Review: Call of Duty: WWII is a triumphant return to the golden age of the series
The reboot that the series needed.
Platforms: Reviewed on Xbox One and PS4. Call of Duty: WWII is also available on PC.
Developer: Sledgehammer Games
It’s been nearly a decade since the last World War II Call of Duty game. Since then, we’ve gotten a couple really good games set in modern day that innovated the game’s multiplayer by adding a plethora of killstreaks, perks, weapons, and attachments. Then the series graduated towards the next logical step in the series: futuristic warfare. It started off with good intentions, posing genuine questions about where technology is leading us and how dangerous it could be and then it quickly devolved into a franchise that was seen as a shell of its former self by most fans.
With Call of Duty: WIII we’re back where we started: World War II. The fourteenth main entry in the Call of Duty series throws us back to one of the deadliest wars ever fought and it portrays that one single fact with something that is close to perfection. When Call of Duty began, it was a shooter that was rated T for Teens, now, the game has taken it up a notch to M for Mature, allowing more of the brutal nature of war to be shown off.
A gritty, haunting story of comradery and the brutality of war:
In Call of Duty: WWII, the utter brutality of war is incredibly present. Within the first five or ten minutes, you’re storming the beaches of Normandy on D-Day and witnessing your fellow soldiers getting quickly ripped apart by bullets so fast that they can’t even scream, blood splatters across your screen, men are seen flailing and screaming as they run across the beaches unafraid of the hailstorm of lead because they’re on fire. Meanwhile, you’re picking up items off of men who have lost all of their limbs. It was incredibly horrific and disturbing to watch these events unfold mostly due to the very impressive and lifelike graphics.
The game’s unrelenting violence isn’t for the sake of enjoyment, it’s meant to make you uneasy and to show a soldier’s perspective of the horrors that unfold around him. Up until the credits rolled, I found myself incredibly enticed by the game’s grit, however, there were some moments where the game felt a tad restrained. The slaughter of dozens of troops is something that keeps replaying in my mind but there were a few moments that just felt like Sledgehammer didn’t want to fully commit to showing the tragedies seen during this war. At one point in the story, your squad enters an abandoned Nazi labor camp and there are some disturbing things left behind by the Nazis but it doesn’t paint the full picture. You can find much more grotesque things on the subject in school textbooks. The scene is meant to be powerful an make the player feel shocked and disgusted, but it ends up as coming off weak and tame in the long run.
While the ultimate goal of the game is to reach an area known as “The Rhine”, the story isn’t so much as focused on winning the war as it is as developing a bond with your squad. There’s Daniels, the playable character and a Private from Texas, Zussman, Daniels’ best friend, Stiles, a well-educated photographer who is referred to by the group as “College”, and Aiello, a veteran and New York native. The squad is lead by a hard ass named Pierson (played by Transformers star Josh Duhamel) and Lt. Turner, who is much more kind and forgiving than the almost intolerable Sgt. Pierson.
The banter between the squad both during and before/after missions is well done and gives everyone specific traits without falling too deep into trope territory. They have a brotherly connection between them and it makes moments a bit emotional at times, the characters resonate with the player in unexpected ways. It feels so natural like there’s a sense of comradery, and it doesn’t come off as forced to make a death later in the game more emotional, they speak to each other like actual friends and like they care even if they’re picking on each other.
One character in particular, Sgt. Pierson, brings a lot of tension due to his hard as nails personality. He’s cruel and almost dangerous, you begin to wonder if his lack of caring is going to lead to the inevitable doom of your brothers in arms. Anytime the gang was chatting and Pierson’s voice could be heard off-screen as he was walking into frame, a sense of fear swept over the group. Most of the main characters have legitimate arcs but Pierson’s is one of the most developed (aside from Daniels’).
Throughout the franchise, Call of Duty campaigns have typically strived to be on the level of a summer blockbuster with big set pieces and a narrative on a galactic scale. Call of Duty: WWII doesn't deviate entirely from the age-old Call of Duty campaign design. While those blockbuster attempts are there, the campaign makes a strong and successful attempt to focus on characters, some of the harsh realities of war, and intimate storytelling.
As previously mentioned, the violence and action are ruthless. When the game kicks into gear during D-Day, it feels like it grabs you by the collar and rapidly shakes you for nearly 8 hours until the credits roll. There are brief periods of time for you to catch a breath but when the guns start firing and explosions can be heard, get ready for intense and visceral combat that’s both scripted and unscripted.
