Call of Duty: WW2 is my first Call of Duty. This, I'm told, is an odd thing. How could I possibly have managed to avoid playing a Call of Duty game over the last 10 years? Well, Activision's mega shooter series has never sparked an interest in me before. Modern Warfare? I was too busy playing Halo 3. Black Ops? I was into Reach. Ghosts passed me by (I did like Colin the dog, though), and then it was on to Destiny.
But there was something about Call of Duty: WW2 that grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and screamed in my face: play me! I've been thinking about why this happened. The WW2 setting was a big part of it, but in truth the game came out at a good time. After Destiny 2 fever died down so quickly, I craved another shooter. November, as it always does, brought with it a new Call of Duty and I thought, why not?
Three months later, I'm hooked. I play Call of Duty: WW2 most evenings, fussing over my soldier builds and working out which unlock to target next. Along the way I've noticed - well, more observed, really - some of Call of Duty's idiosyncrasies for the first time, and I thought it would be interesting to jot them down. Most of these observations will come as no surprise to Call of Duty fans who I'm sure are used to the series' way of doing things. But to me, a Call of Duty newcomer, there are revelations, confusions and outright surprises buried within this video game behemoth. So, this is the good, bad and ugly of Call of Duty, from the expert eye of someone who's playing Call of Duty for the first time.
In the feels
Call of Duty's trademark silky smooth 60 frames per second action is as fast and responsive as I'd heard it was. Call of Duty, I have learnt, is Instant Gratification: The Shooter. Run and gun and kill and die. Respawn, rinse and repeat. You're always mere seconds away from the action, seconds away from some medal popping up on-screen. Double Kill! Kingslayer! Kill +100! Weapon Level Up! Quick reflexes and an even quicker time to kill are the foundations upon which Call of Duty's sickly sweet combat loop is built. In. Out. Shake it all about. You aim down sights then you turn around. That's what it's all about.
It is easy, I suspect, to forget the brilliance of the core Call of Duty feel, so long has it stood the series in such good stead. Veteran fans take it for granted. Video game journalists look down their noses at it. For years I labelled Call of Duty the shooty bang bang game for the masses and as such considered it devoid of substance, but now I see I was being a big old snob. If Battlefield is The Guardian, Call of Duty is The Sun. Sure, it's mindless mass market entertainment, but the making of a good Call of Duty game requires a skill the collective consciousness fails to appreciate. Call of Duty doesn't have the expansive, destructive fighting of a Battlefield match, nor does it have the fancy-pants sci-fi fantasy of your average Destiny firefight, but it does have focus and an unrelenting commitment to what it does best: blisteringly tight, close quarters run-and-gun shooting.
Call of Duty's got great guns, hasn't it? The developers at Sledgehammer nailed the look, sound and feel of World War 2's iconic weapons. The Bren feels like firing thunder. The "ping" when you reload the M1 Garand is World War 2 in an audio file. There's decent feedback through the controller, too, so the guns feel punchy and weighty, with an in-game recoil that must to be accounted for. When I unlock a cool new variant for a weapon, I jump straight into the firing range to inspect it. One of the cool little things about Call of Duty is you can hold a button to have your soldier admire their gun. Some of these inspect animations are, well... your soldier really likes their guns.
Cool little feature in Call of Duty: hold a button to inspect your weapon (there are loads of different animations) pic.twitter.com/e3ItYBtK0A— Wesley Yin-Poole (@wyp100) February 19, 2018
Work it, baby
Call of Duty: WW2 uses Divisions to create classes, and it's a simple system that works well. I understand each Division has a unique perk and basic training options, but all divisions can use all weapons, so I'm never prevented from using my favourite guns.
For me, though, the reason to fuss over which Division to play as has more to do with fashion than gunplay. Each Division has its own set of uniforms, and some of them look fantastic. One of my chief motivations to play right now is to unlock cool threads for my Call of Duty soldier. Every in-game penny I earn goes towards unlocking new epic uniforms via the Collections system. I like the thought of other players admiring my outfits during the pre-match lobby and, if I finish a match in the top three, during the emote-fest victory podium. Clearly, this is what World War 2 was all about.
Gun Game is awesome
Holy cow, Gun Game is awesome. This is a game mode that's been around since Black Ops, but only now have I experienced its brilliance for myself. This mode sees players given a random gun to use in a multiplayer match. Score a kill and you get another random weapon to use. The first player to work their way through all 18 weapons wins.
