War.. War never changes..
When Activision announced that Call of Duty would be continuing with its trek into the future of war with Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, fans were outraged. The reveal trailer became one of the most disliked trailers of all time and this led to poor sales when compared to the highs the series was known for. When this years Call of Duty was announced to go back to the series roots with a 'boots on the ground' World War II shooter, you would have to think this must have been in response to the poor reception of both Infinite Warfare and the previous future-tech Call of Duty installments. While it's nice to see the series return to its beginnings, it does so with a somewhat forgettable campaign and a by-the-numbers multiplayer experience.
Set within many of the World War II events and locations we've seen before, Call of Duty: WWII opens once again on the beaches of Normandy, with soldier after soldier being slaughtered before they even leave the boat. Despite this being a whole new campaign, much of what happens here feels as if this is a brushed off and dusted port of an older game. There are some nice subtle details and additions to the old-school Call of Duty formula, but nothing that feels impressive or innovative.
This is another campaign with the same typical moments like crawling on the ground towards a gun that has been knocked from your hand or a soldier yelling at you after an explosion has knocked you down and you are disorientated with that annoying ringing in your ears. These moments are literally in every Call of Duty game and they make an appearance here multiple times throughout the 6-7 hour campaign. There are also some quick-time events where you attempt to gain control on a close combat struggle and these moments are just flat out awful.
While you will jump around to a few different characters throughout the story, the large majority of the campaign is spent playing as Daniels. Being a soldier in the war genre, each character is solely referred to by their last name. You'll have Zussman, Stiles, and Aiello as members of your core squad. You are commanded by Sgt. Pierson and Lt. Turner. The cast is decent but hardly memorable. You may recognize Pierson from the Michael Bay Transformers movies and the actor who plays Zussman is a face you may have seen before but you'd be hard-pressed to remember where. The actual in-game characters are fairly decent here with their cutscene models looking far better in comparison. This can at times be a very good looking game, but it doesn't impress nearly as much as what EA has been doing with the likes of Battlefield One, and Battlefront 2.
While the core squad gets along fine, it's the 'never satisfied' Pierson that causes the most drama within the group and questions every call. This archetype can often feel very stale and typical as there is always that type of character in stories like this. There are countless times the game attempts to invoke some sort of emotional feeling from events that happen to you or your squad, but the development of this group of young men just isn't as solid as it should be. You'll often see Stiles and Aiello deal with the fallout of certain events than being involved in them directly. The only actual emotional events that affect any specific characters are through Zussman and Turner and depending on how much you are invested into them, may be satisfying or lacking in what you want from a World War II narrative.
The missions themselves vary from your standard run and gun to vehicle-based warfare. There is a rare occurrence here of Call of Duty attempting something new with a mission where you'll memorize your false history as a Nazi officer and infiltrate a command center, attempting to keep your story straight and complete your mission. It's a thrilling bit of stealth and deception that I wish went on longer and was a bit more involving. As for the shooting and vehicle moments, they are what you come to expect from a typical Call of Duty campaign. I say 'what you come to expect' and 'typical Call of Duty' because that is this game in a nutshell. Much of what is here are events or variations on what we have seen or played before.
Apart from storming the beaches of Normandy, the Liberation of Paris, and taking part in the Battle of the Bulge, you are doing so against Nazi forces and not a specific enemy in particular. There are a few moments in the late game where it seemed they were setting up a story villain, but they don't, and while I'm all for taking down waves and waves of faceless enemies, I do wish the game had given me someone to have as a villain, a driving force to push me through the story.
Relying on your teammates in war is a crucial element to not only the game but the genre as a whole. WWII attempts to create that bond between you and your squad by making them offer you assistance when you need it most. Health, for example, does not regenerate and you have to solely rely on health kits to stay in the fight. Certain characters have a perk that can refill health, ammo, or highlight enemy forces to make them easier to spot.
While it is possible to survive with what you find as you explore your environment, these perks can come in handy as long as that person is nearby and the cooldown for that perk to be used again has expired. This system sounds great in theory, but since you have to be right next to them and facing them, it doesn't work so well when you are surrounded by waves of enemies and unclear where everyone is. I believe that the system would have been far better had you been able to request that they drop everything and come find you rather than you brave the bullet-ridden battlefield for an extra grenade or health kit.
With returning to World War II and not some time period in the far-flung future, the weapon selection in the game are mostly guns we have used before. Assault rifles, carbines, submachine guns, sniper rifles and rocket launchers all return and apart from a few rifles with somewhat awkward scopes or aiming notches, you are bound to find a favorite and attempt to keep it throughout the mission. I rarely used pistols unless it had a silencer and that is mostly during missions where stealth is your friend. While you can knife enemies in the neck, there is a very awkward pistol slap that doesn't always kill enemies and it often led to me getting detected.
As is the case with every Call of Duty, the best weapons, and the biggest reason to use them is in the offered multiplayer experience. While I am a Call of Duty player mostly just for its campaign, I do dive into the online offerings for at least a week or so before I usually tire of them. As with the campaign, the experience for multiplayer is also more of the same as Sledgehammer Games have done little to really shake up the core Call of Duty gameplay. With the game earning over 500 million in sales in the first 24 hours, I am pretty sure that next years Call of Duty will be more of the same as well.
Call of Duty's multiplayer is about ranking up, earning new perks, weapons, and always attempting to have a leg up on your competition. Sometimes a new weapon will change your outlook on the game or you'll find a certain game type that works well within your skill set. Either way, if the online offerings of past Call of Duty games haven't been your thing, this latest version will be hard pressed to convince you otherwise.
