Call of Duty: WWII Review

By Mark Delaney, 22 days ago
After years of drifting further into the future and outer space, fans finally got what they asked for when Call of Duty promised to return to its roots for 2017. Sledgehammer Games, the newest of the three-pronged approach Activision takes to the Call of Duty developer cycle, gave fans a recent favorite when they put out Advanced Warfare a few years back. Trusting them to get the franchise back on track and back to a bygone era is a huge sign of confidence from the publisher, and in many ways that trust is warranted. Call of Duty: WWII isn't nearly perfect but it delivers in making Call of Duty nostalgic and innovative at once.

Call of Duty: WWII

Call of Duty: WWII, like the past several iterations, is really three games in one. It seems to now be a franchise mandate that every release splits up its offerings into three areas: campaign, multiplayer, and a third mode, typically zombies. We'll start with the story. Borrowing heavily from the genre touchstones like Band of Brothers and Saving Private Ryan, the WWII story mode just couldn't help itself. It opens like seemingly all western front, Amero-centric stories do: on the beaches of Normandy. It's been years since a major studio put us on the scene in history's greatest conflict so it's immediately nostalgic, if still a bit tired, to bring the boats to shore and charge at the mounted guns a few hundred feet away. History buffs know this day of infamy all too well, so it feels more like obligation than innovation for Sledgehammer to begin here.

From there the story unfolds in ways that you could have predicted from the pre-release material. The story is meant to display the siblinghood of fighting not with but for the man beside you. Over the course of the game, you'll get to know about a dozen different characters, many of them fighting alongside you in your troop, while others come in to assist throughout your adventure. The problem is you never get a feel for most of these soldiers despite the game's admirable efforts. Josh Duhamel is this year's token familiar face in the game, with a few other what's-his-names to be seen and googled too. Other than your best friend, Zussman, and your commanding officers, most of the cast fails to stand out to really drive home the game's message of loving and caring for the rifleman beside you in the trenches.

Call of Duty has always done well to mix in various types of missions and this one is no different. You'll spend some time in a tank, in a fighter plane, in AA guns, and no Call of Duty would be complete without its stealth mission. WWII has more than one dedicated stealth mission this time and on one occasion they do something new and interesting by having you go undercover, hiding in plain sight. That mission stands out among the rest as it doesn't feel rehashed or predictable. All in all, the story mode is another decent romp for the franchise. It's always interesting to see just how much studio time goes into these campaigns when statistically it's been shown that the most enthusiastic series fans don't even finish them.

Just giving players the setting they've missed earns Call of Duty: WWII commendations.Just giving players the setting they've missed earns Call of Duty: WWII commendations.

The multiplayer has been given the biggest facelift of the game's modes, and not just aesthetically. Like the story, it does immediately pull you back to the days of World at War or even earlier in the franchise's storied history thanks to the setting. The sum of the mode's attributes is comprised of more than just its makeover, though. A new game mode called War is by far the best new toy players will get in WWII. In it, kill-death ratio isn't even displayed, which helps relax the series' long obsession with the statistic. Instead, you get an overall score for completing objectives, assisting your team, and driving back the bad guys.

Taking inspiration from other popular shooters, War mode pits two teams on a constantly growing map, where one team has to defend objectives while the other attacks them. In a full round on offense, you may capture territory, blow up a weapons depot, build a bridge, and advance a tank like an Overwatch payload. Each successfully completed objective drives the enemy back, which totally changes the round structure of Call of Duty in a way that's been needed for years.

Along with that exciting new mode come all the familiar types as well, like Team Deathmatch, Search and Destroy, and Hardcore lobbies. The setting and weaponry, as well as the lack of exosuits or other future tech, allows for games to unfold more slowly than they've been able for a decade, which is likely a welcome change for many. If you still want to equip a killer melee weapon, pair it with some stamina and speed boosting abilities and run around like Jason Voorhees at 2X speed, you can. For those who want to move more slowly around the various battlefields and take their time picking people off with the decades-old weaponry, that's finally a viable option again.

The scorestreaks are era appropriate, but as deadly as ever.The scorestreaks are era appropriate, but as deadly as ever.

