Since Black Ops 2 the Call of Duty series has been reaching for a near-future sci-fi feel, culminating in last year's Infinite Warfare where humanity had conquered space travel and fought on the planets, moons, and asteroids of the Sol System. The franchise is developed on a three studio rotation, allowing an entry to be released every year while still giving each game three years of development time. Sledgehammer Games was up to bat this year, and they had two choices: either continue the sci-fi feel (which has proven unpopular with series fans) or take the series back to its roots.
The resulting decision led to Call of Duty: WW2 which throws out most of the complication added during the more futuristic entries for a more subdued experience. CoD WW2 feels somewhat like a greatest hits collection for the series, and it's a welcome change from the overly flashy, generic feel that Infinite Warfare's multiplayer engendered. If you've hung on since the first Call of Duty, a lot of what is presented in the campaign and multiplayer will feel very familiar. However, for fans who started playing with the Modern Warfare, Black Ops, or other newer releases, the tech regression might feel a little off.
Call of Duty WW2 Campaign Review: War is Hell(ish)
The campaign in CoD WW2 takes us back to familiar territory. We join a squad of soldiers in the United States Army 1st Infantry Division ("The Big Red One," "The Bloody First") as the first stages of Operation Overlord are underway. The game starts on June 6, 1944, D-Day, on a landing craft on course for Omaha Beach, and you have to storm German emplacements to establish a beachhead just like you did in Medal of Honor: Frontline, Call of Duty 2, Battlefield 1942, and some other games I'm probably missing.
The problem isn't that Call of Duty WW2's campaign is terrible. It's just that it's incredibly derivative. It was cool to see Normandy, Operation: Market Garden, the Battle of the Bulge, and the Allies crossing the Rhine with modern graphics and sound design, but the whole experience had a very "been there done that" feel.
Too Afraid to Change
The production quality is excellent, but the whole scenario is very done. For the majority of the campaign, we follow the same six or so soldiers as they fight across Europe. The whole thing evokes the Saving Private Ryan, and Band of Brothers feel, but because it follows that formula so intimately, it feels derivative and safe. The best parts of the single-player experience were where we got a break from the trudge with the Big Red One and got a chance to experience something different.
Contrasting with the cliched time we spend with our main cast, there are a few missions in the game that stand out among the best in the series. One, in particular, has you in disguise as you infiltrate a German HQ, and the suspense of having to remember your cover story and keep your cool was exhilarating. There are also sequences that put you at the wheel of a Jeep (or Kübelwagen), a fighter plane, or a tank that offer some (somewhat in the case of the tank) new experiences for the series.
How About Somewhere Different?
I won't say the campaign isn't worth playing. It's a blast if you want to turn your brain off for some classic war movie action. It's well-done, and it's a great callback to the original three Call of Duty games. However, World War 2 was such a massive war (thus the "world" part) that it seems remiss of Sledgehammer to not give us a look at another theater, or at least another viewpoint of the European war effort.
If the studio wanted to keep the focus on the Big Red One, we could have followed them through Operation Torch into North Africa or fought in the Tunisian campaign. The game could have taken us to Sicily to give the much-overlooked amphibious assaults there the spotlight. Sledgehammer could have also done what Battlefield One did and composed a series of vignettes taking us all around the world. There's so much potential territory to cover with a game about WW2, and so many lesser-known heroic deeds, so for Call of Duty WW2 to play it safe with another rendition of Operation Overlord was a disappointment.
Call of Duty WW2 Multiplayer Review: Post-Modern Warfare
I wasn't a fan of the super-fast paced, gadget-dependent, futuristic combat in the last few Call of Duty games. I saw the gameplay I'd enjoyed in Modern Warfare become more and more convoluted until it was just a mishmash of poorly executed ideas. In fact, it was received so poorly by fans in recent years that Activision decided just to bundle Modern Warfare Remastered with Infinite Warfare since that's what people actually wanted out of multiplayer (and Activision needed a way to make people actually buy Infinite Warfare).
Classic Multiplayer Returns
CoD WW2 takes multiplayer back to the basics. Gadgets are limited to standard grenade types, mines, and throwing knives. Weapons feel much more balanced as well (though submachine guns tend to be a bit overpowered). You won't have futuristic, multi-barreled shotguns here. All the weapons are from the WW2 era, and I haven't noticed that annoying trend in the meta yet where there's basically only one gun that everyone uses.
New to Call of Duty are Divisions. You can think of them as a kind of class. Each specializes in a particular sort of combat. Infantry is your basic all-around soldier. The Airborne Division gives you perks that allow you to hit fast and hard with SMGs. If you want to fight with light machine guns and explosives, then the Armored Division is a great choice. Snipers fall under the Mountain Division, and up close shotgunners make up the Expeditionary Division. Each Division has its own benefits and can be leveled up and prestige just like your rank can.
Supply and Demand
The loot box system, called supply drops in Call of Duty WW2, are decently done. For the most part, they just contain cosmetics. So if you pop one open, you might get a new uniform for one of your divisions, a new calling card, or a unique pistol grip. What I liked about the cosmetic system is that they keep what you can get from supply drops, and what you can earn through playing the game well or for a long time, separate. This means that even if you get a cool calling card or uniform, people will still know the difference between whether you got it from a loot box or actually earned it by performing tasks in-game. This means even if someone drops a ton of cash and gets a ton of cosmetics it won't detract from players who want their cosmetics to stand as a testament to their skill.