By joining matches to take down enemy players or by completing objectives via the various game modes, these actions will net you xp to rank up. You can also earn xp via completing orders and contracts. These are small bite-sized tasks like killing a certain number of players or winning a match in a certain game type and these will reward you with experience or supply drops. Supply Drops carry various items but seem, at least so far, to mostly just contain cosmetic items like gun skins, xp bonuses, and emotes for your victory poses at the end of a match. Supply Drops, which are Call of Duty's take on loot boxes, have quite a bit of controversy around them.
Between matches, you will be able to run around in the new social space dubbed; The Headquarters. This is a hub-like world similar to the Tower in Destiny, if just a fraction of the size. When you open these Supply Drops each player around you can see what you get, essentially teasing other players with that fancy new skin or some other must-have rewards. While you cannot currently pay real money for the chance to earn these loot boxes, which I might add, can also be earned through completing orders, contracts, and other activities, it isn't long before a real money store will be implemented and every player opening these boxes becomes a living advertisement.
The Headquarters is a very interesting idea, but currently, due to server issues or some other network problems, I have yet to run into another player there. The area itself isn't terribly large but there is still a few fun things to do. You can unlock old arcade games like pitfall 2 and Chopper Command, earn bonus currency via the mail desk, accept orders and contracts, or test out score streak skills to see which ones work for you. While the area is a neat inclusion and a solid replacement for standard menu's, it wears out its novelty very quickly.
One of the new additions to WWII is Divisions. While these can in some ways feel like the class system of Black Ops III, which I absolutely loved, they are not as visually distinct as that. While yes, each class here does have a different look, the real-life aspects of the era do limit the fact you can't have robots or anything flashy like that. The Divisions do look to shake up certain playstyles and do make multiplayer matches fairly enjoyable wondering who and what you are up against. The five Divisions are Infantry, Airborne, Armored, Mountain, and Expeditionary.
Each Division will start with its own primary weapon and have a specific skill to use like how the Infantry Division has a Bayonet charge or the Airbourne class can apply a suppressor to stop gunfire from appearing on enemy radar. There are also Basic Training perks that further define your character and role such as the Armored Division's ability to carry extra magazines or that the Expeditionary can summon scorestreaks for a lower cost.
You don't have a tremendous amount of customization with regards to crafting your player as you merely have the ability to choose male or female and then from a small selection of faces. You will unlock new outfits for each Division as you obtain them through Supply drops.
Currently, WWII offers nine maps across its multiplayer offerings with one exclusive map for season pass holders. There are also three maps devoted to the War mode as well. You have many of your typical modes returning; team deathmatch, kill confirmed, domination, search and destroy, hardpoint, gridiron, and capture the flag. Most of the maps are pretty decent even if they feel a bit designed around lane-play rather than natural flowing level design. My favorite level is Ardennes Forest, which is a winter-based level built around a German encampment. It has some engaging zones where combat is almost constant and just makes for a very fast paced match. The map, USS Texas, felt far too similar to what I've played before when Call of Duty would make a map featuring combat on the deck of a large ship.
Call of Duty: WWII introduces a new mode called War. This is essentially an attack and defend mode similar in almost every way to the Rush mode in Battlefield. You take turns attacking and defending and each time the attackers complete an objective, you are pushed back on the map until the final objective is completed. While I enjoyed being on the attack, I didn't care for defending at all. I don't dislike the mode in general, but it won't be one to keep me playing when the other modes are far more consistently engaging and rewarding.
Zombies also make a return, because of course it does, and feels far more similar to the first few installments of Zombies due to the time era it takes place in. A solid cast of actors is here in their various roles as you can play as David Tennant (Doctor Who, Jessica Jones), Katheryn Winnick (Vikings), Elodie Yung (Daredevil), and finally, Ving Rhames (Mission Impossible). When I saw that both Elodie Yung and Katheryn Winnick were included, I was beyond excited. I really enjoyed Yung in the role of Elektra on Netflix's Daredevil, and recently I've got into the TV show Vikings and find Winnick to be such a wonderful talent.
The annihilation of zombies here is as it has always been. You rack up a score as you kill zombies and use that score to purchase new guns, access to new sections of the map and complete objectives during each of the waves to progress the narrative. While playing with a group of strangers isn't as social as I think it should be, it still is a mode where teamwork is crucial if you plan to survive further into the later waves of undead. I played countless waves where players would ignore the objectives and this can lead to a lot of frustration. While the map is very fairly large, repeated play can tend to lessen the impact the level will have as you retread the same area over and over again as you complete the same objectives time and time again. I really wish that Zombies would feature procedural levels that offered up new paths and objectives to complete each time I would log in.
You will provide support to your teammates through the use of roles you choose for each character. These allow you to either have unlimited ammo for a short duration, be hidden from zombies, a burst that knocks enemies back, or unleash double damage while you are chased down by the hordes of undead. When you reach level 5 you can customize loadouts and create the type of character you want.
The map is fairly well spaced and the objectives are somewhat easy to figure out, but again, if you don't have some form of communication, especially with a group who is unaware of certain things like how the power generators work on a timer, then you'll find yourself down on the ground bleeding out often.
Call of Duty: World War II is a mixed bag of content but can be enjoyable if you aren't looking for any real innovation. The campaign is built around events and character moments but fails to really have much in the way of an actual story. The over-the-top action moments the series is often criticized for are here in full force and the strict paths you are intended to follow can make the experience feel even more scripted than ever before. With the brand being what it is and the game always projected to sell millions of copies in mere hours, I can't honestly see Activision wanting to truly innovate or spend more money on the title than it needs to. Call of Duty has the chance to become far better than it has become and I'm sure that we will see another bland and typical Call of Duty experience next year as well.