Call of Duty has gone from strength to strength over the past ten years. Activision’s first-person shooter franchise has stayed at the forefront of action gaming for the entirety of the decade, selling hundreds of millions of copies worldwide.
Activision has hired the talents of three separate video game developers throughout the course of the past decade. While Call of Duty has dabbled in a variety of time points over the years, consistent gameplay and gripping storylines have ensured that fans return year after year.
Call of Duty’s fast-paced action is complimented by its fluid in-game mechanics, which has seen the series’ competitive multiplayer experience mature into a fully fledged esport, as we look forward to the inaugural season of the Call of Duty League.
From a realistic game based in the heart of the Battle of Normandy, to futuristic conflict rooted in outer space; Call of Duty has certainly pushed the boundaries over the past ten years. But what were the best Call of Duty games of the decade? We count down the decade’s best titles in descending order.
10. Infinite Warfare
Infinite Warfare allowed us to peer into the future, as we moved into outer space conflict. While the franchise’s first-person ethos remained, just about everything else from the franchise felt foreign.
From zero-gravity environments to a boost-pack fueled movement system, this iteration was a far cry from what we’ve all come to love about Call of Duty. Come to think of it, we were two lightsabers and a Skywalker short of a Star Wars game.
Thankfully, Infinity Ward decided to pursue this avenue further and returned back to their Modern Warfare series in their next release. While on the surface the gameplay mechanics were closer to Halo, it wasn’t all doom and gloom.
Infinite Warfare bolstered Call of Duty’s competitive circuit, with a dog-eat-dog season which saw OpTic Gaming break their curse as they claimed their first world championship. Albeit a risky move on Infinity Ward’s part, the series still maintained its loyal fanbase and shattered sales records.
If Infinite Warfare is the chalk, then WWII would be the cheese. Sledgehammer Games ushered in a new era of Call of Duty with Advanced Warfare’s ‘jetpack’ style, and after a three-year wait, boots-on-the-ground made its highly anticipated return.
Based around the historic events of ‘Operation Overlord,’ WWII’s single player campaign received a ton of criticism for its lack of health regeneration — leaving players scouting for health packs.
However, the title’s multiplayer experience introduced the ‘Headquarters’ social space (akin to ‘The Tower’ from Bungie’s Destiny). Playing host to a Quartermaster, 1-versus-1 arena and a firing range, the social space allowed up to 48 players to connect at any given moment. Alongside a well-rounded multiplayer, WWII welcomed back Nazi Zombies, where players would fend off hordes of the Third Reich’s undead.
While on paper these features seemed novel, a convoluted progression system which was complimented by difficult contracts were off-putting enough. Add to the mix the extensive list of server issues and plenty of players were counting down the days to Treyarch’s Black Ops 4, mere months after its release.
8. Black Ops 4
After boots-on-the-ground didn’t quite go to plan, Treyarch’s fourth entry into their Black Ops series was met with open arms. After scrapping the traditional single-player campaign to focus more on the multiplayer experience, Black Ops 4 was hyped up by the masses.
By carrying over the ‘Specialists’ system from Black Ops 3, Treyarch delivered a meta-driven online experience which remoulded Call of Duty’s player-versus-player combat. While Specialists brought another tactical aspect to the table, automatic health regeneration was removed for the first time in the franchise’s history.
Treyarch dedicated plenty of resources into Zombies, by bringing in a plethora of content for their flagship mode. Oh, and did we mention a dedicated battle royale game mode (which quite frankly could have been a game in itself)? Blackout combined the mechanics of Black Ops gameplay with the methodical style which the likes of H1Z1 and PUBG both boasted.
An enthralling competitive season stamped Black Ops 4 firmly into the history books. Yet, there always felt like something was missing from a run-of-the-mill Call of Duty — and no, we’re not referring to the aforementioned lack of campaign. Specialists, manual healing, sliding and game-changing abilities all combined into one heap were perhaps a bit too much too soon?
7. Modern Warfare
While Black Ops 4 attempted to reinvigorate the Call of Duty multiplayer experience, Modern Warfare brought the franchise back to its roots with Infinity Ward’s reboot of their staple series.
