After what has been a rough year for the Call Of Duty brand — albeit still a commercially successful one — the franchise seems set to return to its roots.
What those “roots” are is up for much debate, but Activision seems hellbent on ditching the wall-running, jetpack-boosting gameplay that has defined the series for a number of years.
While the Call Of Duty franchise continues to dominate sales and charts the world over, it’s not quite the juggernaut it used to be, and signs point to a fanbase clamouring for a return to the series’ golden days.
One needs to only look at the success of Modern Warfare Remastered as proof that Activision and this year’s developer in Sledgehammer Games need to go back to the basics: it’s anyone’s guess whether Infinite Warfare would have sold as much as it did had Modern Warfare Remastered not been bundled in.
It appears Activision has been listening to the fans, saying as much during its recent investors briefing.
A slide shown during the presentation revealed Call Of Duty in 2017 would take the franchise “back to its roots”.
But what does that mean, and can Call Of Duty ever return to the glory days of the Modern Warfare series? Here are a few ways Call Of Duty can “go back to its roots”.
Boots-On-The-Ground Is A Must
Call Of Duty has made a slow transition from the classic “boots on the ground” gameplay that defined the series in its early years to the chaotic wall-jumping shenanigans we see today.
Personally, I feel that the series’ roots are grounded in boots on the ground gameplay, not necessarily World War 2.
Ironically, it was Treyarch’s Black Ops — a franchise that embraced the series’ iconic gameplay — that initiated the transition: Black Ops 2 was arguably the start of the franchise’s descent into madness.
Ghosts in 2013 was a little more grounded, but the likes of Advanced Warfare, Black Ops 3, and last year’s Infinite Warfare progressively took the series to new heights … literally.
Somehow, a franchise that started in World War 2, ended up in a Michael Bay wet dream.
Thankfully, Sledgehammer Games’ 2017 offering (its last game was 2014’s Advanced Warfare) will take the series “back to its roots”. That has to mean grounded combat set during either historical battles, or fictional contemporary ones.
This is important because it’s clear that gamers have tired of the chaotic gameplay that the futuristic setting permits. Infinite Warfare struggled to resonate with fans in the same way others titles in the series did, and the signs were there early on with such an aggressive downvoting campaign hurting the game’s reputation.
Another big release, Titanfall 2, also struggled to make a mark, although there are more variables in the play there. I would argue that the setting is part of the reason: people just want something a little more structured, simple and grounded.
Battlefield 1 showed that returning to the basics can work well: you just need to find a way to offer a compelling experience across both the campaign and multiplayer.
The early Modern Warfare games did this, and they were perhaps the last games in the Call Of Duty franchise with which you could justifiably buy just for the campaign. That’s up for debate, I know, but it’s hard to ignore the influence and popularity of the Modern Warfare series.
Most importantly, Activision and Sledgehammer need to release a game that resonates with older Call Of Duty players like myself, as well as the new generation that were introduced to the franchise during the current generation.
If EA and DICE can do it with Battlefield, I’m sure the same can be done for Call Of Duty.
Create A Story That Can Evolve and Grow
The Modern Warfare series was able to tell a compelling story without jumping to extremes (too much). Black Ops jumped the shark as early as the second game, and was unrecognisable by the third.
“Going back to its roots” would suggest a story that can set the standard for a new story arc, one that keeps players coming back, offers compelling characters, and finds a way to blend important plot points with the natural progression of the game.
More recent entries just feel to have gone through the motions, although Infinite Warfare certainly improved upon both Black Ops 2 and Advanced Warfare.
Mostly, what I’m hoping this year’s Call Of Duty can do is kickstart a story arc that doesn’t need to jump through timelines to tell a tale. Modern Warfare was self-sustainable, and while it did jump ahead and time progressed naturally, it didn’t suddenly pack up its bags and jump decades into the future for the sake of being all futuristic.
I think what set Call Of Duty in the early years apart from its competitors was that entries acted as part of sub-franchises. World At War for example felt like a spiritual sequel to Call Of Duty 3, just as CoD2 did to the first entry.
Modern Warfare 2 and 3 both felt like natural progressions of the tale. Black Ops 2 did as well, but Black Ops 3, not so much. Advanced Warfare, Ghosts, Infinite Warfare: these titles just seemed to fall into the trap of being standard ‘annual’ entries, rather than continuations of popular narratives.
If the game is indeed taking Call Of Duty back to World War II, it would be a great opportunity to create a Makarov and Captain Price equivalent, and have them battle it out across multiple games.
The problem with recent Call Of Duty entries is that they’re too self-sustainable, and there’s little room for them to grow: I doubt the Call Of Duty community has cared about characters in recent games the same way they did about the heroes and villains of the Modern Warfare series.
Find A Balance Between Multiplayer Depth And Simplicity
Returning to Modern Warfare these passed few months has been an exercise in nostalgic reflection.
It was truly great to go back to a Call Of Duty game that didn’t offer more than it could handle. Sure, it was the Modern Warfare franchise — specifically the third game — that set up this natural progression towards a million different upgrade and class options, but those early days were defined by a balanced class structure that kept the experience grounded in adaptability.
It’s far too hard to get into a Call Of Duty now outside of the first few months, because you’re saturated with options. That compliments recent entry obsession with the future — because we have to assume that there’s going to be more of everything — but you can sometimes have too much of a good thing.
What I particularly like about CoD4 — and part of what made it so amazing — was that, despite having a rather minimalistic approach to classes and class structure, you were actually in a constant battle to refine and perfect your class relative to the mode and map.
Current class systems are just the natural progression of this, but I feel that Call Of Duty is self-imploding because it’s been expanding one area, which leads to the expansion of another, which leads to another, and eventually we end up with too much all at once.
Some might argue that it’s better to have more than not enough, but I see this as being a “cover all bases” option, offering players absolutely everything so that they feel like they’re been rewarded without having actually done anything. Then, when the opportunity comes, throw in a Supply Crate or some DLC, and there’s this constant craving for MORE MORE MORE, just to keep up with the obsessive collection nature of the rest of the community.
I’m not asking that they scrap classes, unlocks, Prestige and all that down to a bare minimum. Rather, what I’m hoping for is something a little more grounded, so that when you do unlock something — or, god forbid, buy something — it actually feels like you have earned it.
Recent Call Of Duty games have failed in offering that satisfaction of progression, because it’s too deep and detailed, so everything you eventually own gets lost in the noise of a constant barrage of information and items.
What would you like to see in the next Call Of Duty? Sound off below.