Gun Game is tense, breakneck fun (when it's not being ruined by AFK players), but the funny thing is, despite it being around in Call of Duty games for years, for me it feels like a breath of fresh air. Now I wonder why ever shooter doesn't have a take on Gun Game. Destiny should do it. Halo should do it. Everyone should do it!
War is good
I've reported on the brilliance of Call of Duty: WW2's War mode before, so I won't dwell on it here. But what is worth noting is the effect it's had on me as a Call of Duty newcomer. War was the gateway drug that led to a deeper addiction fuelled by k/d ratio modes. With War under my belt, I was confident enough to try Team Deathmatch, then Domination, then Kill Confirmed, then Free-For-All, then Demolition and now Gun Game. In the end, War turned out to be the best Call of Duty competitive multiplayer tutorial I could have hoped for. Learn on the job, as they say.
The grind is real
Call of Duty: WW2's progression systems have set up camp deep within the part of my brain that responds well to the unlocking of new and shiny things, but holy cow is the grind real in this game. First off, here's what's great about the Call of Duty grind: you always feel like you're making some kind of progress. When you finish a match, loads of bars ever-so-slightly fill up. You've got your soldier rank, then your Division rank, then your weapon ranks. Let's not forget all those attachments, scorestreaks and basic trainings you unlock along the way. There are Orders (daily and weekly) to complete, Contracts to finish, weapon camos to obtain, challenges to take on... I always feel like a new shiny unlock is just around the corner, even when it's actually pretty far away. And with competitive multiplayer modes that fly past in under 10 minutes, it's easy to get just one more game in. And then, oh look! It's three in the morning. I should probably go to bed now.
The grind is real
While you're always making progress towards something in Call of Duty: WW2, it takes absolutely ages to make significant progress. Some of the Orders (Call of Duty's timed missions) ask for an ungodly amount of play. As I type this, I'm soldiering through a Special Order to complete a whopping 80 multiplayer matches. The reward? Coveted loot boxes. Sorry, supply drops. This is World War 2, after all.
I reckon I play Call of Duty: WW2 quite a lot, and I'm only now coming up on my first soldier Prestige. I've maximum Prestige on a handful of weapons, and near maximum Prestige on the Resistance division. This progress amounts to a sliver of the total progression available in Call of Duty: WW2. It is a game stretched out by numbers that go up and up for ever and ever. No wonder everyone piles on for the 2XP weekends.
I have come to the conclusion that Call of Duty's core endgame loop may never end, that it may be humanly impossible - even if you could control time and space in a Santa visits all the houses in one night sort of way - to unlock everything Call of Duty: WW2 has to offer in the year it has to itself before Black Ops 4 comes out. Grind multiplayer matches to unlock new, powerful weapons. Play to earn a virtual currency to buy items in a collection that eventually unlocks cool uniforms and weapon variants. Or pay to slam supply drops onto muddy Normandy beach and snag that mystery but no doubt minuscule chance of obtaining the heroic-quality item you're after. Sure, there's no gameplay-affecting items to be found in Call of Duty's loot boxes, no Star Wars Battlefront 2 debacle that has somehow gone unnoticed. But the monetisation experts at Activision know what they're doing. Heroic-quality items - the rarest in the game - can only be found in supply drops. How do you reliably earn supply drops if you're not willing to fork out real world money? Complete Orders and Contracts (the latter of which cost the in-game virtual currency to buy). Call of Duty is a game about incredibly fun shooting, but it's also about playing - and, the suits will hope - paying forever.
Why do people prestige?
While I hadn't played a Call of duty before WW2, I'd heard about prestige. I sort of knew it was this thing the hardcore did in the game, that it involved maxing progression out then starting all over again - multiple times - and that it took a long, long time. But I didn't know why players cared about it so much. After a few months with WW2, I still don't know what all the fuss is about.
Prestige in WW2 doesn't seem worth the time at all. My first experience of Prestige was with a weapon. I maxed out a handful of levels then was presented with the opportunity to Prestige. After I did so, I was able to display my clan title on the weapon. Wow. I didn't even have a clan title at the time. So I made one up [tiny] just to see what it looked like. It turns out, the marking is so small, it may as well not exist.