A widely successful beta and insightful campaign ensured that Modern Warfare shattered the previous sales record in its opening weekend, set by Black Ops 4. Although, it is the multiplayer which is Modern Warfare’s crown jewels and keeps fans coming back for more.
Built on the foundation of its predecessors, Modern Warfare completely overhauled the progression system to a season-based framework, which is designed to value continuous play. An abundance of gun customization options compliment the refined ‘create-a-class’ system, which gives players a sense of ownership over their rig of choice.
However, after being inundated with issues from the get-go, Modern Warfare has left fans underwhelmed from a gameplay standpoint. Although, with Infinity Ward at the helm, there is still time to turn their title into a success. With Activision’s Call of Duty League set to kick-off in January 2020, there is no doubt that the developers will be looking to polish their game ready for the world to see.
Before returning to their roots, Infinity Ward’s last boots-on-the-ground game came in the form of Ghosts. Bridging the gap between console generations, Ghosts was a very consistent game — but that’s about as far it goes.
Aside from adding dynamic map elements (similar to what was previously a big feature in Battlefield), there wasn’t really anything worth shouting about. Ghosts’ single-player campaign lacked the ‘wow moment’ that we’ve all come to expect from a Call of Duty storyline, while the multiplayer seemingly played it safe.
Perhaps unintentional, Ghosts fortuitously kickstarted a trend which would go on to make Activision billions — character customization through microtransactions. After replacing the create-a-class system with ‘create-a-soldier,’ players could customize everything – from their loadout right the way through to the reticle on their weapon – in one neat bundle.
On the whole, Ghosts was a well-rounded game which boasted well-designed multiplayer with solid in-game mechanics — setting up for some remarkable esports moments. The compLexity and OpTic Gaming rivalry is one that still echoes in conversations years on.
After coL’s dominant showing at Champs, the GreenWall edged out the compLexity dynasty squad in a close semi-final before going on to take gold at the MLG X Games Invitational. Rivalries such as this effectively planted the seeds for Call of Duty esports to grow into what we know it to be today.
5. Advanced Warfare
After Riley’s introduction to the franchise was the pinnacle to an otherwise blasé season, Sledgehammer Games entered the arena in style. Advanced Warfare completely changed the meta with the exo-suit, which quite literally took Call of Duty to new heights.
The game’s thrilling futuristic campaign delved into the politics behind military contractors while integrating Call of Duty’s trademark plot twists along the way. Combine the gripping narrative with a newfound way to traverse the battlefield, and long-time fans were hooked back into the Call of Duty franchise and veered away from Respawn’s Titanfall and Bungie’s Destiny.
Advanced Warfare injected a new level of excitement into its content-rich multiplayer. Black Ops 2’s ‘Pick 10’ system was renovated into ‘Pick 13,’ which neatly tied gun customization, exo-suit abilities and scorestreaks into a user-friendly system.
Weapon variations could be unlocked through supply drops, which issued fans an incentive to grind the multiplayer (in the hopes that they’d unlock a fresh cosmetic to rock in the server).
Alongside all of the above, Sledgehammer Games commemorated a successful esports season by releasing a ‘Call of Duty World Championship Personalization Pack’ for fans to flaunt in-game. All in all, Advanced Warfare was a trendsetter and was widely considered a success.
4. Modern Warfare 3
Prior to leading their own title, Sledgehammer Games collaborated with Infinity Ward to develop the third installment to the Modern Warfare series. With big boots to fill from Modern Warfare’s previous installments, the game did not disappoint.
Modern Warfare 3 wrapped up the trilogy which singlehandedly redefined the first-person shooter genre. Its single-player campaign followed on from Modern Warfare 2’s final mission, and left fans with a sense of closure while simultaneously providing an action-packed story along the way.
However, it was Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer which captivated a generation. Building on from its precursor, Infinity Ward delivered a well-balanced online experience that possessed all of the key elements which became standard Call of Duty fare.
