Call of Duty: WW2 revealed – multiplayer, campaign, “dark” co-op, and more
After experimenting with the present day, the immediate future, the near-future, space-future, alternate universes and complex lore of all stripes, Call of Duty is going back to basics – back to the most significant and massive conflicts in history, the second world war.
Sledgehammer games have a good COD pedigree as far as I’m concerned. It’s first full attempt in the franchise was Advanced Warfare, which had you take on Kevin Spacey while deploying near-future sci-fi technology. Call of Duty WW2 is in many ways the opposite of that, doing away with the single recognisable antagonist and stripping down equipment and abilities to the bare minimum, just as things were in the earliest entries in the COD series.
We saw the game last week ahead of its announcement, and though we didn’t get to actually go hands-on what we saw was impressive, and Sledgehammer appear to be saying and doing the right things with the aim being to take the series in a new (but old) direction. Even Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg thinks the time is right to return to World War 2. Here, we’ve gathered five of the points we think you need to know about COD WW2 based on the two hours we spent looking at and talking about the game.
It might be an action blockbuster, but it’s also about respect
One of the very first points hammered home during the presentation of Call of Duty WW2’s features is that while the game features the bombast and spectacle the series is known for, it’s also a game that Sledgehammer Games and Activision have developed with respect for the horror of the real-world conflict.
Sledgehammer Games co-founder Michael Condrey describes tackling the WW2 setting as “a great honour” for the studio, and went on to define some lofty goals for a game that’s ultimately about shooting and action.
“We’ve spent two and a half years researching World War 2 deeply,” he explained during a presentation. “We began with wanting to tell the story to ensure, really, that we never allow this to happen again.
“The more we researched, the more we spoke to veterans, the more we walked in the footsteps of the people who were actually there, the more we realised that the people who sacrificed are no longer here to tell the story for themselves. So not only are we telling it to make sure it doesn’t happen again, but we’re telling it because the people who were there can’t tell their own story. We want to make sure that it remains in the consciousness.”
Much of this is visible in what was on show of the final product. There’s a focus on a smaller squad of characters you’ll get to know intimately throughout the story that we’re told was directly inspired by speaking to veterans, and there’ll be plenty of room for quieter moments between the horrors of war.
When the game goes for its set-pieces, it seems to aim to capture at least some of the horror. One segment shown features the squad coming under heavy artillery fire during the Battle of Hürtgen Forest, and the visual and sound design seems deliberately tuned to overwhelm in the way that harrowing real-life shelling would, too. COD4 had that unforgettable nuke scene – here, COD WW2 leverages that style of storytelling to try to display the brutality of WW2-era shelling.
For authenticity Sledgehammer has spoken to veterans and even retraced the steps of soldiers for real – we briefly see video footage of the team trekking through Hürtgen Forest and surveying the still-visible scars of the battle there.
The first mission is the Normandy D-Day landing
Sledgehammer Games is pulling no punches with this one – so Call of Duty WW2 starts the show with the showstopper, the biggest and most iconic event of the second world war, D-Day. As Sledgehammer Games co-founder Michael Condrey points out, we’re 19 years removed from Saving Private Ryan’s release, and there’s arguably a generation of people now who haven’t seen a major recreation of this historical moment in our lifetime.
We don’t get to see the whole level, but what we do see is a harrowing representation that makes excellent use of the technology now available on current hardware. The sound design seems particularly impressive, with the explosions and hail of gunfire utterly oppressive. When your character finally bails out of the landing craft, he does so into a sea that is stained red with the blood of others less fortunate.
The storm up the beach is some classically scripted Call of Duty stuff, but the level then quickly gives way to close-quarters combat in the trenches. Bodies are everywhere. At one point a hand-to-hand tussle with an axis soldier ends brutally when, wrestling on the floor, you’re forced to reach for a helmet, the only weapon to hand. You beat him to death with it.
Based on a brief overview of the game’s campaign shown as part of the presentation, players can expect to trek deeper into France after the beach landing at Normandy. There’ll definitely be a stop-off in Paris to see the iconic moment of the city’s liberation, from there pushing on and up into Germany.
The story focuses on one American Squad in the later years of the war
Call of Duty WW2 is all about one squad of US soldiers. You’ll follow an allied squad in the first infantry, and they’re thrown right into the fire at Normandy. This focus is so that Sledgehammer can tell a more personal story – something that it says is directly inspired from the stories it heard and veterans met.
“We’re going to be following a couple of soldiers in particular and their growth from newly enlisted recruits who began with the allied invasion of Normandy,” Michael Condrey explains. “Through the challenges they face and the struggles as they come to understand what true heroism means during the liberation of Europe.”
Given that it begins on D-Day, that does mean that the game’s storyline takes place primarily in 1944 and 1945.
The player character is paired with his best friend, a slightly meek-seeming Jewish-American – one assumes they likely signed up together. A few quiet moments between characters are shown in the gameplay footage we see, and it seems there’s been a major emphasis on making these characters into ones you’ll be keen to spend a lot of time with and desperate to see survive the horrors of WW2.
