Call of Duty: WWII Preview & Impressions – Not Quite the Classic CoD Experience

Call of Duty returns to WWII, but it brings a lot of modern-day gameplay with it.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was a special game. Its campaign was a series of all-time great levels strung together by a narrative that remains the franchise’s most engaging. Its multiplayer sparked a revolution with its particular blend of RPG elements and slightly sped-up battles. Even the game’s achievements and special levels were memorable.

You know what comes next. The billions of dollars, the millions of gamers, everything the franchise has achieved from a business standpoint. Among the countless metrics of industry success that the Call of Duty franchise lays claim to, however, is the feeling that the thrill has gone. Recent sci-fi entries in the series have left some fans wondering what a Call of Duty game truly is anymore and whether or not the franchisewill ever pull another “Modern Warfare” by keeping what works and changing the rest.

Based on my time with the game’s recent multiplayer beta, that feels exactly like what Sledgehammer Games is doing with Call of Duty: WWII.

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Sledgehammer’ last installment was 2014’s somewhat controversial – though generally well received – Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Sledgehammer claims they’ve spent much of the time since then working on WWII in some way or another. They want the game’s first foray into WWII since 2008’s World at War to feel special. 

If there is one aspect where their considerable efforts are immediately apparent, it’s the presentation. You can tell that Sledgehammer genuinely loves this setting. When you choose your preferred class before heading into battle for the first time, each option is accompanied by a retro propaganda poster and a short video featuring an officer detailing why you should enlist with them. These are subtle touches, but they’re the kind of subtle touches recent CoD games haven’t necessarily enjoyed.

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Less subtle, though certainly just as welcome, is WWII’s excellent sound design. This is hands-down the best sounding Call of Duty game I’ve ever played in terms of battle ambience. Bullets ping and echo based on your setting and distance. Soldier cries are varied and appropriate. It’s the kind of quality that stands out even if you don’t typically pay attention to such things.

Unfortunately, the game’s graphics are not quite on the same level as its sound. Actually, now is a good time to emphasize the beta part of this preview. Certain design and technical wrinkles may very well be ironed out by the time the retail version is released.

Even still, WWII’s visuals feel…bland. There are very few visual touches – save for the occasional molotov cocktail – that really pop and many environments feel washed. Again, it’s hard to tell what can be blamed on the game’s beta status and what can be blamed on the engine, but it feels like some of these visual shortcomings are ingrained on a fundamental design level.

Maybe you don’t care about that, though, and quite frankly, I don’t blame you. What you really want to know is whether or not WWII’s multiplayer gameplay will inspire you to return to this game’s competitive arena with the kind of devotion that Modern Warfare inspired.

Truth be told, WWII’s multiplayer gameplay is a bit of a mixed bag. Some of you may be very, very happy to hear that WWII does away with the jetpacks, nano suits, and technological upgrades that hindered the “boots on the ground” visceral multiplayer that older CoD games were known for. Hey, this is WWII after all and battles in this era were typically devoid of super weapons and jetpacks.

Perks, kill streak bonuses, and special weapon, however, are still present in WWII. Those who were hoping that WWII might do away with some of these concepts in favor of a classic kind of CoD multiplayer experience may be disheartened to learn that is not the case. However, you have to appreciate that CoD multiplayer is defined by such conventions, and modern CoD games still regularly outsell every other game released in a given year.

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It’s very much worth noting that perks and bonuses feel less garish in comparison to some other recent CoD titles. Some of this can be traced to WWII’s emphasis on picking a soldier within a certain combat division rather than just building a super soldier. You may get a slightly better scope or greater pistol proficiency with available perks, but it’s all about the base combat. 

That’s nice, but the base combat in WWII replicates the speedy arena death fests that CoD’s multiplayer gradually turned into over the years. Despite the boots on the ground approach, most multiplayer matches will feature you getting mowed down by an SMG from some distance by an opponent jumping around like it’s a House of Pain concert, or sniped by players whose ability to quick scope kill from halfway across the map borders on godlike. As it stands, many players will find little reason to not use either an SMG or a sniper rifle simply because of how versatile they are.

Well, that is unless you want to use the incendiary shotgun, which certainly feels as if it’s stretching the limits of historical accuracy. Then again, considering it’s possible for a black female Axis soldier to charge at you with an incendiary shotgun in this game, perhaps we’re better off skipping the historical accuracy portion of this program. 

To be fair, I’m not claiming to be a top CoD player and many of my matches saw me play against players who were way better ranked than I was (most likely due to the small sample of mostly hardcore beta participants). Obviously, these factors can have an impact on the overall experience. Personal skills aside, though, there are some design decisions (perhaps even design flaws) which inspire this style of rapid-fire, constant kill gameplay.

The biggest – and by far the most detrimental – contributing factor is the small size of the sample maps. Perhaps the retail version of the game will feature some larger maps, but the ones offered here leave you with very little room to maneuver and almost no protection to speak of. As such, it’s very easy for somewhat coordinated players to camp spawn points even by accident.

What I’m getting at here is that WWII’s multiplayer still feels like recent CoD multiplayer experiences on a fundamental level. The reduced emphasis on customization helps ground the game’s battles in pleasant ways (even though the full suite of character customization options wasn’t available in the beta), but if you’re playing in Team Deathmatch, Hardpoint (King of the Hill), or Domination (multi-point capture and hold) mode, you’ll likely find that most matches end with the feeling that you’ve played a modified version of a modern era CoD game.

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War Mode is the fascinating exception to this rule. In War Mode, you are tasked with either completing a series of objectives on offense or defending against attackers trying to complete those objectives. Matches are broken down into stages (such as repair a bridge) that must be completed in a certain time frame.

This isn’t a new concept by any means, but it is a fairly new concept for this franchise. It’s fantastic from a variety standpoint, but the War Mode mission we got to play in the beta reveals some potential flaws. If you happen to go up against a team with just a few great snipers on defense, you are going to feel helpless. There are very few flanking options available (every objective forces you to adhere to a fairly restrictive set of boundaries) and the ones that are available require an amount of teamwork that is not encouraged in any other mode and, as such, rarely appears here. Instead, many players often opt to focus on their K/D ratio.

It must sound like I’m quite down on WWII’s multiplayer, but that’s not exactly the case. For what it is trying to do (incorporate WWII elements into modern CoD multiplayer) it often does it well. It’s just that you need to be aware of what this game’s multiplayer has to offer. This is not a return to classic CoD combat, nor is it really a middle ground between what was and what is.

It’s easy to imagine that those who enjoy recent CoD multiplayer experiences for their run-and-gun chaos will be content with the way that WWII preserves that experience while removing some of the dodgier contributions of recent installments.

Still, with Quake Champions and LawBreakers bringing back arena combat, Overwatch still excelling at role/objective based battles, and games like Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds trying to perfect an emerging breed of survival-based tactical shooter, I do wonder if WWII will do enough to convince those who haven’t really played the series regularly since its WWII days to answer the call once more now that there are so many other options out there. 

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