Does COD: WWII return to its roots?
At E3, I sat down in a room, picked up a controller and just played Call of Duty: WWII until the Activision crew booted us out. It was a real “getting my hands dirty” kind of experience, and it was vaguely fitting considering the gritty atmosphere of this game marking Call of Duty ’s big return to World War II. But now that the Private Beta is a thing, I’ve had time to really sink my teeth in, prepare, and get a feel for what the experience of owning Call of Duty: WWII and its multiplayer content might be like come November. Other than my severe lack of skill, my biggest takeaway from my Private Beta experience is the variety available to the player, especially in the more creative War game mode. Also, in its current state, Sledgehammer may have some balance tweaking to do.
The Call of Duty: WWII Private Beta starts out by having you choose a Division. Divisions are a controversial new system meant to simplify or streamline loadouts. It’s an odd beginning, especially after my boots on the ground introduction to the game. I say this, because it’s presented with a kitschy propaganda look with super-cheesy video packages introducing each class. It’s that faux-satirical shtick a lot of history-themed videogames lean on for “style” points, but it doesn’t really say anything and conflicts with the ultra-serious pretense slapped on the rest of the game.
But it’s over quickly enough, after you choose your setup. There’s the basic Infantry, and a list that goes further down the “be good at Call of Duty ” rabbit-hole the more specialized they get. You can swap later, in exchange for unlock tokens, and the division generally determines your opening weapon loadout and your skills. The current Divisions are Infantry, Airborne, Armored, Mountain, and Expeditionary. For my time with the Private Beta, I stuck with Infantry and put my learning cap on.
After a brief video introduction to Headquarters, which is otherwise absent from the Private Beta, you can mess with your loadout (and spend unlock tokens as you earn them) or choose from the available game modes. Present in the Private Beta are Team Deathmatch, Domination, Hardpoint, Mosh Pit, and War. Team Deathmatch is self-explanatory of course, tossing you into one of a small handful of maps as the teams compete for the first to 75 points. Domination is static point-capturing, and Hardpoint consists of a series of moving capture points, one at a time. Mosh Pit makes one session out of multiple game types, and War is the big, shiny new toy.
War is interesting. It’s a multi-tiered objective mode with a slight touch of narrative window-dressing. You get to see the world around your slightly-customized avatar as you’re presented with a mission brief before the action starts. Once things get rolling, you either attack or defend a point, then things get more varied and mobile as they progress. One scenario sees a team attempting to build a bridge, while another is an escort mission with a tank. Once you win or lose, you get to see a brief cutscene showing off either your failure or the fruits of your success. It’s the most compelling offering in the Call of Duty: WWII Private Beta in terms of ambition and casual-friendliness.
Speaking of casual-friendliness, certain key issues with the current state of Call of Duty: WWII make it a tough prospect in terms of pick up and play value. As is making the rounds in the Call of Duty community, players are having some bizarre issues with this iteration’s TTK meta, or Time To Kill. This is the concept of how long it takes to kill a player during a volley of shots. Nothing is confirmed yet, but it appears that even with the same weapon in a similar situation, something is off and players are dying faster than they should theoretically be during an exchange. This is compounded by things like sniper rifles being extremely powerful and makes a lot of multiplayer feel like freeze tag with guns instead of a more thrilling, competitive experience. There’s a lot of respawning, and it doesn’t always feel like a skill issue when I turn a corner and immediately die to hip fire in ways that doesn’t usually happen in most other shooters.
That said, if this is just a taste of the online content in Call of Duty: WWII , then there’s a lot to look forward to. Oftentimes, shooters struggle with an appreciable sense of Things To Do, and there’s an inkling here of motivation to keep going and exploring what this game has to offer. Between a substantial list of unlockable attachments for each weapon, to the variety on deck with modes like Hardpoint and War, there’s a lot to play around with here considering it’s basically a demo. When things like Headquarters are added to the mix, it will likely be pretty tough for Call of Duty fans to feel bored. Sledgehammer just really needs to focus on making things feel balanced, and we could have a solid entry on our hands for a game that will inevitably struggle to stand out in a crowded 2017.