Call of Duty: Can WWII Save CoD?

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The Call of Duty series has garnered a tired, maligned reputation over the last five years. The series is almost entirely responsible for having brought that upon itself – it puts out a new game every year like clockwork and the last five of them all had a samey futuristic setting.

Sure, the jungles in Call of Duty: Ghosts differed somewhat from the Singaporean cyberpunk of Call of Duty: Black Ops III, but gamers have grown tired of the emphasis on drones, spaceships and laser guns. They’ve advocated, sometimes loudly, for a shift to WWII or Vietnam.

Thankfully, Activision finally got the message that a half-decade of futuristic CoDs has eroded its audience’s interest in the series and is taking CoD back to its roots this fall with Call of Duty: WWII. The title is the first main Call of Duty installment to be set in World War II since 2008’s Call of Duty: World at War. Call of Duty: WWII got fans excited when it was unveiled back in April.

Certainly more so than when Infinite Warfare’s announcement dropped last year. Every CoD game’s marketing campaign claims that there are new and exciting features to be on the lookout for, but in Call of Duty: WWII’s case, the marketing might actually be telling the truth for once.

WWII’s shift in setting isn’t the only shakeup the game’s making to the CoD formula. The campaign will feature a return to using medkits instead of regenerating health, and players can only get ammo from their squadmates. These two changes may not seem all that drastic on paper, but they’re actually the two most fundamental changes CoD’s making to its series in years. It suggests that the game will be much more reliant upon caution and squad-based gameplay, though the multiplayer retains the conventional health regeneration system.

Another badly needed change Call of Duty: WWII is bringing to the scene is getting rid of all the drones. For years, CoD gamers have grown tired of using robots, drones and other futuristic tech to wage war on the battlefield; WWII’s getting rid of all that and bringing the CoD multiplayer experience back to simpler times. The jury’s out on whether the actual shooting will be all that different, but just getting rid of all the fancy peripherals to focus on gritty soldier vs. soldier combat is a welcome change.

CoD: WWII deserves watching because it’s being developed by Sledgehammer Games, makers of 2014’s Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Though far from perfect, Advanced Warfare is one of the better CoDs to have been released these last few years and carried an unusual focus on storytelling (despite Troy Baker-voiced leading man Jack Mitchell saying only, like, three words).

Sledgehammer’s strong debut effort demonstrates that the studio is well-positioned to tackle World War II. The studio must, however, take great care with its reported plan to portray some element of the Holocaust. That’s a tight rope to walk.

There’s no telling if Call of Duty: World War II can actually save CoD. The series has already burned many of its fans out with the repeated focus on futuristic settings, and last year’s Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare was the franchise’s absolute low point. Here’s hoping that WWII’s planned gameplay changes and narrative ambitions can bring one of gaming’s most venerable shooters roaring back to life.