One small hangup I had with supply drops is that they do spit out XP modifiers now and then. This means that if someone does spend a ton of money, they will theoretically level up faster than a character who doesn't. However, since premium currency doesn't buy better or more powerful weapons, you still have to be decent at the game to succeed regardless of how much cash you drop.
War What is it Good For?
Fan favorite modes make their return in CoD WW2 like Team Deathmatch, Domination, Search and Destroy, Gridiron, Hardpoint, Capture the Flag, Kill Confirmed, Mosh Pit, and Free-for-All. A whole new mode makes its debut as well: War Mode. In War Mode, you fight asymmetrically against an opposing team to accomplish objectives. Objectives change throughout each game, so you can't rely on one strategy or loadout to fit all in this mode.
War Mode might have one team escorting tanks to a specific location, then stealing fuel for their tanks (ala capture the flag), and then accompanying a tank across a bridge. The other team will be tasked with trying to stop them within a specified time limit. The maps for War Mode are much larger than those for the basic game types, and it adds a great alternative to classic Call of Duty multiplayer gameplay.
Army of One
The new Headquarters mode is one of the most significant additions to the series. This social hub lets you hang out with other players in between games, and is where you'll shop for cosmetics, open supply drops (which is an event everyone can see), and hit up little side events like scorestreak training and 1vs1 combat. At least you should be able to do all this in theory. Because of major connectivity issues, Sledgehammer made HQ mode solo-only. That means almost all the neat little features that are in your Headquarters are useless. Furthermore, it's made some of the orders, tasks you can complete for XP and supply crates, impossible to achieve.
There are also some key features missing from multiplayer. You can't upload or view emblems. You can't give your gun a custom paint scheme, and premium purchases won't be available for another week. In the coming months I'm sure the issues with multiplayer will get hammered out, but for now, it's not feature complete.
Call of Duty WW2 Nazi Zombies Review: Survival Horror
Call of Duty's Zombies mode has been a major feature of the series since its premiere in Call of Duty: World at War. Infinite Warfare saw a turn towards the comical with Zombies in Spaceland, which was a huge turn off for me. I thought the levels were somewhat needlessly obtuse and I just didn't like the aesthetic.
Fortunately, (for me) CoD WW2's Nazi Zombies reboots the series to something more closely resembling the original Zombies mode from World at War. Four misfits have been recruited to recover art stolen by the Nazis. However, before their mission can begin, Nazi scientist Peter Straub unleashes a weapon that is meant to turn the tide of the war: Nazi Zombies. The whole plot is very B movie, but it takes itself seriously, and that makes it a lot more enjoyable than the tongue-burrowing-through-cheek tone of Zombies in Spaceland.
Find Your Path
There are only two full Nazi Zombies levels launching with Call of Duty WW2, which may seem like a small number, but is pretty much par the course. I found that figuring these missions out took less guesswork than the ones in the previous entry. I like to go into games blind, so Zombies can be incredibly frustrating for me since you have to complete a bunch of tasks to get through each level. In Nazi Zombies, things make a little more sense. For example, in the map The Final Reich you're tasked with restoring power to an object. It doesn't spell out exactly how to do this, but if you look closely, you can see three power cords running from the object to valves. You turn the valves and power is restored.
I didn't necessarily want the game to be "easier," but I appreciate the puzzles and objectives being laid out in a way that allows you to deduce what to do logically. In both Zombies maps, there's a "casual route" which allows you to get through the level quicker, and a "hardcore" route which includes the hidden objects Zombies fans love and more story exposition. It's helpful to get the lay of the land with the casual path in each level before you attempt a hardcore run.
Nazi Zombies also has loot boxes, and like the regular multiplayer supply drops, these have been significantly simplified. You can only get Supply Drops and Rare Supply Drops, and most of what they drop is cosmetic. I wasn't able to get my hands on many since premium purchases aren't up still, but it seems a lot less predatory of a system than the one in Infinite Warfare so far.
Call of Duty WW2 Review: Bottom Line
Call of Duty WW2 is the best game in the franchise in years. It's a return of the gameplay fans have been clamoring for, and streamlines the whole experience in a way that sheds a lot of the unwanted clutter we saw in Infinite Warfare. The campaign could be stronger, and Sledgehammer should have taken some more risks, but it's serviceable and even nostalgic for long-time fans of the series.
Multiplayer, aside from the massive technical issues it's had on launch, is precisely what the series needed. There's no more jumping off walls and throwing seeker grenades or whatever futuristic crap, it's just distilled arcade first-person shooter combat that feels better than ever. Sledgehammer also managed to implement the loot boxes in a way that isn't terrible, so as long as they can continue down this path, the game should continue to satisfy.
Nazi Zombies, like the multiplayer, is a return to form. Gone is the goofy, over-the-top, tongue-exploding-through-teeth zaniness of Zombies in Spaceland. Instead, we get an enjoyable old self-serious B movie romp that's reminiscent of Frankenstein's Army. The level design is much improved, and there's not a bunch of different power-up systems that require constant input, just good ole classic zombie killing.
I'm pleased with Call of Duty WW2, but the rough launch and average campaign marred what could have been an unparalleled addition to the Call of Duty franchise. As good as multiplayer is, I have to dock points for missing features and instability. However, if you're a fan of the series, this game will be a breath of fresh air, and as long as Sledgehammer tightens up the technical problems, it'll be a title that has the longevity that the last few titles haven't.