The first weekend for the WWII beta is over, so it’s time to take a look at how this year’s Call of Duty is turning out.
As a metric for time spent evaluating, I managed to put around 20 hours into the WWII beta from Thursday evening until Sunday night. Throughout my time, I found the experience to be fun despite some balance issues.
One of the biggest changes to the core Call of Duty multiplayer formula is the new divisions that replace the perk system. So far, I am having a hard time justifying their existence as they rob a lot of class customization from the player. Instead of creating a class that caters to the way you want to play, you have to cater your play style to whatever advantages your division offers. Of the five divisions (Infantry, Airborne, Armored, Mountaineer and Expeditionary), I only found Infantry, Airborne and Expeditionary classes to offer gameplay benefits I found worthwhile. Airborne’s suppressor for SMGs was a nice division perk, but I kept coming back to Expeditionary for its incendiary shotgun shells. Both the rifles and shotguns felt like they packed a significant punch on the battlefield, but skilled snipers were still able to pull off quick headshots off on me as I rushed forward.
Currently, the most useless division and weapon type is the Armored division and its LMGs. The benefits offered to Armored, such as no shell shock from close explosions, are nice, but the LMGs that are supposed to pair best with it feel worthless. In all ranges and combat situations, LMGs are either bested by rifles or SMGs. And long range, shots from the STG-44 or the M1 Garand can make short work of the slow-firing, recoil-prone LMGs. The LMGs also have a predictably long reload time despite the smaller magazine size than most are used to from similar weapons in other shooters. In order to be effective, LMGs probably need a significant buff such as reduced recoil during sustained shooting, and decreased reload time is a must considering the roughly 5 seconds it takes to reload a 30 round magazine. Of course, there are probably many more weapons in the LMG category that we’ll see at launch, but what I used in the beta left me with a strong desire to avoid the weapon type all together.
In-game chatting led me to discover that most players disliked one or two of the three total maps, with Gibraltar and Pont Du Hoc getting the most criticism. While Gibraltar’s colorful aesthetic and verticality are refreshing, it often feels unbalanced and can lead to blow out games where one team is repeatedly spawn trapped. Pont du Hoc’s maze-like trenches are utter fun and chaos for shotgun and SMG users, but weapons with longer effective ranges will often be left wanting as there are only a few sightlines on the map that really cater to extended firefights. One map everyone seemed to enjoy, Ardennes Forest, has a traditional multiplayer design with three lanes of combat that offer ample opportunities to support your allies and flank your foes. There’s even added verticality to Ardennes that makes two of the three lanes more interesting than the cluttered center of the map. I actually found all three maps to be really great to play when teams were well-balanced, but like any competitive shooter, there’s not much fun to be had on any map when you’re team is pinned enough to get spawn trapped but not so pinned that spawns flip.
One of the surprise hits of the WWII beta was Raven Software’s War mode. In many ways, it’s a four wave payload mode that you’d find in Team Fortress 2 or Overwatch with one team attacking and one team defending before switching sides. Despite only having one map to play on, the mode was fun throughout the beta, and with ample side routes around objectives, it was easy to push hunkered down enemies back if you knew where to look. Unlike any other mode in the beta, War requires full teamwork. In Hardpoint or Domination, having one or two friendly players at your side is helpful, but in War, it’s absolutely essential to push back the defending team. War is a breath of fresh air for the franchise, but it also requires Call of Duty players to work together – something fans of the series are rarely asked to do. Players who party up with friends will absolutely demolish a team of random players in War mode, so it’ll be interesting to see if developer Sledgehammer Games adds any sort of matchmaking balance to only match players in parties up against other teams in a party.
The killstreak rewards in the WWII beta have also been scaled back and made more difficult to achieve compared to previous installments. Now, Recon planes require a five kill streak and two throwable Molotov Cocktails require three. While some folks I played with griped about the increased difficulty of the streaks, I actually found them to be a welcomed change. A three kill streak in Call of Duty is a pretty easy feat, and when that was all that was required for Recon planes, teams almost constantly had Recon up revealing enemy positions. Now, earning them takes a considerable amount of patience and skill. The larger killstreaks like the strafing run and glide bomb are incredible satisfying ways to pick off two or three bunched up enemies. In the beta, there were a handful of streaks available to players, but it’ll be interesting to see what other killstreaks Sledgehammer announces going into launch.
At its core, the WWII beta is just fun – something I found missing in the last few releases (Modern Warfare Remastered as an exception). There are plenty of things Sledgehammer needs to fix by November regarding game balance such as LMG retooling, increasing sprint speed slightly and reducing the time it takes to raise and fire your weapon coming out of a sprint. In my time with the beta, I didn’t experience anything remotely alarming ahead of the final release of Call of Duty WWII in November. This is the return of Call of Duty World at War’s gritty realization of World War II with modern visuals and sensibilities.
There’s still a second weekend in the Call of Duty WWII beta, and it’ll be open to Xbox One users now that the PlayStation 4 exclusive period is over. Sledgehammer will be once again scaling up the level cap and opening up more equipment for players who return to the beta in weekend two, so there’s plenty of reason to come back to the beta next weekend if you enjoyed what was on offer.