The past three iterations in the Call of Duty franchise have seen the game take place in the future; exo-suits, wall-running, and futuristic, unfamiliar weapons have been the focus for each of the three studios' latest endeavours. Advanced Warfare was Sledgehammer's first full instalment to the acclaimed franchise and the first to tackle the 'jetpack era' and while it was fresh initially, by the time Infinite Warfare rolled around, fans were clamouring for another "boots on the ground" experience. It was Sledgehammer's time once again and they've opted to return to World War II, a period not seen in the series since Treyarch's World at War back in 2008.
Initial impressions are that it's fantastic; the lack of jetpacks makes it the most tactical and strategic Call of Duty experience we've seen since Ghosts, even though the three smaller maps available in the beta meant it maintained a similar pace to the last few instalments. A notable mention must go to the sound design; planes flying overhead, explosions erupting throughout the map, and the constant gunfire makes WWII the grittiest and most realistic representation of war we've seen from the franchise in a long time, and we haven't even touched the single player narrative yet.
We played a LOT of the beta. Over the course of the extended weekend, we levelled every single gun up to the maximum, experienced all the maps, and every playstyle possible. And not just because we had to, but because WWII brought pure enjoyment, something we hadn't experienced in a Call of Duty game for years. Going into more detail, one of the first things we played was the new War game mode.
Not to get it confused with the previous War mode in World at War, this time around War consists of four objectives. If you're on the attacking side, you must capture an area, similar to Domination or Hardpoint, before progressing forward and constructing a bridge to cross a dry riverbed. Planting a bomb, Search & Destroy-esque comes after that, before the final objective which is essentially the same as any payload mode in something like Overwatch or Team Fortress 2, but the payload is a tank with a seat for the gunner in the top. It's quite unlike anything seen previously in the franchise.
It promotes teamplay; just 'kill-whoring' serves no purpose if you're not trying to assist with the objective, to the point where there isn't even a kill-death ratio on the leaderboard for each player. On the sole map dedicated to the mode in the beta, the attackers were heavily favoured, so to win on defence required a considerable amount of teamwork and strategy, to the point where people were occasionally communicating through the in-game chat. Our only suggestion is that the mode should be one long game; at the half-time mark, it counts as starting a brand new game when you switch sides, but that should be amended and it would be better off as one match, like how it works in Overwatch.
In the beta, three standard modes were available: Team Deathmatch, Domination, and Hardpoint. All of them played identically to how they have before, with one sole difference in that hardpoints were only available for 60 seconds at a time, compared to the 90 in previous games. This meant games were often closer affairs, as players could rotate to the next area much quicker and more of the map was being used at each time due to players always setting up to battle it out at the next point.
Three vastly different maps were on offer. Ardennes Forest was the first we played, a wintery region in southern Belgium and the biggest map to play, featuring three distinct lanes. Church ruins to one side, a path straight down the middle with a burnt out tank and various bits of cover, and a mini 'No Man's Land' on the other side, covered by two opposing mounted machine guns. The traditional lane layout, commonly found in older Call of Duty titles, means Ardennes Forest was the smoothest and most enjoyable map to play for every mode, as it also combined close quarters combat with a lot of ranged sight lines.
Pointe du Hoc is the name of the second map, a real world location during the war, on the coast of Normandy in France. Perhaps the epitome of what comes to mind when you think of World War II, Pointe du Hoc consists of five bunkers and a farmhouse around the outskirts of the map, while the centre contains winding trenches and paths where shotguns and submachine guns flourish. Perhaps the best map for Hardpoint due to the constant rotation and mix between short to mid-ranged combat, but it doesn't work quite as well for Team Deathmatch - it's much slower paced and the spawns often seem nonsensical.
Gibraltar is the third map, set in the British Overseas Territory in the south of Spain. This map features a lot of elevation, with multiple hills and stairways everywhere and is suitable for rifles and SMGs; snipers and shotgunners will struggle to make an impact. The issue with Gibraltar is the map has no flow; it's difficult to discern why, but the lack of structure meant play often became staggered. There are too many corners to check, the vast majority of deaths will come just from being shot in the back, and the spawns can flip at a moment's notice. Undoubtedly the least enjoyable of the three maps for all three modes, but whether that could change with the introduction of modes like Search & Destroy is yet to be seen.
Weapon balance is something that Call of Duty developers have always struggled with early on; there's usually one or two guns for each type that are far superior to the other options. In WWII, the STG-44 is the one. With little to no recoil, especially if you use the grip attachment, the STG can often beat SMGs in close quarters combat, other rifles at medium range, and is able to beat out snipers from a distance. We haven't seen the other guns in the full game yet, but it will be very surprising if there are many better options than the STG.
That's not to say the other two rifles were bad. The M1941 fires faster than the STG, but is much less accurate and the iron sights are poor, meaning a reflex sight is a necessary addition, taking up an attachment slot that could go to something more worthwhile. The M1 Garand is semi-automatic and will always kill in 2-3 bullets, but the recoil after each shot is heavy, especially with the flinch mechanic. If you get hit while trying to pick someone off, good luck getting your aim back on target.
Four submachine guns were available throughout the beta, and somewhat impressively, all four were completely viable options and it's hard to say one was outright better than another. The Type 100 was the most accurate, especially with grip, but fired comparably slower to the Waffe 28 which aesthetically, looks very similar to the Type 100 but with a much faster fire rate but trickier recoil to control. The Grease Gun packed a lot of punch per shot, but suffered from recoil issues as well as shooting even slower. The PPSh-41 was the most well rounded SMG, with average stats in all three main categories.
In terms of the other, lesser used weapon categories, the Winchester 1897 is by far the best shotgun, with better range and one-hit kills whereas the other two usually required two shots. The bolt action Commonwealth is the far superior sniper rifle, with much better accuracy and less recoil than the semi-automatic Karabin. None of the light machine guns was particularly impressive, but the Lewis was the best of the ones available. Equip rapid fire and grip and there's a gun that can compete with the more common weapons.