Amid server issues, deserted social spaces and arguments over weapon balance, one part of Call of Duty: WW2 has been universally praised thus far: War.
There is nothing particularly revolutionary about War mode. We've seen its design in many multiplayer shooters before. It lifts elements of rival shooter Battlefield, with lots of players fighting over multi-part objectives across big maps, and Blizzard's Overwatch, with a "play the objective" feel to proceedings. But Call of Duty's never seen anything like it, and it lets me - a self-confessed terrible Call of Duty player - have fun in a competitive environment.
War mode doesn't quite nail the "epic" feel of Battlefield (there's no destruction, no vehicles and the maps aren't as big), and it retains the close to medium quarters run and gun gameplay Call of Duty was built upon, but the developers at Sledgehammer have done well to tap into our collective pop culture knowledge of Hollywood's most iconic World War 2 battles. War sometimes feels more epic than it should.
Take Operation Neptune, for example. This is COD: WW2's D-Day-based War mode map. As the Allies you have to capture two cliff-side bunkers that are being defended by Axis soldiers (there are no Nazis in COD: WW2 multiplayer, remember) as you soldier up the beach. You have to take both within a time-limit in order to advance to the second part of the game. It's pretty cool.
In Operation Griffin, you have to stop German tanks from advancing into a snow-drenched Allied camp, or, if you're playing on the Axis side, escort their advance. It's a particular thrill to force your tanks far enough into the map to complete the objective with just a few seconds remaining on the clock, or, on the other hand, hold the tanks off long enough to force an early Allied victory in overtime.
The second objective in Operation Breakout revolves around the construction of a bridge. As the Allies you need to build the bridge so your tank can push forward. But the bridge is exposed, which means everyone on your team is frantically trying to provide cover fire or conceal the construction. The soldiers of the Axis side, on the other hand, hole up in the top floors of ruined buildings, shooting down on those who dare to try to construct the bridge. There's a nice tug of war feel to it all.
I suspect most players won't care about this, but I appreciate Sledgehammer's attempt to inject a narrative into War mode. I see what the designers are going for here: capture a command post to acquire intel on German defences, then build a bridge so your tank can push forward, then finally destroy an enemy ammo supply and escort your tank to blow up a series of Flak 88s. This light narrative, which is flanked by a couple of short cutscenes involving the avatars of the players in the match, ties all of the action together nicely, and subconsciously motivates you to see the game through.
The brilliance of War mode, however, is in the way it's designed for Call of Duty players of varied skill. I'm a terrible Call of Duty player - at least compared to those who fuss over their k/d ratio in ranked play. War mode doesn't give a monkeys about my k/d ratio. In fact, it doesn't take it into consideration at all when determining my success or post-game reward. There are no scorestreaks in War mode, either. It's all about the team victory, which is great for me, because it means I can focus on playing the objective, something I'm not half bad at.
The fact War has no effect on your k/d ratio makes for a curious blend of relaxing and heart-pounding play. The light build / defense elements not only reward you with points, but really do help your team. You want to build that wall to protect your fuel dump, not only because it gives you points, but because it'll help you win the round. You want to equip smoke grenades because tactical play is often more useful than killing enemy soldiers. I've found most players - not all, but most - play the objective, building turrets and walls and throwing smoke to cover the advance of rushers. It's... nice!
War gives me a chance to have fun in Call of Duty's competitive multiplayer, and I haven't had that from the series for a long time. Don't get me wrong - I die. A lot. But amid the carnage I contribute. I help push forward. By just being near my tank I'm helping it advance. By jumping on a turret and defending a bunker I'm helping my team defend. By constructing a hedgehog I can hold up an enemy tank just long enough to win the objective. The little things add up, and when it comes to Call of Duty, the little things are manageable.
You can win from pretty much any position, too. As the defending team, winning an objective ends the match because it means the attacking team has failed. So, even if you're pushed back to the third and final objective, the defending team has the chance to win the round if they eventually halt the opposition's advance. Then the teams swap sides and it's your turn to advance. It's a nice design that mitigates - but does not eradicate - the dreaded stomp.
And then War mode ends and Call of Duty: WW2 rewards you with a modest dollop of points that make the progression bars go up. You might even end up with a supply drop for your trouble. War mode counts for daily and weekly missions, and you level up all your divisions and weapons as you play. Via War mode you can - slowly, I admit - progress through Call of Duty's long grind.
And as a busy father of a toddler, War mode is a perfect fit for my lifestyle. I have fun. It's not too stressful. And each match lasts about 20 minutes, which is just about my limit for a game you can't pause when your kid wakes up screaming. War mode? Dad mode, more like.
Call of Duty: WW2's War mode isn't for everyone. A huge portion of the COD community loves dominating in ranked play, where their k/d ratio is king, and that's fine. Without scorestreaks, War mode is sure to put off plenty of COD purists who love gunning for a recon aircraft or a fire bombing run. And I should reiterate that War mode is hardly inspired multiplayer shooter design. But it is great for Call of Duty, it is great for me and it is great, I think, for the Call of Duty community.