Call of Duty: World War II launches this November with the series returning to its roots with classic second World War action, boots on the ground and no jet-packs or advanced movement. However, the Call of Duty series is in the midst of an identity crisis that may bring down the franchise entirely.
The COD franchise has been on a decline in terms of sales since its highpoint of 2011’s Modern Warfare 3, yet still sells in sufficient quantities year-on-year to warrant Activision continuing to back their cash-cow and biggest military shooter of them all.
The last few iterations have polarised the COD fanbase entirely, beginning with Advanced Warfare by Sledgehammer Games; a knee jerk panic reaction to Vince Zampella’s stunning new concept of Titanfall, after quitting Activision/Infinity Ward. For what it’s worth, Advance Warfare was a good game (at least in multiplayer) but was highly unbalanced and would be a thoroughly alien (and subsequently uncomfortable) experience for hardened fans of the series. The jet-packs and advance movement system turned the series into something highly unlike traditional Call of Duty gameplay.
The journey into the future and bouncy gameplay continued with COD: Black Ops 3 and the phenomenally poorly received Infinite Warfare, meaning we have had three consecutive years of perceived ‘non-COD-esque‘ Call of Duty games. The gaming public have steadily vented over this period and a return to form and tradition has been called upon; and Activision have listened, in an attempt to keep COD at the top of the sales charts, providing a classic second World War setting, no gimmicks, and boots on the ground gameplay. The reaction to the news has been largely positive, and there hasn’t been large amounts of negative backlash to preview footage, or the Multiplayer BETA that recently ended, like we saw with Infinite Warfare.
That said, I very much believe this is a case of “be careful what you wish for”. By effectively rolling back Call of Duty to its roots (15 years ago now) we are seeing the re-emergence of game mechanics that simply do not belong or work well in modern games.
Call of Duty started off as a chaotic mass-melee game, with hazards all over the map for you to avoid. However, since it has evolved into modern or futuristic scenarios, the action has become more refined and fast-paced, particularly in multiplayer. COD:WII feels incredibly slow due to a poor dash system, both in regards to your overall speed and your durability in running. It’s like you’re in control of an morbidly obese old person who only has enough energy in the tank for a quick-awkward shuffle across the road to avoid oncoming traffic.
Action in the game grinds to a halt, with players corner-camping and hiding behind cover in attempts to cautiously engage over distance, which really does not suit this game or the way online multiplayer is going in the e-Sports age. For example, take online gaming’s current phenomenon Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds, which is deliberately slow-paced due to the player only having one very fragile life; a move in haste or a mistake can instantly end your game. This drives up tension but also satisfaction in gaining a win. Whereas Call of Duty‘s rejuvenating life system (with unlimited re-spawning) encourages reckless play and a ‘no-fear’ approach to dying, making for unrealistic and often baffling gameplay.
Now that Call of Duty has retracted into a geriatric pacing, it will lose one of its unique selling points, losing out to one of its rival online shooters.
Call of Duty has traditionally gone for a 3-lane map design over the years. Whilst this has been maintained for WWII, there are some alarming additions to the system. Many of the maps are based on somewhat accurate war-torn battlegrounds with realistic buildings and street design. This results in the 3-lane system being carved up by lots of crossroads, essentially meaning every corner is potentially lethal (exacerbated by the slower gameplay aspect above).
Fans of the series who played Call of Duty: Ghosts might remember similar aspects in maps with many hiding players that encourage defensive gameplay and often resulted in a lot of frustrating deaths; and an even worse respawn algorithm. Not something that generally keeps your multiplayer game alive for long with so many viable alternatives out there nowadays.
You go back in time and you lose advanced movement, but also penalise yourself into using a very repetitive array of weapons (typically semi-automatic rifles) that were authentic to that time period. Whilst Infinite Warfare‘s arsenal may have often been too out-there, WWII will likely find you using the same preferred weapon time and time again.
First impressions from e-Sports players have already determined that the game will be dominated by submachine gun play, which means you’ll be seeing an awful lot of the famed Grease Gun, PPSH-41 and the Thompson M1A1, with a sprinkling of M1 Garand (ka-ching!) for long-ranged engagements such as the new War Mode. Sledgehammer Games already have good form in this area when they effectively made Advanced Warfare a viable two-gun only game for competitive play and I expect the same will develop here too.
Call of Duty has succumbed to one of the most despised forms of revenue generation in online gaming over the last few years, starting with Advanced Warfare. In-game crates/loot will likely hide some of the game’s best weapons/features behind a randomised paywall, meaning only those who have bottomless pockets or horrendous amounts of free-time will get to use the best gear.
The retraction of advanced movement, the lack of willingness to continue in the modern era of warfare and Activision’s insistence on Call of Duty being an annual event could see it wiped off the hard drive of gamers around the world for more adventurous, innovative and ultimately more enjoyable online gaming experiences.
We all begged for boots-on-the-ground for several years, and now we have it. Time to see if those who clamoured so hard for this backwards step will now honour the call that Activison so desperately requires them to, in order to keep this series at the forefront of their long-term aspirations.
I fear we are witnessing the slow and painful demise of one of gaming’s greatest franchises. Call of Duty has barely progressed in the 15 years of its existence, and when it actually attempted to do so, the public proverbially lynched it for daring to be different.
Call of Duty: World War II is released November 7th 2017 for PC, PS4 and Xbox One. Let us know in the comments and via social media on your thoughts of the Beta and whether you’ll be dusting off your trench gun for the annual fight this autumn.