The last time we were staring down the barrel of a genuinely important entry into the Call of Duty series was in 2007. Back then, Modern Warfare wrenched the FPS genre out of its lengthy obsession with the Second World War, and slammed it into the satellite imagery and nuclear threats of the present day. It feels weird to be back at that point, where a blockbuster shooter like Call of Duty feels important again, but here we are one decade later - took ‘em long enough.
What’s new with the class system? Find out with our Call of Duty: WWII Divisions guide.
In those ten years, every developer that’s taken on the COD mantle has added to it. But now, for the first time - and rather ironically, seeing as they were the devs who added exosuits to the series - current developers Sledgehammer Games are stripping the gameplay back to the bare essentials, slowing it down, and putting the emphasis back on the objective. War mode epitomises this refocus, providing you with a segmented map that cancels out any irritating flankers, and a series of objectives that can be completed without dominating the enemy.
Playing War mode at Gamescom 2017, it was the first time in my intermittent 12-year relationship with the series that I could recall such a hefty focus on objective-based gameplay. Previously added modes like Kill Confirmed, Uplink, and Cranked have pushed the game to its limits where pace is concerned, but tactical play has been left by the wayside. War mode turns the dial back from 11 and is all the better for it.
It sees one team attack a series of objectives while the other attempts to halt their progress at each stage. The attacking team gets a generous four minutes to secure each objective, but victory can only be achieved by capturing all four objectives over the course of a round - it is all or nothing. What’s more, each objective is different: playing on the Operation Breakout map, the round kicks off with a simple, Domination-style capture point; then the action moves to a destroyed bridge that the attacking side must rebuild; next up is an ammo dump, which involves planting and defending a bomb; finally, the attacking side must rally around a tank à la Overwatch’s Payload mode, and escort it to the enemy’s spawn point.
The variety of objectives forces both teams to adjust their tactics between each contention point, punishing both sides for relying on the same tactics over the course of the round. It isn’t enough at the first objective to charge up the hill and seize the building by force: a flanking manoeuvre through a quiet alley drops two of our troops behind enemy lines, a classic pincer movement decimates the lot and we capture the point in a minute. When it comes to rebuilding the bridge, a drastic change of tack is required. There’s no way to get behind the enemy here, and the only way to rebuild the bridge is to start throwing soldiers at it until the job is done. This is an extremely exposed position, so a few of us swap classes: smoke grenades, snipers, and LMGs are ideal for providing cover while the rest of the squad hurl themselves at the objective.
The bridge section is spectacularly poised. Anything less than total commitment to the objective from either side results in a swift loss. Here, K/D ratios go out the window, as those who attempt to rebuild the bridge rack up nearly 20 deaths each before the objective is finally captured in overtime. Those trying to keep the rest of their team alive for as long as possible can do so by lobbing smoke grenades at the bridge, building machine gun emplacements in windows to help cover the assault, and doing anything else to attract as much attention to themselves as possible.
Tactics change again when we move onto the ammo depot objective, which takes part in a mazey area of the map where corner-campers reign supreme. A dispersed frontline fails totally here, so instead we cluster up and aim to dominate a single route to the objective. The timer for planting the explosives is mercifully short, allowing our point man to set up while the rest of us clear out any flanking enemies. Once the explosives are planted, the roles are reversed and so it is up to the attackers to stand firm in the face of an enemy onslaught.
Munitions blown to kingdom come, we begin the final push with an on-rails tank leading the assault. Provided we can maintain a majority of friendly troops by the tank, we’ll move forward as fast as we can run, and reach the enemy’s base within a minute. The tank provides plenty of cover, and even accommodates a single gunner who can lay down some suppressive fire. But clever map design in this section lets defenders sneak through buildings and attack the escort from behind. As an attacker, you feel beset on all sides by enemy grenades and fire, seeking refuge by tucking in close behind the metal behemoth. Further pincer attacks by the defending side prompt a tactical reshuffle, and so we leave just a couple of people in charge of propelling the tank forward while the rest of us occupy flanking channels.
The ploy works initially, but the enemy respond quickly, channeling their entire team straight down the middle of the map and stopping the tank’s advance just as the objective timer hits nil. We fall at the last hurdle, but for a solid 11 minutes it was the most finely balanced multiplayer match I’ve ever been involved in. Sure, there was a suspicion throughout that the enemy team were the better side, but they only managed to halt our advance when they stopped fragging us and started working together. That doesn’t happen very often in Call of Duty games, where an emphasis on movement speed, twitch shooting, and labyrinthine map design has combined to make the franchise a safe haven for lone wolf MVPs for nearly ten years now.
Persuading those pro players and influencers could be the only thing hindering War from becoming the dominant new game mode when the shooter launches on November 3. War mode - perhaps fittingly - produces hundreds of deaths per round, and in a game where K/D ratios are taken so seriously, this could deter any high-end play unless Sledgehammer Games are smart with how they choose to record player stats. Likewise, the fact that scorestreaks are switched off for War mode will no doubt attract ire from those who have spent years strategizing increasingly efficient ways of stacking streaks in order to boost their K/D bragging rights.
For any players unperturbed by the thought of dying a few more times, War mode is a gulp of fresh air, providing the same tension and space for clutch situations you find in esports, without the astronomical skill ceiling. Good players will stand out, but they won’t decide the outcome of a match: team play, coordination, and a willingness to sacrifice your virtual self will. A lack of distractions and a massively restricted play area might not sound like the fundamental shake-up this stalwart first-person shooter needs, but it’s working wonders.
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