Review – Call of Duty: World War II
“This game is so ******* broken.”
I don’t know if there’s a better way to sum up the bulk of the Call of Duty World War II experience than that quote from Wednesday night’s multiplayer session.
The game, released November 3rd, has suffered easily the worst launch of a Call of Duty title to date. Multiplayer, the game’s bread and butter, was completely unavailable for most of launch night and into the next day, and continues to be plagued by connection issues over a week later.
Matchmaking issues rendered the game’s dedicated servers useless at launch, prompting a switch to P2P (peer-to-peer) matchmaking – a system that relies on customers to play host to the game’s action, though at the expense of balance as the host gains an advantage over other players. Developers at Sledgehammer have worked to get dedicated servers back in action, with testing beginning this week. This should put an end to host migrations during matches, which pauses the action as the game tries to re-establish the peer-to-peer connection under a new host.
The matchmaking issues also caused Sledgehammer to scale back the much-vaunted Headquarters mode, which saw – for about the span of a day – gamers able to see and interact with one another in a shared social space set on the cliffs over Normandy beach. The social hub allowed players to see each other open the in-game reward crates, emote back and forth, and challenge one another to one-on-one duels or shooting contests. When the game switched to peer-to-peer, matchmaking in the Headquarters was cut off, leaving it an empty playfield and rendering most of it pointless.
In fact, without people to interact with, it doesn’t take long before you start to question why you can’t simply do all this from a quick and easy menu. Picking up Contracts (time-limited missions you can take on to earn rewards like crates or bonus experience) and Orders (challenges to complete, separated into daily and weekly levels of difficulty) requires you to run between two different spots. Want to prestige your weapon? Run over there. Want to prestige your soldier? Sorry, that’s a different place.
Advancing in the Prestige ranks really feels special this time around. You talk to the General on the cliff overlooking the beach – a location you can only access when it’s time to prestige – and then there’s a plane flyby, a large glowing emblem showcasing your new rank appears over your head, and fireworks appear over the ships docked nearby. Well it would feel special, if there was anyone else in the Headquarters to see it…
Way back in 2014, Activision declared the Call of Duty franchise would be getting more polish, moving from a two-year to a three-year development cycle. Even setting aside the difficulties in multiplayer matchmaking, it doesn’t feel like World War II benefited from that extended timeline. The game launched with only nine maps for multiplayer modes, in addition to a bonus map that never seems to come up in matchmaking – likely because it must be downloaded separately and is easily forgotten. All in all, this just doesn’t feel like enough – especially after Infinite Warfare shipped with 13 maps.
Bizarrely, Sledgehammer has opted to do away with the stellar Pick-10 character creation system from past games and replaced it with Divisions, where players enlist in one of five divisions: Airborne, Armored, Expeditionary, Infantry, or Mountain – each with their own set of four perks. In addition to those perks, players can access one Basic Training bonus, ranging from ridiculously powerful ones like Espionage, which marks anyone damaged by you to your entire team for 10 seconds, to practically worthless ones like Inconspicuous, which doesn’t seem to make you any quieter while moving.
The game also suffers from some odd gameplay decisions, like allowing quickscoping to make a return. Quickscoping, a technique for sniper rifle users that abuses auto aim, was taken out of the series all the way back in Call of Duty: Ghosts. Sledgehammer has also given little thought to the impact of Contracts on the game, putting up Contracts that reward things like getting pistol or launcher kills. This floods games with players who only use those weapons, which renders them useless for the purposes of trying to win the game.
On the campaign side of things, this is a polished product that sports gorgeous graphics and a so-so story that we’ve seen before. Folksy farm hand goes to war and over the course of seven or so hours he learns hard lessons about how America won the war and saved everyone. The performances turned in by the voice actors are great, they just don’t have much of a script to work with. By the end of the campaign you’d be hard pressed to care much about any of the stars of the show, even if you do pay attention for the whole thing. The game shoots for a couple scenes with some real impact, but it falls flat since there’s no emotional engagement to be had.
Zombie Nazis also make a return as a co-operative experience, and it’s entertaining if you can get a group to play with. The formula is the same as past games: unlock new areas, find new weapons, and gain enough power to take on tougher challenges, but it’s something that works. The player characters have great personality, and the ability to choose one of four combat roles offers up some variety, which begs the question – what could this be if they really fleshed it out?