It goes without saying that Call of Duty was never in danger of becoming a sales flop or going the way of Medal of Honor, but recently it hasn’t been showing the resilience the series had become renowned for. Yet if the internet hype machine is anything to go by, Call of Duty: WWII looks set to please existing and lapsed fans with a back-to-basics approach that made Call of Duty a household name.
In an interview with Polygon, Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg said the work for WWII, began around three years ago, stating that the company was “plugged into the same cultural rhythms to a certain extent. [We] definitely just thought it was time to take the franchise back to its roots.”
In charge of this return to form is Sledgehammer Games, co-developers of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 and lead developers of Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. And they have a big task ahead of them. Especially if they want to come close to defeating their biggest rival – themselves.
IT’S A NUMBERS GAME
Over the course of more than a decade, the Call of Duty franchise became a sales behemoth, which meant any stumble was always going to look bigger than it actually was. Of the ten Call of Duty games in the core series (which excludes spin-offs like the PS Vita exclusive Black Ops: Declassified), the number one in first-week sales is Call of Duty: Black Ops II at 12.39 million. By comparison, Infinite Warfare, the latest entry in the series, sold 3.73 million in its first week. That’s a lot of lost sales, but it’s only because the bar is set so impossibly high.
As far as Call of Duty games go Infinite Warfare didn’t hit the mark as hard as some others, yet selling millions of copies in the first week for nearly any other video game series would be considered a massive success. Put it this way, the much-loved Battlefield 1 is the second fastest selling Battlefield game ever having sold 3.46 million in its first week. It was considered a huge success but all concerned, and deservedly so, but it just goes to show the difference between a successful video game and a successful Call of Duty game.
Sledgehammer Games may not hit the Black Ops II or Modern Warfare 2 level of sales with WWII, but it looks like they’ve been given a chance to do things a little differently this time around and take some much-needed some chances.
NEW WAYS TO PLAY
To differentiate itself from the rest of Call of Duty games, WWII is going to offer two new modes of play that are radically different approaches to the old series formula. The first is Divisions, which lets players choose a division within the military, such as airborne, armored or infantry, and progress through their career by sticking to a chosen role. Details about Divisions is scarce, but hopefully choosing a defined role will encourage specialists in the game beyond the usual sniper, machine gunner, and annoying dude with a shotgun.
The other mode is War – a narrative approach to multiplayer that sees players on opposing sides trying to achieve different objectives. Sledgehammer Games co-founder Michael Condrey gave GamesRadar+ the example of the Allied troops trying to push back Axis soldiers, saying that one team might be trying to take a hill and destroy a radio tower, while the other team has to defend it.
“From the German perspective it would be ‘[hold the line], if you lose the line pull back to the barn,” said Condrey, “and if you lose the barn, pull back to the radio tower – if you lose the radio tower, defend the 88s’ right?”
From his brief description, the first comparison that springs to mind is the multiplayer mode Rush that was introduced in Battlefield: Bad Company, and further refined in Battlefield 3. In those games, one team had to defend three points at once, while the attacking team was tasked with destroying them. If the defenders killed enough attackers to end the round, but if the attackers destroyed all the points the action would move further down the map to the next three points. This would continue until there were no points left to defend.
It’s too early to tell how this will play out in Call of Duty: WWII, but Condrey’s wording makes it sound like they’ll be using historical battles to draw inspiration from. It’s not hard to picture hordes of opposing players storming the beaches of Normandy with a full squad, while the other side defends the beachhead from incoming attackers. There’s so much that can be done here, and so many battles that can be used as inspiration.
LOOK AT ALL MY NICE THINGS
If there’s one thing synonymous with Call of Duty it’s earning that Prestige badge and placing it next to your player card. Hitting the level cap and sacrificing almost all your unlocked gear just to do it all again has always been about showing off. It let people easily see your dedication to the game.
