Call of Duty: WWII E3

Call of Duty: WWII promises to return the series to its historical roots when it arrives on Xbox One and PC later this year.

Although Activision, the game's publisher, hasn't revealed much yet about this entry, at E3 we got a behind-closed-doors first look at Call of Duty: WWII's explosive campaign. Here are all the gritty details!

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The second Great War

Call of Duty: WWII E3

Call of Duty: WWII has been in development for three years at Sledgehammer games. This is the first Call of Duty game in years to return to the World War II setting, so the developers wanted to treat it with the appropriate level of respect. As they describe it, their goal was to honor the cause and the people who fought for that cause.

To get the accuracy and realism they're striving for, key Sledgehammer members visited numerous battle sites from World War II and witnessed the lingering effects of the war on the landscape and people. They also worked with prominent historians, testing and recording audio from authentic period weapons and incorporating real-=life events wherever possible.

Whereas previous Call of Duty games have basically placed players in charge of super soldiers capable of wiping out countless enemies all by themselves, this entry sees a shift to squad dynamics instead. Players control Red Daniels, one of several fresh members of an Allied squad in the European Theather in 1944. This squad is part of the real-life First Infantry, a 15,000-troop division that played an important part in the war. Their actual adventures are fictionalized but also based on places and events where real battles occurred.

First look at the campaign

Call of Duty: WWII E3

The portion of the level we saw starts mid-action, and the Allies and Axis are already engaged in a fierce battle in a European town. The squad leader informs us of our goal to reach the church in the center of the town and lay down suppressive fire. He asks if the men have any questions, but before a soldier gets to ask one, everyone has already taken off running into the fray.

Our player character fights his way through the town, running and gunning but also lying prone and picking off approaching German soldiers who don't have a chance to see him. At one point, Red approaches the open doorway of a ruined home and a German soldier lands a shot on the hero before he has a chance to react. Even still, he quickly scores a melee kill with his knife. Now injured, Red must ask one of his squadmates for a first aid kit – health does not automatically refill in this Call of Duty.

As the team approaches the church, it finds its fellow soldiers struggling to overcome a turret placed atop a large truck. Red slips around the left side of the turret while it aims to the right, gets behind the gunner, and shoots him dead before he knows what hit him. He then climbs up into the truck past the dead enemy's body and mans the turret himself. After fighting off the surrounding attackers, the squad enters the church.

Inside, they search for supplies and fight off a few unfriendlies. Eventually they discover a group of German officers, and mercifully tie them up as prisoners. Will you be able to shoot them instead in the final game? That remains to be seen.

Prisoners in hand, the team quickly discovers that enemy anti-aircraft guns are shooting down allied planes. To stop them, they climb to the top of the bell tower. Down below, the war-ravaged city billows smoke and gunfire. Now the squad must clear out the Axis soldiers defending the AA guns. Red acts as a sniper, while a fellow team member spots targets, changing their colors for easy pickings.

The team succeeds at helping to disable the anti-aircraft weapons, but their troubles aren't over. A flak cannon targets the team atop the tower, blowing away most of the top half of a soldier. The remaining squadmates quickly rush for the stairs, but getting down is no easy feat, because the cannon fire decimates the tower. Red scrambles for the ground and just barely avoids being crushed by the bell as it crashes down beside him.

Finally, the survivors regain their footing on ground level, running and jumping over debris within the church as they head for an exit. As they finally emerge outside, the remains of the tower itself crash down beside them. A squadmate calls out to Daniels and the demo ends, leaving us wanting more.

More warfare to come

Call of Duty: WWII E3

The Call of Duty games always enjoy lavish production values and copious amounts of action, but never have they been as gritty and grounded as Call of Duty: WWII promises to be. The small portion we saw was incredibly dramatic and filled with amazing set pieces that almost defy belief. Hopefully the rest of the game (and the new and enhanced multiplayer modes) can deliver on the vertical slice that Activision shared with us at E3.

Hands on with Call of Duty: WWII's dramatic multiplayer War mode

Call of Duty: WWII is expected to come to Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Windows on November 3 for $59.99.

Preorder on the Xbox Store