The Call of Duty franchise is one of the most popular and best-selling series in video game history. The first game was released 20 years ago and has entertained fans ever since. Here’s a look at the entire series.
Call of Duty (2003)
The first entry in the franchise, Call of Duty, was heavily inspired by Medal of Honor but showed multiple sides and theaters in WWII. It was one of the first games to include features such as iron sights, improving the accuracy of your gun by aiming down. Players control soldiers in the American, British, and Soviet armies during the campaign, providing new viewpoints to the war.
It was highly acclaimed right after its release, with many praising its dynamic AI for being ahead of its time. The more a player stays and advances with AI soldiers, the more they help, cover and suppress fire players receive. The game won multiple Game of the Year awards and kickstarted the series into what it is today. And while the game featured multiplayer, its campaign was a main selling point, which was lost with some future titles.
Call of Duty 2 (2005)
The much-anticipated sequel was released in the latter half of 2005, almost a full two years after the first game. This would be the last time the franchise has a gap year between games, as they’ve released one annually starting with Call of Duty 2. The game included many quality-of-life improvements like an icon telling you a grenade is about to explode nearby and regenerating health. In the first Call of Duty, players had to use med kits to restore health. This mechanic is played around with throughout the series.
Like the first game, the campaign has players controlling soldiers from American, Soviet, and British armies. It also takes the player through historic moments such as D-Day and Stalingrad. Chronologically, Call of Duty 2 takes place before Call of Duty. The game is considered to be one of the greatest games of all time and had a massive influence on the first-person shooter genre.
Call of Duty 3 (2006)
Call of Duty 3 introduced more open-ended gameplay, giving players more options to complete an objective. However, unlike how CoD 2 expanded and improved upon the first game, CoD 3 mainly remained the same. Because of its position between two great games, it gets forgotten among the fanbase. The campaign keeps multiple perspectives but has fewer missions than its predecessor. It does introduce some series staples like scripted close-encounter moments and arming explosives with multiple actions. Largely the game only expands on a little but sold well and received good reviews.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007)
As the title would suggest, CoD 4: Modern Warfare is the first game in the series to feature modern equipment and story. It is also the first game in the series that has its selling point about multiplayer instead of the single-player campaign. While the campaign was one of the best and helped set up Modern Warfare 2 and 3, its multiplayer games were revolutionary. Some of the main additions were Killstreaks, a class system, golden guns, and perks. Each of these expanded on the replayability of the game and kept fans coming back for more.
CoD 4 is a turning point in the franchise as the developers understood that multiplayer was the most important part of the game. Players loved the campaigns, but when you think of Call of Duty, you likely think of multiplayer and battling with your friends. The introduction of ranks and golden guns gave players something to work toward, while Killstreaks kept skilled players coming back.
Call of Duty: World at War (2008)
World at War brought the games back to WWII and was a lot more mature and graphic than other titles. Some mechanics included were destructible environments, realistic burns on soldiers, and limb dismemberment. Despite the realistic gameplay and the success of Modern Warfare multiplayer, only a few players will mention those when talking about World at War. The reason is that this is the first game to introduce the Nazi Zombies mode.
In Zombies, 1-4 players will take on endless waves of undead Nazis, trying to survive for as long as possible before ultimately meeting their demise. The game mode is the biggest addition to the CoD franchise because of its creativity and ridiculous nature. While the franchise was realistic and told stories from real battles, Zombies changed people’s perspective on what was possible in the game. It didn’t matter that it wasn’t realistic because it was fun and offered a challenge players could experience with their friends.
Zombies are mainly featured in CoD games developed by Treyarch, while Infinity Ward tends to have mixed modes that aren’t the campaign or multiplayer. This means that zombies are released every other year or when Treyarch is behind the development.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2009)
The release of Modern Warfare 2 broke records when it sold 4.7 million copies within the first day. Its revenue totaled over $300 million in 24 hours and was the biggest entertainment launch in history, beating every other game and movie. The campaign is praised to this day and continues the story from Modern Warfare. But like Modern Warfare, its multiplayer was the main selling point and is considered to be one of the best in the series. Infinity Ward expanded the kill streaks from three to fifteen and introduced the Tactical Nuke. The reward for players who kill 25 people without dying was a nuke that instantly wins the game for their team.
