Call of Duty: WWII
Here We Go Again…Again
The marketing for Call of Duty: WWII is strange, isn’t it? An affable, ragtag group of friends getting back together under the rallying cry of going “back to World War II.” Sure, it’s not as bad as Battlefield 1’s cringeworthy #justWWIthings, but it’s still jarring. There’s a dissonance between the “good times with friends” product that Activision is selling and the more subdued, stripped-down experience that Sledgehammer is trying to deliver.
That dissonance, though, isn’t just present in the marketing. Unfortunately, Call of Duty: WWII is defined by this sort of odd shift in tonality – it’s a game with silly perks, weapon skins and profile banners that also plays at depicting the atrocities of the Nazi regime and the terrible living conditions of troops in World War II. The result is a game that doesn’t quite know what it wants to be, and one that’s best approached from three different angles – single player, multiplayer, and whatever Zombies has turned into at this point. To reflect this and to give each aspect a fair shake, this review will be divided into four parts.
Call of Duty: WWII
Developer: Sledgehammer Games/Raven Software
Release: November 2, 2017
i7-6700k @ 3.5 GHz
64 GB RAM
Nvidia GeForce 1080 Founder’s Edition
I’ve long been a staunch advocate for Call of Duty campaigns, going back to Modern Warfare 2. As the series went on, the series’ narratives got more far-flung and outlandish, much to my delight. After watching the Eiffel Tower get vaporized in Modern Warfare 3, it was clear that Activision was intent on upping the ante with each entry and throwing reality out the window. This resulted in a series of campaigns that rank among my favorites in shooters. While Infinity Ward tended to screw up after their initial successes (Ghosts and Infinite Warfare were slogs,) Treyarch and Sledgehammer did great work with their borderline cyberpunk fare. These were games that delivered crazy parkour antics, jetpack stunts, and cheesy rehashes of Terminator 2 crossed with crime thrillers. Plus, Advanced Warfare let the player kill Kevin Spacey, which is something I appreciate a lot in retrospect.
Which is why WWII’s campaign is such a letdown. Sledgehammer’s last game featured my favorite campaign in the series, bar none, and I expected something equally as great here. What I got is a rote World War II story that doesn’t even get within striking distance of 2010’s World At War, and frankly, doesn’t even touch some of the franchise’s earlier stints in this time period. As it turns out, the franchise has nothing of worth to say about the last major push to take out the Nazis, and nothing of value to contribute to the diaspora of media covering the time period.
This may sound harsh, but even now, I’m left wanting for reasons as to why this story needed to be told. Its characters are a group of cookie-cutter clichés that each have roughly one character trait each, if even that, and even then they tend to blend together. The scenarios these characters find themselves have been covered before in better movies, books, and games. The lessons learned from said scenarios are lessons that… well, actually, that’s even implying this game has any significant takeaways, which it doesn’t. Even a concentration camp sequence feels like a cheap attempt at shock value versus genuinely earned horror, especially in the face of some hamfisted “not all Germans” rhetoric.
Which, I think, compounds the narrative’s biggest problem – it doesn’t treat Nazis with the gravity they deserve. It might be unfair comparing the two, but Wolfenstein II did a fantastic job of balancing “fun shooter” and “impassioned plea against hatred and bigotry.” By contrast, WWII’s narrative presents Nazis as just another enemy, just another virtual target to put in players’ iron sights and let loose on. That mentality was kind of fine when we were killing cyberterrorists, soldiers from Mars, or actual robots. It doesn’t work so well when this was a real evil that actually tried to wipe several races off the face of the planet. This kind of toothless storytelling is the variety that allows people to dwell in the past and not look around at the world, drawing parallels between then and now. It’s a wasted opportunity that feels like a calculated attempt to avoid the controversy Bethesda’s attracted from certain groups.
“Wasted opportunity” kind of applies to the entirety of WWII’s campaign. There was a chance to do something significant here, something that had a story to tell, something that had a broader message to convey. Instead, the story dwells on a collection of protagonists that we’ve seen before, going through motions we’ve encountered before, resulting in a narrative that’s been done before and done better.
