Call of Duty has been in a slump since the release of the massively popular Call of Duty: Black Ops II. Asides from Call of Duty: Black Ops III, fans have generally been unhappy with the direction the franchise has been going, and the lack of innovation in the multiplayer. It all came to a head with last year’s Infinite Warfare, which was demonized by the community. Perhaps that is why so much is riding on Call of Duty: WWII, which aims to take the franchise back to its roots and brings the biggest changes to Call of Duty multiplayer since Call of Duty 4. We went hands-on with WWII’s multiplayer at E3 2017 and it’s safe to say that Call of Duty is back.
Call of Duty: WWII is the boots-on-the-ground Call of Duty experience we’ve been waiting for since Black Ops II. The gameplay is smooth, intense and already well balanced for a game still months away from release. Those who have played Call of Duty multiplayer will recognize many familiar franchise staples. Scorestreaks have been tweaked, but are all around similar to how they’ve worked in the past few games. The maps are still three-lane, but Sledgehammer has done a good job making the look and flow of the maps more natural than what Infinity Ward had in Infinite Warfare.
Classic World War II era weapons return and feel powerful. After playing with laser guns in Infinite Warfare, it feels good to hold up an MP40 and pump some hot lead into an Axis player. There are attachments for weapons, such as the rifle grenade for the M1 Garand and Aperture Sight for the BAR. Thankfully, there are no super-powered Specialists or Combat Rigs, but Sledgehammer Games is changing the way characters create and customize their classes.
Create-a-Class has been replaced with Divisions. Players will choose from five iconic World War II divisions that come with their own training and weapon skills. For example, the Airborne Division prefer to get in close with SMGs, and the Infantry Division is adept at using assault weaponry. It may sound like there’s no customization on the surface, but dive deeper, and you’ll see that there’s still plenty of things you can tinker with. There’s lots of perk and weapon customization and you’ll be able to swap divisions at any point during the game quickly. It’s best to think of Divisions as a way to work towards the weapons and perks you really want. If you’re an assault player, you’re going to want to work towards unlocking new machines guns, not sniper rifles.
While Activision did bring the classic Team Deathmatch and Domination game modes to the show, they also brought War, which could be the single most exciting new mode Call of Duty has offered in a long time. War is a multi-phase game mode for twelve players. For the map we played at E3, the Axis were always defending, and Allies attacking, but that can change depending on the map. Objectives will also change, so the phases on this map may not be the same as another map. For ours, there is a total of four phases. The first plays like Domination with attackers trying to capture a stronghold. Phase two tasks attackers with building a bridge. Phase three involves blowing up the Axis supply depot. Finally, there’s phase four, which feels like it was pulled straight from Overwatch. Allied players have to escort their payload, a tank, to a location.
War mode is surprisingly fun, but there are issues and concerns. This is a team-oriented mode and Call of Duty isn’t well-known for being a team-friendly game. War will likely be best if you have friends you can bring in. Secondly, the different phases don’t feel especially balanced, particularly phase two. It’s too easy to get pinned down by snipers and machine gun fire in this phase, and it quickly turns into chaos. Poor bridge builders are too easily mowed down and phase two quickly devolves into a mind-numbing waiting game. Thankfully, Scorestreaks are disabled in War.
Call of Duty: WWII’s multiplayer is shaping up strongly, but questions linger. The E3 demo was running under optimal conditions controller by Activision, so it remains to be seen how the game holds up in a real-world environment. Sledgehammer was also unwilling to discuss microtransactions and whether Supply Drops would be returning. While chief competitor Star Wars Battlefront II will have microtransactions, EA and DICE have confirmed that there will be no paid DLC. Call of Duty: WWII, on the other hand, will have paid DLC as a Season Pass has already been announced. It’s disappointing Activision is still relying on this outdated model and it would be soul-crushing if Supply Drops were forced back in when there’s already paid DLC.
Still, our time with Call of Duty: WWII’s multiplayer was extremely positive. Sledgehammer Games have put their three-year development cycle to good use and have crafted what might be the best Call of Duty multiplayer experience since Black Ops II. Thankfully, players won’t have to wait long to try it for themselves. The Call of Duty: WWII multiplayer beta will be available exclusively on PS4 from August 25-28, and on PS4 and Xbox One from September 1-4. A PC beta is on the cards, but dates have yet to be announced.
Call of Duty: WWII is out November 3 on PS4, Xbox One and PC.