Call of Duty multiplayer exists as two distinct experiences, in my mind. The new: from Modern Warfare onward COD has been the essence of slick, with instant respawns, rewards for every kill I get, matches that are more about moment-to-moment action than larger narratives. And the old: Call of Duty 2 battles dominated by sneaking and bolt-action rifles, the tension of stalking a map with only one life in Search & Destroy. This week I played about two hours of Call of Duty: WWII, which launches its open PC beta today, and mostly felt the familiar pacing and presentation of modern Call of Duty.
But one mode stood out: War, an attack-and-defense contest that lines up a series of small objectives in a map that unfolds as the offense accomplishes each goal. On the War map available in the beta, this culminates with the PC gaming community's favorite activity of the past few years: ignoring the damn payload.
The War match I played sets the Allies on offense, first trying to capture a control point in an Axis-controlled villa, then on to construct a bridge across a gully, plant a bomb at a supply depot, and escort a tank through hazardous streets to the Germans' anti-aircraft guns. It's like a greatest hits compilation of shooter modes, and nothing is particularly complex—you hold a button to construct the bridge, sit on a spot to capture a point—but stringing them together adds a satisfying variety to Call of Duty's typically straightforward multiplayer matches. It's essentially a recreation of Unreal Tournament's Assault mode, but there's no mistaking the Overwatch influence at work here. Thanks to Blizzard, objective game modes are back in vogue.
Every Overwatch player is used to objective modes now—primarily capturing control points and escorting the payload, an agonizingly slow vehicle, along a fixed path. And yet somehow our universal familiarity with escorting the payload hasn't exactly translated to universal acknowledgement that everyone needs to push the payload. The final stage of Call of Duty: WWII's War mode replaces the payload with a tank, but mechanically it's identical: if no one on the offensive team stands near the tank, it starts retreating backwards, eroding progress and buying the defense precious seconds for teammates to respawn.
It may sound like Call of Duty has just jumped on board a popular trend, but I think it's a fascinating inclusion. Call of Duty multiplayer lends itself to being a kill-focused, lone wolf affair. Of course there are pro players who make callouts and coordinate just as tightly as Dota or Overwatch players, but for the masses, that's not the Call of Duty experience. And for the most part, that kind of teamwork isn't as vital, because Call of Duty doesn't have tank classes that need to lead the team into combat, or healers who need to offer support at the exact right moment. Everyone has a weapon that can dish out death in the space of a second. If your hand is faster and your aim is better, you're probably going to win.
Unless you need to escort the payload. Good aim won't push the tank to the finish line: that takes teamwork. CoD:WWII also encourages more team thinking with Divisions, its class system replacement for the more freeform "Pick 10" system of the last several Call of Dutys. Infantry focuses on rifles, Airborne on submachine guns, Mountain on snipers, and so on. Without a balanced team, some objectives in War mode are going to be especially hard to pull off.
At one point on defense, I held down the bridge and racked up at least a dozen kills with a window-mounted machine gun nest, mowing down Allied soldiers before they had a chance to throw down smoke grenades. They kept rushing in with infantry, and it finally took a patient sniper to pick me off.
Moments like that, and the payload, give War mode the chance to swing momentum backwards and forwards that's missing from most of its matches. It's not about reaching a set point value or number of kills, and some of Call of Duty's now-famous features have been stripped back. Killstreaks, for example, are gone in War mode, replaced by much less frequent air supply drops.
CoD:WWII played flawlessly on PC in my time with it, on a GTX 1080 Ti running at a locked 4K 60 fps. I spoke with developers at Sledgehammer and Raven about how they're making a bigger push this year to embrace the PC community, and loads of graphics settings in a quality PC build are part of that equation. I don't know that War mode will be a powerful selling point on its own, because it's nothing new in the history of shooters. But it is something new for Call of Duty, and given how much we love to yell about the payload, that might be enough to make a Call of Duty that actually sticks on PC.