After the last few entries’ multiplayer failed to impress, I’ve been left wanting for another multiplayer shooter to put serious time into. I plugged several hours into Overwatch, only to feel burned by a terrible community and the realization that Blizzard is a bad company. Quake Champions is good fun, but it also is still in early access and its small player-base is a reflection of that. And I’ll never forget the ignoble early death of LawBreakers. Good night, sweet Cliffy.
That’s why I’m pleased as punch to say that Call of Duty: WWII’s multiplayer is actually quite exceptional. It’s a stripped-down, back-to-basics approach that hearkens back to the last CoD multiplayer I enjoyed in a significant capacity – Black Ops. With the futuristic gimmickry removed and the hit-or-miss movement tech out the window, emphasis is once again placed on mastering small mechanics that can spell the difference between life and death. Dropshots and jumpshots are relevant again, moreso than the last several games, and the maps reflect this. Small corridors, crowded streets, cramped rooms make up most of the maps, with a few exceptions. Even in those exceptions, however, staying out in the open isn’t advisable – you never feel safe, and you generally aren’t. It’s a frenetic, energetic affair that feels focused for the first time in years.
The mode selection is also pretty great this time around. TDM is still the order of the day, and it’s proven to be my old faithful thus far. That said, the new War mode is a great deal of fun, and something I see myself spending more time in down the line. It takes a few pages from Overwatch’s (and by proxy, Team Fortress 2’s) book, in that it delivers payloads to push and points to defend. Each map gets a special opening cutscene, lending each round its own sort of microcosmic story, and offers a variety of different approaches for players to take. It’s a lot easier to play diverse classes in War than it is TDM, which makes it a refreshing change of pace every now and again. Other modes, including a variant of Advanced Warfare’s Uplink, are pretty solid across the board, with none of them being particularly bad or boring. Still, War and TDM are the major highlights here.
This is all tied together with a progression system that feels like it’s actually interested in keeping its hooks in players. Thanks to the return of Contracts and the addition of Orders (which are basically Contracts that don’t cost any in-game currency,) players are almost constantly unlocking something, whether it be new perks, weapons, tokens, or loot boxes. Speaking of loot boxes, their addition is mostly harmless so far. Players can’t actually buy the in-game currency yet, so I can’t speak to any pay-to-win chicanery as of this writing. Currently, it’s just an RNG loot system, and insofar, I’ve only gotten one duplicate item.
Yes, I miss just unlocking things and not doing this slot machine garbage. No, I don’t think Activision really cares.
All-in-all, though, I really do like Call of Duty: World War II’s multiplayer. It has a satisfying gameplay loop, a gratifying progression system, and a fun, tiny hub to run around in. Over the past few years, I’ve been fine with the base map packs in these things, as I only play for a few months before falling out. This time, I think I’ll end up purchasing the season pass. I want more of this game, and I hazard to say I still will in a few months.
“‘Wasted opportunity’ kind of applies to the entirety of WWII’s campaign.”
Zombies is zombies. I know, that’s a nondescript thing to say, but this is most thoroughly ordinary entry of zombies yet. There are Nazi zombies, you fight them in waves, and you try to unlock bits of the map to progress as each wave gets stronger. Less of an emphasis is placed on barricading entry points, and more of one is placed on accomplishing objectives that end up becoming a slog of RNG bullshit. Compared to last year’s excellent Zombies in Spaceland, this go-round just feels like routine, like an inclusion put in here because it had to be. Nothing here feels particularly special, and the enemy types just aren’t that interesting.
At least David Tennant is pretty funny.
Call of Duty: WWII is a game of three extremes. The campaign is an extremely boring slog through an exceptionally perfunctory story, and even astonishing visuals and sound design can’t make it any more fun to play. Zombies is fine, but it’s not something I’m itching to jump back into any time soon – hopefully, that changes with the promised DLC scenarios. Multiplayer is the high point of the package, as I haven’t been able to put it down since launch, and I’m probably going to play some as soon as I finish typing this. I’m genuinely looking forward to unlocking some of the weapons and skins, and to uncovering new ways to undermine other players in TDM (including my new personal favorite, placing tripmines in the worst places I can imagine.)
If you’re looking for a new multiplayer shooter, Call of Duty: WWII comes highly recommended. If you’re looking for virtually anything else, look elsewhere.