Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare doubled down on the sci-fi timeline last year and I considered it a big surprise and one of my favorite entries in the series. Yet it seems that sci-fi isn’t as popular anymore, and a demand to return to World War 2 has grown naturally over time. Sledgehammer Games has the Call of Duty mantle this year and Call of Duty: WWII delivers what the fans wanted, following a squad from the 1st Infantry Division. Does turning back the clocks also turn up the quality, or should we go back to the future?
You’ll be taking the role of Private Ronald Daniels, a Texan who signed up for the United States Army to better himself after failing to shoot a wolf on his brother’s farm. Joining him in battle are his best friend and group comedian Private Zussman, wannabe war photographer Private Stiles, team technician Aiello, hard ass Sargent Pierson, and team leader Lieutenant Turner. This ragtag team will be taking on the Nazis and fighting through Europe from D-Day to the Battle of the Bulge.
It turns out that their story is the most bog-standard World War 2 tale that has ever been told. You’ve seen every single plot strand here before, either from other Call of Duty games or basically any other World War 2 media. A conflict between commander and troops, specifically between a cynical commander and an optimistic rookie? Yep, that’s here. French resistance group led by a no-nonsense woman? If that sounds familiar, you’ve probably played Call of Duty 3. Segregated army tank mission? Call of Duty: Finest Hour already did it.
No matter what happened in the game I just could never get myself to care. While Infinite Warfare spent its time letting you get to know the individual characteristics of each member of your team, Call of Duty: WWII just doesn’t even try. Zussman and Pierson are the only two characters that get any real development, and it’s barely any at best. Plot points are equally zipped past with little care, causing them to often come off as feeling awkward or forced. One level has French resistance member Rousseau and her British SAS buddies show up, has her give a big dramatic speech about how a Nazi killed her husband and son, and then 30 minutes later she kills that guy and all of those characters promptly drop out of the plot. Another mission has Aiello and Daniels being uncomfortable about having Howard, an African-American engineer, around and then ten minutes later they’re totally fine with him and he’s reduced to just following the group around, never contributing to the plot again. The entire Holocaust is relegated to a single black and white photo while the main character says “I thought I knew cruelty. But what I saw will stick with me forever”. It’s almost as if someone sat down with a clipboard full of basic World War Two tropes and checked them off one by one without much care as to how they were actually implemented, just so long as they’re there.
The basics aren’t too different from any other Call of Duty game. You’ll be going through linear levels and dramatic setpiece moments while shooting lots of Nazis. The shooting still feels smooth and well-done, and I had no problem snapping from target to target to get some headshots. It’s hard to deny the genuinely satisfying feeling of blowing off some Nazi’s head with an M1 Garand and then hearing the trademark “ping” as I reload. Obviously, the jetpacking, wall running, and boost dashing of the last few games don’t carry over into WWII. They opened up unique paths through levels and gave you vertical movement options I appreciated, and all that is missing here.
Some efforts were made to change up the regular gameplay from the last few entries, with the biggest coming from a revamped health system. Gone are the days of being able to hide behind cover and breathe heavily until you’re healed. Instead, you have an actual health bar and you need to use first aid kits to restore it. It’s a system that quickly proved to be annoying, as it seemed to do little more than prevent me from getting back into combat easily. Since the bar doesn’t even regenerate to a minimum level, it’s possible to wander into fights and get killed by a single stray pistol shot. After a fight, it felt like it was required to waste time wandering battlefields and trying to find health packs squirreled away into some corner. All this system did was make me wish regenerating health would itself regenerate.
Another change to the formula comes from your squadmates. As you kill Nazis you’ll charge up squad abilities, allowing you to ask your team to assist you in battle. Three of these abilities are simply getting tossed first aid kits, ammo, or grenades as needed, but the other two are a little more interesting. One allows a teammate to spot all the nearby Nazis, highlighting them for easy picking off, while the other gives you the ability to call down a mortar strike. These abilities are fun to use, a smart little addition to keep me hanging with my squad. You can also find and perform heroic actions to fill up the abilities. For example, you may see a soldier wounded by sniper fire and have to drag them back to cover while avoiding the sniper yourself, or taking a group of Nazis prisoner when they realize they’re losing and start surrendering.
Finally, a bare-bones stealth system has been added for the few times the game allows a stealthy option. All you have to do is not be directly in front of anyone while being crouched to not make noises. With the except of the mandatory stealth segment, the game isn’t really designed for this. Most of the levels just have enemies splattered around wherever and it feels like a total toss-up as to if there’s even a stealthy path through it or not. The mandatory stealth level is at least built around stealth, but it’s still not very exciting or interesting in any way.
There are many points where the game deviates from the regular running and gunning, in small or large ways. Vehicle missions are a favorite, with you hopping into a jeep, tank, or airplane at various points during the campaign. I actually really enjoyed how these gave a fun break from the usual run and gun action. In particular, the airplane mission brought me good memories of space levels from Infinite Warfare. While most of these breaks are fun and don’t outstay their welcome, there’s one particularly weird level that has you playing as French resistance member Rousseau sneaking around a Nazi-occupied hotel to find her spy. The idea is that you have to memorize your fake background and give the correct answers to any Nazi that questions you, which is great in theory. In practice, it comes off as awkward as every Nazi believes your story after a single softball history question. One Nazi believes everything you say entirely based on getting your name right, and goofy moments like that make the entire section feel off. Worse, the whole thing is undermined if you have the subtitles on. You need to give a code phrase to several Nazis to try and find your man, but if you have the subtitles on then all the wrong Nazis are labeled “Nazi Officer” while the guy you’re looking for actually has his name shown.
