After Search & Destroy, Domination and Gun Game, War mode is continuing Call of Duty’s grand tradition of stealing its best features from other games.
It’s not a bad thing. Certainly Hardpoint and Uplink were very fun too. The more objective-based modes, the better. And in the case of War mode, it’s a concept that has a lot of potential to be fleshed out further.
Anyone who’s played Enemy Territory (or Battlefield‘s Rush mode, if you’re young) will remember charging across the map, taking on a connected series of objectives. There’s also a moving tank in the existing “Operation Breakout” scenario which is very reminiscent of Team Fortress 2’s (or Overwatch, if you’re still young) Payload.
The format is great for both public and competitive play. Defend against a team trying to complete the objectives as quickly as possible, and then switch sides to try and beat their time. Often each objective requires a different combination of skills, and a few class switches.
In WWII, a command centre needs to be captured for intel, before moving on to construct a bridge. Machine gun and sniper nests for the defenders make it like shooting fish in a barrel. With enough smoke grenades, and enough RPGs firing at the nests, you might just buy enough time for someone to crouch in the centre of the bridge and hold “F”.
This then moves you to an ammunition stockpile that needs to be blown up (with a defusable bomb, a la Search & Destroy), before a tank moves in for the final push.
There are extras here and there, like walls that can be built by the defenders to block off points of entry. The command centre has one that both teams will be racing towards at the start of every map, ensuring things get hectic straight away.
The implementation of this was quite basic in the one War map we saw in the open beta, but it has lots of potential. If future maps use these ideas in intelligent ways, then this move back to WWII could end up being a step forward for the franchise.
In order to accommodate these progressively advancing objectives though, each War map needs to be a large, custom project. Easy enough for us at a distance to demand more, but it also means Sledgehammer Games can’t repurpose these maps for its other modes (or even other games, unless they too have War mode). In Call of Duty world, repurposing maps is the business model — which means the originality of War mode is simultaneously its biggest strength and weakness.
For those who’ve played Call of Duty since the early noughties, this’ll be an especially important breath of fresh air. Recycled level design is not a new thing for the franchise to get in trouble for. It’s an affliction that hasn’t abated since bringing on a third studio to maintain the yearly release schedule.
Not a big deal for anyone playing for the first time, but for those permanently on board the conveyor belt of CoD, it can be a bit of a downer.
Case in point, WWII’s Gibraltar map consists of a dangerous middle area with three paths across a chasm. One of the side paths is identical to a previous Call of Duty map.
It’s a good piece of level design, and quite memorable. Perhaps that’s why it was used again. But I found myself feeling like I’d gone through all these motions before. I’d already experienced this dynamic.
The exact same ramp leading up to an MG nest, with the cover in the same spot. All these little mind games, the interplay between the snipers and the MG… I’ve already played hundreds of rounds of that exact experience. If you didn’t remember the map it came from, you’d probably have a profound sense of deja vu.
There are other maps that could wow you. Ardennes Forest in particular creates a great winter woods atmosphere. There will always be a strong playerbase for basic modes on these maps, but War mode is where the growth will be found.
Breaking the Stalemate
I had some fun in WWII, but even forgetting the maps, there was a definite feeling of “I’ve done this before.” That’s what makes War mode feel so welcome.
It might not be original, but this mode hasn’t been explored to its full potential. There’s been enough time between drinks for this to feel fresh again.
It’s a way to fit multiple game modes into one, with a consistent narrative stringing them all together. You might have defended well at the command centre, but couldn’t deal with the advancing tank. Everyone gets a story.
Objective-based modes are important for the longevity of any multiplayer game. There’s a reason the acronym for Team Deathmatch phonetically sounds like “tedium”.
Only the “Operation Breakout” map was available during the beta, and we haven’t heard about any others. But while I’m lukewarm on the rest of the multiplayer, I’m very much looking forward to what War mode will bring us in the future.