Taking Call of Duty back to the past was a smart move. Sledgehammer Games’ first crack at the series since 2014’s Advanced Warfare exudes confidence in its product and slew of offerings, though it doesn’t necessarily maintain momentum throughout. Call of Duty: WWII’s single-player campaign falls into an identity crisis early on, and fails to give depth to its characters and its story. However, the multiplayer remains rock solid and Zombies’ return to a focus on horror is excellent.
Taking the reigns of Texas-born Ronald “Red” Daniels, Call of Duty: WWII’s single-player campaign thrusts you into the thick of the Second World War. It’s 1944, and the Americans are making their way to key locations around Germany and surrounds in an effort to put an end to the war once and for all. Morale is noticeably high. Of course, that all falls apart when Daniels and his band of brothers hit the beach on D-Day, and from there, things only get worse.
This year’s campaign is a tale of two halves. For the first half of the campaign, you’re treated to classic Call of Duty moments – the high-octane ‘holy shit’ moments that players come to expect in each year’s iteration. In the context of World War II and the atrocities that were committed throughout, these moments often take away from the feeling of tension the campaign tries to push.
Daniels shouldn’t be some sort of super soldier, yet these moments – comprised of car chases, dodging a giant bell in a crumbling bell tower, and seemingly holding off hundreds upon hundreds of Nazis in just minutes – seem to push the envelope a bit too much in that direction. After all of the buzz surrounding the game’s campaign in the months leading up to launch this year, I can’t help but feel what Sledgehammer has done has been a misstep.
It doesn't feel all that meaningful in any way, and the grounded, realistic depictions of World War II I was hoping to see were thrown away for the same routine Call of Duty campaign we’ve ventured through time and time again – minus the futuristic setting and weaponry from the last few titles.
That said, the second half of the campaign does manage to tap a bit into the war’s effect on nations and their people, and mission structure tends to open up from here as well. Of particular note is a stealth section which sees you take control of a French resistance fighter, infiltrating a Nazi stronghold in order to gain valuable munitions for a rebel attack. It’s a shame that things like this – fascinating depictions of World War II’s impact on nations that aren’t just based around America – take a backseat for a shooting-focussed, American-led campaign that ultimately feels repetitive and lacklustre.
After the disappointment of this year’s campaign, things take a turn for the better with the game’s multiplayer. Sledgehammer has done well to prise out the vertical space and movement options in previous Call of Duty games, while still managing to make the multiplayer fun and engaging. Given the timeline, movement feels especially grounded this time around, and while map design is not fantastic, the new additions and modes available, alongside the sound design and weaponry choices, are all excellent inclusions.
Divisions is one of WWII’s biggest additions, and is all about giving you choice when it comes to class-based gameplay, and tuning things to your specific play style. From Airborne to Infantry, each division lines you up with a specific set of perks (which continue to unlock as you play with the class), allowing you to focus on strategy and preparation prior to jumping into a match.
The Infantry class, for example, allows you to attach a bayonet to your primary weapon, making melee kills more gruesome and a bit quicker than the average punt with the backend of a gun. Levelling up the Infantry class also gives you an extra attachment slot on your primary weapon, and it is these types of little perks – which vary greatly depending on your division choice – that make experimentation and pushing on with the levelling grind that much more rewarding in the long run.
Another new inclusion is Headquarters, a Destiny-esque social space for the game’s multiplayer that struggled to work at all throughout the entirety of WWII’s launch weekend. What it’s supposed to do, though, is load in a bunch of players and allow you to freely navigate Omaha Beach, picking up contracts (which task you with a specific objective in-game, in turn netting you XP or points to spend on more contracts), payouts and special items, opening up loot crates for all to see, and a couple of other little things as well. Think a social hub for a bunch of players, and that’s what Sledgehammer has gone for here. It’s the main hub for all things multiplayer, and editing your class, finding matches, and grouping up with friends all happen around this area within menus.
I don’t mind the idea behind having a social space in a game like Call of Duty, but it does seem to affect the game’s post-match lobby system, slowing it down to a crawl or flat-out breaking it altogether in some instances. More often than not, I’d finish up a match and it would take upwards of 10 seconds to load back to the post-match report screen. And if it didn’t feel like co-operating, I’d instead get glitched menus that wouldn’t allow me to exit the lobby without a full game reset. It was really frustrating.