The gunplay is faster, and the reward systems are expanded to keep players coming back for more. However, the game has its faults, as people criticized its multiplayer for being unfair or cheap. The use of explosions and “noob tubes” made deaths feel unwarranted and grew player frustrations. It also received very few patches and balances to help fix these issues. Because of the map layouts and known spawn locations, experienced players could exploit the game to kill players fast and get strong Killstreaks to help skew the game.
Call of Duty: Black Ops (2010)
Black Ops takes place after World at War during the Cold War and Vietnam War. The campaign focuses heavily on the CIA and takes players to Cuba, South Vietnam, China, Canada, and more. The game is famous for its protagonist Alex Mason, along with Frank Woods and Viktor Reznov.
The multiplayer features a unique point system that allows players to unlock items as they progress with in-game currency. This allows for complete freedom of what each player values and caters to their play style. Black Ops also has Zombies return with the original four maps from World at War and also features seven new ones. While WoW zombies had tie-ins and a vague story, it was mostly driven by fan theories. It wasn’t until Black Ops zombies that a storyline started being created that players could follow by listening to voice lines or completing Easter Eggs.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (2011)
Modern Warfare 3 is the third and final installment in the Modern Warfare trilogy. Along with the campaign and multiplayer, the game introduced Special Ops, a take on Nazi Zombies and Horde from Gears of War. Players were dropped into maps alone or with a friend and would battle against waves of enemies. Unlike Zombies, players could buy support items and complete objectives that would reward them with more money for items.
While not as renowned as Modern Warfare 2, the multiplayer introduced new game modes like Kill Confirmed and Team Defender. One bold choice was the removal of the killstreak system, replaced with Pointstreaks. The difference was that players could now earn points towards rewards by playing objectives and not just relying on kills. They also had multiple classes for point streaks with Assault, Support, and Specialist. These classes allowed players to cater rewards to their playstyle and offered more creativity and freedom than the traditional system.
Call of Duty: Black Ops II (2012)
Considered by many fans to be the best game in the series, Black Ops II innovated on every game mode and set the standard for what a CoD game should be. Its campaign features branching storylines that were affected by player actions. There are also ramifications for dying that alter the storyline if a player fails a mission. A new Cold War could break out depending on the choices and success of the player.
Multiplayer adds a new Pick 10 system that gave the player ten slots for their guns, perks, and equipment. Those slots are up to the player to customize, allowing for more freedom. It also brings back the weapon level system from Modern Warfare 3 that unlocks attachments and camos the more you use a gun. Along with its tight, responsive controls, mechanics, gameplay, and the addition of a competitive mode, the game is considered to have the best multiplayer.
Zombies is also innovative but could be seen by many as hit or miss. The team’s first map released was Transit, which features four small locations connected by taking a bus instead of one large map. While the concept was praised, its execution left much to be desired due to the console’s limitations. The mode was redeemed with DLC maps like Mob of the Dead, Origins, Buried, and Nuketown, which are considered some of the best maps in the franchise.
Call of Duty: Ghosts (2013)
CoD: Ghosts tries taking a new approach to gameplay mechanics, adding things like larger maps, a new perk system, slower movement, and dog models. While previous installments from Modern Warfare to Black Ops II felt like improvements that built on top of one another, fans feel Ghosts changed too much.
The campaign is criticized for its antagonist Rorke but overall has a solid campaign for being a standalone game. A new game mode, Extinction, was added that had players battling against aliens as they were tasked with destroying hives around the map. It was generally well received but was compared to Zombies mode, which players preferred.
While considered one of the franchise’s worst games, its biggest issue is its release date. Coming off of the best games in the series, any game that tried something new was bound to receive criticism.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (2014)
Following the release of Ghosts, Advanced Warfare changed even more to the CoD formula, which upset fans. The game is set in the far future, 2054, featuring new technology and equipment at the player’s disposal. The biggest addition to the game is Exo movement, allowing boosts, dashes, and sky jumping.
Exo movement in multiplayer is heavily criticized for its inconsistency, which changed a core mechanic of the franchise. The movement system was not beginner friendly and had a steep learning curve. This change meant players could get killed from more locations that were seemingly invisible. While the multiplayer brought back the Pick 10 system from Black Ops II, the addition of gun customization meant that some guns were much stronger than others. Couple those with the spawn system that made the game more knowledge-based and prone to exploits, and you have an upset player base.
