Call of Duty: World at War to Call of Duty: WWII -- How to Craft a Great WWII Shooter

Call of Duty: World at War was the series' last WWII entry until now: here's everything Call of Duty: WWII can learn from its period predecessor.

With the Call of Duty franchise returning to its roots this year, I think it’s important to look at what Call of Duty: World at War got right — and what Call of Duty: WWII can learn from it — about creating a compelling experience set in the era of World War II.

Call of Duty: World at War, for those who aren’t familiar, was the series’ last WWII-set entry before embarking on the modern — and then futuristic — escapades that have left the series’ sales on a steady decline since Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. Last year’s Battlefield 1 reminded the industry that the money lies in our planet’s history, and that “boots on the ground” gameplay is what players want. With that in mind, here’s a list of features that we saw in Call of Duty: World at War that I think Call of Duty: WWII should draw from.

A single-player mode that feels like a campaign:

While Call of Duty: WWII focuses on the American side, it’s important to know who and what you’re fighting for.

When playing Call of Duty: World at War, you feel as if you are pushing from battlefield to battlefield towards a clear goal. For the Americans, this is the push through the Pacific Islands towards Shuri Castle; for the Soviet forces, it’s the planting of the flag at the German Riechstag. The game feels as if your actions in one mission lead logically to your position in the next. In games like Advanced Warfare, the player is so far removed from the narrative that it seems as if you’re struggling to understand what is going on, if not what you’re doing in X city and why you’re fighting Y enemy.

Call of Duty: WWII has suggested it’s going to follow a historical narrative but it has also, in an interview with IGN, explained that it is going to focus on “things like racism, religious persecution, and sexism.” The issue with this is that Activision is trying to focus on the authenticity of the story, but why would 19-year-old “Red” Daniels care about these ideas? I think these ideas are fine to engage with in a retrospective way, but if Sledgehammer is going to craft a story that Call of Duty fans will care about, then they need to create a story that is believable and driven by what your typical WWII draftee would experience. All of this should try and emulate the set-piece story conclusions that World at War featured. While Call of Duty: WWII focuses on the American side, it’s important to know who and what you’re fighting for.

A top-notch Sniper mission:

I think that we need to see Red stranded behind enemy lines with a rifle and genuine fear in both his and the player’s heart.

Let’s be honest: Call of Duty has been missing a memorable sniper mission since World at War. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare‘s “All Ghillied Up” is the mold; a masterpiece. What the series has gotten away from is the idea that snipers are against the odds. Take Modern Warfare 3‘s sniper mission for instance: you could run-and-gun your way through that entire mission, whereas in “Vendetta” (World at War‘s sniper mission) you are sneaking through buildings and backstreets because if you are detected early, you die. World at War got this perfect: “Sniper, in the Administration building!” You then go on to fight a glare in a multi-story building, and failure means death. A good sniper mission means that there are consequences for not being precise.

Call of Duty: WWII again is set to focus on the life of Red, a run-of-the-mill farm boy, and while he’s not a trained marksman: World at War showed us that even any soldier can rise to the occasion. I think that we need to see Red stranded behind enemy lines with a rifle and genuine fear in both his and the player’s heart. Since the single-player is going to require players to reach a medic to regenerate health, being separated from a medic for an entire mission would mean that every hit you take matters. Yes, that may cause frustration, but Call of Duty players have been seeking a challenge for some time.

A simple Zombies mode:

Have the core gameplay focus on mowing down the risen Reich and let players discover the meaning behind it, if they want to.

Speaking of challenges, Nazi zombies began in Call of Duty: World at War as a Horde mode, plain and simple. There were easter eggs that hinted at an overarching story, and players could activate all of them to gain some deeper knowledge of the plot: but for the average Call of Duty player, it was essentially a mode to see how long you could survive. Call of Duty: Black Ops III messed with this formula on maps like “Shadows of Evil”: you had to perform rituals and even become a monster in order to survive the longest. Over-complicating the Zombies mode, while making it interesting, turns away more casual players. A Zombies story isn’t a bad thing, but don’t make it front and center. Instead, have the core gameplay focus on mowing down the risen Reich, and let players discover the meaning behind it, if they want to.

