*Reviewed on PS4
Note: This was originally written on 11/13/17.
Update: Some of the multiplayer issues in this review have been fixed. Despite this, the score still stands as is.*
Back to Basics
With Call of Duty: WWII Sledgehammer Games – the studio behind 2014’s Advanced Warfare – has taken the series back to its roots. Gone are the days (maybe?) of jet-packing and wall-running in favor of old-school, boots on the ground combat. The result is a game that mostly succeeds, with a few bumps along the way.
This year’s campaign feels like a nostalgic throwback. In many ways, the core concepts of what made previous entries so entertaining are found in this campaign. First off, Sledgehammer has outdone themselves in the graphics department, as in-game and cutscenes both look fantastic; especially the cutscenes, which verge on uncanny valley territory. Assuming the role of Army Private Daniels, you and your squad consisting of leader First Lieutenant Turner, Private Zussman, Private Stiles, Technician Aiello, and Sergeant Pierson – played by Josh Duhamel – are tasked with fighting along the Western Front in hopes of making it to the Rhine. Duhamel is this year’s A-list actor who gets thrown into the thick of battle. At first, he comes across as too “Hollywood” for the story Sledgehammer is trying to tell, but as the story progresses there is more depth to him than meets the eye.
In fact, the majority of the characters are very likable. Each person feels different, bringing their own personal story into battle. The squad is even an essential design choice made for the player to interact with. With “WWII,” CoD is going back to its roots so much, that they’ve even brought back health pickups. Gone are the days of regenerating health; instead health is earned either through environmental pickups or through your squad-mate Zussman.
Each character has their own item: Turner (ammo), Zussman (health), Stiles (grenades), Aiello (targeting smoke), Pierson (enemy spotting); but comes at a cost. Eliminating Nazi soldiers – which never gets old – fills a circular gauge that has each squad members face on it. Once the gauge is filled, your squad-mates will call out which supply is ready. All it takes is one button push and the requested member throws his item at you. It’s a cool feature that makes your squad more believable despite having thousands of bullets hit them. There were some instances where I would have to move to a certain location just to trigger an animation since the level geometry was blocking my prompt.
Heroic Actions is another feature that adds to the realism of battle. Every mission has a few instances were an NPC will either be locked in conflict with a Nazi soldier; have Nazi’s surrender; or have a soldier injured and need assistance. These encounters are optional – yet easy to come by – providing “heroic” actions if you so choose. These actions can be somewhat finicky, however, as dragging an NPC to safety leaves the player completely open to oncoming fire. Not to mention, sometimes these NPC’s clip into the geometry; all this while there is a time limit to complete the action.
In the end, the campaign mostly succeeds in what it’s trying to accomplish; conveying a story about camaraderie and friendship. The only downside to this tale is the sudden ending. It wraps up too neat and sudden. Even with the circumstances surrounding the ending, there was a perfect opportunity to really strike home a message – yet falls flat. Don’t let this fool you though; this is still CoD. The same clichéd moments that made this series a household name remain. Moments like slow-motion confused ringing, pep-talks, and action-movie moments are featured. There’s even one moment in the campaign that involves a literal train wreck that feels like it goes on for minutes. It’s so over-the-top that Michael Bay might even say “that’s too much.”
The main new addition to the multiplayer is Headquarters. A social hub that looks like a Normandy beach command post but designed similar to that of Destiny. In which players can interact with each other by participating in 1v.1 battles, practicing their shooting at the firing range, or, just socializing. The problem is that it doesn’t work as of yet. Servers have been either hit-or-miss when it comes to the online functionality featured in WWII. For the most part, I have had relatively little problems pertaining to connectivity. There’s the occasional lag, or dip in frame-rate when it comes to multiplayer, but it’s few and far between.
When it does work, the multiplayer is as fun as any CoD title that has come before it. Each class – called divisions – has its own specific set of perks pertaining to that class. For example, the Mountain division is more of a sniper-focused class that when leveled, can provide bonuses such as silent movement or radar invisibility. You can even mix and match weapons to fit a division of your choice.
