Thought Blog: Call of Duty WWII

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Sledgehammer Games has dealt in Call of Duty stock prior to the upcoming entry in the multi-entry series. They not only worked with Infinity Ward and other subservient developers on Modern Warfare 3, but they also developed the solid Advanced Warfare as their first main addition to the Call of Duty chronology. In a series that now spans at least five confirmed timelines things can sometimes seem cluttered and jumbled, mixed up here and there year to year but otherwise a veritable mess.

In a bid to discover some of the personal glory that Battlefield 1 and DICE did with their look at total warfare in an older era, Activision and Call of Duty itself are returning to the previously overdone and oversaturated WWII market in order to rekindle some of the initial magic. As a note, Call of Duty hasn’t been to the second Great War since 2008’s World at War although some elements of 2010’s Black Ops did feature segments in and around the WWII era.

Previously Treyarch and Infinity Ward were the heavy hitters in the series however as of late and at least as of the previous three titles, Sledgehammer has picked up the slack where the other titans have fallen. Infinite Warfare was interesting and a pretty comprehensive package catering to all sorts of players and yet for many it was deemed a dud and not received as well as previous titles have been. Black Ops 3 was likewise seen as a cluttered mess that couldn’t make sense of what it wanted to be despite some interesting new features and a truly crazy single player campaign featuring the usual star studded cast.

As it stands, Advanced Warfare may be the last entry to really net a lot of praise- both for Kevin Spacey in his role within the single player campaign and for it being Sledgehammer’s first solo outing and a successful one at that. Prior to 2014’s Advanced Warfare, Call of Duty Ghosts (Infinity Ward) was deemed one of the least stellar entries in the franchise and 2012’s Black Ops II was an excellent multiplayer addition with some spectacular choice-making single player elements but otherwise started the series’ shift towards science fiction and what many consider a downward trend.

Returning to WWII is a somewhat expected approach and yet it is nonetheless a bold one as well, even if only as a direct response to Battlefield 1’s WWI setting. The critic in me cringes at the terrible naming convention that deemed it necessary to call this game ‘Call of Duty: WWII’ and yet you cannot fault it for simply encapsulating what they plan to offer: the full breadth of the total war experience across the European theater. From the start they could’ve easily used this as an opportunity to somewhat reboot the series and simply called it ‘Call of Duty’ and still made the exact same game they are making despite it being in yet another timeline and yet another setting.

As overdone as the setting was for so many years in the early 2000s, I cannot help but notice how graphically impressive the game is looking already and that it already seems to have Sledgehammer’s trademark narrative focus instead of the monumental attention to every single set-piece moment that Infinity Ward likes to push. Sure it will inevitably live up to the majority of WWII cliches- the gung-ho sergeant that wants to “kill the Nazi scum,” the calm and collected leader that wants to make it through alive and without subjecting his men to the cruelest horrors of war, and the grizzled war veteran side by side with green recruits. But I think the experience itself seems already promising enough.

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Aside from the obvious focus on some of the lesser trod battles of the European theater, the single player campaign looks to focus on the moral repercussions of war as well as the visceral nature of the fighting. I’m eager to see how a return to such ‘Medal of Honor’ gameplay as requested healing in comparison to immediate super-human healing from injuries over time works as well. The game is making it clear that although this will be a similar experience to the previous ones, it is going about things in both a more traditional and entirely different way. For that reason and surely others, WWII looks like it’ll be more than just a visually updated version of events we’ve already played through.

Focusing on single-player would hardly be fair to those of us who also enjoy the other gameplay offerings of the Call of Duty saga and so it’s also praise worthy than once again Sledgehammer Games is offering both Zombies and multiplayer components. Exo-Suit Zombies was an interesting take on the classic formula in Advanced Warfare and yet something tells me once more seeing Nazi zombies will curdle our blood and elevate our pulse in the most appropriate fashion. As for the multiplayer component itself, despite offering some of the expected PvP content it also sounds like Activision is really going after DICE and some of the Battlefield cake- large objective based battles and completely unique character class ‘divisions’ for one.

I applaud Sledgehammer for going the traditional route while still managing to find ways to inject new life into both the series and subsequently the game. It’s commendable that rather than create the same overdone science fiction super trooper tale we’ve seen for the previous few incarnations, they’re opting to return to the literal roots of Call of Duty while still producing new ideas in that older setting. Of all of the developers lately, Sledgehammer seems the most likely to take risks and reap the potential rewards of those design decisions as well. Treyarch used to be the one to do that and Infinity Ward has always stuck to a pretty similar model outside of last year’s Infinite Warfare.

I personally appreciate pretty much every Call of Duty game for the experience that they offer but even I can see the franchise fatigue constantly on the border of gamers’ hazy vision and lurking, waiting for the opportune moment to pounce and render a particular series iteration irrelevant and disdained. Black Ops 3 narrowly dodged that bullet and Infinite Warfare caught the brunt of the blast of criticism despite doing so many things differently and being quite literally out of the world to the degree where people argued as to whether or not it even deserved to be tagged as a Call of Duty game. As much as people buy the games, it’s constantly astounding to see the flak each one gets for literally no reason at times- fans complain about getting the same thing over and over again yet complain when they receive something new and different as well.

I could go on and on about my thoughts with regard to the series and this upcoming release and yet I think now is as appropriate a time as any to end it as well. What are your thoughts about the upcoming game? I personally have no doubt that Sledgehammer will do their best to give the community the most authentic and quality driven experience that they can and although I foresee some criticism in regard to the setting I do think they will fare better than both Black Ops 3 and Infinite Warfare have. Thoughts, comments or concerns? Feel free to comment and give voice to them here.

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