Strike packages were tailored to each playstyle, meaning that there was something for everyone. Assault packages had the most impact, while Support packages worked on total points accrued (rewarding players for a more objective-based playstyle).
Incredibly designed maps meant that competitive Call of Duty flourished. The season got underway with Call of Duty XP, where the GreenWall bagged the lion’s share of the first ever $1 million prize pool in the franchise’s history. OpTic Gaming would go on to dominate the remainder of the season, with various trips across the pond to EGL tournaments — which was the first real hint that Call of Duty was going international.
3. Black Ops 3
After fans were left giddy from Advanced Warfare’s innovative movement system, Treyarch were tasked with taking Black Ops into the new era while building on the success of Black Ops 2.
Black Ops 3 built on its second installment’s storyline, in a world plagued by the ramifications of climate change and new technologies. Set 40 years in the future, your character was cybernetically enhanced for combat, which opened up the avenue for Specialists — a novel character system which played into futuristic warfare while adding an additional strategic layer to gameplay.
By employing momentum-based movement system, players could utilize their thruster packs to perform a variety of movements both on the ground and in the air — a natural evolution from Advanced Warfare’s system. The Gunsmith also allowed for a seemingly endless list of possibilities when it came to customizing your weapon’s aesthetic.
Players were more nimble than ever before, which lended itself into thrilling and adrenaline-fueled gameplay rendering fans on the edge of their seats. Perhaps it was fitting, then, that this was the first year that Activision supported the game’s competitive circuit with the Call of Duty World League. A host of international tournaments later and who’d have thought that four seasons on we’d be staring franchised Call of Duty in the face?
2. Black Ops
The OG. Where it all began. Treyarch’s first installment into the Black Ops series helped them to break free from Infinity Ward’s shackles and allowed them fully spread their wings. Black Ops’ storyline revolved around exploring conspiracy theories alongside dabbling in politics and espionage, while holding apt references to their previous ‘World at War’ title.
Players were taken on a journey as Alex Mason, a CIA agent who’d constantly refer back to ‘the numbers’ throughout the course of the story. Although Treyarch delivered a blockbuster campaign, the multiplayer experience was an essential ingredient which transcended Call of Duty into a new era.
Weapon customization. Co-op zombies. Wager matches. Theatre mode. Nuketown… oh Nuketown. Treyarch pulled off the seemingly impossible with Black Ops, by giving fans a thoroughly designed, well-balanced online experience while maintaining the fun and competitive nature at the root of Call of Duty.
A campaign which left fans desperate for more, alongside a revolutionary multiplayer… It’s safe to say that Treyarch firmly placed their name on the map with Black Ops.
1. Black Ops 2
What could top the original Black Ops you might ask? Well, somehow, Treyarch managed to outdo themselves with the second iteration in their Black Ops series. Continuing on from its compelling Cold War story, the subsequent installment offered players diverging narratives based around two plots — one from the 1980s and another from the not-too-distant future of 2025.
While both plots revolved around a mutual protagonist, each player would experience a different ending to the next due to its branching storylines. Black Ops 2’s campaign gave players a feeling of ‘being at the wheel’ as opposed to simply being along for the ride.
Yet again, though, it’s the outstanding multiplayer experience which took centre stage. The introduction of the ‘Pick 10’ system put players in the driver’s seat of their class choices, meaning that when orchestrating your point allocation, you could opt for a perk-heavy loadout or a rig that would emphasize on gun optimization.
Well-balanced maps, iconic weapons (who could forget the M8A1 or the MSMC?) and the introduction of Hardpoint into the competitive map pool ramped up interest in competitive Call of Duty. Alongside all of this, Treyarch implemented a ‘League Play’ playlist which pitted players against one another of similar abilities. Heck, teams could even qualify for the World Championships at the end of the season if they accrued enough points.
On the topic of Champs, Fariko Impact cemented their legacy as one of the best teams to touch the game in an enthralling weekend of action which showcased the true value of Call of Duty esports. The Grand Final between Impact and Team EnVyUs was arguably one of the most tense and entertaining matches in Call of Duty history.