The new Headquarters social space feels like a permanent addition to the Call of Duty suite. Before, after, or in between matches, you're loaded out to a digital barracks offering a vast range of relaxed activities. You can party up with friends and stroll around in third person. You can open loot boxes as others watch. When you prestige you're given a ceremony for others to attend — this is so goofy that it's actually fun. You can practice shooting, learn how to utilize scorestreaks, and even find a few easter eggs, like a football you can toss around with others or the strangest of cameos, NFL running back Le'veon Bell as one of your commanding officers. It doesn't do anything for you once you're in a game mode, but to change the in-between from a still lobby of gamertags to this hub of activities, it feels certain that this will be replicated in all future series titles, not to mention other franchises that move to include something like it too.

Zombies mode returns once again and it's a return to the series' truest form with the setting, Nazi Zombies. This time David Tennent (Doctor Who) and Ving Rhames (Dawn of the Dead remake) lead the cast of familiar faces. The map is expansive and feels like it offers more easter eggs than ever before. It also cuts out a lot of goofiness, although Tennent's one-liners definitely keep it a bit comedic. The Final Reich, as it's called, is one of the darkest versions of the game mode to date, with compelling zombie design that'll make you wish they'd slow down so you could inspect them a bit better.

Increasingly, the mode has become more and more story-driven, and that's again the case here. Media has long played up on the nazis' appreciation of the occult, which really wasn't very strong, but the phony plot point is famous enough that it feels fun and at home in this context. You'll still need a full team of four competent players to do much of anything, so bring some friends before you venture into this torture castle. With great atmosphere and setting, this year's zombies mode feels like the classic B-horror that put it on the map.

Nazi Zombies lacks some star power, but it makes up for it with plenty of easter eggs and varied objectives.Nazi Zombies lacks some star power, but it makes up for it with plenty of easter eggs and varied objectives.

If you're still playing Call of Duty annually just for achievements, you'll want to spend most of your time in the story and zombies mode. Most of the zombies related achievements are secret because they help reveal some of the many easter eggs. There are also plenty to be earned in the story mode, with achievements for almost every mission plus some moment-specific unlocks the series employs often as well. There are even a few for playing in multiplayer, but they're based on things you'd do anyway so they don't disrupt the competitive spirit. Getting ten kills and prestiging for the first time are as basic as you can get. If you have a reliable zombies team and can beat the campaign on veteran, you'll not have a very hard time finishing another yearly installation of the franchise.

Summary

Call of Duty: WWII is a game that was much requested by fans and ultimately hits most of its targets. The story mode's focus on in-the-trenches brotherhood falls short of its mark due to introducing a dozen or so characters and only getting a few of them to stand out. However, if you're coming back to the series annually you're probably in it for its other two modes, multiplayer and zombies. In both instances, they innovate in fun ways. At times, it does feel like the whole package benefits from the simple timeline swap. If you gave up on the franchise's small maps and repetitive story structure, WWII doesn't do enough to make you want to come back. It remains true to itself, for better or worse. For anyone who still plays the games with glee every November, Call of Duty: WWII is a better-late-than-never return to the series' roots.
4 / 5
Positives
  • Feels welcomely nostalgic
  • War game mode is a long-awaited addition
  • As always, displays nearly unrivaled production value
  • Elaborate and more story-driven Nazi Zombies mode
Negatives
  • Microtransactions aren't present yet but they're coming
  • Story mode borrows heavily from genre counterparts and still fails to deliver on its themes
  • Other than setting, it doesn't entice players to return if they gave up on the series years ago
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent 20 hours storming beaches, blowing up zombies, and breaking even in kill-death ratio. Along the way he collected 27 of 50 achievements for 485 gamerscore. An Xbox One digital copy was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.
Mark Delaney
Written by Mark Delaney
Mark is a Boston native now living in Portland, Oregon. He's the Editorial Manager on TA, loves story-first games, and is one of three voices on the TA Playlist podcast. Outside of games he likes biking, sci-fi, the NFL, and spending time with his fiancée and son. He almost never writes in the third person.