Call of Duty: World War II Hands-On Impressions

I was excited to play Call of Duty: World War II because my first-ever FPS was Call of Duty.

Well, okay. That’s not entirely true. My first FPS was technically GoldenEye 007 on N64, but FPS purists will beat me up for saying that. Call of Duty was the first online shooter I ever played, though, and that counts for something. Admittedly, I fell off the bandwagon for a while. I wasn’t into future war, and that’s what the series has been for several years. Call of Duty: World War II is a return to its roots: World War II action and no crazy wall-running or jet packs to be found.

Here are my impressions from the first weekend with Sledgehammer’s Call of Duty: World War II private beta.

Since I skipped the future-war Call of Duties, I don’t have much to say in the way of comparison. Suffice it to say, this is like the Call of Duty you remember. Classic weapons, classic action. It does bring the genre into the present day with some nice quality-of-life upgrades, modern customization, and the like. There are several different default load-out options — called Divisions — such as Infantry, Airborne, Armored, etc. Each has innate abilities (such as the Infantry’s bayonet attack), and their weaponry can be customized as you unlock tokens to purchase new guns, which you can then save as customized load-outs. You rank up in your chosen load-out while simultaneously gaining new add-ons for your guns. It’s a cool progression system that rewards you for playing, but not in a game-breaking way. You’ll stand a chance of victory even from your first match. This is more about skill than unlocking the sweetest weapon that will destroy everyone.

There are four main multiplayer modes available: Team Deathmatch, Domination, Hardpoint, and War. Team Deathmatch is what you’d expect — team vs. team combat with no holds barred. The action is fast and frenetic, respawns are quick and get you back into the fray within seconds, and it’s a ton of fun. Having spent most of my time with multiplayer shooters in Team Deathmatch modes, this was where I was most at home. Everything felt sharp and tight, from the controls to the graphics.

Team Deathmatch is a great place for beginners, and even if you die a lot, you’ll find yourself improving in no time. The arenas are somewhat small — no telling whether the three maps I played will be expanded upon in the full release, or if they’re representative of the general size of arenas — and one arena’s trench-like maze can be quite frustrating, as you’ll more often than not find yourself getting shot in the back by an enemy you had no idea was there. But the frustrations are few and far between. Team Deathmatch is a riot.

Domination and Hardpoint are similar, with a few key differences. Domination presents you with three points around the map that your team must capture and hold. You capture a point by being present near it, and the enemy steals it back by killing you and taking your place. You score more for your team the longer you maintain dominance over the three points. By contrast, Hardpoint presents you with one point that your team must control, but this point periodically changes position around the map. In either case, you’ll be frantically sprinting around the arena, wiping out enemies and doing your best to hold the line with your teammates.

The final mode is where Sledgehammer is really bringing changes to the formula. War is an online, multiplayer, narrative experience that sees the Axis and Allies clashing in the streets of the French town of Saint-Lo. The battle available in the beta involves four major segments: a battle for dominance over an Axis base of operations, the Allies’ attempt to build a bridge, the Axis’ attempt to defend their weapons cache, and the Allies’ effort to escort their tank through the city. Each section segues smoothly into the next, unless the Axis powers are able to stop the Allied advance. Having more to do than simply shoot your opponents or capture an area gives multiplayer so much more perceived importance, and it provides a lot of replay value. Not only do your objectives differ based on the side you’re playing, but regardless of side, there are multiple ways to approach each objective, multiple angles of attack or defense.

If you missed the first round of the beta, don’t worry. It’s coming back next weekend, September 1st through the 4th, for another go. If you’re able to grab a beta key, check it out. It’s got me pretty excited for November 3rd.