If you look at Steam's most-played games, it's hard to tell Call of Duty is one of the biggest game series on the planet. Only Black Ops 3, released in 2015, hangs out near the bottom of Steam's top 100 games by concurrent player count, in the company of 2007 strategy game Medieval 2: Total War and 2010's Fallout: New Vegas. There's no sign of 2016's Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, and while every game in the series does still have at least some active players, none have had the staying power of PC-focused shooters like Team Fortress 2 or Arma. Sledgehammer Games and Raven Software see Call of Duty: WWII as a chance to change that.
"The World War II setting, and this game in particular I think, is very well suited for the PC community, in the way some of the recent releases haven't [been]," said Raven CTO Dwight Luetscher, when we talked about COD: WWII's imminent open beta.
"We're really trying to focus on the PC, and more importantly focus on the PC community, and deliver a title that really matches their expectations for what Call of Duty is and should be, and make sure that we respond to what they want as a player. I think this year there's a renewed energy around the PC, throughout this entire title, both at Sledgehammer and Raven. We really believe this is the year where the PC is going to excel. This is the year that we're going to give it our best shot to win the hearts and minds of the PC community."
Call of Duty: WWII's PC beta starts this Friday, and I visited Sledgehammer to try it out a bit early—you can read more about that here. After a couple hours of multiplayer, I spoke with Luetscher and Sledgehammer studio head Michael Condrey about how they hope to earn a larger PC audience, and what features we can expect in the PC version.
Luetscher walked me through COD:WWII's PC build, which includes a great range of graphics settings. There's an FOV slider (vertical FOV, which defaults at 65 and tops out close to 100, though he says they're open to feedback on that). The framerate tops out at 250 fps. The game supports 4K and ultrawide resolutions, which is a nice touch. The final build will also include a video memory bar to show how much VRAM your settings will gobble up.
One of the most noteworthy changes to the PC version, this time around, is actually something that's been removed: autoaim for players who plug in a controller. The developers have instead added the option for customizable analog sensitivity for each stick, and a separate pair of sensitivity sliders for each stick for when you're aiming down the sights. The PC beta is a chance to test how well controller players respond to life without sticky aim. Another nice touch: mouse sensitivity also has the option for a separate ADS setting.
"Just in general, I think we've made a lot of what I'd call control tunings for the PC version that are very specific to the PC version, so it'll be interesting to see how people respond to that," Luetscher said.
The PC beta follows a console beta from early in September, and Condrey talked about some of the feedback they've already acted on. The biggest changes center on the map Aachen, set in the bombed-out German city.
"Aachen was one where we were really trying to capture the destructive nature of this urban warfare in World War II," Condrey said. "That map was really meant to encourage a more open set of conflicts, a little more dangerous style, maybe it was a little more inspired by some of the early franchise maps. And while it was particularly effective at that, from the console beta, the community felt like it was too porous. It was hard to really understand your threat lanes, and they were frustrated by feeling unable to master the map that made it feel strategic.
"And it was good feedback. Our design intent was right, but the execution needed some work. It didn't take much, but we boarded off a few windows, we added some more cover placements to reduce the amount of cross-lane firing, there were a couple chunks of the map where we had to rethink the approach to these lanes, so you couldn't get cheap kills with these glitchy moments. And now it's in the PC beta, and it's a great opportunity to see how fans react."
There have been balance tweaks galore since the console beta: UAVs are now harder to shoot down with rifles, the molotov killstreak gives you fewer flaming death bottles to throw, weapon damage numbers have shifted, the number of points it takes to activate some killstreaks has changed. Even features that have been standard to Call of Duty for a decade at this point still need to be reexamined every year.
"One of the ones in the PC, which may sound minor, but the hit marker sound effect, which is a really important cue for players on whether you made a hit on someone, wasn't working," Condrey said. "We thought it sounded amazing, going into the beta. The community did not, so we completely reworked that system, and now it's in the PC beta. Some of those might sound like little nuances, but on the holistic sort of offering, there's a lot that has changed."
"It's so many details, and you've got to get them all right," Luetscher said with a laugh.
"So many details," Condrey added. "And lessons you learn, and then things that change. Like early on in the game, we were like, 'why are the grenades so damn strong?' Nothing had changed in the grenade values. Oh yeah, because you can't boost away from them. Because you don't have an evasion mechanic anymore. Just simply removing thrust, it seems obvious now, but at the time, we were like, what happened? So you start unwinding the check-ins, and figure it out…
"So yeah, everyone of these games gets more ambitious, and the settings changed, and lessons you learn and unlearn. It keeps us on our toes for sure."
Call of Duty: WWII is out on November 3rd, and the PC beta is going on now. You can grab it on Steam.