When Sledgehammer came out the other end of developing 2014’s Advanced Warfare, the thought of doing a World War II based Call of Duty wasn’t even on their radar. “Right after Advanced Warfare,” Director of Product Development Aaron Halon told me at a recent review event in London, “the team was focusing on the DLC season, and a good portion of the team was focusing on Advanced Warfare 2.”
Advanced Warfare did well, but both Sledgehammer and Activision were in two minds about following Call of Duty tradition and developing a sub-franchise under the Advanced Warfare label. “It wasn’t long until we had the opportunity to really explore World War II,” Halon continues, “and that was something that the team was really passionate about. And so we switched gears into full-on World War II development. It was pretty exciting, and for us as developers, pretty rare to be able to explore all the different genres.”
World War II is only the second Call of Duty title Sledgehammer has helmed. They initially co-developed Modern Warfare 3 with Infinity Ward, but now with World War II under their belts, the studio has run the gamut of Call of Duty time periods: past, contemporary, and future. As much as I enjoyed Advanced Warfare and its Kevin-Spacey-fuelled destruction, I feel that Sledgehammer as a studio has found their “Call of Duty voice” with World War II.
Their timing is fortuitous as well what with shooter fans clamouring for a return to the World War era titles that dominated the early parts of the new millennium. In many ways, playing my way through Call of Duty: WWII took me back to my university days of playing Call of Duty 2 LAN multiplayer with people across various varsity residences. That’s a good thing for numerous reasons, but perhaps the most important reason is that Sledgehammer has somehow managed to make Call of Duty Multiplayer feel more accessible and sociable. But before the hardcore Call of Duty Multiplayer veterans start having an apoplexy over the prospect of “accessible multiplayer”, there is still a complete suite of multiplayer content to keep you unlocking and prestige-ing for the next year. The Multiplayer package in World War II is just presented in a much more user-friendly offering, and that is largely thanks to Sledgehammer’s self-proclaimed biggest innovation in the Multiplayer portion: Headquarters.
Cast your minds back to 2014’s Advanced Warfare and you might remember Sledgehammer’s Virtual Lobby system that let you see other players’ operatives while waiting for games to launch. Headquarters is a similar idea but far more fleshed-out. The moment you launch Multiplayer from the game main menu, you’re dumped into a hub world of sorts that holds up to 48 other players. In a lot of ways it reminds me of The Citadel in Destiny, with heaps of social-oriented areas for you and others to hang-out in and explore together. There are firing ranges to test out newly unlocked weapons, areas for you to practice Scorestreak abilities, and even a cordoned off area that is only accessible to those about to Prestige.
A Quartermaster is also part of HQ, and she can issue you with timed Contracts to take into matches in order to receive XP bonuses or Supply Drops. She can also allow you to unlock specific items that are ordinarily doled out randomly via Supply Drops. If, for example, there is a particular Calling Card you’ve had your eye on, you’ll find it in one of the 31 sets she has available for unlocking. In order to unlock your specific cosmetic, you’ll spend Armoury Credits, which is the HQ currency. This currency is earned in matches, but is also issued to you every few hours via the HQ’s Postmaster desk. Want to collect some Orders (specific multiplayer tasks) to take into matches? You’ll need to see Major Howard in the main bunker of HQ. Feel like a quick 1V1 match with set weapons in a very confined arena? There is a practice pit for that too complete with viewing areas for others in HQ to watch the mini deathmatch.
The gist of Headquarters is that every aspect of Call of Duty Multiplayer that you used to wade through menus to find, is now accessible via a social hub world that also acts as your multiplayer lobby. It is a really nice addition that cleverly makes Call of Duty Multiplayer feel more accessible and easier to keep track of; that is a great thing for many people who are perhaps turned off by previous iterations of Call of Duty Multiplayer that arrive as convoluted, bloated offerings creaking under their own mass. I personally cannot recall a Call of Duty Multiplayer mode that I’ve enjoyed as much as this one. It is COD Multiplayer in a post Destiny world, and it works really well.
All of the staple multiplayer modes make a return, including TDM, CTF, Kill Confirmed, Domination, and my personal favourite, Hardpoint. The more offbeat modes like Gridiron are also back, in which two teams vie for possession of a ball that you then need to get through the opposing team’s goal. Various versions of this mode have existed in COD Multiplayer for the past few years, albeit with different names.
