Call of Duty: WW2 Review – Thrilling Throwback

Boots on the ground. It’s a rallying cry adopted by many in the COD community who yearn for the gameplay from the Modern Warfare and Black Ops entries in the franchise. The days before jetpacks became the norm. Activision and Sledgehammer Games adopted this rallying cry and promised COD: WW2 would be the Call of Duty we’ve been waiting for for the past three years.

Cheer on, COD fans. Sledgehammer Games delivers. That is, when the servers work.

A quick note on the servers

They are a mess. There’s no other way to put it. Disconnects. Frozen screens. Lag. All the problems we come to expect from a popular game during launch day are here. The problem is, they are still here. More than a week after release. I’m sure Activision and Sledgehammer will get it fixed, but it’s disappointing the server issues have persisted this long.

A World War II story

Call of Duty: WW2’s story is not a vast departure for the franchise. It’s not the best the franchise has ever offered. But it’s also far from the worst. COD: WW2 takes us on a linear jaunt through WW2 post-D-day. And I do mean linear. Choices in most missions are pretty much nil. You’re funneled from objective to objective as you do your part to tear down the German war machine.

COD WW2 red

We’re tossed into the shoes of ‘Red’ Daniels, a good ole’ boy from Texas. Sledgehammer goes the usual route and opens COD: WW2 with the D-day landing. And the visuals are stunning. It’s been years since Call of Duty or Medal of Honor tackled WW2 and the boost in hardware power since then really shows.

Explosions from German artillery shoot geysers of water into the air. Machine gun fire rip across the beaches of Normandy. And Sledgehammer Games doesn’t shy away from the horrible injuries these weapons of war cause. Nameless soldiers writhe in pain as their legs and arms are blown off. It’s a small piece of the portrayal of D-day from Saving Private Ryan brought to video games.

The frantic push onto the beaches of Normandy doesn’t last long. After breaching the beaches defenses, we get up close and personal with the Germans as you fight over a series of bunkers. And it’s here we’re introduced to a new squad gameplay mechanic.

Zussman, one of your buddies, has a little health icon above his head. Once it’s full, you press ‘Up, ‘ and he’ll toss you a medpac. It’s an interesting mechanic, but one that falls flat in a linear campaign. I couldn’t help but imagine how much more interesting the gameplay would be if COD: WW2 were more like Gearbox’s Brothers in Arms.

The mechanic expands to include everything from ammo packs to revealing the position of enemy soldiers. Again, I liked the mechanic – it’s just the game wasn’t designed around it. Strip it out, and nothing changes. I hope the next Call of Duty games adopt this mechanic, but also take the time to build missions around it.

A couple of stealth missions break up the typical set-piece moments. The first one centers around stopping a train. And it’s here the game’s linear approach shows. I’m going through silently taking out Germans when a member of the French Resistance screams we’ve been spotted. And no lie, my other squadmates pull up in a pair of jeeps with machine guns unleashing hell. I don’t mind linear missions, but that just made me laugh.

This same mission also gives us a train crash that gives Fast & Furious 6’s airplane scene a run for its money. Check out nearly sixty seconds of train wrecking absurdness.

COD: WW2’s cast doesn’t have the memorable characters like Soap, Captain Price, or Woods – but the cast still does a solid enough job. You’re invested in the friendship between Red and Zussman. You probably won’t forget about Josh Duhamel’s Sergeant Pierson, either. But that’s only because the guy was a giant asshole the entire game.

COD: WW2 offers about six hours of gameplay as it takes you from Normandy to The Rhine. Its linear missions might not be for everyone, but I like breezing through a story over a night or two. Plus, Sledgehammer did a fantastic job with the presentation.

D-day and the Battle of Hürtgen Forest were jaw droppers on Xbox One X. Watching trees splinter apart in a snow swept forest was one of many ‘holy-shit’ moments for me during my first day with the new Xbox.

It’s not Call of Duty 4, but WW2’s story is better than most of the recent entries in the franchise. And it’s a fun distraction as we wait for the devs to get the servers fixed.

I like what Sledgehammer is doing with the squad mechanics. I hope that’s where they double down for their next Call of Duty.

Throwback multiplayer

The bread and butter for any Call of Duty game. COD: WW2 delivers the boots on the ground multiplayer fans have clamored the franchise introduced jetpacks. And it’s where the franchise belongs. I wondered if the classic movement set was what was missing. After my first few matches, the answer was a resounding yes.

It’s nice running through a map knowing pretty much where another player can come from. No wall-running paths. No fancy boost jumping to get super high. Just old fashioned boots on the ground gameplay.

