Can years of additions to one of the most popular multiplayer franchises of all time be stripped away? Will it make the game more fun? The online component of the latest Call of Duty: WWII is an experiment in retro-engineering. Let’s see if it pays off in the end.

The Blame Game

I can’t really blame Call of Duty’s publisher, Activision, for wanting to go back to the roots of the franchise. During the last several years the juggernaut multiplayer franchise has been veering towards more and more futuristic equipment. And while using all those sci-fi gadgets was fun, it added a new, unexpected layer to the game. It made it even more skill-based that it had been before. As a result when you tried to return to Call of Duty multiplayer after some time, not only did you have to relearn all the basic skills of running and shooting, remember the map layouts, weapon and add-on configurations, but also familiarize yourself with the ever-expanding arsenal of additional movement options and deadly devices. Wall-running and jetpacking certainly looks fun, but maybe, just maybe, we should leave it to those games that are more focused on those elements of gameplay, like Titanfall.

The multiplayer component of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare was fast and futuristic, but understanding everything that is happening on the map has proven again and again to be just too difficult for such a speedy affair. This is why Activision has decided to get back to the roots of the franchise. This and lower than expected sales of their flagship game, of course.

Mud and Ammo

The returning setting of middle 20th-century combat allowed the developers to get back to the basics of gameplay. Sledgehammer Games did not have to worry about new equipment, inventing yet more advanced technologies and introducing another grenade types. They just needed to get back to the magic of the first Calls of Duty. And for the most part, they have succeeded.

Don’t take me wrong. This is still the same, trigger-happy Call of Duty, but this time around you have to worry more about the incoming fire from your enemies and map layout than about some stealth bomber or killer robot from a score streak ruining your evening. You can still die a horrible death from a bomb or a flamethrower, but now it seems more balanced and less frequent.

The refocusing on standard Call of Duty firefights is a splendid idea, then. By stripping additional movement options, like jet-packs, from the players, the developers force them to learn the maps, the weapons and react to everything that is happening in your vicinity. Flying away from trouble is not an option anymore. This, in turn, boosts the tempo of the game as there are more frags during a match now than in the previous, futuristic installments. It’s either you or the other guy. Or the quick-scoping bastard that hides behind the bushes.

The new maps are also splendidly designed with a focus on lanes and terrain control. Some of them require more close quarters combat, others offer open terrain, where you have to watch out for sniper fire (and there is a lot of so early after the launch). The new Call of Duty: WWII requires flexibility so that the players have to prepare several loadouts for different occasions and circumstances. A good airborne configuration with an SMG won’t help you on the Gustav Cannon map with a huge artillery wagon in the center. You have to pick something with a little more effective range not to be obliterated by smart-guys with scopes.

Push and Pull, Cards and Tents

Apart from the returning World War II setting, the biggest addition to the franchise is the pompously named War mode. Sledgehammer have obviously been playing some Overwatch matches because War is its more grounded-in-history version. One of the sides is attacking and the other one is defending map choke-points through a series of objectives. This might not sound very shocking in 2017 with a plethora of asynchronous multiplayer modes available in other games, but for Call of Duty – it’s a revolution.

What it introduces into the mix is a lack of balance. Call of Duty developers have always gone over their heads to introduce as much balancing as it is possible, at least in the map layout (hello, akimbo shotgun noobs). Attacking in the War mode is a unique experience for Call of Duty players, as taking over objectives requires much more team-work that can be found in other modes. Of course, there are hundreds of gamers out there already complaining about the fact that they just can’t win when on the attacking side, but they just have to get over it.

The new HQ social space is another significant addition. It sounds like a big deal, but in the end, it’s just a virtual hub with other players in it. Here you can take your orders which will grant you additional currency or open up booster packs with cosmetic items. Time will tell whether players will like it, but if you are really not into the whole card thing, you don’t have to use it, it’s not mandatory.

Back to the Basics

The multiplayer component of Call of Duty: WWII gets back to the roots of the franchise. The feel of the game returns to the times of Modern Warfare online matches and it is a good thing. Firefights are much more interesting, there’s less science-fiction hassle with different devices and score streaks. This is a very solid, enjoyable juggernaut of a mode that will surely keep players fighting. At least until next year.