Call of Duty: WW2’s story, narrative multiplayer, Zombies, and new Destiny-like social space explained by the creators

You might have missed that Call of Duty is returning to World War 2 with the imaginatively named Call of Duty: WW2. If you’ve been living under a hermit living under a rock. There have been so many leaks and teasers, but now we have all the official details, direct from Sledgehammer’s co-founder Michael Condrey. I’ve got new info on the campaign, characters and loads of interesting stuff about the multiplayer, which this year includes narrative elements and a social areas that owe a lot to Destiny. Let’s break it all down. 

So Call of Duty’s gone back to WW2? 

Oh hell, yes. After Activision promised the game would “return to its roots” this is classic, old school COD. The trailer even makes a point of ending on that iconic M1-Garand ping when the clip flies out. The gameplay we’ve seen is pure WW2 stuff - beach landings, trading fire with Nazi’s in forests. There’s a very Saving Private Ryan/Band of Brothers feel to it all - the bombing of Hürtgen Forest appears in the game, notably recreating an iconic moment from the TV show.

The game also follows a famous group of soldiers, the 1st Infantry Division, otherwise known as the Fighting First. Condrey explains, “our squad is First Infantry, it’s 12 men and their journey, so it’s very unique and we have a story that interacts with the Bridge Troops and connects into the liberation of Paris [...]”

What locations will be in Call of Duty WW2? 

Activision has shown off the Normandy Beach Landings and Hürtgen but there’s plenty more on offer. While talking about settings for the game Condrey says, “we get to take those from real, iconic locations from around the globe, real battles from D-Day to Aachen [Germany], right?” He also talks about about a narrative that extends from “Normandy to the liberation of Western Europe”. That might tie in with the mention earlier of Bridge Troops, a division responsible for deploying numerous bridges during the war. They worked all over the world, but particularly while the Allies were chasing the German retreat and the Nazi’s destroyed everything as they fled to buy more time.  

You play as two main characters, with some others including a French woman fighting in the French Resistance

The main story follows two members of the 1st Infantry, Red Daniels and Zussman, with Daniels described as the “the primary protagonist” by Condrey. “It’s their journey together amidst the squad,” he continues. There is one other playable character currently confirmed, that of Rousseau, a French Resistance fighter. “We want the story to be meaningful and for that we do want you to stay attached to the characters in a way that gives them time for them to develop and breathe. Character hopping makes it hard to keep that connection. We do it, but primarily... I think where you join with the French Resistance is a really nice moment – but primarily you stay with the squad, you stay with Daniels.”

However, there are plenty of other prominent characters revealed in the art I’ve seen (including an SS officer and a child), which Condrey elaborates on: “There’s a German family and two sisters, there’s Crowley, a British officer, there’s Cormack, an African-American officer from another regiment.” The breadth of characters seems to be Sledgehammer’s attempt to present a far wider-reaching take of the Second World War. “We really wanted to capture that it was a global cause, right?” states Condrey. “The Allied force was a global force, the German force – the Axis force – was more than just the Nazis. It was Germans as well as other nations, and so it was important for us to not... this isn’t an American war, this isn’t a story of an American squad – this is a global cast and so you’ll see some really powerful performances on both sides of the war. You’ll see some powerful performances by the men and women who sacrificed, families that were involved.

It might not portray the Axis as pure evil 

As I mention above the art includes what looks like an SS officer. There’s no real information on him, although his unbuttoned collars and missing hat suggests he might not be fully in service. A prisoner, maybe? All I can get out of Condrey about him is that “in campaign you won’t actually play as an Axis soldier.” However he does talk about the wider themes of the game: “We really wanted to honour what was really happening in that era, for sure. And as you know there was a lot of violence and brutality and atrocities committed – we don’t shy away from telling the true story and the true state of things, and that includes representing the humanity of the German army – not every German soldier was a Nazi or SS and so we wanted to represent that too, that it was... that there was some real humanity on both sides.”

You can call on your squad for help while fighting and it’s all a bit “Booker, catch!”

In one gameplay demo, I see a brief moment where the player caught a clip thrown by another character. Condrey explains that this is, in part, about moving away from the idea of a single super soldier, solving war problems on his own. “Part of being this squad and working together was about helping each other out in a very different way than in previous games. This is [you] relying on your squad, and so that was a mechanic where you can rely on your squad members to help you, and in that case – when you’re low on ammo – your squad can share ammo.” That’s apparently “one of several mechanics” where your team can help. “Certain members of your squad have certain attributes that can help you, and if you are in proximity to one of your squad members, and you need their help you can... it’s an active ability.”

When I ask Condrey if it was like the “Booker, catch!” moments from BioShock Infinite (where Elizabeth throws over helpful supplies) he replies “yeah, that’s right.”

BUT you can lose squad members and that might affect the help you can get

Not all of your squad are going to see home again according to Condrey who, with a laugh, tells me: “Yeah – there’s possibilities of important members of your squad dying…” The question is, will that affect the support you get from them? “You can be separated from guys with key abilities that would change how you play – if you’re not with the ammo guy then you have less ability to replenish your ammo.” It’s unclear what line is drawn between scripted deaths and more emergent ends, however; COD, as always, wants you to feel it when key people die. “The human loss of your squad is an important emotional impact,” says Condrey, “and there’ll be times that you’re separated and you may lose people that are emotionally important to you, so all of those things can happen, yeah.”

