COD WW2

The much-anticipated return to "boots on the ground" combat, but is it the step forward the franchise needs?

Let me start by saying there'll be no more mentions of boots and them being on the ground. It's overused. What WWII is, is a return to the Call of Duty of old after three years of advanced movement. Some enjoyed it, though many in the community vocally disapproved.

In my opinion, jetpacks and wall running weren't the primary complaint with last year's Call of Duty, Infinite Warfare. Much of the multiplayer experience felt lazy. Sledgehammer Games has been working on WWII for three years and is the studio's first Call of Duty since it kicked off the advanced movement era.

WWII is now in private beta, initially on PS4 (and yes, that's what we've played it on, because it's available first), giving fans their first chance to check out the return to old school combat.

And even now it's clear this is probably the best Call of Duty game since Black Ops 2.

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Back in time

COD WW2

Gradually, Activision has been pushing the Call of Duty franchise further and further into the future. First in the time setting of the games and then with the advanced movement mechanics first introduced in Advanced Warfare, also by Sledgehammer Games.

Going back to basics is such a chance for veterans that professional players are now grinding away on Ghosts, the last title before Advanced Warfare, in order to prepare for a life where there are no power slides or wall runs.

WWII, as you might guess, takes the franchise back to one of the world's biggest conflicts. You've got trenches, historic weapons, grenades that don't emit plasma, and some truly engaging map design.

Better still is the immersion. A grenade will produce just the sort of effects you'd expect upon detonating in a muddy trench. Where Infinite Warfare felt clinical and a little stale in its map design at times, WWII is anything but.

Fast and furious

COD WW2

Call of Duty is a fast paced shooter, it has been for many years. Comparing the pace of play to the other big historical shooter, Battlefield 1, you're looking at Usain Bolt compared to, well, me.

Let's not forget this is a video game, not a simulator. So while you'll be sprinting through the trenches with a Grease Gun in hand, yes, it's not that historically accurate.

The speed of gameplay was probably my number one worry coming from Infinite Warfare into WWII. Modern Warfare Remastered, launched alongside Infinite Warfare, was a remake of a classic Call of Duty, but it felt so slow paced by comparison. Not so with WWII.

What you get is a happy blend. The jetpacks are gone but it's still fast action.

Removing the jet packs is about all that Sledgehammer has really done with WWII in terms of the core gameplay. This is still very much Call of Duty, for better or worse, and it feels like a recent game.

Divisions

COD WW2

Divisions are the new name for the load outs in WWII, similar to the rigs from Infinite Warfare. The big news is that this part of the game has been greatly simplified, at least so far, anyway. No doubts that Activision will introduce a historical version of the Quartermaster at some point to add micro-transactions.

You choose between five different divisions, each of which has unique abilities and perks. The higher you progress in your division the more of these you unlock.

For example, the Armored division has a bipod attachment on its LMG class weapons, Airborne division has a suppressor for SMGs and the Infantry division gets a bayonet on its rifles for melee attacks.

COD WW2

You now also create your weapon load outs per division, mixing those unique abilities with your tools of battle. The weapon choices are currently fairly low, but that's probably more in line with the historical nature of the battlefield than anything else. In Infinite Warfare, for example, you couldn't switch between rigs in the middle of a game. In WWII you can go between the divisions. There are no payload abilities this year, either.

Weapons have attachment slots for you to make them a little better and give you the upper hand in battle. Familiar favorites return like quickdraw, grip and rapid fire, as do a selection of optical gun sights.

Streaks for everyone

COD WW2

What isn't specific to a division is the scorestreaks selection. These apply across any of the divisions you use, and you can switch divisions mid-game too. There aren't many streaks to choose from, unlike recent Call of Duty games, and they're very achievable even for less skilled players.

As such expect streaks to play an even bigger role in a battle. Oh, and the Glide Bomb is epic. You only get one drop, but it feels more accurate than Infinite Warfare's Trinity Rocket, which I'd say is the closest comparison in the current title. Red circles indicate your opponents location, just steer the bomb their way.

The lowest value streak, the Molotovs, are unlocked after just 300 points, or in a standard team deathmatch scenario three consecutive kills.

War is hell

COD WW2

War isn't quite the epic scale of the 64-man battles you'll find in Battlefield 1, but it is a new mode for WWII that changes the approach to online multiplayer. You team up and take on four objectives, aiming to complete them as fast as possible and keep the other team at bay.

What's particularly good about the War mode is that it's not just shoot death kill. To get the upper hand there are points to build a machine gun or place explosives on a wall. In the beta mission, you might have to dive through a cloud of smoke to defuse a bomb.

It's tough, too. Try building a bridge over a river while opponents shoot at you. Or forcing a tank back when you're just a team of men with guns.

Elsewhere in multiplayer things are much more familiar. Team deathmatch, hardpoint, domination and mosh pit are all present in the beta, with capture the flag confirmed also for the final product, as too will be search and destroy.

A few things to fix

COD WW2

WWII doesn't launch until November 2017, so there's still two full months of fettling for Sledgehammer Games before go time. A beta isn't perfect, but there are a couple of pretty big problems that have already shown themselves in the gameplay that we hope will be fixed ahead of release.

In particular, hip fire is probably way too strong, and in a 6v6 scenario, the spawns are particularly dreadful. It's fairly clear to see to anyone who's played the game, but the scene's professional players have been the top source of information on this front.

This video, courtesy of Dexerto, shows off the over-strength hip fire.

I've noticed myself that it's very easy to both gun down opponents in their spawns but also to have them spawn right on top of you and return the favor. There's clearly an issue with controlling spawns right now, and while Sledgehammer hasn't specifically addressed it, we'd hope it gets sorted before launch.

The good news is the developer is taking feedback very seriously, so anyone who does play before launch is encouraged to post on the WWII subreddit or send them a line on Twitter.

So, is it any good?

COD WW2

Yes, it is. As a Call of Duty fan, I'm very happy with the decision to take the franchise back to its roots. I had fun in Black Ops 3, and most of the time in Infinite Warfare even, but it's incredibly refreshing to return to the world where you aren't worried about an opponent running along the wall over you.

WWII rewards gun skill and — assuming you're playing properly — strategy. It isn't perfect, though since it's currently only a beta we'll let any obvious performance bugs slide. There are issues with the gameplay like those detailed above, but equally, there's no reason things won't be balanced out come launch.

It's a lot of fun, though. I wrote a while ago as to why you should fire up Black Ops 2 on backwards compatibility, and some of that has been brought back to life in WWII. There is more reward based on skill, not just being able to slide around with two shotguns in your hand one-shotting everyone.

The maps we've seen so far are excellent, too. They capture the atmosphere of the historical setting while being balanced and engaging. Lighting up the trenches won't get old in a hurry.

Most importantly it's clear, finally, that Activision has been listening to the community. If you're new to Call of Duty in the advanced movement era, this will come as a bit of a shock to the system. What this is shaping up to be is a much-welcomed return to form for one of the biggest franchises in gaming.

It's going to be the best Call of Duty in years.

Pre-order now for $60 to get in on the Xbox One beta starting on September 1.

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