Call of Duty WW2 is fully intended as a throwback to a classic age of gaming, recreating the time where Allied and Axis forces clashed before the franchise was bogged down in modern conflicts.
Its single-player campaign promises to bring back the World War 2 European theater, a Normandy setting, and the sense of being an integral part of a massive war effort. Yet while the game hasn’t even been released yet, it’s War mode - finally revealed in last weekend’s beta - which harkens back the most to Call of Duty’s “good old days”.
When War mode was first announced, the most obvious comparison was Operations mode from Battlefield 1, Call of Duty’s main competitor. Operations challenged players to gain control of an entire region which encompassed three maps, pushing ahead into enemy territory or falling back to secure positions depending on how well you fared in each individual map. War mode however, is an entirely different animal.
Where Operations addresses the large scale of combat, War mode narrows its focus on a specific mission where a squad must accomplish specific goals - or prevent the other team from doing so. While there’s still a bigger picture to consider, player focus is on one varied objective at a time, chipping away at a larger war effort. And that’s precisely what makes WWII’s War mode feel like it’s getting back to basics - because it plays so much like the single player campaigns of Call of Duty 1 and 2.
"WW2's War mode feel like it’s getting back to basics – because it plays so much like the single player campaigns of Call of Duty 1 and 2"
We’ve previously covered Call of Duty’s War mode in other previews, but it’s not strictly a new gameplay feature. Instead, War mode takes several familiar singular objectives from other game modes, and challenges players with overcoming each one in a row to complete the broader mission. Perhaps the best comparison is Overwatch’s limited-time Uprising event, where players had to secure checkpoints, defend a fixed location, and deliver a Payload all within the same mission.
The map included in last week’s Private Beta - Operation Breakout - opens with a similar attempt to capture an Axis-occupied base. The second phase blocks Allied access to the larger map until they work together to assemble a bridge under enemy fire. Doing so unlocks a third phase, where the Allies must defend their timed explosives to destroy a nearby supply depot. Finally, your player must escort a tank deep into Axis territory to destroy anti-aircraft guns, allowing the reinforcements to arrive and secure the area.
While each gameplay objective isn’t exactly new, they do link together to form a narrative never seen in your standard Call of Duty multiplayer match. Sledgehammer Games is well aware of this dynamic, adding introductory cutscenes and briefings along with a finale that highlights your success or failure. There’s a dramatic tension you simply can’t experience from building a Kill-Death ratio, prompting the game to downplay the feature in War Mode. It’s just you, a squad of allies, and enemy soldiers locked in the most widespread conflict humanity has ever experienced. Sledgehammer is using War mode to tell a story, and while respawns mean you won’t quite experience the campaign’s Band of Brothers tone, it’s still remarkably similar to Infinity Ward’s first groundbreaking shooters.
It was completing Operation Breakout’s second objective that rammed home how War mode felt like a single-player campaign. Our Allied team was keeping the enemy at bay from sniper nests, but nobody was activating the smoke screen which would provide cover to build a bridge. With seemingly no other choice, I rushed towards the partially-constructed bridge and crawled under deadly enemy fire, using the supplies as cover while squad mates fired at machine gun nests. After a few attempts, the game marked the phase as complete and prompted us to surge ahead. These were the kind of objectives I’d experienced during Call of Duty 1 and 2, albeit with NPC allies instead of player characters.
Classic Call of Duty games were light on plot and characterization, but used immersion to create a rich personal narrative. Even if you were the decisive element in a battle, you never felt alone - you were just a valuable part of a larger force. Soldiers entered battle as part of platoons and battalions, relying on their numbers and flanking positions to take down entrenched opponents. NPCs cheered when an enemy base was captured and alerted you every time the enemy tried to flank you. While Call of Duty has come a long way in subsequent years, that feeling was sacrificed to make players feel like badass lone heroes. War mode gets right back to basics, with the only major differences involving a transition to multiplayer.
"Call of Duty’s player base could suddenly be revitalized by an influx of players who appreciate single-player narratives and multiplayer gameplay."
War mode is just one portion of what Call of Duty WW2 will offer, but it certainly has the greatest potential. Despite its position as a best-selling franchise, Call of Duty’s multiplayer gameplay has been stagnant for years, offering near-identical combat experiences with minor gameplay adjustments. Players have been craving a fresh take, but it’s only now that an in-match narrative is being seriously explored. War mode may just be one portion of what Call of Duty WW2 offers, but it’s already showing the potential to offer a richer experience.
And if War mode is successful, the benefits could reach beyond revitalizing multiplayer. In the short term, Call of Duty’s player base could suddenly be revitalized by an influx of players who appreciate single-player narratives and multiplayer gameplay. It might also lead to experiments with multiplayer features in single-player, much how real-life players can join your Dark Souls game. Call of Duty has already tried out co-op campaigns before, with limited success. What if we end up with full-length multiplayer campaigns where each player’s small contribution could make all the difference?
All will depend on how Call of Duty WW2 is received compared to the latest series entries, but overall it’s a promising sign. At the very least, it’ll be more incentive for Sledgehammer Games to expand War mode with additional maps that bring us back to Call of Duty’s glory days.