Where Sledgehammer’s previous effort Advanced Warfare was about you, a super soldier, WW2 is about everyone around you and the sense of brotherhood and camaraderie in the most dire of situations. “It’s really about the guy next to you,” Condrey says. Squad members will even have unique attributes you may see in battle. At one point one ally tosses the protagonist a new clip in a fashion reminiscent of Elizabeth from Bioshock Infinite – and this wasn’t a pre-scripted event but a random, contextual one.
While there are some recognisable faces among Call of Duty WW2’s cast, there’s no one ‘big name’ like Kevin Spacey or Kit Harington tying it together or being pushed in marketing. That might distract from the authenticity, Condrey explains, and the focus really is on this cast of characters in your squad.
On rare occasions you will switch perspective from the main squad
With the previous point about the main American squad noted, COD WW2 isn’t all entirely about that one group.
“We want to recognise that this was a war that touched every nation on the planet in some way. Upwards of 100 million people were impacted. This is a global war in history, and it’s an inflection in human history,” Condrey says. “We’re going to represent that through a lens of honour and respect.”
That means that there’ll be plenty of representation for the likes of the British, French, Canadian, Australian and so on alongside the US forces. While your playable character focus is on the main squad, there will also be segments where you see through the eyes of others. Condrey describes a segment he’s particularly proud of as one where you play as a woman from the French Resistance during the liberation of Paris. The main focus will always be on the core squad, however.
“It’s a broad and rich cast that we’re very proud of,” says Condrey.
It sounds like there won’t be any Pacific or Eastern front missions, but in multiplayer you’ll also get a chance to see things from the German perspective. Multiplayer will also have exclusive areas not featured in the single-player, so there are chances for other theatres to be shown there – but Activision wouldn’t be drawn on if that’d be the case. Our bet is if other theatres don’t make it into the main game they have a strong chance of popping up as multiplayer DLC.
Multiplayer has been retooled and reconsidered
Multiplayer information is thin on the ground for now since Activision is saving a full reveal for E3, but we were able to tease a little information out as part of our session.
Boots on the Ground
It wouldn’t be a Call of Duty game without a good old fashioned multiplayer mode, and Boots on the Ground seems to be the new basic first port of call option – though given the very nature of WW2 it’s a much more pure experience than the double-jumping, exosuit-wearing, ability-slinging outings the series has featured of late.
“Fans have been very vocal about their excitement to return to a Call of Duty in that fast-paced action – the grounded action that made Call of Duty great,” Condrey notes. “It’s gritty, visceral and intense first-person combat.”
Divisions are essentially a new way to enlist and grow your solider’s career that’s basically a new twist on create-a-class concept. It basically tries to recreate some of what the brave young lads signing up during the second world war faced. It contextualises the character creation, with the division you enlist in helping to determine your class, gear and multiplayer role.
War is an all-new game mode that seems to be most easily compared to Battlefield 1’s Operations (our comparison, not Sledgehammer’s). It’s part of your multiplayer character progression but offers a narrative-driven alternative to the more basic ‘kill the enemy’ multiplayer modes. Maps will be asymmetrical and each team will have unique objectives.
This is the mode I’m probably most excited about – if you imagine a level like Normandy in a multiplayer setting, the objectives for the Axis soldiers firing down on the landing troops are going to be very different to those for the Allies who are pushing up. When the allies make progress, axis players will be forced to fall back and reinforce a new area. This is fairly familiar for Battlefield, but quite new for Call of Duty – it’s exciting to think how this might turn out.
“To be able to put players in these really iconic battles for strategic objectives in this linear fashion is really interesting and fun for us,” Condrey beams.
Headquarters is an interesting new idea – a social space where players can hang out and interact in between matches. Sledgehammer experimented with this idea a little with their lobbies in Advanced Warfare, but this sounds like a step beyond. Judging by recent info it looks as though Headquarters will support up to 48 players.
“We really wanted to bring your character to life,” Condrey explains. “In Advanced Warfare you saw that with the virtual lobby – for the first time you had a character you were attached to meaningfully. This is the evolution of that into headquarters.”
Condrey says that you’ll have dozens of players in large-scale spaces for Headquarters. Here you can pick up rewards, connect with players, show off your character, or anything else you can think of.
“This is a game-changer for Call of Duty,” says Condrey. “We’ve never done anything like this before.”
Image: Call of Duty World League.
Yes, there is a zombies-style co-operative multiplayer experience
While Activision and Sledgehammer absolutely refused to talk about it for now, Call of Duty WW2 will of course feature a small-squad co-operative mode as it has for years now in the tradition of zombies and the like. They even teased the first image, as seen above. Remember, this is from the team who created Dead Space, so it certainly knows how to do horror effectively.
We weren’t given any information on this besides a single corner of a presentation slide teasing us – though it did promise the mode would be ‘adrenaline filled’, ‘dark’ and ‘new and original’.