryn Winnick and Elodie Yung make up the cast. One can’t contain the excitement I had hearing Dr. Who’s voice while I mowed down zombies. When you first start the mode you must play through the story which serves as a tutorial, taking you through all four characters. Then you can choose to play with three friends or join strangers online. While the package is different from when I last played Zombies mode, the concept is the same (just with an inflated story element). Kill zombies in waves to gain currency to unlock weapons, board up doors and windows and get to new areas. The mode looks as good as the campaign and the design and tense atmosphere actually served up some good jump scares. The character design on the zombies look incredibly detailed and the demonic sounding German muttering adds nicely to everything else. I would love to see what Sledgehammer Games could do with something like this if they ever got let of the chain to go and do something outside the Call of Duty franchise.
The real draw much like every year is the multiplayer and it is still as fast paced as ever. The maps feel well thought out and balanced. The middle area of maps have various avenues to explore and exploit. Most of the matches I was in lasted anywhere from five to ten minutes with the ability to jump right back into another match. This is great for killing a little bit of time but dangerous for that “I’ve got time for one more match” mentality. Players earn experience for every match to earn unlock tokens as well as experience for their equipped weapons to earn unlocks. Standard COD fair, but that’s to be expected. You use the unlock tokens to get new level specific weapons or if you have a prestige token you can unlock a weapon early before you are rank appropriate. What is new to this years Call of Duty is the community hub. Think the tower from Destiny. From here you can see stats, use the firing range, practice the kill streaks, buy weapon components, get missions, oh and open loot boxes for everyone to see. While mostly cosmetic, the loot boxes do offer perks like double XP and daily tasks seem to keep the loot box system constantly at the fore front.
Again not much has changed in Call of Duty WW2. Long time fans of the series will be pleased while people like me, who took a break from the series may end up feeling a bit let down. I was lured in with a return to the series roots but it in the end didn’t do much to refresh the series. It was overall a fine experience just not one I will probably repeat next year unless significant changes are made to the story and gameplay mechanics.