Multiplayer’s going back to the old school trenches

After years of boost jumps and exoskeletons it’s going to be interesting to see how a COD multiplayer, grounded resolutely in 1940’s tech, will work. “This arsenal of World War 2 weapons and the signatures of those weapons were really uniquely defined,” says Condrey. “Obviously, we have the classics that people know and love like the SMG-44 and the Garand, the rifles, the SMGs like the Thompson or the Grease Gun – but clearly shotguns and LMGs meant things, and the battlefields would respond.” 

The phrase being repeated a lot is ‘boots on the ground’ to emphasise the lack of gimmicks this time. By the sounds of it the team are hoping great level design will keep everyone happy - stripping the tech from COD after all this time is a huge change. “We have some really unique map designs [...] and we get to take those from real, iconic locations from around the globe, real battles that happened from D-Day to Aachen, right? There’s so many real varied engagements in World War 2 that really lend itself well to saying “Hey, these were real battle sites, they were very different in their strategy and we have a real world arsenal of weapons that you will have to manage in order to be successful there.”  

Overall, Condrey thinks, “for fans in general, a return to the strategic, grounded fast action of multiplayer where we began? Frankly, people are going to go bananas. It’s going to be great.”

There’s a new mode called War that’s multiplayer with a story

COD WW2 is introducing a new mode called War, a series of multiplayer ‘scenarios’ described by Condrey as “a series of objective-driven conflicts.” It sounds a lot like Battlefield 1’s Operations and Frontlines modes, something Condrey drives home with an illustrative example: “for the Allies maybe it’s ‘push through the hedgerows, take the hill – destroy the radio tower and then take out the 88s’ right? From the German perspective it would be ‘hold the line at the hedgerows, if you lose the line pull back to the barn, and if you lose the barn pull back to the radio tower – if you lose the radio tower, defend the 88s,’ right?” The key idea behind this captures the “the collision of Axis versus Allies over strategic objectives, which if you think about it largely describes what World War 2 was.”

It sounds like this new mode could be quite a big deal as well. “For us the ability to really anchor the conflict of Axis versus Allies in a team-based, objective focused mode is really exciting for us,” says Condrey. “We’ve a lot of heart for the game modes that we know are really great and people love, like Team Deathmatch but, really, when we talk about the cornerstone of this game, it’s about working as a squad right? And working as a team – this new War mode really plays to that. It really focuses this idea that it’s a conflict between squads that have to work together; it’s not a lone soldier experience.”

Is there any co-op? AND ARE THERE ZOMBIES?

Funny you should ask, yes, yes there is. There are few details currently though, with Condrey only mentioning there would be a “smallish squad co-op experience” adding that it would be an “adrenaline filled, dark new mode.” 

Studio head Glen Schofield has also said this well be an "entirely new story" and a "horrifying experience." The only other details he'd let out was that this new mode would follow the "story of the Third Reich's desperate attempt to create an army in the final stages of the war."

Finally, there’s a new Headquarters location that sounds *a lot* like Destiny’s Tower / Reef

Condrey calls the Headquarters area the “off the frontlines space.’” According to him this will be where “you start your night, maybe you end your night – this is where you go to be social. Dozens of characters being able to interact in new ways.”

I ask Condrey if it’s like the Tower in Destiny, to which he replied “I don’t know if I can describe it that way on the record, so this might be an off the record comment, but I remember the impact of going to Ogremarr in World of Warcraft for the first time, and seeing people being social, showing off their gear, practicing their combat, duelling, all these things.” Condrey continues by saying, “so imagine a Call of Duty space that provides that, anchors you in World War 2, and continues your social engagement and your attachment to your avatar in a really transformational new space with other community members.”

That does sound exactly like Destiny’s Tower. And, in case you’re wondering, the PR clarified this could all be ‘on the record.’ Condrey also talks about this new area providing “opportunities to do things that publicly reward your achievements.” The example he pulled out was when a player prestiges, something that has traditionally been a bit of a private experience. “Now you have a place to really celebrate that achievement in public amongst dozens of your friends and community members,” says Condrey. I ask him if that will be something like standing on a box in front of everyone while someone pins a medal on you, to which he replies: “Yeah... that kind of thing.”

So Headquarters will be “both a social and activity driven space that really showcases and celebrates your achievements and your personality.” However, when I ask if it’ll contain things like emotes, or bounty and marketplaces areas, Condrey deflects it, saying that “I don’t how much detail we can go into.” He does talk about social interactions being “important” adding “it’s about... personalisation of your experience and celebrating your progress, working as a community, and being members of a community off the frontline, right?” 

Leon Hurley
Managing editor for guides

I'm GamesRadar's Managing Editor for guides, which means I run GamesRadar's guides and tips content. I also write reviews, previews and features, largely about horror, action adventure, FPS and open world games. I previously worked on Kotaku, and the Official PlayStation Magazine and website.