Some Thoughts About the Call of Duty: WWII Single-Player Campaign

Posted on November 4, 2017 by Paul Thurrott in Games, Xbox One with 19 Comments

Some Thoughts About the Call of Duty: WWII Single-Player Campaign

Call of Duty: WWII takes the franchise back to its World War II roots. And while I still have reservations about the future, the single-player game has surprised me. In a good way.

I’ve explained my reservations a few times over the past year.

When Activision announced that it was returning to the World War II setting for the next Call of Duty, I noted that World War II was not the answer for a blockbuster game franchise that has lost its way.

“As with last year’s blockbuster Battlefield comeback, Battlefield 1—which features a World War I setting and very strong single-player campaign—Activision is not surprisingly plumbing its past, and nostalgia, in an effort to regain the support of its biggest fans,” I wrote. “But its biggest fans want more Modern Warfare or Black Ops multiplayer mayhem. Not this. Not really.”

In August, when I had the chance to test the Call of Duty: WWII multiplayer experience in beta, I described it as an unwelcome throwback.

“I can’t see Activision creating a new series out of this war,” I explained. “And that, ultimately, is the problem: The real failures of Ghosts, Advanced Warfare, and Infinite Warfare [three of the past four COD titles] is that they did not garner enough interest to grow them into three-game arcs that could help pad out a decade of gaming. Each was designed for that purpose. And each failed.”

Call of Duty is complicated. It is the most successful video game franchise of all time, by far. And even those failures—all of them—were, in fact, the best selling games of their respective years. Calling them failures thus requires a bit of perspective and understanding. That is, compared to the rest of the industry, Call of Duty is always wildly successful. But compared its own past, these recent COD games have been duds.

To its detractors—because, let’s face it, there will always be trolls who can’t stand anything that gets too popular or overshadows their own personal favorites—Call of Duty is a repetitive mess. But since I actually spend every year actually playing each of these games, I can accurately explain that nothing could be further from the truth. COD has evolved in important ways every single year. And the most recent games—Advanced Warfare, Black Ops III, and Infinite Warfare—bear little resemblance to the classic World War II, Modern Warfare, and Black Ops (I and II) games.

That can be good or bad, depending on your perspective. For example, Advanced Warfare and Infinite Warfare both feature jetpack-style wall-running and jumping capabilities, but the multiplayer experiences are middling at best. But Black Ops III got this right, and it stands as one of the best COD multiplayer games of all time. Period.

Point being, jetpacks are not the problem.

But within the COD world, there are, of course, varying opinions about classic gameplay (World War II, Modern Warfare, Ghosts) vs. modern gameplay (jetpacks). And the franchise is big enough to accommodate both. Activision has three studios working on titles, and they could alternate between these styles. Or, better still, they could offer multiplayer modes that support both.

But Call of Duty isn’t just about multiplayer. Which is what I’d like to address here today. Because the one thing that this past summer’s beta multiplayer experience did not provide was a peek at Call of Duty: WWII‘s single-player experience.

And it is magnificent.

This is important. My love of Call of Duty was founded on two things, the early games’ wonderful single-player experiences, which I often completed multiple times, and their incredible multiplayer experiences, which—combined with downloadable content (DLC), especially map packs—extended each game’s value and playtime considerably over the course of a year. And something has happened over the years that changed that dynamic. The single player experiences started to suck.

(Yes, Call of Duty has long supported a third game type, too, called Zombies. I don’t personally care for these games, but they are a big part of the appeal of COD for many.)

Two things are interesting to me when I think about how the the Call of Duty single player experiences have changed, for the worse, over time.

The first is that each Call of Duty is actually two different games: Single player and multiplayer (or, with Zombies, three different games). They may share some locales, or whatever, but they often look and feel completely different from each other.

The second is that the success, or lack thereof, of any COD single player campaign has nothing to do with the series itself. In fact, there is almost a linear nature to the decline of these games over time.

In the early years—the original three World War II-era games, of course, and the Modern Warfare series as well—the single-player campaign mattered. These were great stories to a one, and I used to actually hold off on multiplayer until I had finished the single-player campaign. They were that good.

I stopped doing that after the release of the first Modern Warfare game. That was when COD really exploded as a multiplayer phenomenon, but for those used to the simplistic multiplayer games of the past, it was also complex to configure the various loadouts, and this is something that kept getting more complex in subsequent games. With the first Modern Warfare, I got off to a bad start because the rest of the community had been figuring out how things worked for weeks before I finally stepped in.

By the time the Black Ops games appeared, the single-player campaign was getting less interesting. The first Black Ops held my attention from a single player perspective. But by the timeBlack Ops and Ghosts happened, I was just going through the motions. I did complete those games’ single-player campaigns, but I couldn’t care less.

I also completed Advanced Warfare, begrudgingly. But by the time Black Ops III appeared, I gave up. I didn’t get very far into that game, and I likewise ignored the Infinite Warfare single player campaign after an early bit of excitement around the opening sequences.

So here’s WWII. Yes, I’m interested in history, and in World War II specifically. But I also feel like we’ve seen it all, done it all, when it comes to games set in this era. I’ve gone on record as stating—and I still believe—that this isn’t a solid foundation for the future of Call of Duty. And the multiplayer experiences in this game seem good, maybe very good. But I’m not sure about the long-term value here.

But the single player. My God. The Call of Duty: WWII campaign is freaking fantastic. This is the first time I’ve been this floored by a COD single player campaign since I don’t know. The first Modern Warfare? The first Black Ops? I’m not sure. Since forever.

I started off on Friday morning with multiplayer because of my years-long experience with the franchise, knowing how this would go. But midway through the day, I decided to check out single-player, expecting to dabble a bit, lose interest quickly, and possibly never look back. Again.

And I can’t put it down. I may completely finish this game before I even look at multiplayer again. And I know exactly how long its’ been since I did that: Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. That game came out in 2007. That was 10 years ago. Ten.

As I write this, I am only partway through the campaign. And I suppose it could go south, though I doubt it. It’s … great. It’s engaging and interesting, and the game sequences are varied without getting bogged down in the stupid shit that sometimes ruined even the best COD games of the past. The tedious driving sequences. The dumb bits where you man a gun and have to shoot down some exact number of planes. The hokey button sequences to just open a door. You know the drill.

There are variations of these things in WWII. But they’re somehow not tedious, not aggravating. The driving sequences, which alternate between you driving and you shooting a gun, are actually … fun. I’ve sniped Nazis from the top of a cathedral, chased an armored train, and have even snuck into a German garrison in Paris—playing a French woman masquerading as a Nazi agent—and interacted with enemies and a mole, a sequence that can only be described as a first for this franchise. And it’s all been freaking great.

So. Wow.

The story, of course, is great. It’s World War II. But the graphics, the presentation, the in-game characters, the entire thing is just great. What can I say? I went into this jaded and expecting disappointment. And instead, the single-player campaign is a surprising delight.

So I’ll keep going. And finish a Call of Duty single player campaign for the first time in years. And enjoy doing so for the first time in basically forever.


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