Call of Duty: WWII's beta shows a welcome return to the golden age of the series
It's a good time to be an FPS fan
Call of Duty has been spiraling downward for many years now. It is still selling well and in most cases it’s doing well critically, but in the eyes of fans, the series is a shell of what it used to be. It has gone so far into the future and has evolved to a point that it’s missing what used to make the moment to moment gunfights so fun and intense. Are the more recent Call of Duty titles bad games? One or two of them might be, but for the most part the modern era of Call of Duty is filled with well-made games that would work better if they just weren’t titled Call of Duty.
To fix this, the studio shifted the franchise from the far flung future with all of its advanced movement back its the roots with Call of Duty: WWII. This game is not only returning to its roots through the game’s setting and core gameplay mechanics, but it has also become more simplified and competent than any other recent entry in the franchise. It’s not so simplified that it feels watered down compared to the likes of an Advanced or Infinite Warfare, but it feels more to the point.
A refined create-a-class system that's simple, balanced, and unique:
For starters, you can ditch the whole character system that was featured in Black Ops 3 and Infinite Warfare. You won’t find anyone with absurd special abilities that turn them into an absolute powerhouse when they’re rocking a KDR of 0.19 halfway through the match. It’s been completely changed to an almost class based system that you can switch between at any point in the match. Sledgehammer has labeled this as “Divisions”. It allows players who like to stick to a particular type of weapon class to benefit from that. If you like ARs or have a habit of instinctively meleeing people, you’ll want to pick the Infantry division which equips all rifles with a bayonet for you to plunge into the chest of a Nazi. If you prefer to flank or go unnoticed, you’ll want to go with Airborne. This division specializes in SMGs and allows you to equip or remove a silencer on the fly during any match. It doesn’t take up any attachment slot and can come in handy more often than you’d think.
There are three other Divisions that benefit players who prefer to use LMGs, shotguns, or sniper rifles. The entire system is a smart replacement for the character based combat seen in the last couple entries in the series and it doesn’t have overpowered rewards, as you progress and play multiple matches you’ll level up your Division and the rewards are subtle but effective.
When you’re creating your class you’re only allowed to pick one perk and grenade. There are no more lethal or tactical categories, you get one or the other and that’s it. The perk system has been reduced to “Basic Training” selections, they still feature iconic Call of Duty perks like Scavenger but they’ve been renamed. People can no longer have an insane and cheap loadout, you get two attachments (three depending on your Division), a primary and secondary, one grenade, three scorestreaks, and a Basic Training selection. It all feels really well thought out and balanced for the most part. It’s what was needed for the series, it allows you to be able to quickly change things between matches if you need to without having a dozen different menus within the create-a-class section.
An intense and immersive World War II experience:
The second you finish creating your loadout and get your boots on the ground, you’ll instantly notice the changes that Sledgehammer has made. Outside of the obvious elements, like not being able to use a jetpack to boost over buildings, you’ll notice maps that have more character to them than before. When you load into a map, no matter the mode, you’ll see various scripted events unfold. It can be something like bombs dropping on the map or planes doing a noisy flyover right over your head. It’s a small detail in the grand scheme of things but helps make the feel maps feel like more than just play environments, it feels like you’re in a war where you’re a soldier who fills a role that does their part.
Once you get out of your spawn and start unloading lead into people and inevitably start racking up your own deaths, you’ll hear the Saving Private Ryan-esque sound design. When your body is getting ripped apart by bullets or you're under heavy fire, you’ll hear that quick but recognizable zeeom sound replicated in various war films to give the feeling of stressful firefights where bullets are whizzing past you. It’s also hard to ignore the incredibly haunting screams from the characters as they’re lit on fire and left to burn in the dirt or hear a disturbing death rattle from an enemy who just had their lungs fill up with blood. While the game is fun to play, the game constantly, but subtly, reminds you that this was not a very happy war and there were very few people laughing or smiling as they rack up kills or watched squadmates die.
Combat is quick and brutal:
Combat is better than ever in Call of Duty: WWII. It feels like an appropriate return to those sweet, sweet moment to moment gunfights where there’s no way for you to boost out of or wall run away from. It’s those quick and intense battles where your palms sweat and stick to your controller that keep you coming back for more, it’s an exhilarating adrenaline rush.
