After years of semi-futuristic combat Call of Duty is finally going “back to it’s roots”. Now there are different ways to interpret that but in general it just means we are going back to the WWII era of the game instead of made up future stuff like jetpacks, wall running, laser cannons and robotic machine gun arms. In general I think WWII accomplishes the “back to it’s roots” theme but it’s still not quite the roots that I was hoping for. Keeping in mind this is a beta – many things could change – however if the past tells us anything about what we see in a Call of Duty beta its that this is very close to the final product except for fixing some groundbreaking issues discovered during the beta and some overall general performance optimizations and improvements. After all as of typing this the game is due out in exactly a month.
I played just under 6 hours of the beta and tried to at least test everything I could unlock but I only ranked to level 19 and I know there were some more unlocks that I didn’t make it to. I played 3 out of the 4 nights, focusing on DOM Thursday night, War mode Friday night and then just a Moshpit Sunday night. When I was online Thursday night there were 46K players, Friday night 58K players and Sunday (usually the most popular day for COD) only 17K. This was around 9:30PM ET.
In terms of performance overall the beta ran very well for me with minimal issues – not the case for everyone but that is nature of the beast on the PC platform and hundreds of thousands of hardware and software combinations. With a little older hardware (Core i7-3770K, 16GB DDR3 1600, GTX970 SSC) running on a 25″ Dell UltraSharp at 2560 x 1440 I was able to maintain a fairly solid 75 FPS with max settings but did have some very low dipping here and there in certain parts of the maps and with certain things going on in game. I did end up tweaking a few things and toning it down a little bit for the rest of my play time so I could get a little more FPS stability however. I was happy with the amount of graphics customization options but would prefer more audio customization. Having individual levels for general sounds, announcer voices, music, etc. gives the user much better control over what they want to hear. The key binds allow what I want but do need to be slightly different than previous titles due to some changes in the game. The user interface within the menus needs some serious attention however and thankfully Micheal Condrey has already acknowledged that. It is a beta and it may have been rushed for the PC but it is just messy and some things are very unclear in general be it in settings, in the lobby or just exiting the game.
The other side of the performance discussion is what we all like to talk about – server performance. A big part of a beta is to test the infrastructure behind the scenes. Over the years the server situation in Call of Duty has definitely evolved from straight forward data center hosted dedicated servers that we were familiar with and didn’t question to a mix of different dedicated servers, listen servers and peer to peer connections. The last few Call of Duty releases seem to be following the same path in general but it is never exactly clear how they work these days. Call of Duty WWII is supposedly using another hybrid setup with client hosted servers (listen servers) as well as dedicated servers but it is unclear when one will be utilized versus the other. In my opinion I would say that the dedicated servers weren’t live for the beta however some others have done some actual investigation and show that not to be true and have in fact traced IP addresses back to known data centers. On the flip side there has also been evidence of Host Migrations which confirms the use of listen servers in some capacity. It was also previously stated in a Reddit AMA with SHG about the tick rate (amount of time utilized to perform client/server updates) on the servers and Micheal Condrey confirmed it would in fact be 60Hz (when bandwidth allows) – a big step up from previous titles utilizing 20Hz. The video I linked to a few sentences back confirms this when playing on a dedicated server however it is unclear what the tick rate will be when playing on listen servers – possibly back to 20Hz. This is good news if it holds true. When I played Thursday night and Friday night I didn’t really notice too many connection issues aside from some intermittent latency and rare hit registration issues but it could have been the fact that I was more focused on other things and learning the game in general. Sunday night was pretty rough in terms of connection stability which coincidentally was also the least populated night. I backed out of numerous games due to unstable connections but it didn’t really matter what game I played I was seeing constant rubber banding with players literally teleporting 10 or 15 feet on the map at times and I kept repeatedly getting the “network warning” icons flashing for high latency and packet loss – yet every time I check the wonderful ping bars (yes bars – no numerical display of ping) it shows everyone at full 3 bars (under 80 ping) except maybe one or two players. I have a solid XFINITY connection (75/10) at home with enterprise level network hardware so I am assuming it wasn’t on my end. A moment where this really stood out to me was in a game of DOM on Gibraltar when I ran through this doorway to find a person laying down and popped at least 7 rounds in him with a Lewis LMG and I died. The Killcam showed the exact opposite of me never firing a single shot off. This is the dreadful reality of the questionable “servers” that we have today that reveal inconsistencies way to frequently and ruin gameplay. For a AAA game of this caliber to still have questionable server hosting after all these years is terrible. I’m not sure what Treyarch does differently but throughout my 1,100 hours in Black Ops III I can’t recall experiencing too many issues related to network/server performance. Again this is a beta and realistically things could improve when they tweak things behind the scenes (maybe turn servers on?) but I just don’t think it will be enough to produce solid gameplay like real dedicated servers. Open up server rentals through official data centers/GSPs, allow basic customization (at least) and integrate a simple server browser to find those servers. Time was always the excuse before for leaving those basic features out but even with an entire extra year of development we still can’t get them. This needs to change.