At some point though, Prestiging started to mean less and less the more you played. It was always a sign of skill, but it was standard practice for Call of Duty games and lost the charm it once had. Fans need something more – which is where Headquarters comes in.
Designed to be a social space outside of combat, Headquarters will be an area for players to hang out and show off what they’ve earned. Sledgehammer Games co-founder Michael Condrey told GamesRadar+ that they wanted “players to really explore the community” and that the Headquarters will be a “social living space where it’s about being rewarded, it’s about being recognized, it’s about being social”.
Exactly how it will work is yet to be revealed, but the unveiling showed over 50-or-so troops gathered on a beach after an invasion, wandering around together and taking in the scenery. Having a space separate from the hectic nature of the multiplayer modes could lead to people putting a lot more time into character customization, or perhaps focusing on special and rare cosmetic unlocks.
BAND OF BROTHERS
If there are two things Sledgehammer Games wanted to make clear about their plans for the WWII campaign, it’s how serious they are about focusing on authenticity and respect. “The more we researched, the more we spoke to veterans, the more we walked in the footsteps of the people who were actually there,” explained Michael Condrey, “the more we realized 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.”
The story of WWII begins in Normandy during the infamous beach landing and follows 19-year-old Ronald “Red” Daniels, a Private in the United States Army from Texas, who survives the landing and joins up with the 1st Infantry Division. “The theme that we stuck to was that this was about the greater good and representing common men,” said Condrey. “And the vulnerability – these were terrified kids going to war for the first time at 19 years old. Very different from some of the stories that we’ve told in the past.”
Daniels will be part of a 12 man squad, led by Private First Class Robert Zussman and 1st Lieutenant Joseph Turner, as they push through battles across Europe, including battles in Germany, France, and Belgium. Players will also control a female French resistance fighter named Rousseau, though Condrey did add that he wants the player to feel connected to all the characters and that the game is primarily led by the rookie Daniels.
LOOKING FORWARD, LOOKING BACK
Though Call of Duty has taken players all over the world, out into space, and from recent history to the near future, fans have always loved the original ‘boots on the ground’ gameplay of the earlier games. And that’s what they’re getting once more.
The days of wall-running and double-jumping are gone, and in their place are soldiers with basic weaponry and who are far more vulnerable and will rely on each other a lot more. For example, in Call of Duty: WWII your health no longer regenerates, which means injured players must seek out medics to heal them. That added sense of danger will make you think twice about taking even a few bullets if you know that you can’t just heal automatically like the old days.
Something that is making a welcome comeback, even if it does stand in stark contrast to the realism of Call of Duty: WWII, is the zombie survival mode. This time around the narrative focuses on the closing stages of the war when the Nazi’s were at their most desperate and attempting to create an undead army to turn the tide in their favor. Few details about the mode are public knowledge, but the imagery used suggests a far more serious tone than some of the more recent zombie modes.
In addition to zombies, WWII will also feature a fleshed out co-op campaign, complete with its own story and, as the developers put it, “a next-level standalone game experience full of unexpected, adrenaline-pumping moments”. We still have a lot to learn about the new co-op mode, but any chance to play alongside friends in something other than regular deathmatch will be a welcome addition.
Gamers won’t have to wait long to get their first taste of Call of Duty: WWII with a beta coming to the PlayStation 4 later in the year ahead of the November 3 launch. There’s still a lot of unknowns of course, and many of them to be cleared up at E3 2017, but going off initial impressions it’s hard to not be excited by what’s to come. Activision and Sledgehammer Games know Call of Duty needs reinvigorating, and while it’s still early days Call of Duty: WWII is ticking all the right boxes and promises to be the game fans have been craving for quite some time now.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare Sells an Estimated 3.73M Units First Week at Retail by William D’Angelo, VGChartz
The Call of Duty WW2 interview by Leon Hurley, GamesRadar+
Call of Duty: WWII is the ‘right game at the right time’ by Christopher Grant, Polygon