WWII feels more hardcore and subdued in a sense. Maybe it’s just me, but I felt that I was dying a lot faster than usual and that even the slightest nudge would kill me. There were several occasions where I was hit with a grenade, regardless of if it was a lethal one, and the impact of it hitting my body would kill me. The same happened when I would throw it at someone else. It wasn’t always the explosion killing them, just the mere impact of something hitting their leg before it detonated.
It’s unclear if this was an intentional design choice on Sledgehammer’s part as to give the combat more intensity and urgency, but it can be a tad bit annoying at times. It’s an interesting element, but if they want to keep it they need to make players just a bit stronger or have the weapons and impact of items do slightly less damage.
There are some issues present but it's nothing that can't be fixed before release:
On the opposite end of the spectrum, headshots sometimes felt like they weren’t putting people down quickly enough. It could be because everyone is wearing helmets and that Sledghammer beefed up everyone’s heads to be slightly less sensitive, but it was really annoying to put two or three bullets of a heavy MG into someone’s head and have them still up and running enough to find the person shooting at them and kill them (like me).
While most of the game’s weapons feel fairly balanced (there are a couple that need some tweaks), there was one weapon that was a nuisance in the game’s beta. It’s a shotgun that shoots incendiary shells, it deals extra damage even after the initial impact of the rounds hitting your body so it can usually kill you in one hit sometimes two depending on the player’s accuracy and range. Out of curiosity, looked up the history of incendiary ammunition in World War II and sure enough, there was no such thing as an incendiary shotgun, they were only used in airplanes. While the game doesn’t have to be 100% accurate to the time period, it’s a strange inclusion that causes more harm to the balance than good.
There was also a huge issue with spawns in the beta. On more than one occasion in multiple matches, I found myself getting gunned down just mere seconds after spawning. I’d be getting buried six feet under just inches from where I saw myself getting resurrected. It caused immense frustration and gave me no chance to react to my opponent. Hopefully, it gets tweaked in the beta’s second weekend at least but definitely by the final release.
War mode is one of the best modes to ever be added to Call of Duty:
One of the best and biggest innovations to the series is the new War mode. Not to be confused with the World at War multiplayer mode, War mode takes place on its own unique maps which are larger than any other Call of Duty map due to the scale of the mode. The mode is a “narrative” driven and objective based mode which sees an offensive and defensive side battling at specific sections of the map while completing objectives. In the beta, players on offense played as Allied soldiers trying to push the Nazis back to their anti-air guns so they could destroy them and allow their friends in the sky to fly through the airspace unharmed. The map is split into four sections. Section one requires the offense to capture a mansion that the Nazis are occupying, you can only come head on at the front doors or try to flank from the side. If you succeed at that, you must move forward and quickly build a bridge while Nazis unload bullets on anyone who goes near said bridge. The mode continues to escalate as the offensive side pushes closer to the AA guns, the defensive side is eventually granted a flame thrower while the offense is allowed to mount the MG of a mobile on-rails tank.
War has a heavy focus on playing as a team, it completely removes the traditional scoreboard so all you can see is how many kills and points you have. No assists or deaths are featured on it, it’s not about your KDR here. If you go lone wolf, you’ll never make any progress. It’s not about showcasing who’s the best player in the game, it’s about which team can persevere and achieve victory via extensive teamwork.
Additionally, the mode makes great use of all Divisions. Snipers will work here better than any other mode because there are sections where you’ll need to settle in a spot and pick off pesky enemies. SMGs, LMGs, and ARs will make quick work of anyone who gets in your way when you’re charging forward and so on. Rarely will you ever find yourself using one loadout the entire match simply because it’s more helpful and fun to switch between what’s needed at that particular moment.
Truthfully, Call of Duty: WWII beta left me with the impression that it will be one of the best Call of Duty games ever made. Not just the best one in several years, but just straight up one of the best games in the whole series which is nearly two decades old. It’s an all-around satisfying shooter that is fun to play and manages to make things simple without being too boring or bare-bones. Even though there are some issues here and there, it’s nothing that can’t be fixed within the two plus months until the November release. Call of Duty: WWII makes it feel like the series hasn’t missed a beat since Black Ops 2.
The series’ identity crisis is over, the golden age of Call of Duty is back.