Overall I feel that the general gameplay of WWII is pretty solid in terms of keeping that fast paced arcade boots on the ground shooter feeling but I have some thoughts on the weapons, the loss of Create A Class, avatar movement and the maps.
I like the weapon selection or at least what was accessible and I tested within the beta as well as the more basic explosives and tactical grenades but I find it very annoying that both Axis and Allies can just pick and use the same weapons. I’m not sure if it a balance thing with one side having more/better weapons historically speaking or just the issues it would create in saving Division setups with certain weapons but I just find it really annoying and wish each side would be restricted to their own weapons. I won’t really get into weapon balance discussion as this is really a constant evolving thing that will be adjusted over the life of the game however in my opinion sniping would be something I feel needs adjusted a little in some way. Sniping should be lethal from a respective distance however popping off a sniper round in close quarters combat and quickscoping should not be a thing in WWII. Period.
Speaking of Divisions (or the new Create A Class) at first I was a little confused about how Divisions really worked but after a little education I better understand it now and realize it is pretty similar to the classic Create A Class and I guess some take on the Specialist setup from Infinite Warfare (didn’t play it so I’m not sure there). However one glaring issue I have with Divisions is that you are supposed to be in a specific “class” that serves a purpose in battle but yet you are wide open to pick whatever weapons you want – with a minor penalty. Again this is like the Axis and Allies weapon free for all I previously discussed. If these Divisions are going to be in place and actually serve a purpose there should be some restrictions set on what weapons each Division has access to otherwise it really makes the Divisions feature of the game much less important when it should be a very important part of creating roles for players in the game. To win a battle and accomplish objectives you need stealthy individuals, breachers to push the lines and get in the enemy base, support gunners to cover the flag capper and snipers to protect by oversight. But then again this is Call of Duty and I am probably asking for too much. In my head that sounds like how the roles of the Divisions should actually work. Divisions still allow some customization but I will miss the complete loadout customization that Create A Class offered.
It’s been a while since we have had true boots on the ground in Call of Duty so it’s hard to compare the avatar movement with the last few releases but I feel like this is pretty decent. Not quite as good as good as the Treyarch feel (which I think is as close to COD/COD2 as you can get) but it feels good enough for me to be able to get used to. I didn’t play Infinite Warfare at all but I typically don’t like the player avatar movement of Infinity Ward games and I didn’t like Advanced Warfare’s style much either – mega boost jumping aside. The movement in WWII feels pretty smooth aside from the lame duck dolphin dive.
With regards to mapping I think overall the maps included in the beta look good and they play fairly well in certain game modes but I just don’t like the size of them. Call of Duty has always been about lanes. Look back to classic Call of Duty on Carentan, Dawnville or Harbor and you will find in the very first maps very specific lanes that you are directed in as a player and usually that number is 3 or 4 lanes. 14 years later and the maps in the beta all still hold true to that lane style but they are just too small. Domination always points this out the best in new COD games with small maps. When spawns are flipped every 20 to 30 seconds and the scoreboard displays 15+ captures for players then the map is too small. Domination should be a constant battle for the B flag for the majority of the game and on rare occasions when opposite flags are pushed too hard then spawns should flip. Instead with increasingly small maps in these current Call of Duty games when opposite flags are pushed at all you are essentially invading the enemy spawn locations and therefore spawn protection algorithms kick in and flip sides immediately to avoid trapping/killing. If maps were larger this wouldn’t be an issue and it would make Domination games much more enjoyable battling for that B flag as it should be. To that point; my opinion is that the majority of Call of Duty players of this generation prefer smaller maps for the quick gameplay with minimal tactics and minimal time out of battle. I think this is almost opposite from a lot of the old school Call of Duty players that prefer a little breathing room and don’t mind having to run around a bit as a different strategy but still enjoy periods of close quarters combat.