At the end of the campaign, I just couldn’t help but feel something was missing. Yeah, the game had big moments, cool set pieces, and a few fun firefights, but none of it felt nearly as good as Infinite Warfare. The game lasts eleven missions, which should take between eight to ten hours to finish, and none of these missions are really stand out or memorable in any way. Call of Duty: WWII is a video game that exists, but I felt no strong feelings for the campaign other than “that was good I guess” when I was done. If this was all there was to the game I’d probably be disappointed, but as usual Call of Duty contains a robust multiplayer and a zombie survival mode.
When you first start the multiplayer you’ll be asked to join one of five divisions. Your choice nets you a special active skill, a passive training ability, and a unique unlockable weapon. You don’t need to worry about being locked into one, as you can always unlock the other divisions to use. After this, you can check out the new social space. Letting you wander around the base camp on the beach of Normandy, it’s not much unlike Destiny‘s Tower. You can do many of the things you normally would dig through menus to find here, take part in 1v1 cage fights, and play some classic Activision games like Kaboom! and Pitfall II if you want. You can also call down the loot boxes you earn in-game on the beach, letting people see what you unlock. At least in theory you can, but in practice the social spaces weren’t working when I was playing. Was it a huge issue? Not really, as the social space can also be entirely ignored, but I wouldn’t mind getting to see it more populated. You can also customize your player character here, but there’s little more to customization other than picking a skin color, gender, and helmet.
For the most part, my thoughts haven’t changed much since the beta. There have been some improvements, the biggest being that I no longer felt like I was having issues with lag. I also no longer had problems with submachine guns and other weapons dominating every match. On the other hand, the map design mostly felt like misses. I’ve seen the term “Swiss cheese” thrown around when describing them, as many are just big areas with lots of holes for you to run around. I was often getting killed because someone who is just running around ended up behind me, and many of my kills were because I was wandering around and got behind them. It wasn’t long before I came to shun most of the game’s competitive multiplayer.
There’s one exception to this, and it’s the real star of the multiplayer this time around. The new War mode is an objective based mode where both the US and the Nazis have their own set of goals, often with the US attacking Nazi positions. These maps were often really fun, and I found myself enjoying it way more than the usual multiplayer. One of my favorite maps saw you playing out D-Day, with the Nazis held up in bunkers at the top of the beaches while the US made their assault with a ton of NPC soldiers. War easily eclipsed the rest of the multiplayer as the most genuinely fun experience I had. It’s the future I hope to see more Call of Duty games follow. That said, with only three War maps now available, it really needs some more to really shine as brightly as I think it can.
Nazi Zombies mode also returns, allowing you and up to three other players to survive against hordes of rotting Nazis. The mode once again throws B-list actors, such as David Tennant, into a complicated map full of secrets for you to explore. Before the game begins you can customize your character, giving them three passive buffs and a special chargeable skill that can provide unlimited ammo or knock down and stun all nearby zombies. I liked the certainty of the system more than last entry’s luck reliant Fate and Fortune Cards, but having only four abilities really limits your options and I would’ve liked to see more.
There are two maps available this time, though it’s clear the important one is The Final Reich. This sprawling town offers up all the secrets and collectables people have come to expect from this mode. You’ll be resetting generators, blowing holes into sewers, accessing secret bunkers, and more. It’s still overly complex, and those who are diving into Zombies for the first time may be put off unless they log some hours researching the mode’s secrets. If you’re looking for a simpler experience, there’s also Gröesten Haus. This much smaller map has no story elements and few secrets, instead just being focused on surviving as long as you can. I actually appreciated the simplicity of Gröesten Haus much more than The Final Reich, and found myself spending more time there.
Once again I found myself wishing there was a dedicated Zombies campaign. This want was doubled by the absolutely infuriating Prologue that is available when you first start the zombie mode. Its actual purpose is to serve as little more than a tutorial to the mode and introducing some of the new mechanics. The thing is, plays like a genuine campaign level built around zombies rather than reusing campaign levels like Black Ops III did. It cleverly combines both campaign-styled linearity with wave-based survival, and it just made me question why there can’t be a full campaign like this. It’s a tease, a cruel tease that showed a Zombies that could have been.
I know many people have waited for the Call of Duty series to return to World War 2, but if there’s one thing that I got out of Call of Duty: WWII, it’s that I’m not actually interested in the setting anymore. When it came to the single player, the sci-fi games were simply more interesting, fun, and diverse. There are still some good moments, but they’re overshadowed by last year’s wonderful campaign. The multiplayer mostly felt like a miss this year as well, but War mode was so good that I can see myself diving back into it for a while to come. Finally, zombies are back, and I can see it being a fun mode for those who liked it before but I still find myself mostly not a fan of this mode. By the time I was done with WWII I came away disappointed. This is still a good game overall, but it’s a noticeable step back from Infinite Warfare.More About This Game
Call of Duty: WWII has a good but forgettable campaign. It has a fantastic new multiplayer mode surrounded by some mediocre ones. It has an interesting entry to Zombies that squanders its potential. There's a ton of content here, and all of it is good, but none of it really gets above that bar.
- Squad Abilities Are Neat
- Some Really Neat Campaign Levels
- War Mode is Fantastic
- Zombies Occasionally Fun
- Head Shotting Nazis
- Story Is Usually Derivative, Sometimes Dumb
- New Health System is Annoying
- Some Bad Campaign Levels
- Most of Multiplayer is Uninteresting
- Zombies Teases Campaign, Still Fails to Deliver