However, when the action gets going, there’s no other game that plays quite like Call of Duty does. Movement is tight and quick, guns feel great to use, and sound design is as good as it’s ever been. Taking the series back to World War II has given Sledgehammer a unique opportunity to really dial things back in terms of movement and gameplay (especially after the last handful of entries), and it works to a T. Corridor-based, reactionary shooting is well and truly something WWII prides itself on, and I’ve had a blast levelling up and venturing through all of the game’s modes.
On that note, another big addition to this year’s multiplayer comes in the way of objective-based game mode War. Essentially, War pits two teams (one attacking, one defending) against one another in a multi-staged match. Attacking players are tasked with breaking through defensive lines, planting bombs, escorting vehicles, and the like, whereas defenders have to try and cut them down and keep them away from completing set objectives until a timer expires. If they don’t and the attacking team completes their set objectives, the attackers will move on to the next objective, the timer resets, and the map expands.
This is the first time Call of Duty has properly taken on a mode like this one, and I found War to be a joy to play. It’s different to anything else available in WWII, and the Omaha Beach map in particular is fantastic to play. However, there does seem to still be some balancing issues, with attacking players often struggling to pierce through defences unless they co-operate and delegate roles effectively. You could argue that that’s the main aim of the mode and you’d be right, but you also have to consider that a good amount of Call of Duty players tend to veer off and do their own thing, inevitably making players wanting to progress with an objective stuck and frustrated.
Stripping away the futuristic movement system seen in previous Call of Duty entries means that this year’s iteration really needed to rework the maps and ensure they cater for all kinds of playstyles. However, after a good amount of hours exploring each map in all of the multiplayer modes on offer, I’m left a little disappointed. WWII encourages camping and sniping more than any Call of Duty in recent memory.
While I might just be fabricating these thoughts because it’s been so long since we’ve had a Call of Duty game that’s solely relied on grounded combat, it’s still frustrating to continue to get mown down by campers over and over again without a way of taking them out. This is all due to the way the maps have been designed and set out. One particular map, which takes place on a massive war ship, was consistently filled with campers on both sides, leading to low scoring matches and frustrated players. It just wasn’t all that fun.
If you can look past that, however, this year’s entry is rock solid with its setup for multiplayer. The setting, weaponry, and big additions in divisions and War make for some of the most enjoyable multiplayer moments I’ve had in years, only marred by the fact I’d be struck down by a group of campers every now and again. There’s certainly an adjustment period, as the game is noticeably slower than previous titles, but it’s well worth it when you finally find the right weapon, the right perks, and the right division to run with, and that’s what makes Call of Duty such an enjoyable experience.
The return of a horror-focussed Nazi Zombies is the best thing about Call of Duty: WWII. Sledgehammer Games, with its array of talent developing in the horror space, really knows what it is doing when it comes to making this mode scary and filled with tension. It’s arguably the best Zombies experience in years.
The mode’s only map for launch, titled The Final Reich, sees players thrown inside a Bavarian village with very little to guide them aside from a few key objectives and visual cues. Much like previous Zombies maps, repetition and trying to go one round further is a key pillar in succeeding in Nazi Zombies, and it’s an absolute blast throughout.
Of course, co-op is encouraged (and almost necessary) to get further into both the mode’s rounds and map, and there are some fantastic surprises along the way. I found the character design and level of detail really padded out the Zombies experience this year, and combined with meaningful Zombie-specific loot crates (that tend to add something useful to your character and their loadout), as well as excellent sound design that made me jump more than I’d like to admit, this is well and truly the best Zombies experience in quite some time.
I’m excited to see where Sledgehammer takes Zombies over the next 12 months, and with a slew of options available, alongside the ability to level up, earn custom loadout slots and classes, and really explore what’s on offer in The Final Reich, Nazi Zombies is a return to the mode’s absolute best, showcasing how integral it has truly become to the Call of Duty package.
As a whole, Call of Duty: WWII is a great package, and takes an important step forward by moving back in time – something fans have wanted for quite a while. And though its single-player campaign is disappointing and the game’s multiplayer maps notably subpar, the other cogs in the experience – the sound design, the divisions system, War, and Nazi Zombies in particular – are all fantastic. Sledgehammer has demonstrated, once again that it is on the right track when it comes to taking the reigns of the Call of Duty series and guiding it in the right direction.