Specific comments on the included beta maps:
Ardennes Forest: You can almost throw a grenade from one starting spawn to another. A very defined three lane map with some intersections in the middle but the center lane is almost always grenade spam. On the stream side it is usually a battle of mounted MGs to contend with and on the ruins side there are always players lurking in the corners, shooting you in the back from the center intersection or spawning right beside you. If the map was larger and there were MORE TREES (hello Ardennes Forest!) then this map would be much more enjoyable as it has a really great feel but it is too small.
Gibraltar: Offers some decent verticality but feels very small with two primary lanes being a very narrow lane on the shore side and congested center lane again being primarily spammed with explosives. The third cave/anti-air gun side lane offers some additional size to the map but it is rarely used due to being relatively open and usually caught by a sniper very quickly. Again if there was just more ground in between these key points on the building side of the map I think that it would play a lot better for all play styles being larger.
Point Du Hoc: Seems to be the best out of the three in my opinion. It still maintains the three lanes again with some variation in the center trenches forcing a lot of good close quarters combat on the ground but yet offers snipers the ability to overlook the trenches from bunkers above. Both side lanes; one through the bunkers and one through the house/barn offer decent sight lines and some space to move outside of the chaos going on in the center trenches. Looks like a small map but actually is larger with the outer house/barn lane.
Aachen: Another very straight forward three lane map which you can almost throw grenades from one spawn to the other. Once again a center lane filled with a lot of explosive spam but does offer good distant sight lines for snipers accompanied by lanes on each side of the map weaving through buildings with a lot of close quarters combat. This would be a great map to expand upon opening up a second floor on each side to not only give additional lanes but introduce verticality into the map.
War is the new progressive based objective game mode where Axis defend objectives trying to stop the Allies from progressing through multiple stages performing different functions. This is an interesting concept for COD and I found it to be rather fun for something different but with one catch – the level of fun depends on how well your team is playing the objective. Out of the 6 games of War I played on Friday night I had very mixed results of players on my team playing the objective. If there are only one or two playing the objective out of six it’s very frustrating and you either don’t progress past the first stage (on Allies) or get steamrolled (on Axis). I do like that it doesn’t utilize scorestreaks which helps focus on that gun on gun gameplay along with the objectives. I could actually see myself spending some time in War mode if the population is there. However; the big question I have is how will War mode be treated in terms of DLC? The standard has been 4 multiplayer maps and 1 Zombie map. I am curious how many War maps will be included with the game and how they will be handled come DLC time. Overall a welcomed addition in my opinion.
In summary although the tagline for this year’s version of Call of Duty is “back to it’s roots” – with many of the same weapon attachments, perks/abilities, scorestreaks and more questionable server configurations; the only roots we are really going back to are boots on the ground and playing in the WWII era. I’m not saying all of those items I listed are necessarily bad (other than the server configurations) because honestly if you take out all of those items the game would probably be a little dull but it would also push the focus back to clean gun on gun action and true player skill – or in other words back to the actual roots of COD/CODUO/COD2. From the beta test I feel I could enjoy WWII with what it appears to offer although I am not really interested in single player or yet another version of Zombies. I haven’t per-ordered WWII yet and I don’t plan to at this point. I am on the fence about it – but I am interested. That’s a lot more than I can say about how I felt about Infinite Warfare at this point last year in which I couldn’t even get through watching trailers. I definitely like the thought of going back to WWII and with some improvements which are possible I think it could be an enjoyable Call of Duty release to play. The final decision for me will just come down to population. If the population isn’t there at release so I can play the objective game modes I want to play then I am going to be passing on my second COD title in a row in 14 years. Time will tell but I fear with how this beta appears to have been received on the PC it isn’t going to have a great population to start. That’s my view.