The game tries to remain as grounded as possible but there are a few times where it can’t help but indulge in some Michael Bay action moments where a church bell tower collapses on top of you or a train gets derailed. I could count how many times this happens on just one hand, they’re scattered throughout the game so it doesn’t get overly ridiculous but when they happen they’re pretty extreme, for better or worse.
Call of Duty: WWII makes a valid attempt to switch up the gameplay so you aren’t just a one-man army and to have a reason to rely on your squad too. Instead of having health that regenerates like past games, you’ll have to call out to Zussman for a health pack or find one lying around. It keeps you from just going Rambo on all the Germans and adds a sense of realism to the game. This extends to getting ammo, grenades, and more, it’s a nice mechanic that works well specifically for a game with this setting and type of story. You’ll find yourself playing more carefully, peeking out from cover to shoot your gun, not rushing into rooms without getting an idea of your surroundings, and so on. You will also have to suspend your disbelief while playing because you do mow down hundreds, if not thousands, of Nazis. It’s something that you can’t really help when making a Call of Duty game so you’ll just have to try and look past it if something like that actually bothers you.
A simplified multiplayer that strikes a fine balance between old and new and prospers with its innovations:
While the game tries to remain grounded in the campaign, the multiplayer is still the same tried and true core formula that has worked time and time again. A fast-paced shooter that keeps the player constantly engaged and doesn’t have much of a learning curve. Sledgehammer has made a number of changes big and small to keep things fresh for players. Gone are the days of complex weapon variants, frustrating pick 10 class systems, and so forth, the game is much simpler and makes the time between matches feel long enough for you to set up a class. With the last few entries, it just felt like there were too many options and it became overwhelming.
WWII has completely refined the create-a-class system with “Divisions”. At the start of the game, you’re allowed to pick from five different Divisions, each one specializes in a certain play style and weapons class. If you pick Infantry, you’ll likely be playing with an assault rifle, if you play Mountain, you’ll likely be hiding in the distance and picking off enemies with a sniper rifle. The more you play in your division, you’ll be granted extra bonuses specific to your division like not being able to get detected by a UAV or spawning with additional magazines for your weapon. If you aren’t keen on sniping but want the benefits of the Mountain division, you can slide a shotgun, SMG, or whatever your heart desires in as a primary. It’s a nice way to have designated classes for certain playstyles and makes it easy to set up your character how you want.
Additionally, you’re not armed to the teeth with weapons and gear. You get one perk (renamed to Basic Training in WWII), one lethal or tactical grenade, and a primary and a secondary. This may sound like a really poor choice for SHG but it works so well that it would probably be suited for future CoD titles.
It’s nice to be able to have your boots firmly planted on the ground once again in a Call of Duty multiplayer game, no more cheap tactics where someone boosts over your head or is so high in the air that you can’t tilt your head to shoot them. It’s classic Call of Duty and it’s never felt so good. Almost every single aspect of the game is performed with incredible finesse but there are a few guns that need to be nerfed. The shotguns are super powerful, there are some guns like the BAR that have little to no recoil, and the snipers are way too easy to use, anyone with the brain capacity of a toaster could pick up 10 kills minimum with a sniper rifle. Balancing issues are always prevalent when a new FPS launches but one can only hope that they’re addressed quickly.
There are some maps that don't exactly stick the landing, some are far too open and large but they are by no means awful. There's a lot of different ways to flank which is more bad than good, sure it's great when you're playing offense and working the flank but it seems that there are too many paths and it becomes hard to properly defend yourself.
For those thinking that Call of Duty: WWII is just the same old franchise with an updated coat of paint, there are a bunch of new elements to the multiplayer. The new innovations resonate with players, they aren’t forgettable or minor, they’re significant and will likely be missed if not implemented in future titles.
The best new feature to Call of Duty multiplayer is War mode. It’s hard to pitch War in a nutshell but it’s essentially an objective based mode on a large map exclusive to this game mode. The map is sectioned off to specific objectives unique to that map and the offensive side has to complete the objective and push the defense back to unlock the next part of the map. It’s very dynamic and clearly has had a lot of work put into it, one example that sticks out is that there are AI troops that spawn a D-Day-esque map that runs through the shallow water with you that inevitably get mowed down by the mounted MGs in the bunker you have to seize. There are only three maps for War mode right now but I can’t wait to see it get expanded upon.