Speaking of maps, there are 13. Nine traditional maps (one of them locked behind the season pass) and three maps designed for the War mode. Nearly all of them are decent enough. The only map I despise right now is Gustav Canon. It’s a sniper’s paradise, and I can’t stand it.

COD WW2 multiplayer

The traditional Create-a-Class system goes by the wayside in COD: WW2. In its place, Sledgehammer Games adds a Division system. You pick from one of five, each built around a certain set of skills. Once leveled up, Infantry gives you perks like more ammo and an extra attachment. Airborne’s built around mobility with faster and longer sprint. Armored makes you more immune to explosive damage. Mountain keeps you off enemy spy planes and also gives you silent movement. And Expeditionary lets you carry more throwables and resupply equipment from dead enemies.

It’s not all that different from perk systems in other games in the franchise. Just dressed up differently.

You’ll see a lot of folks using the Mountain division. The silent movement perk is way too useful not to pick it.

Most of COD: WW2’s multiplayer is your standard fare. Team Deathmatch, Domination, Search & Destroy, all your favorite modes are here.

Unfortunately, Headquarters isn’t the multiplayer mode I loved so much in older Call of Duty games. Instead, it’s a social hub that resembles the Tower from Destiny. When it’s working as designed, you’ll run around with dozens of players as gather Orders, practice killstreaks, or challenge other players to a 1v1 match. After a week of playing, the Headquarters hub only worked once. Every other time it tossed me into a room by myself.

The War multiplayer mode offers the most unique gameplay in COD: WW2. You and your team are tasked with defending or attacking a series of objectives. Operation Neptune stands out as it opens with one team storming the beaches of Normandy. While the other uses sniper rifles and machine guns to defend it. AI players are tossed in on the attacking side to draw fire as the attacking team pushes into the bunkers.

It’s an epic map that looks fantastic on Xbox One X. Take the opening moments of the story and toss 11 other players in. I would have liked to see a bump in player count, though. 6v6 doesn’t exactly scream War. Still, Sledgehammer Games makes it work.

Uplink returns from the future COD games and gets a football makeover. It sounds more like a Sunday Night Football game with the announcer screaming fumble and out of bounds. The football makeover extends to the scoring system with 7 points awarded for running the ball in and 3 points for tosses.

Sledgehammer Games takes a page out of Blizzard’s book with the Overwatch-like Bronze Star Play. It’s supposed to be the play of the game but tends to show a random single or double kill that happened in the match. Don’t hold your breath for that sweet triple or quad kill to show up at the end of the game. More times than not, it’ll be someone scoring a single random kill.

COD: WW2’s multiplayer shines through its classic gameplay. The franchise belongs on the ground. Not jumping through the air. It’s just a shame the fun gameplay is hampered by lingering server issues. I didn’t expect COD: WW2 to run smoothly on launch night. But more than a week later, the server problems are still here.

COD WW2 machine gun

Sledgehammer did a great job bringing the classic multiplayer gameplay back to Call of Duty. I’ll keep coming back, as long as they get a handle on these server issues.

Creepy Zombies

For many, the bread and butter isn’t multiplayer – it’s Zombies. Sledgehammer Games embraces the Zombies mode and brings their spin to it. You can tell some of the folks who brought EA’s Dead Space to life had a hand in designing the zombies. These things are downright creepy.

cod WW2 zombies

I wasn’t the biggest fan of all the hoops you had to jump through to unlock easter eggs in previous COD Zombies, but I don’t mind it here. I guess it’s the objective list pointing out what you have to do. I know it doesn’t seem like much, but it added a sense knowing what to do next. I didn’t have to hunt down a YouTube video just to get started.

New abilities also help shake up the formula. Free Fire gives you unlimited ammo for a short time. Shellshock sends a shockwave out knocking over zombies and stunning them. They’re not groundbreaking additions, but they do give you choices to change up how you play.

The rest is familiar ground for Zombies vets. Jolts are thew new points and can be used to open doors, buy guns, and open the mystery box. Windows are no longer repairable and you’ll need to keep your eyes peeled for zombies popping up in front and behind you. You can give Jolts to teammates, though. A handy feature for when you need to purchase armor and ammo for your pack-a-punched guns.

The usual easter eggs are also here, and will keep Zombie nuts busy. There’s also a boss battle. My buddy and I managed to trigger the cutscene and see it, but quickly got hammered by huge zombies armed with flamethrowers. This Reddit post is a good place to start if you’re having trouble getting to the boss. Or, want to do all the easter eggs.

No raygun (that I know of anyway) is a bummer, though.

COD: WW2 is the classic gameplay I’ve been waiting for. That is, when the servers are working enough to let it shine through. Sometimes the best way to shake up a franchise is to go back to what made it great in the first place. Sledgehammer Games does that.

Now, about those servers.

Review copy provided by Activision.