Despite Activision taking Call of Duty back to the era that made it such a popular eSports title, the developers have maintained the fast-paced nature of the game that it adopted through some of its more recent titles set in the present and near future. This much-needed stance with gameplay allows the game to set itself apart from all other FPS titles that are also based on the WW2 era. Despite the fact that the CoD franchise took a major slump last year, I have to applaud Activision for taking that risk, and identifying that they probably went too far with the jetpacking and wall-running. The end result is a fantastic, and quite possibly one of the densest Call of Duty titles in the entire franchise, featuring an extensive campaign mode, an incredibly in-depth zombies mode and of course, a multiplayer component that is eSports friendly.
Unfortunately, at the time of writing this review, CoD: WW2 is by no means perfect. Each mode has a variety of issues, some of which are more problematic than others. Nonetheless, if the most recent patch, 1.05, is an indication of Activision’s commitment to fixing as many of these problems as quickly as possible, then I am confident that many of the other issues will also be resolved in due course.
Typically, I never play the campaign mode first with CoD titles. Since it’s EGL’s biggest eSports game and the main attraction is always multiplayer, I generally hop on board and race to the first prestige level just so I can learn the maps and identify the best loadouts before everyone else learns them. However, CoD: WW2 this year had some online server issues at launch, which allowed me to race through the campaign first. You play as Private Daniels, who experiences some of the key moments of WW2 including D-Day, and it’s a fantastic, emotional story that will keep you wanting more right until the end. Of course, since this is Call of Duty, it wouldn’t be the same if the campaign didn’t have its fair share of cinematic moments, which include explosions and near-death sequences. If anything, playing through a campaign set in a historical period was just a nice reminder that Call of Duty is back where it belongs. You can even complete the campaign in one sitting, since it won’t last more than seven hours. During this, you fight plenty of Nazis and unlike other WW2 titles that somehow put you in the shoes of a lone-soldier who can take on the entire enemy, CoD: WW2’s campaign just requires you to survive. It does a fantastic job in making you realise that you’re just one soldier who cannot take on an entire nation, and survival itself feels like a huge win. Whilst this isn’t necessarily a new formula in WW2 titles, it is the first time we are seeing a more human take on the campaign mode for the CoD franchise, and I love it.
I also love the fact that CoD: WW2 is a much harder game to play. We have all been spoiled by Activision’s previous CoD titles, which give us access to gadgets and weapons that require less effort for the gamer to identify targets and take them down. However, the nature of the 1944 setting in the most recent CoD, means that you need to go back to aiming down a sight and finding enemies to hit with little to no assistance. The campaign even gives you a health bar that you need to keep an eye out for! In this year’s campaign, all of the fancy gadgets and equipment that allowed you to take on solo missions, have been replaced with squads of soldiers who will help you in battle. Different squad members have unique abilities, which together, let you tackle situations in different ways. Staying close to them allows you access to the medics, the spotters and even the men who are unleashing artillery strikes. I’d much rather have it this way, and I hope Activision doesn’t change this style of campaign going forward.
Your character also has special skills. Daniels can take control of more special weapons, such as RPGs and sniper rifles. These rarely come about in the campaign, but when they do, you’re in charge of taking control of them and using them the right way. You are assigned tasks to help you get your squad out of trouble, which is a fantastic way of making you feel that you’re just a member of a squad. Other FPS titles make you the centre of attention, and they often make you feel that the friendly AI are just around to protect you. In CoD: WW2, this is not the case. You all have a job to do, and you all need to survive. Sometimes, the friendly AI don’t provide you with the protection you need to do your job, and this can be a bit frustrating. However, the fast-paced nature of the single player experience resulted in these moments feeling scarce. The campaign also provides a variety of missions, including ones where you need to use stealth mechanics to get from A to B. Instead of firing your gun, you’d be sneaking around and using your knife to kill enemies. At times, I felt that the stealth mechanics were broken, because I’d often sneak up to someone to kill them, but instead my soldier would end up meleeing the enemy with the gun rather than knifing him. Stealth missions would therefore often turn into firefights where you’re caught right in the middle.
Multiplayer is of course where CoD shines brightest, and although the game launched with some unavoidable server issues, it is much more stable now. Despite going back to WW2, the game still follows the same formula that it always has. You run, shoot, die and repeat all within seconds. If you’re good enough, you build enough of a scorestreak to obtain UAVs and air packages. Gone are the days of high-tech scorestreaks, but there are still plenty that are powerful enough to completely turn the tide of a game.
One of the biggest changes in multiplayer is the addition of Divisions, which are essentially classes. Different classes have different abilities. There is a social hub for the online mode, called Headquarters. The social mode took quite a beating by the public when the game first released, as it was everything but stable. However, I can access it now and when it works, it’s a great feature. Luckily, the developers made a mistake (or I can only assume it was a mistake) and gave us all double XP on launch weekend, which allowed me to grind to as many levels as possible. This gives you access to more weapons, and some of the subsequent weapons do feel a lot better. I haven’t yet seen what all of the pros are using, but I cannot imagine the default weapons being the favoured choices. Each weapon can also be levelled up to unlock attachments for it. Therefore, you need to commit yourself to specific weapons to ensure that even they are the best they can be.