Call of Duty: WWII has an amazing cast so far for Zombies, and that’s a good thing. It was the lovable heroes like Dempsey, Nikolai, Takeo, and Richtofen who made us laugh in previous games, and having stars like David Tennant and Elodie Yung should help with the delivery of lines, be they jokes or exposition. From the leaked Zombies trailer, we can see some incredible zombie design and even hints at a boss-creature similar to the late George Romero, who was a boss in the Black Ops take on Zombies. This kind of cat-and-mouse gameplay can help players feel afraid, but also give them a clearly defined objective: stay alive as long as you can.

Multiplayer weapons that are fun to use:

It’s important that each of the 12 weapons has a purpose.

Call of Duty: World at War had 27 multiplayer weapons (28 if you count the flamethrower perk) and every one of them was fun to use with the right attachments. There weren’t any duds. Every weapon in that game felt balanced and had trade-offs: but above all, each was usable. For example, I would use the obscure FG42 Light Machine Gun, which was normally overlooked: but with Double Tap, it was a carving machine. Or you could take the iconic M1 Garand and attach a scope to make it a semi-auto sniper rifle. When I picked up the controller and jumped into a lobby, I felt like I had options.

From what I’ve experienced in Call of Duty: WWII‘s multiplayer, it’s not yet clear if there’s a definitive “best” gun to use, or if some weapons are completely useless. But when I look at what guns I can take into a match, I have choices and that’s important. Activision has gone a long way to show how important the M1 Garand (and its iconic ping) is to WWII, and I enjoyed using it very much. While Japanese weapons won’t be making an appearance this time around, there are two options each for sniper rifles and machine guns, and three options each for sub-machine guns and rifles. These compared with secondary weapons from the Luger to Bazooka could be enough to keep gameplay varied, but it’s important that each of the 12 weapons has a purpose. It’s also promising that there are, so far, only six scorestreaks, as previous games like Modern Warfare 3 went overboard with them.

Multiplayer maps with variety:

World at War’s map variety gave every player and every playstyle a chance to shine.

If there’s one thing about Call of Duty: World at War, it’s the game’s map variety. From the open fields of “Seelow” and the house-to-house combat of “Outskirts,” to the heart-racing combat of “Dome” and the shadows of “Makin,” the game’s map variety gave every player and every playstyle a chance to shine, allowing players to utilize the entire range of the game’s weapons and perks.  Each map had its own identity, secrets, and shortcuts that players took time to familiarize themselves with and when there was a vote for which map players would be fighting on, I was genuinely looking forward to playing, no matter the outcome. Offering some of the largest maps in the series, World at War let players take their time finding and fighting each other, and it made every kill more rewarding.

Call of Duty: WWII needs to do the same. There can’t just be a handful of maps that, while beautiful, are all the same size. Having maps of varying sizes, and some with tanks, lets players get a different experience depending on the map, and it’s that variety that keeps players in lobbies match after match. If we’re going to have a Call of Duty that’s based on the Western Front, then we need to see more than just bunkers, trenches, and small towns: we need forests, castles, and fields too.

And that concludes my list of things that Call of Duty: WWII can learn from Call of Duty: World at War. For me, this upcoming installment is about redemption; if Sledgehammer Games hasn’t looked to the past, they may have trouble when the game hits shelves this November. Hopefully that’s not the case.

Call of Duty: WWII will be coming to PC, Xbox One, and PS4 on November 3rd, 2017.

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Noah Buttner

Noah Buttner is a staff writer at Dualshockers. He specializes in textual and visual analysis and is based in New York, where he recently obtained a degree in Journalism from Stony Brook University.

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