I maxed the weapon out a second time and I was invited to Prestige again. This time, I unlocked a kill counter for the weapon. This etched the number of kills I got with the gun on the gun. Yay?
Onto the Divisions. I've hit Prestige four times with the Resistance Division and the only rewards of note were a new pistol I didn't want to use and a new basic training I didn't want to use, either. I'm close to hitting the maximum Prestige with the Resistance Division, and for that I'll unlock a weapon variant for the pistol I didn't want to use. Woo.
Now, on to my soldier rank. I'm near hitting the big 55, and when I do I'll finally be able to Prestige my soldier. This means I'm allowed up onto the Overlook in Headquarters, Call of Duty: WW2's social space, to see the General. The idea is clear: players can have their moment in public, like a proud father casting their daughter down the wedding aisle. But having a gander at the rewards, well, it's not worth it at all. You get a Prestige unlock token, a calling card and access to Prestige challenges. And then your rank is reset and you start all over again.
You can Prestige your soldier an eye-watering 10 times. Only at the 10th Prestige do you become Master Prestige. Let me tell you, the rewards for that aren't great, either. And then that's that. You can continue to level up to 1000, but there are no additional rewards.
I have no choice but to conclude that Call of Duty Prestige is a big old pile of nonsense, and there's no good reason to fuss over it. It's this thing people strive for because it's a thing people can strive for, a system that stretches out Call of Duty's progression until it becomes so laser thin it is impossible to locate your position on it. Ah, but look at your rank, the developers will counter. It's yellow, so everyone knows you're Master Prestige. I'm like, mate, but none of this gives me a snazzy new outfit.
Like Prestige, quick scoping was something I'd heard mention of over the past decade in relation to Call of Duty, but I never understood what it meant. Until now. Oh god, the quick scoping!
I don't begrudge those who quick scope their way through Call of Duty multiplayer. It's actually an advanced technique that demands super quick reflexes and, without aim assist, unnerving aim. I mean, just look at this:
The problem is, quick scoping is just a really, really silly thing to have in a World War 2-themed shooter. Sledgehammer strives for realism in its recreation of iconic weapons from the era, and then you have players running around using sniper rifles like they're pistols. Sniper rifles should never be better than any other class of weapon at medium to close distances, and yet via the magic of quick scoping, they are.
Quick scoping has been the subject of a heated debate within the Call of Duty community for the better part of a decade. It seems to me that the developers of the games are reluctant to countenance the removal of quick scoping because it's become part of the fabric that makes up the Call of Duty experience. It's a tricky one. I admire those who have mastered the art of quick scoping, but I see no place for it in Call of Duty: WW2.
There are some... weird things Call of Duty does that I just can't understand. They're not downright bad, just, well, I don't know why these things exist.
Why does Call of Duty add and then remove game modes? It turns out Prop Hunt and Gun Game, two fantastic game modes, are not always available. The developers at Sledgehammer add them to the game as part of events, then remove them when the events end. This seems like an odd thing, indeed. Just give the people what the people want?
What is with the obsession with pistol grips in this game? There must be a thousand or something. Who even sees another player's pistol grip?
Call of Duty: WW2's play of the game doesn't really work. Most of the multi-kill clips aren't particularly exciting to watch because most Call of Duty: WW2 multi-kills look the same. Kill someone, kill someone else then slow down as the targeting reticule ever-so-slowly moves across the leg of a third enemy soldier. There's little fanfare, no voice over to declare the beginning of the play of the game, nor a fancy graphic to wrap it all within. But the main issue is Call of Duty's play of the game is too short. It would be much better if it extended long enough to show someone getting five or maybe even 10 kills in a row, or someone using a scorestreak to devastating effect. But this is Call of Duty. It's basically run and gun for life. Brrrappppp!
Call of Duty still splits its userbase by selling map-based expansions. Haven't you heard, Activision? This is 2018, the year of the concurrent player count. Get with the program.
Most video games with loot boxes have a duplicates problem. Destiny has an exotic duplicates problem. FIFA Ultimate Team has a player duplicates problem. And Call of Duty: WW2 has a duplicates problem. A big one. My loot crates seem purpose built to contain stuff I already own. It seems others have had purpose-built loot crates that work in the same way. If it's not a pistol grip duplicate, it's an emblem duplicate, or a calling card duplicate. Why can't video games prevent you from getting something you already own? I know why. To encourage you to buy more loot crates. Sigh. Why did I ask?