Call of Duty is looking to reignite its relationship with an old flame – namely, the Second World War. These days, finding a good WWII shooter is tough; perhaps this is why Call of Duty has come crawling back to its ex. The worry, at least for me, is that like any rekindled relationship, the two former lovers may find they have outgrown each other. Are they too far gone to reconcile, or is there still hope for this star-crossed duo?
The last decade was almost completely devoid of solid first-person shooters set in WWII. Only three years after Call of Duty made its move to modern warfare, Medal of Honour made the same move. Brothers in Arms moved to mobile. These days, modern warfare shooters are a dime a dozen, but you will be hard-pressed to find a quality FPS taking place in the Second World War. Notably, you will find very few games that even remotely resemble the old Call of Duty/Medal of Honour formula. WWII shooters adapted into something of a niche today.
2011 saw the release of Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad on the PC, with a standalone expansion, Rising Storm, following in 2013. Last month saw the Day of Infamy finally exit early access – also only available on PC. Both games emphasized multiplayer with almost no single player to speak of. Although both are extremely different, they have many similarities in tone and formula. They place value on teamwork, objective-taking, and realistic weapon handling. There are no crosshairs, weapons are immensely powerful, and there is no constant radar. These shooters focus on realism and immersion. In Red Orchestra, you can only estimate how many rounds are left in a magazine. In Day of Infamy, you can only call in artillery and airstrikes as an officer, and you must have a radio man nearby. Neither game offers an enemy grenade indicator. Most notably in both games, you are always on a side and only have access to your faction’s weaponry. This is what the WWII first person shooter has become.
The still-in-development Battalion 1944 hopes to take the opposite approach of its PC-focused counterparts. Battalion 1944 longs to recreate the Call of Duty/Medal of Honour multiplayer experience of old. Small maps, 5 versus 5, and no unlocks or killstreaks – just skill. Clearly, there is demand for this as the Kickstarter campaign broke just over 10,000 backers before closing back in March of 2016. Coming to consoles, as well as, PC, this could be the shooter that fans of the older Call of Duty games want.
The Call of Duty of today is nothing like Battalion 1944 either; it uses classes and load outs, customization, unlocks, and kill streaks. Call of Duty today uses a formula that is wholly its own. This formula is proven to function outside of just modern warfare. It took little time to adjust to the wall-bouncing and jetpacking of the future setting.
Easy gun handling and fast-paced action clearly transcend a specific setting, and this is probably the most encouraging point to consider in Call of Duty’s move back to WWII. That being said, I believe it would still benefit Call of Duty: WWII to pay attention to the ways the WWII shooter was forced to evolve while our favorite running-and-gunning franchise was off blowing up Russian terrorists in an AC-130 gunship.
I am not advocating for Call of Duty to suddenly abandon killstreaks or remove crosshairs or start making every gun kill you in one shot to the torso. However, even within the formula we know, there are changes that Call of Duty should adapt in its return to WWII.
Details on Call of Duty: WWII are minimal at best, but so far it seems Sledgehammer Games, the newest Call of Duty developer, may have had a similar line of thinking. We know that there will be at least one large-scale game mode called War, involving objectives and representing major battles of WWII.
It is impossible to know for certain what the intent of this mode is, but it is safe to assume that something along the lines of more popular modes in games like Battlefield and Red Orchestra is likely. If the core tenets of the modern WWII shooter are realism, immersion, and team play, then it would seem at least a larger focus on team play could be adopted by the new shooter.
Too much focus on realism and hardcore gameplay may alienate the fans, but it would benefit the new shooter to prioritize immersion. In a setting like WWII, it is essential today that the player feel they are really there for the sake of tension and an appreciation for a major event in human history.
Call of Duty should, I believe, shake up its core formula just a little in this regard. Faction-specific load outs, unlocks, customization, and even killstreaks would be a good way to start. If you are playing as an American, you use the Thompson, not the MP40, for example. Make in-game announcements sound less “gamey.” Instead of capturing “point A,” say, “we’ve captured the bridge.” Give headset chatter an old-fashioned radio fuzziness so it sounds like the team is communicating over radio not Xbox Live.
I hope that Call of Duty is willing to look at innovations like these that the WWII shooters of recent years have made. The stakes are high, but I have faith that Sledgehammer Games is paying attention because if Call of Duty gets this one right, it could be the greatest boom to the franchise since 2007.
I find myself looking to the newest Call of Duty installment with increasing interest and anticipation following every new announcement, every tiny detail. I don’t know what Sledgehammer will show us at E3, but I do know that I have not been this excited about Call of Duty in a long time.
Do you agree? What do you want to see in Call of Duty: WWII?