Of course, for Sledgehammer, perhaps the most exciting multiplayer mode is War: their co-op, objective-based multiplayer mode. War is definitely one of the more interesting portions of Multiplayer as you and your team constantly need to complete changing objectives as each match progresses. On the Neptune map, you might start as a Nazi soldier defending the Normandy beach against the invading Allied forces. Fail to defend the beach and you will be forced to fall back in order to defend your communications bunker. Fail there and you’ll be pushed further back to defend the artillery cannons that were earlier pounding the beach. At the end of the match, teams swap sides and you’ll then get to storm the beach, take out the communication bunker and so on.
I particularly enjoyed this new mode because objectives were constantly changing. Each War map has its own set of objectives, and there is very little repetition from map to map. One of the greatest aspects of War mode is that there are multiple ways in which you can make yourself useful to your team. You might not be the most skilled member of the team, but you could know where all the build points are on each map, which will allow you to assist in slowing enemies from accessing areas. In one match we were tasked with preventing German tanks from crossing a bridge, so I busied myself laying “hedgehog” barriers in the tanks’ paths in order to slow their advance. It’s just one example of numerous ways you can contribute towards team victory, and it makes for a nice change of pace for a Call of Duty Multiplayer mode.
Coming out the other end of a three-day Multiplayer binge, I was left with a sense that Sledgehammer had doubled-down on creating a Call of Duty that broadens the online community and makes Multiplayer more appealing to those who were perhaps intimidated or put off by it in the past. An entire playable area that focuses on social aspects (either for you alone or with your partied-up friends) is a step in the right direction for Call of Duty Multiplayer. It’s going to be interesting to see how communities take to Headquarters, but I am quietly optimistic that it’ll help entice new players into the fun side of COD Multiplayer.
Of course, optimism about something implies a certain amount of unknown, and therein lies my major concern with the Multiplayer I was exposed to at the review event. I was playing in a controlled environment where game modes were rotated (Mosh Pit rotation returns), so I was able to play and enjoy the full spectrum of multiplayer modes. There is no telling whether my experience will translate into a real-world experience once the game launches. As terrific as this year’s Multiplayer offering is, the fact of this controlled environment leaves me with some minor reservations.
With Call of Duty: WWII, Sledgehammer wanted to take the franchise back to its roots. That meant chucking out a bunch of staples that had become part of contemporary Call of Duty releases. You are no longer Mr. Super Soldier on a one-man-army rampage through enemy territory. Your health no longer regenerates, and you don’t have a suite of high tech gadgets with which to murder your enemies. In Call of Duty: WWII, you are Ronald “Red” Daniels; a small-town boy who enlists and finds himself among the US 1st Infantry Division storming the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. By his side is a cast of actually memorable characters, which is, quite frankly, a rarity in Call of Duty games. Adding another layer to the supporting cast, however, is that you literally depend on them to make it through each level.
Zussman becomes Red’s closest friend throughout the campaign, and he’ll become yours too because he is the squad medic. If you want med packs to patch yourself up in the middle of a fight, you better pray you have stuck close to Zussman. Stiles and Turner keep enough ammo for everyone so they need to be at hand when your M1941 runs out of bullets. Each squad member offers an ability you can utilise when you need providing you’re close enough to them and there’s no cooldown in action. It’s an interesting mechanic that works well to hammer home those Band of Brothers narrative overtones, and makes gameplay a little more exciting. While you’ll still be able to salvage health packs and ammo in certain spots in the level, you’ll utilise your squadmates’ abilities at least 80% of the time.
I honestly enjoyed the smaller, more focused narrative of Red’s experience of World War II. It makes for a definite departure from the grandiose plotlines that dominate earlier Call of Duty titles. What’s more, on a thematic level, there is a lot going on. There are the obvious horrors of war and the threat to freedom imposed by the Nazi regime, which pervades all media set during this period of history. But there’s also the more personal stuff like redemption and power struggles between squad commanders.
This is played out brilliantly between the characters of Turner and Pierson. The former is a “soldiers first” sort of leader, whereas Pierson is more of a “get the mission done no matter what the human cost” kind of guy. Naturally, the two clash, but what makes it all the more riveting is that Red and the rest of the squad are caught in the middle. There are some harrowing moments as this subplot plays out and ultimately concludes at the Battle of Hürtgen Hill in Germany. Incidentally, it’s during one of this level’s cut-scenes that Pierson nails the overall feel of Call of Duty: WWII when he refers to himself and the rest of the squad as “cogs in the machine”. The entire squad, Red included (and by extension you, the player) are simply cogs in the war machine, and any semblance of the contemporary Call of Duty Super Soldier is undoubtedly expunged from this whole experience.
