Can Call of Duty WWII refresh the franchise?

People are clamouring for a refresh of the Call of Duty franchise. Will a return to WWII do it?

Stale, repetitive, no innovation: these are just a few of the common complaints of the previous Call of Duty titles. People argued that while the science-fiction setting was new, ultimately the core gameplay was much the same. Even those elements that were fresh and exciting (such as the zero gravity sections of the singleplayer campaign) didn’t make it into the arguably more important multiplayer.

While the latest iteration of the Call of Duty franchise, Infinite Warfare, managed to garner solid reviews from critics, it was by-and-large slammed by the average user. Even the wall-running and agility-heavy combat updates weren’t enough to keep people interested. Players cried out that Titanfall 2 had done this far better already, and that the experience was, at the end of the day, no different than last year’s Call of Duty entry.

People were more impressed with Titanfall 2‘s combat movement in general.

A refreshing attempt

It appears that the developers have taken notice. Now under the helm of Sledgehammer Games, the new Call of Duty is “returning to its roots”, to use the exact phrasing the development team is using. They are trying to “honour the story” and remain “historically accurate”.

They are introducing new perspectives on the tale, from African-American soldiers and resistance fighters, trying to tell new stories that might have not taken centre-stage before. It all boils down to one thing: an attempted return to authenticity.

And not just authenticity for the source material either; for the franchise as well. The return to the era of World War II is a return to where Call of Duty saw its first burst of critical success. They are bringing everything they have learned since their last WWII entry (World at War, now nine years old) and utilising that to supply what the fans are asking for: a new look at a classic era.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure if it’s going to work.

Why they won’t work

WWII is an iconic era. But that also means that it is a well-trod one. The most recognisable aspects of this conflict for the Call of Duty audience – the assault on Berlin, the storming of Normandy – have been told and retold time and time again. There comes a point where this conflict, for the Western Front at least, runs dry.

That presents a problem for a studio that absolutely needs to produce something new for an audience growing weary of the same game every year.

At least in Infinite Warfare, the developers were able to be creative in their imaginings of the future. In WWII you’ll be firing the same guns, charging across the same beaches, killing the same enemies. It’s not new. It’s just the same game with a new face.

It’s not new. It’s just the same game with a new face.

Were the developers to tell some different stories from different perspective, or explore a different theatre of war, then WWII might have been an excellent choice. Perhaps fighting against the Japanese, or experiencing the game through the eyes of a German resistance member (yes, these existed). There are many more stories to be told than that of combat in Europe through the eyes of an American soldier – and there is every opportunity for Sledgehammer Games to tell them.

But from announcements so far, they aren’t. While we may get to dip into the French Resistance and perhaps other supporting characters, these are likely to be nothing but short, token experiences.

The developers themselves have said that they are keeping you in the shoes of ‘Private Everyman’ for most of the campaign. They want to tell the story of “the guy next to you”. But we’ve seen that story a thousand times in books, games and movies. Is Call of Duty really going to be the franchise that is going to be able to tell it differently?

Is it just going to be this, but prettier?

Will CoD WWII refresh the series?

But perhaps people don’t actually want new – perhaps they just want different. At this stage, after the series stretched through the modern era and out into space, that is what WWII really is. For some, this will be stepping back into a familiar era which may not be innovative – but at least its still recognisably Call of Duty.

And perhaps that’s why people buy it. They don’t want something new; they want the old faithful shootouts and deathmatches, a simplistic campaign and twitch-based gunplay – just better. Call of Duty has seen an enormous amount of success as a result of these design choices, so are they likely to change them?

Call of Duty has seen an enormous amount of success as a result of these design choices, so are they likely to change them?

No. The change to WWII is unlikely to result in anything truly innovative for the genre. The era doesn’t make it easy, and the potential damage that the wrong move could make for the sci-fi-sick audience is too large.

Is the return to WWII a refresh for Call of Duty? In some ways, yes – a return to the classic combat that made the original games great may be enough to win back the detractors. But is it going to be enough to change Call of Duty’s position as the Madden of the shooter genre? Unlikely.

Do you think the return to WWII is a good idea for the Call of Duty franchise? Let us know in the comments section below!

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