Players will also quickly notice one other new feature when they launch multiplayer; a social space known as Headquarters. Up to 40 players can gather on the captured beaches of Normandy which is home to a makeshift base for the Allies, here they can shoot at a shooting range, challenge others to a 1 V 1, or gather Contracts or Orders. Contracts and Orders are optional challenges that encourage you to play in specific ways or kill a certain amount of players in matches in a small period of time. They’re a fun way to keep you playing in different ways and they reward you with XP and loot crates (which are purely cosmetic, don’t worry).
A zombies mode that will be remembered fondly:
If you’re just here for the zombies, you likely won’t be disappointed. Sledgehammer has done away with the wackiness of Infinite Warfare’s take on the mode but it is still oozing with creativity and originality. The mode stays in line with the more grim tone of the campaign and keeps things pretty bleak, making the studio’s horror roots shine through a tad.
Sledgehammer's stab at the now classic mode is one that will require patience and skill. After playing about 15 rounds solo, I had to step away out of fear that my inevitable death would cause intense rage. They throw a lot of zombies at you and for those who enjoy taking on the optional objectives/completing the easter egg, you're going to have to do a lot of multi-tasking and have some extra hands that are more than capable of defending themselves. The difficulty is welcomed but it certainly isn't for the faint of heart.
There are some odd things that seem to have been taken out, I was never able to create a train of zombies like previous titles and I never successfully created any crawlers. Maybe it was just bad luck but some iconic gameplay trademarks seem to have been straight up removed for no reason whatsoever. Sledgehammer does implement their own new creations with mini-boss zombies that continue to lurk even after a wave has been completed and more. It’s obviously pretty difficult to try and compete with the iconic maps created by Treyarch but Sledgehammer makes theirs feel one in the same with the best in the series.
Littered with technical glitches but is visually compelling, possibly one of the best looking games:
So, you may be wondering at this point “Is there anything that is actually bad about Call of Duty: WWII?” Sadly, yes. This game feels technically incompetent, there are absurdly long load screens that sometimes last multiple minutes at a time, there’s a constant visual stutter when playing the campaign that breaks any immersion at all, and the multiplayer menus glitch out all the time by freezing until the next match starts or straight up booting you all the way back to the main menu of the game.
At the time of writing, the servers are slowly leveling themselves out after being pummeled for an entire weekend. Sledgehammer has ultimately emptied out all Headquarters lobbies so when you go to HQ, the only people there are you and your party. There's no word as to when or if Headquarters' 40 player capacity will return but it was likely contributing to the major server issues.
Rarely do Call of Duty games feel plagued by technical flaws but WWII is littered with them, it becomes a major nuisance and hinders a lot of the enjoyment to be had with this well-made shooter.
On the bright side, the game is quite the looker. WWII is one of the best looking games out there right now, that's especially true with its cutscenes which are second to none. The amount of detail on the character models both in-game and in pre-rendered cutscenes is immaculate and it's truly an achievement that Sledgehammer accomplished what they did. There were more than a few times where I just sat there and gawked at the incredible graphics. People picking up an Xbox One X will no doubt be satisfied with how this game looks, it's nothing short of stunning.
It's not without its flaws, but after nearly 40 hours of playing, I can safely say that Call of Duty: WWII is a strong reminder as to why the Call of Duty franchise is so beloved. Call of Duty: WWII features spectacular multiplayer and a bombastic story that pushes the quality of cinematic masterpieces like Band of Brothers or Saving Private Ryan in more ways than one. Sure, it doesn’t fully commit to being a historically accurate period piece that depicts the heinous acts committed in World War II, but it does enough to get its point across and could easily be the best campaign in the series. The multiplayer does have some balance issues to work out but the changes made to the mode make it feel like every decision was carefully thought out, even the design choices that could’ve felt like they were taking the series a step backward are done so well that they push the series forward.
Even though Sledgehammer Games is relatively new to this franchise, longtime Call of Duty veteran developers Infinity Ward and Treyarch could learn from this up and coming studio. Call of Duty: WWII is both a return to form for those craving a taste of classic Call of Duty and a new step in a direction that could right all of the wrongs of the series up to this point. If you’ve fallen off of the series because of the recent games, Call of Duty: WWII is easily the best entry in the series this generation and it rightfully begs for you to come back to experience its glorious and triumphant return.