In terms of weapons, CoD’s classic assortment of weapons makes a comeback. Weapons such as the M1 Garand, BAR, 1911, and so forth are all here; even with attachments. As usual, weapons can be modified with certain skin’s (camouflage), iron-sights, stocks and so forth. Nothing says WWII accurate like a gold-skinned sniper rifle. Jokes aside, these attachments are earned based on your experience with the weapon – the more you use it, the more you get.
Since it’s the era of loot boxes, CoD has decided to step its foot into the market. To my surprise, I found that these boxes come quite regularly. Boxes range from common to rare and host up to three items inside. Depending on the luck of the box, some items can be “heroic,” “epic,” “rare,” or “common.” These items range from character apparel, gamer-card backgrounds, and even emotes that can be used to interact with other players when the ability to socialize gets implemented. Loot boxes aren’t the only thing to draw your attention. Daily challenges reward the player with credits, loot-boxes, and bonus experience once completed. Some of which are simple, like getting 10 rifle kills; others more difficult, such as killing a said number of enemies within a certain time-frame.
Luckily CoD’s game modes are quite fun – especially “War.” War is a narrative focused mode that pits two teams – attacking and defending – against each other with objectives in-between to keep the game tense. For example, Operation Neptune is one of my personal favorite maps in the entire game. Mostly because you’re storming the beaches of Normandy with teammates but in a multiplayer setting.
Depending on which side you start out on – attacking or defending – things escalate quickly. On the attacking side, you start out on the beach and try to take over two bunkers all while the defending team is trying to stop you from using mounted machine-guns. Once that objective is accomplished, the attacking team moves up to destroy a bunker full of enemy intel. Once again defending team tries to stop them.
Finally, there are two 155mm artillery canons that the attacking team must destroy to win the match. All of this must be accomplished in order to win. Once that match is complete, sides will switch and the defending team will do just as attacking did. There are a small number of maps with different objectives featuring this mode, but the quality and fun in this mode make the lack of maps nonexistent.
I’m going to get the bad out-of-the-way first. Like the multiplayer, zombies can either be a pain, or a blast. I ran into many different server issues when trying to connect to other players. Some of which became extremely frustrating when trying to complete the core storyline found within.
Much like previous zombie installments, WWII’s main story: The Final Reich is more fun to play with other players. So when you’re hours into the many steps it takes to complete the story and you suddenly disconnect, you can see where the frustration would lie. In fact, I made sure it wasn’t a problem stemming from my end. I found most of the problems related to connection occurred when matching up with players from other countries. Otherwise, local matching tended to run smoother.
Now with that out-of-the-way, let’s look at the positives. This year’s zombie mode is a blast. Again, like other games, the story: The Final Reich, takes what has worked with each incarnation of zombies and gives it a nostalgic feel. In fact, the prologue mission takes place in a cabin that feels very reminiscent of World at War’s classic “Nacht Der Untoten” map.
Even though it’s somewhat nostalgic, it’s different enough that it feels new. Some players might feel off-putted due to the lack of crazy weapons and items found within. However, there is enough weird variety mixed in that doesn’t stray too far from what originally made zombies great. Custom perks can be mixed and researched once unlocked by using tokens. Loadouts with these perks add for flexibility, where experimentation is key to understanding how each one works. Progression is also rewarding, as loot boxes with items that aid in your zombie destruction keeps things consistently interesting.
And finally, as with every zombie tradition, The Final Reich features a playable cast of characters that fans will surely know. The likes of David Tennant (Doctor Who, Marvel’s Jessica Jones), Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction, Mission: Impossible), Elodie Yung (Marvel’s Daredevil, Marvel’s The Defenders), and Katheryn Winnick (Vikings, The Dark Tower). Each character has their own voice lines that add to their characterization.
It’s refreshing to see CoD go back to its roots, even though some gameplay elements are starting to show their age; and the multiplayer and zombies are both fun and competent; that is when it works.