Each time Activision describes their latest Call of Duty as “boots on the ground” I curl up inside. They’ve used that phrase so often, that when developer Sledgehammer decided to return to an actual era of warfare which featured said boots on said ground, it lost all meaning.
But Call of Duty: WW2 is exactly what it says on the tin – a game set in a much older theatre of war. That historic choice trickles down to the moment-to-moment action, creating a Call of Duty that is slower and more deliberate. But compared to the hyper-kinetic, squirty jumps of recent games, it’s a refreshing change of pace.
I managed to get my hands on three different multiplayer scenarios; The first two were the familiar Team Deathmatch, and Domination. The third was a new mode called War. More on that one later.
If you’ve played any Call of Duty, then the beats are the same. You’ll fight on tight battlefields, aiming down sights and taking down enemies. Getting kills, assists, or objectives gives you points, which lets you activate Score Streaks – special, one-use abilities. Scout planes will periodically show enemy locations on the map, while more lethal options include mortars and strafing runs.
But the core framework tying the customisation options together have seen a shift. Players will now be able to select Divisions, which give you access to special skills, and the type of weapon you use. The Infantry division for example lets you bayonet charge, locking into insta-kill melee strikes from farther away. Another division – focused on shotguns – lets you load your gun with incendiary rounds, transforming already lethal blasts into something more devastating.
As far as I can tell, it also looks like this system has replaced Perks in their entirety. Now a division’s passive ability fills that role; like allowing extra weapon attachments, and other benefits.
War is a competitive mode, which sees one team defending against another. The attacking team has a series of objectives they must fulfil. My session had us assaulting a manor, then moving on to build a bridge, and finally destroying a munitions box. If you’re on the defence side, you can build fortifications to help funnel enemies down certain areas.
I was initially lukewarm on the mode, but the more invested I became in it, the more fun I had. The push-and-pull nature fostered the right amount of tension, and at no point did one team feel completely outmatched for the other.
In War mode you also die a lot. Maybe this is meant to be a metaphor for the way armies treat soldiers as disposable cattle sent to the slaughter, but it’s probably just the LA heat and dehydration getting to me. Anyway, high body-count.
Sledgehammer have also replaced the Last Kill system, which previously showed who got the winning kill of a round. Instead they’ve opted for a Play of the Game approach, like that seen in Overwatch. I have some reservations about how cool this will be though, because unlike Blizzard’s colourful team-based shooter – where you can play as a range of characters with different abilities – the only thing you can do in Call of Duty is shoot dudes.
Also, there’s a gross amount of dismemberment in this year’s game. I know World War II was a terrible conflict, but on more than one occasion I found myself wincing away from the screen. I’m not entirely sure it’s effective, as much as it is nasty.
Call of Duty: WW2 doesn’t re-invent the wheel – no Call of Duty ever really has. But Sledgehammer are putting their own spin on a period of history which had previously been done to death in gaming. War could also prove to be my mode of choice, if the quality of maps and variance in objectives proves broad enough.