Over the years Call of Duty has morphed into one of the most successful gaming franchises of all time, leaving behind World War II for more modern and eventually futuristic settings. Some of these, like Modern Warfare and Black Ops, have been absolute smash hits. Meanwhile other titles like Ghosts and Infinite Warfare, haven’t seen quite as high sales as the others. With Call of Duty: WWII the franchise is returning to its roots, a smart choice considering its where Call of Duty really found its identity.
Technology and gaming have drastically changed since the first Call of Duty, and even since the release of World at War. With a glut of sci-fi shooters in recent years there’s been a bit of a push to diversify settings, with titles like 2016’s Battlefield 1. Modern consoles and PCs let us represent historical settings more accurately than ever before, with everything from visuals to sound design.
Going along with this, multiplayer allows for more players than ever before to join matches, and WWII could really emulate the insanity of a WWII battle. There’s room, of course, to go off the rails with a brand new Nazi zombies, also returning to the roots of that mode. There’s no doubt the new title will play just as smoothly as other CoD entries, and returning to an on-the-ground approach can help separate the series from a wealth of competitors doing fast-paced movement, like Titanfall.
By returning to World War II, the Call of Duty franchise can really deliver on the vision it always had, giving us a visceral simulation of the worst war the world has ever seen. From the reveal earlier today, it’s obvious the development team is going for some emotionally dark tones, trying to hone in on the brotherhood you often see in war related media. With Call of Duty itself falling into certain sci-fi tropes with Infinite Warfare, making a move to rediscover the series’ roots is wise.
Shooters come in all shapes and sizes nowadays, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of releases. Because of that, you really need to do something different to stand out, part of the reason why Battlefield 1 received so much attention. While WWII has been done in excess before, it’s been years since we’ve seen a major studio put out a big AAA game set during the time period. Call of Duty stands to profit greatly by returning to WWII and giving us the most accurate representation we’ve seen in video games yet. Clearly, the team is serious about their historical representation if they’ve hired a historian to help consult on the project, and traveled all over Europe for research.
This holds especially true considering Sledgehammer Games is developing WWII. Sledgehammer is the newest team added to the table of Call of Duty developers, having worked on Modern Warfare 3 and Advanced Warfare. By giving this project to Sledgehammer, you have a team that isn’t bound by past experience. Both Treyarch and Infinity Ward have previously developed games in World War II, while Sledgehammer can bring a fresh perspective onto the setting, and apply their own brand of storytelling. There are, of course, certain Call of Duty mainstays that will be featured in the game, particularly with multiplayer modes, but the dev team hopefully has room to experiment.
Call of Duty: WWII is taking place entirely in the European Theater, which may be a baffling decision to some, as it’s easily what we’ve seen the most of in gaming. However, this is probably a smarter move for Sledgehammer as they can completely focus on the plight of a single group of soldiers through a period of time. The campaign of WWII would benefit by injecting emotion into a Call of Duty campaign, focusing on character and humanity rather than just big set pieces and explosions. Of course those things will still be there, but if you want to properly and respectfully represent the horror of WWII, you need to show how these events impacted the humans there, how it changed their psyches and who they were. Hopefully this is something that Sledgehammer chooses to double down on, and not just deliver a popcorn action-packed campaign.
Playing the opening of Call of Duty 2 in 2005, it was clear that the game desperately wanted to emulate the shock and awe of Saving Private Ryan. While the title and series were met with huge success, we never quite reached that milestone. Call of Duty: WWII provides the setting and technology to try and realize that goal once again, now it just comes down to Sledgehammer’s execution.