That’s not to say that this title doesn’t have those typical Call of Duty moments. There are still many over-the-top scenes and incredible action sequences. With each subsequent Call of Duty I play I become more convinced that there is an unspoken competition between the three series’ developers to see which team can create the most preposterous levels of destruction in a scene. If there is this competition then Sledgehammer has to hold the crown for THAT train level sequence in Call of Duty: WWII. You’ll know it when you see it, but interestingly Sledgehammer’s Studio Head and co-founder Glen Schofield assured me that this scene was grounded in history.
The team had a World War II historian consulting during development, and there were three German trains in France during the time that the game’s mission was set. So while the mission might have taken liberties with exactly what happened, the premise is based on historical fact. This attention to detail and care shown towards the historical source material is sincere enough that you’ll find yourself excusing the scenes where perhaps the artistic license was a little heavy-handed.
Still, Call of Duty: WWII’s campaign works in spite of the few moments of ridiculous action and destruction. The narrative is at its best when the action is dialled back and you’re simply Ronald Daniels, small-town American soldier trying to make it through the deadliest war in human history. It’s at its best when the story focuses inwards, on an individual, such as the moment you play as a female French Resistance fighter during the Liberation of Paris; this particular mission is masterfully put together in terms of creating atmosphere and tension.
But what stood out for me the most is the campaign’s epilogue, which once again dials back the action and explosions, and focuses on a smaller aspect of the war; it’s the perfect, brutal reminder of the cost of World War II, and it effortlessly brings the Call of Duty experience back down to Earth and sidesteps any possibility of Sledgehammer being accused of creating an action-laden misrepresentation of the Second World War. The developers chose some sensitive historical topics to highlight, and I personally believe they handled those topics with respect and genuine consideration. The result is a fantastic, multidimensional Call of Duty campaign that I thoroughly enjoyed. Its occasional introspection might not appeal to fans of the more boisterous, contemporary Call of Duty releases, but it definitely tries hard to shake-up the formula. I experienced one game crash during my campaign playthrough, but the checkpointing system is robust enough that I didn’t lose any significant progress.
The campaign is not the only area where Sledgehammer has returned to franchise roots: the Zombies portion of Call of Duty: WWII is a gritty, dark, and very gory affair. Much of the humour from previous years of Call of Duty Zombies is nowhere to be seen, and those hoping for anything resembling last year’s neon coloured, 80s themed Zombies in Spaceland are going to be disappointed. However, if you like your Zombies mode with more actual horror than neon spandex, then you’ll love this version.
Set in the Bavarian town of Mittelburg, you’ll take on the role of one of four people tasked with finding and recovering priceless pieces of art stolen by the Nazis. Naturally, there’s more to Mittelburg than stolen art, and the four characters soon find themselves in the middle of a crazy Nazi science experiment to reanimate dead soldiers.
Jefferson Potts (the strong, military tactician type), Drostan Hynd (former art thief forced into this art recovery mission), Olivia Durant (former art historian from the Louvre and total badass), and Marie Fischer (super clever engineer) make up the mixed bag cast of characters, but there are six slots to unlock further playable characters or to have more added via DLC. Once you’ve chosen who you want to play as you get to choose a Loadout which will dictate your play style. There are four on offer, and if you and your party are hoping to make it far into the game, then you’ll need each of the four Loadouts covered. Once you’ve levelled up your Zombies character (you gain XP and unlocks similar to the Multiplayer portion of the game) enough you’ll open up custom slots to create your own Loadout.
This game mode remains a total blast to play both with friends online or on your own. There is a lot to unlock and figure out as you delve deeper and deeper into the streets and underground areas of Mittelburg, so expect to be kept busy here for quite some time. It also seems as if the difficulty has been drastically increased, as four of us only just managed to make it to wave 18 before we became food for shambling Nazi corpses.
Disclaimer: we reviewed Call of Duty: WWII in a controlled environment during a review event held in London. We played through the whole campaign and sunk many hours into both Multiplayer and Zombies. What we could not ascertain is how well the servers and match-making system will hold up in real-world environments once the game actually launches. We were also unable to get concrete information on the game’s microtransactions, of which Activision PR has confirmed there are. However, we have been assured that all microtransactions will be purely cosmetic in nature. As for pricing and finer details on this system, Activision PR did not get back to us in time for publication.
Last Updated: November 3, 2017