The clock is ticking on Call of Duty: WW2. The War Machine DLC, which launched yesterday, feels like the last hurrah before hype for Black Ops 4 fully kicks into gear.
This may be a strange thing to say about what has been by most measures a successful release. Call of Duty: WW2 was one of 2017's best-selling games, easily besting the flaccid Infinite Warfare. It managed to earn a billion dollars in sales. It received solid reviews.
And yet the Call of Duty community seems ready to move on. All eyes are on the big reveal for Black Ops 4, which is due to take place next month. Black Ops has long since supplanted Modern Warfare as the most popular game in the series, so that may not be too big of a surprise, but there has nevertheless been a sense that WW2 has been just okay.
Indeed, Call of Duty: WW2 has suffered a rocky road from the start. According to sources, it was originally going to be a sequel to Advanced Warfare 2 before shifting its setting to World War II, leaving Sledgehammer Games with less time than usual to get it out the door. When it arrived, its ambitious online lobby didn't work for months.
More recently, Sledgehammer founders Glen Schofield and Michael Condrey departed the studio in a surprising shakeup. While both executives will remain with Activision, they had an active hand in Call of Duty's development. Whether for better or worse, their departure no doubt had a significant impact on Call of Duty: WW2's support.
Looming over everything is the success of Fortnite Battle Royale and PUBG. The explosion of the battle royale genre has sucked the oxygen out of the shooter space and sent developers scrambling to take advantage. Its dominance has almost certainly cut into Call of Duty: WW2's long-term shelf life.
Mostly, though, Call of Duty suffers from annual release fatigue. While still extremely popular with casual audiences, its annualized schedule has taken its toll in subtle ways. Problems like hit detection have lingered for a long time, and even popular modes like Zombies have started to feel a little stale.
From the start, Call of Duty: WW2 was more about looking backward than forward. Its very first mission—the D-Day Invasion—was a callback to the days of the PlayStation 2, when World War II shooters still reigned. It was conceived as a piece of nostalgia to both respond to the success of Battlefield One and placate the fans clamoring for a return to World War II.
It was successful in raising a certain sense of nostalgic excitement when it was first revealed. But when it was eventually released, it was hurt by the initial server mess. Worse, it suffered from being what one Youtube called a "watered-down World at War." A 37-minute diatribe titled "Why is Call of Duty: WW2 So Bad?" garnered nearly 3 million views on Youtube.
This isn't to say that Call of Duty: WW2 has had absolutely nothing to add. The multi-phase War Mode was a great idea, even if most players seemed to content to stick with standbys like Team Deathmatch and Zombies. Later on, Prop Hunt was good for a laugh. The War Machine DLC currently has everyone getting creative and painting their guns.
But it has slowly but surely sunk under the weight of battle royale's popularity, years of annual releases, and well, boredom. The War Machine DLC is apt to give it a bit of a nudge with updates to Zombies, as well as novelties like flying missions, but it's likely to be short-lived. In a month, everyone will have forgotten that Call of Duty: WW2 even existed.
Call of Duty's Wilderness Period
It's been an odd generation for Call of Duty. The series is still selling as well as ever at retail, but it hasn't been in the zeitgeist for what seems like forever. Entries like Ghosts, Advance Warfare, Infinite Warfare, and now WW2 have all proven to be false starts. Call of Duty is leaning on past glories harder than ever now, and Call of Duty: WW2 is emblematic of that.
The series will continue to own its particular space for the forseeable future. Along with FIFA and GTA, it's one of a handful of games that you're apt to see on every casual gamers shelf. Black Ops 4 will be one of the biggest releases of the year.
But there was a time when Call of Duty was an event. The original Modern Warfare was a megaton shooter that fans played for years afterward. Modern Warfare 2 dominated the headlines with controversial missions like "No Russian." Somewhere along the line, all of that got lost. Call of Duty's shelf life started to get shorter. Black Ops 2, which was released way back in 2012, is the only recent Call of Duty to have any real staying power.
What we're seeing are the long-term effects of annualization, which is reflected in everything from the need to rely on established technology to increased bugginess. Call of Duty: WW2 had some nifty ideas, but it ultimately struggled under the pressure of hitting mandatory release dates, which was evident in the fact that one of its major features simply didn't work out of the box. And as a consequence, players are bouncing faster than ever.
So while The War Machine DLC is a nice bundle of new content for those who have stuck around (and play on PS4), Call of Duty: WW2's expiration date is definitely getting close. And that is likely to have consequences for the franchise's long-term prospects going forward.