#Preamble is Ana Valens’ weekly column introducing new players and non-gamers to essential gaming franchises.
Chances are if you've played any multiplayer first-person shooters, you've at least heard of the Call of Duty franchise in passing. If you watch TV, you've seen the commercials. Whether referenced as a "casual" shooter or blockbuster must-have, the series is pretty huge: both figuratively and literally.
Over the course of the franchise's lifespan, there have been 13 Call of Duty titles released, with a 14th, Call of Duty: WWII, on its way late 2017. The #CallofDuty series has made a ton of cash for parent company Activision, with over 250 million copies sold and $15 billion in revenue thanks to series sales. Yep, Call of Duty rests well in record-setting best-selling territory, and a new game is just plain expected to release every year.
#CallofDutyWWII may be a couple months away, but what if you've never played a Call of Duty title and want to strap in for combat? What if CoD WWII has piqued your interest and you want to learn more? Here's what you need to know about this massive franchise if you're looking to jump in for the first time and have no idea where to begin.
A Primer on CoD's Unique Release Schedule and Developers
Every year, Activision releases a new Call of Duty in November for consoles and PC. It's like clockwork.
Developers are rotated in annually, with either Sledgehammer Games, Treyarch, or Infinity Ward creating the latest Call of Duty. Each developer has their own flavor, but the games are widely similar. If you've played one Call of Duty game, you'll be comfortable playing any of them. This is pretty unique compared to, say, the Battlefield series, which is only created by one developer: DICE.
But here's where things get complicated. Each Call of Duty developer has their own story arcs and worlds behind each game.
The "Modern Warfare" arc, which began with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and ended with Modern Warfare 3, brings players into a contemporary setting on an international hunt against nationalistic terrorists that threaten the United States and its allied forces.
Treyarch's Black Ops series, which started with Call of Duty: Black Ops, brings in futuristic weaponry in a world of secret government operations and covert missions that lead to quite liberal use of force. Call of Duty: World at War plays into this story arc, even though the game takes place in World War II.
Meanwhile, Call of Duty: Ghosts, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare all feature their own unique timelines taking place in the future, dealing with everything from private military companies to science-fiction space battles. Whereas the original World War II releases in the series — Call of Duty 1 through Call of Duty 3 — are all separate from one another.
What does this mean for new players? Each Call of Duty has its own distinct flavor and style, and your mileage will vary based on what you like. We'll be breaking this down even further below, where we introduce which titles to play for singleplayer or multiplayer game modes.
Interested in Multiplayer? Stick To The Latest Two Games
Call of Duty is pretty well known for its online multiplayer. Fast and arcade-like, online is all about building classes, collecting killstreaks, and gaining the upper-hand on enemies in order to go toe-to-toe with the opposing team for an objective. This translates to a lot of fast, reflex-based gameplay that's easy fun to binge on.
But because Call of Duty releases yearly, players tend to migrate from game to game whenever a new title drops. This doesn't necessarily mean that you can't play the previous year's (or years') multiplayer modes if you want to, but it does mean the playerbase for older games often drops significantly as players move on to each new release — and the remaining players tend to be highly skilled at the game.
On PC, this is especially true. Simply put, most older Call of Duty games have very few players on PC after about three years.
When it comes to console, there's a lot more leeway, and you can usually find plenty of lobbies in Team Deathmatch for Call of Duty releases all the way back to Modern Warfare 2. But those players are pretty skilled at the game, and the skill curve may be too high to properly enjoy the game if you're new.
For that reason, if you want to jump into Call of Duty's multiplayer, we highly suggest sticking with the latest two releases' multiplayer.
This should give you a proper balance between playerbase numbers and skill level. Meanwhile, if you're on PC, just stick with the latest release only.
As of this writing in April 2017, the latest release is Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, and the second latest release is Call of Duty: Black Ops III.
Interested in Singleplayer? Here's What You Need to Know
Here's the good news if you want to play Call of Duty's singleplayer modes: singleplayer campaigns are pretty much always robust affairs that don't require an online playerbase to hop in. When it comes down to singleplayer, you don't have to worry about online numbers. Instead, singleplayer comes down to a question of genre preference and taste over anything.
So, here's what we recommend.
- If you want to play Call of Duty at its most memorable and unforgettable moments, stick with the "Modern Warfare" story arc. That means playing through Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Modern Warfare 2, and Modern Warfare 3. These games — particularly the first two Modern Warfare titles — are considered some of the best in Call of Duty's history, and they really brought the series into its own within the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 generation.
- If you're into historical fiction and want to explore the game's take on major 20th century conflicts, we recommend playing through Call of Duty: World at War and Call of Duty: Black Ops, which are tied into each other. And feel free to also play through the original Call of Duty 1 through Call of Duty 3.
- Lastly, if you want to jump into the most contemporary title, hit up Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. Picking up Infinite Warfare will put you straight into the singleplayer and multiplayer action beloved by fans, and the playerbase online is pretty active to boot.
Oh, and if you like Kevin Spacey, grab Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Spacey is a major character in the game.
Last, But Not Least: Zombies
Ah yes, Zombies. For those who are totally unaware, Treyarch introduced a co-operative zombie gameplay mode back in Call of Duty: World at War. At the time, the mode focused on shambling Nazi zombies, targeting the player in a survival horde mode with wave-upon-waves of enemies to face.
Zombies feature in a variety of Call of Duty games, from Call of Duty: Black Ops to Infinite Warfare. And while each rendition is different, they all follow similar core themes of horde gameplay where players try their best to survive an onslaught. Later renditions have improved gameplay features, but enemy types and settings are really the defining factor behind Zombies.
So here's what we have to say. If you're looking for co-op action, stick with the latest Call of Duty release that features zombies. It's much easier to matchmake with a larger player pool, and you're much more likely to get friends to join. As of April 2017, that means Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare.
However, if you're going at it alone, you have much more flexibility. We recommend going with the game that fits your personal preferences or setting style. If that means wacky and creative environments, stick with Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. But if you want a game that's a bit more serious, or maybe falls into the Black Ops zombie timeline, try out the Black Ops III Zombies mode. Treated as a dedicated mode in its own right, it's a pretty solid release. The upcoming CoD: WWII will return to good ol' Nazi Zombies, so look out for that if that's more your speed.
Thanks again for stopping by, and check back next week for a new game guide courtesy of Preamble.
Which Call of Duty title was your first? Share your CoD memories in the comments below.