Call of Duty WW2 War Machine review

By Marshall Lemon
12 April 2018 10:16 GMT

Call of Duty WW2 sold well and was reasonably well-designed, but the long-anticipated return of the 1940s European theatre didn’t have the impact most players hoped for after Infinite Warfare’s disappointing launch. Sledgehammer Games created a by-the-numbers solo campaign, a solid multiplayer mode with a reduced map count, and a Zombies mode that’s visually stunning but lacks staying power. WW2 wasn’t a return to form, but a reminder that we’ve been getting a somewhat generic Call of Duty experience every year for a decade.

Within the player community, however? That perception is slowly changing for the better. Instead of just dropping some DLC packs and hoping Treyarch does better this year, Sledgehammer has listened to fans and made some massive improvements via post-launch content: patches included extensive gameplay and menu UI overhauls; the multiplayer mode has hosted three major, well-received community events; and Sledgehammer even remastered two classic CoD maps and released them for free to all players. There’s a genuine sense that Sledgehammer is taking player concerns to heart and working to fix any and all criticisms – perhaps more than any CoD game to date.

Call of Duty: WW2 is absolutely in a better position now than it was last November. Its second DLC pack mostly reflects these improvements, but they don’t entirely absolve the game either. WW2 is part of a gaming experience that’s been re-packaged constantly, and repetitiveness is increasingly apparent in its design.

The War Machine is WW2 improved. It’s exciting, engaging, and fun to play. But it comes with the nagging feeling that we’ve been playing the same game since 2007. And maybe that’s okay – at least, for now.

Call of Duty WW2 War Machine patch

Before we get into the meat of War Machine, it’s worth looking at the free content Sledgehammer released alongside the latest DLC. Along with yet another major community event rumored to arrive this month, WW2 unveiled a hefty, 5GB title patch that overhauled most of the gameplay experience.

The most obvious example is unlimited sprint, which allows players to dash across the map without stopping every few seconds. This move was originally based on WW2’s ‘Boots on the Ground’ philosophy, but I’m pretty sure the Greatest Generation didn’t need so many breaks to catch its breath on Normandy beach. Matches now progress at a quicker pace, and it’s far easier for players to get back to the action when spawning in after a kill.

Divisions themselves have undergone an extensive overhaul, turning abilities like Infantry bayonets or Airborne silencers into weapon attachments any class can use. Even the aim-assisting Sharpshooter ability, once treated as a class-specific bonus, is available across all Divisions once a sniper rifle is equipped. While the change takes some getting used to, player loadouts now have a wider range of options to reflect your personal playstyle. It certainly helps that Sledgehammer added extra weapon attachment slots for all Divisions, so you don’t feel like you have to give up something.

The only drawback? These old abilities must be unlocked as new attachments by leveling each weapon almost to maximum. Even a player who fully Prestiged their favorite gun still has to put in a little effort to get their favorite abilities back. Thankfully, leveling up a weapon doesn’t take long compared to leveling up your character, but it will be frustrating for new WW2 players.

Even Nazi Zombies mode has some promising updates in store. A new Supplies menu has been added to the map that bundles together the standard Quartermaster supply drop loadouts with unique zombie contracts. Sadly, this feature wasn’t active when the patch launched, but should be a promising way to earn extra supply drops and consumables outside of grinding XP in-game.

Call of Duty WW2 War Machine maps

Of course, these new systems are nothing without good maps – and War Machine delivers. Each new level is a welcome addition to WW2, offering rich visuals, strong gameplay moments, and some impressive reworking of stale map design concepts.

Dunkirk, a new map bringing the historic setting to multiplayer, is a great example. Dunkirk’s layout makes great use of the CoD’s traditional three-lane design, where players can take advantage of different pathways to flank and surpass opponents. The first lane is the beach itself, an open region with spread-out obstacles you must sprint between for cover. Beside the beach is a narrow boardwalk with excellent sniper positions overlooking the beach. The final lane covers the boardwalk’s storefronts, sheltering players as they sneak through the map to flank exposed objectives.

Each location is visually distinct and supports unique play styles, but all fit together as a united whole. Dunkirk especially shines during objective matches like Domination or Hardpoint, where each Division supporting a specific playstyle can have a chance to shine. When everything goes well, you might even forget how heavily Dunkirk relies on the standard three-lane map design – but that’s just because Sledgehammer has refined the method to near perfection.

War Machine’s other multiplayer maps are somewhat standard by comparison, but still no slouches in the gameplay department. V2 takes place on a rocket test site that focuses combat towards the launch tower in the map’s center. This tower is a multi-floored structure that adds a welcome dose of vertical gunplay to multiplayer, but leaves you exposed to any incoming opponents rushing the building. Some of my favorite matches involved trying to hold back the enemy team, only for someone to hit the rocket test button and flush out the bottom floor. It’s somewhat gimmicky as far as multiplayer maps go, but it’s fun, and it works.