The game added a new mode in the form of Exo Survival and, eventually, Exo Zombies. These were generally well-received as players could survive with their friends in endless waves of enemies.
Call of Duty: Black Ops III (2015)
Black Ops III is one of the only games in the series to feature an online multiplayer function, as well as the new Nightmare Mode. Nightmare allows players to replay the campaign with a different narrative while replacing the enemies with zombies. It also introduced specialists into multiplayer, with ten different soldiers to choose from. Each specialist had her own unique ability and weapon that could be charged. It also has a new movement system that involves players jump-sliding around maps.
Black Ops III also brings back Zombies, which most people consider the best experience in the series. While fans may disagree on the best game, Zombies made the mode more accessible with gobble gum and double pack-a-punch. While bringing back classic maps, it also featured some of the best DLC and Easter Eggs for fans to complete.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare (2016)
Infinite Warfare continues the futuristic theme for CoD and holds a record for one of the most disliked videos on YouTube. Its reveal trailer had an 85% dislike ratio, making it the 25th most disliked video on YouTube. It received mixed reviews but has an active fan base in the community. While people took issue with its multiplayer and campaign, the Zombies mode was well-received. While not on par with Treyarch zombies, it is considered to be the best zombie experience that Infinity Ward has developed.
Call of Duty: WWII (2017)
WWII is the first CoD game primarily set in WWII since 2008, bringing the series back to its roots. It is one of the best-selling games in the series but received mixed reviews on launch day due to its Headquarters and supply drops. Its Zombies mode provides an average experience but has a darker and more gruesome tone than other entries. The multiplayer was criticized for its boring map design that lacked imagination and design features. While polarizing, the game has an active fan base and community.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 (2018)
Black Ops 4 was the first to introduce battle royals to the series with their Blackout mode, which also worked as a stand-in for the campaign. The lack of a traditional campaign is heavily criticized, as it is the first game in the franchise without one. There is also a heavy backlash against its Zombies mode and the available microtransactions.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019)
Modern Warfare was a more realistic take on CoD. It is a reboot of the original game and has a more competitive and fast-paced multiplayer system. However, its campaign and multiplayer are overshadowed by the release of Warzone, a battle royal mode introduced. Warzone is one of the most popular games ever made. 150 players are dropped into a map and compete for the last man standing. Players collect guns, equipment, and resources to help battle enemies along the way. The mode is even more popular due to it being free to play, meaning that the base game of Modern Warfare is not required.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War (2020)
One of the best-selling CoD games. Before its release, many fans speculated it would be a return to formula. The campaign however received positive reviews for its solid story, customizable character, and multiple endings. The multiplayer was similar to Modern Warfare (2019) which was more fast-paced and had a faster time to kill. The zombie mode is praised by fans after Black Ops 4 review mixed reviews. The mode is seen as fun but too easy for some players. It also features a new gameplay mechanic that allows players to leave the map after calling in support, essentially “beating” the game.
Call of Duty: Vanguard (2021)
Upon Vanguard’s release, it failed to meet the sales expectations of Activision, who blamed the WWII setting for why people weren’t buying. The multiplayer received mixed reviews with complaints that the game was broken on release, needing a patch to fix most of the issues. While its graphics received praise, the campaign is reviewed as mediocre, and the Zombies mode is considered one of the worst in the franchise.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2022)
Modern Warfare 2, like Modern Warfare, is not a remake of the original game. Instead, the game is a reboot of the trilogy but tells a completely new story while keeping characters and themes the same. While it is praised and is the center of many memes with Ghost, fans differ on if the original is better.
The game also features a sequel to the popular Warzone but is disappointing to many fans who prefer the original. Criticism over the cluttered UI, confusing map layout, and overall empty feeling were vocalized. New game modes, including Knockout, Prisoner Rescue, and DMZ, were added, receiving positive reviews.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (2023)
While not released yet, Modern Warfare 3 will be the newest edition in the series and will take after the previous Modern Warfare entries. While not a remake of the original game, it acts as a loose reboot that will share general concepts, themes, and characters.