Today in London, Activision and Sledgehammer Games revealed the first real look at the upcoming Call of Duty: WWII, scheduled to release on November 3rd. A livestream press conference was held wherein the two heads of Sledgehammer Games, Michael Condrey and Glen Schofield, answered questions about CoD WWII, and the first trailer for the game was debuted.
The game takes place on the Western Front of the European theatre of operations from 1944 to 1945, and follows soldiers in the American “Bloody First” First Infantry Division. As discussed in the livestream, the goal of this game was a move back to what originally made Call of Duty into one of the biggest game franchises of all time: “visceral, boots on the ground gameplay”, at least so they say. It’s true, after the mindshare (not economic) failure of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare last year, publisher Activision needed to do something that recaptured the spirit of the early Call of Dutys that took the world by storm.
It has been 10 years since the last Call of Duty game set in World War II was released. 2007’s Call of Duty: World At War was, and still is, a highly revered game in not only the CoD community, but in the general gaming industry as well. It still is the only CoD game that truly embodied gritty conflict in a ‘visceral’ way. World At War featured a level of violence unseen before, or since in a Call of Duty game, and still resonates within the series. The Second World War is not a conflict to take lightly, and World At War lived up to that notion well. The question now becomes whether or not Call of Duty: WWII can keep the same seriousness front and center. Past CoD’s, especially Black Ops 3 and Infinite Warfare have fallen far from that idea of seriousness inherent in military conflict. Pink camouflage weapons, jet packs, gingerbread man suits, and unlockable dabs have taken much from the franchise’s cache of being a gritty military shooter.
If CoD:WWII continues, even in the smallest bit, down the same line as previous entries in the series, with ‘wacky’ unlockables and the ever present, and ever awful supply drops, Activision could do significant, most likely permanent, damage to its brand. Even the nearly immaculate Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare from 2006, was remastered last year, re-released as part of an extra-expensive, and extra-stupid Infinite Warfare bundle (the game still cannot be purchased separate), and then a few months later was butchered by pushing paid supply drops, and new weapons that did not appear in the original game into the new remaster. For many people, these crimes perpetrated against one of the most influential, and beloved shooters of all time signal that Activision could give a crap about authenticity, nostalgia, or fan service. Instead favoring the potential alienation of future customers for a quick profit today. This is the Activision of 2017, a company seemingly totally committed to extreme profit at all costs, including the public perception of their most profitable franchise ever.
If Sledgehammer Games allows (if they even have a choice) Activision to undermine WWII for a quick buck, like Raven Studios did with the CoD 4 remaster I do not think there is much of a future for the series beyond 2017. Sure Call of Duty will sell millions, maybe even tens of millions of copies every year, but those numbers are already dwindling in comparison to the big successes of past CoD games. Their competition is quickly catching up (go look up Battlefield 1’s and Infinite Warfare’s sales head to head), and a permanently negative public perception will crucify the franchise across the social media universe. Call of Duty needs to change to keep hold of its dominant position in the market. The best thing they can do to change is to simply do what they did 10 years ago, but do it better. Better multiplayer, a more engaging story, better production values. So far at least, and we will know more come E3 2017 in June, Call of Duty: WWII seems to be on the right path.