Egypt, meanwhile, plays like the classic deathmatches of old – helped in no small part by some visual callbacks to games like Serious Sam. The map takes place in a ruined temple in Giza, where teams exchange gunfire from the open sand to recently uncovered stone chambers. While not quite as vertically-focused as V2, there are several elevated platforms and pathways you can use to gain the strategic high ground against incoming enemies. On a purely mechanical level, Egypt is fairly straightforward, but still fresh thanks to bright visuals which are unique compared to WW2’s European theatre.

Call of Duty WW2 War Machine War Mode

Of all War Machine’s multiplayer maps, it’s actually Operation Husky that let me down the most – which is a shame, because I loved War Mode at launch. The mission takes place in Sicily, where Allied teams must steal intelligence from an enemy port, transmit it using Nazi radios, and then take to the skies for a climactic aerial battle.

On paper, Sledgehammer games was trying to introduce brand-new mechanics to multiplayer. Promotional materials and the opening cutscene suggest this is a stealth mission, something CoD hasn’t attempted in multiplayer since Modern Warfare’s Spec Ops. However, in practice, Operation Husky is a remix of standard CoD mode on a new map – specifically Capture the Flag and Hardpoint. And unlike the last War map, which at least turned capture points into imprisoned Resistance fighters for variety, barely any changes were made to the well-trodden – by boots, presumably on the ground – formula.

Then you have the lackluster air battle, where players respawn in the sky to play Team Deathmatch with airplanes. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad Sledgehammer wants to bring more campaign mode setpieces to multiplayer, but this aerial combat scene just doesn’t fit mechanically or thematically with the rest of the mission. Imagine crushing an enemy team across every ground-based objective, only to switch perspective to an airplane with wildly different controls and combat expectations. Win or lose, that’s a far less satisfying ending than a better-paced combat encounter.

Sledgehammer could have made a genuinely engaging sequence here. Why not have an objective where players run to their airplanes under enemy fire? What if the airplanes provided direct cover for ground forces instead of dogfighting in the distance? If CoD WW2 is about Boots on the Ground, why are we so far from Earth that not even mountains can provide cover?

Call of Duty WW2 War Machine Zombies

Thankfully, War Machine also has a new Nazi Zombies map to act as a refreshing, horrific, palate cleanser – The Shadowed Throne. After surviving the island bombings of Darkest Shore, our celebrity heroes follow Doctor Straub to Berlin just as Russia begins its assault on the city. Unfortunately for the Soviet soldiers, Straub’s zeppelins also delivered a massive zombie horde that is destroying their advance. It’s up to Jefferson, Drostan, Marie, and Olivia to stop the undead, confront Straub, and finally end this brutal war.

The last Nazi Zombies map may have disappointed fans, but Shadowed Throne is Sledgehammer’s apology. From an epic opening cutscene to the first look at ruined city streets, this map starts off strong and raises the ante from there. Each map location is well laid out and provides some solid strategies for combating zombie hordes. What’s more, each location feels distinct and visually interesting – players move from bombed-out ruins, to a macabre museum, to an abandoned cabaret while fighting off the undead.

In terms of size, I’m not sure Shadowed Throne has more playable space than WW2’s last zombies map. These are still many tight corridors and pathways where players could be pinned down by a hungry horde. What’s clear, however, is that Sledgehammer is making the best use of the space available. Multiple new melee weapons are hidden across the map, and there are far more branching routes which help you group zombies into easier targets.

Sledgehammer has also been applying lessons learned from multiplayer to its zombies mode. In Darkest Shore, the heavy attack animation of your Wonder Weapon took so long to complete that it put you at risk of being attacked when used. Shadowed Throne’s new weapons are straightforward by comparison, and let you focus on the cathartic joy of breaking zombie skulls. They’re also far easier to obtain compared to special weapons from past maps – the new Wonder Weapon takes two simple steps to assemble, while your new melee weapons are in plain sight on the map around the map.

While there are still some design choices I’d quibble over – such as a new zombie type you can only encounter by attempting the onerous Easter Egg – this map is highly engaging whether you’re playing for fun or trying to complete the Nazi Zombies story.

Call of Duty WW2 War Machine Verdict

In the end, Call of Duty: WW2 – The War Machine is a strong DLC entry. Outside of some disappointing design choices for Operation Husky, the pack adds several impressive multiplayer maps and reflects an overall practice of increasing player engagement across the entire game. Whether your preferences lean towards the multiplayer or Nazi Zombies modes, there’s quite a bit for players to sink their teeth into. And while Call of Duty may be showing its age more than ever, thankfully newcomers and long-time players alike will find something to enjoy.

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