Activision has also introduced side objectives in the form of Orders and Contracts. Here, you can choose objectives in the menus, and when completing them, will give you additional XP or loot crates. This helps you level up even quicker, and as things stand, a lot of these side objectives are very easy to complete. Many of the supply drops just give you fancier skins for your weapons. Sometimes you get rare weapons, and when these are given, you really do feel lucky. Fortunately, none of these rare weapons should give you an advantage over opponents. All of this takes place in Headquarters, and one of the coolest features in CoD: WW2 is that other gamers in the hub can also see your supply drops in real-time. If you unlock something cool, other gamers will be able to see this too. The animation is brilliant too. Headquarters is also an area where you can access the theatre to watch pro events take place. Activision has clearly taken inspiration from Destiny, and I won’t be surprised if a huge emphasis on expanding Headquarters is taken place in subsequent CoD titles. You can even test out scorestreaks in Headquarters!
The game comes with five divisions for you to choose from: Infantry, Mountain, Armored, Airborne and Expeditionary. Each division lets you have specific perks for specific weapon classes. Some of the perks from previous CoD games have been integrated with these divisions. As an example, Expeditionary allows you to pick up ammo from dead bodies, which is essentially the Scavenger perk. You can unlock all divisions and choose which one to play as in each match. However, these divisions have replaced the Pick 10 system from previous CoDs, and now combined the various perks into the divisions. There is still a lot of grinding to do for each division, but this is what the franchise has always been about. CoD: WW2 also introduces female characters to the multiplayer mix. I’m sure some feminist groups who have nothing better to do in their spare time will question the morality of shooting women online, but the game isn’t about shooting women.
The game comes packaged with nine maps in total. Season pass holders have access to an additional map, and it also contains three maps for War modes. Most maps lend themselves well to SMG and assault rifle gameplay. Some are useful for sniping, but I don’t think any map is sniping-specific. The nature of sniping in CoD is such that a gamer who wants to snipe, will be able to do that in any map. Quick scoping still exists in CoD, and whilst I am not a fan of the mechanic since I believe that the hit boxes aren’t accurate, this is a mechanic that has always been popular and therefore I cannot really question its existence.
Those who played the beta will be very familiar with maps like Point Du Hoc, which gives you intense gunfights in trenches. The beta maps have already become the most popular ones, but maps like Flak Tower are my favourites due to the environments playing a part too.
CoD: WW2 also introduces War, a new mode which has its own maps. Here, one team is attacking whilst the other defends. It’s not a new formula in FPS titles. If anything, it looks like Activision is playing catch up here, as games like Battlefield have been doing this for ages. As a team completes an objective, they push the defenders back to hold the next one. Each objective is varied in nature, from escorting tanks to building bridges. It is the more frustrating out of all modes, as it’s just not something you can play alone. You need to be part of a good group of people in order to have any success. I can jump into a normal public match and hold my own, but in War, I often found myself getting destroyed. I like the thinking behind the mode, but I don’t see it being eSports friendly. For public rooms too, the problem is that the mentality of gamers is such that they rarely play the objective. As an attacker, it is borderline infuriating when I watch allies run right past the objective just to try and get a cheap kill that doesn’t benefit the objective – most of the time the ally gets killed too, leaving you exposed. I can’t see myself going back to War unless I am playing with a large party of friends that I can rely on. I do love the fact that one of the War modes is essentially the Normandy mission. As someone who studied this period of history as a child, it felt great being able to experience it in CoD.
Other popular eSports mode make a return too. TDM, Hardpoint, Domination etc. are all part of the standard multiplayer package. Some of these modes are friendlier for the novice gamer than others. As an example, playing Hardpoint against a team who know the map and mode is practically impossible if you’re not playing with people you know. These players will know the order of the points and will choke all of the spawn points before you know it. Domination is my favourite mode, as you have a fighting chance of winning as long as just a handful of people are trying to capture and hold the points.
There is no doubt in my mind that CoD: WW2 brings multiplayer back to where it needs to be in order to reclaim the throne as the most popular eSports shooter on consoles.
Strangely, one of my personal favourites in the CoD package is actually its Nazi Zombies offering. We have all played zombies before, but the developers have treated us well this year. Zombies allows you to take part in a four-player co-op frenzy set in a dark and twisted environment. There are more upgrade options than ever before, and is a much better mode if you want to socialise online with random players, without the headache of competitive matchmaking. There is an overarching story to the mode, where you need to retrieve some stolen art by taking on hordes of Nazi zombies. David Tennant also lends his voice superbly, and all characters have plenty of dialogue to make this feel like its own campaign. I would have expected the mode to be more terrifying than it actually was, but from time to time there are some cheap thrills to be had.
The best thing about zombies is that you can always play with different people, and it will feel different every single time. If you want, you can even play through it in a much harder difficulty setting, and carry out side objectives to make the experience as challenging as possible. As you play through a match, more areas within the map are unlocked for you to gain access. Eventually, you’ll have access to a very large playing area, although you’ll often still get trapped if you run off alone! To assist, there are consumables to help replenish ammo, provide options at a discounted rate etc. These are all one-time use though, so you need to ration your consumables carefully.
Zombies also has loot crates, which help you gain some of these consumables or (hopefully) much-needed weapons. Most of the time, I found myself relying less on these drops, as they often weren’t helpful when it came to fighting off the zombies. Your character will assume one of four roles: support, medic, control and offense. Each class has special abilities, and a team of players who maximize the use of their classes ends up blending very well. There is also a levelling system for zombies, separate to the normal multiplayer. Each role can be modified with perks throughout the match to get you out of sticky situations.
Call of Duty: WW2 is the complete package. Even without a season pass, the sheer level of content that you have immediate access to far surpasses the price of a normal retail game. Most importantly, Activision has taken CoD back to the historic period that gamers seem to enjoy the most, whilst keeping it fresh through the introduction of new modes and play styles (through divisions). The opening weekend sales figures compared to CoD last year are a clear indication that the WW2 era is what gamers want, and Activision has knocked it out of the park.