Was Call of Duty Cold War Rushed to Release?

Why are fans calling Call of Duty Cold War "trash?" The answer may have something to do with the game's troubled development.

Call of Duty
Photo: Activision

Negative reactions to Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War are already so prolific that variations of the phrase “CoD Cold War is trash” are currently trending on Google, YouTube, and on social media.

So what’s the problem? Well, as is usually the case, the issues are varied. At this moment, though, most of the complaints regarding Cold War‘s release involve content and technical shortcomings. For instance, some fans feel that the game’s campaign (which reports suggest can easily be beaten in a couple of hours) is bare-bones even by modern franchise standards. Others have suggested that Cold War‘s multiplayer maps are lacking in both quality and quantity. Many, many, more are calling out the game’s bugs, subpar visuals, and bizarre mechanics.

The theme of many of these complaints is that it just feels like Cold War was rushed to release before it was ready. While that’s a worry we often hear in regards to installments in yearly franchises, the “funny” thing in this instance is that those worries may be justified.

In May of 2019, Kotaku reported that Activision was experiencing problems with the early development of 2020’s Call of Duty title (which we now know is Cold War). It was around that time that they informed developers Raven Software and Sledgehammer Games that the primary creative development of that year’s Call of Duty title would instead be handled by long-time Black Ops developers, Treyarch. Their decision broke the “rotation” that the various Call of Duty development partners had adhered to for over a decade.

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Why the change in plans? It’s not officially clear what happened, but sources indicated to Kotaku that it seemed there was a significant amount of upheaval and disagreements both within Sledgehammer (whose co-founders had just left the studio) and between Sledgehammer and Raven. Again, this is somewhat speculative based on what we know, but it seems the hope was that giving Treyarch greater creative control may help stabilize the game’s development.

As noted at the time, though, one of the earliest problems with this approach was that Treyarch now had almost a full year less than usual to handle the primary development of the next Call of Duty game. Their reduced development time was almost assuredly further complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic. After all, everything from Halo Infinite to Cyberpunk 2077 has been delayed due (at least in part) to complications caused by the pandemic, so it stands to reason that Treyarch and their partners would have been impacted by similar hurdles.

Yet, despite early speculation to the contrary, Cold War was seemingly not significantly delayed by the pandemic or even the challenges posed by developing a game for two next-gen consoles, two previous-gen consoles, and PC. Cold War was released a little later than 2019’s Modern Warfare and 2018’s Black Ops 4, but not noticeably later than we’re used to seeing.

You’re probably starting to see the issue. How was a blockbuster game released without a noticeable delay when so many factors were working against it. What did Treyarch and Activision discover about game development efficiency which has seemingly eluded many of the largest and greatest developers in the world?

Early reports of Cold War‘s problems suggest the answer to that question is “nothing.” Not only does Cold War only feature 8 multiplayer maps and a shockingly short campaign, but its laundry list of technical problems includes poor optimization on PC and previous-gen consoles, subpar audio, bad hit detection, various glitches, and much more.

Many fans are noting that they would have understood if Cold War would have been delayed to 2021 due to the various factors working against it, but as a much more vocal contingent have pointed out, some of these issues have become frustratingly common not just in regards to the Call of Duty franchise, but in respect to many “yearly installment” franchises which too often suffer from similar problems.

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The age of live service titles and constant patches have only reinforced the belief that even a bad game can be good eventually. Yet, the stories of Cold War’s troubled development, the idea that developers were forced to work faster during the pandemic, and the series’ recent struggles in the minds of some fans raise additional questions about whether or not Cold War should have been released in 2020 at all.