Call of Duty has come a long way since Infinity Ward first dropped us into the battlegrounds of World War II in 2003. We’ve taken on the enemy everywhere from the Cold War to way into the future, but these days it’s fighting against friends online that people really care about.
The series’ captivating multiplayer action has brought people together to the point where we’re now on a battlefield with 200 players in the game-changing battle royale Warzone. Whether it’s boots on the ground or jetpacks, Call of Duty has been a consistently fun FPS for over 15 years; but what is the best CoD game ever, and where does the latest – Black Ops Cold War – fit into the rankings?
Dexerto’s writers have been voting for their favorite CoD games of all time to decide this top ten – and three games didn’t get a single vote; sorry Blackout, WWII, and Call of Duty 3.
In this list, we’ve separated Warzone as its own entry in the series, as it will now continue to evolve over the course of future entries in the series. That means it doesn’t factor into (2019) Modern Warfare’s judging. Onwards!
10. Black Ops 4 (2018)
Black Ops 4 was the first and only Call of Duty game to launch without a campaign, and although multiplayer is mainly what it’s all about these days, this definitely displeased a number of fans. The multiplayer and Zombies modes were enjoyable though, with some stellar maps, and a generally well-balanced selection of weapons.
Treyarch’s title looked very much like a Black Ops game with arcade action favored over gritty realism, though some do take issue with specialist abilities, as they can interfere with the standard gun-on-gun gameplay Call of Duty is famous for – something Black Ops 3 fell foul of, too.
9. Black Ops Cold War (2020)
As it stands, although it has only been out for a short amount of time, Black Ops Cold War sneaks into ninth place in our rankings.
The lack of maps and anger around SBMM have been major sticking points for critics of the game, but with its excellent weaponry, map design, and arcadey aesthetic – it is what CoD fans have come to expect from the Black Ops series. The MP5, AK-47, and the 74-U are all iconic firearms that bring a welcome sense of nostalgia for fans of the original Black Ops.
Although limited to only a handful of maps, what is here is generally decent, with some exceptions (looking at you, Cartel). Crossroads, Checkmate, and Garrison all return to Black Ops’ excellent 3-lane design, which is refreshing after Modern Warfare.
It will be interesting to see where this ranks once Warzone becomes fully integrated. Speaking of which…
8. Warzone (2020)
Warzone has become nothing short of a global phenomenon since it was launched in March 2020, as a battle royale off-spin from Modern Warfare (2019).
As a free-to-play title, it has reached a huge audience that might not otherwise have played CoD, and is right up there with the very best battle royale games. Unlike Blackout, Modern Warfare made use of the most iconic of CoD features: create-a-class. Dubbed as loadouts, Warzone lets players get fully kitted out with their weapons, attachments, equipment, and perks of choice – all from a single drop.
It’s not an exaggeration to say this is revolutionary for battle royale games, which typically rely on purely looting whatever you find on the ground. It removed an element of luck, or RNG (random number generator), which BR’s are so often criticized for. And, it’s managed to keep players engaged without adding a whole new map or drastically changing the current one – a testament to the strength of the original Verdansk design.
Hopefully, it will improve once Black Ops Cold War becomes fully integrated with it – a huge expansion is in the works.
7. Black Ops 3 (2015)
Advanced Warfare split opinion amongst CoD fans with the introduction of jetpacks putting off many who prefer traditional boots on the ground. Indeed, Infinite Warfare is one of the most disliked CoD games of all time, as fans were simply sick and tired of the advanced movement mechanics. That said, Black Ops 3, the best of these advanced movement games, is a bit of a diamond in the rough.
Its modes, of which a few new ones were introduced, were solid across the board, and some of the best multiplayer maps ever in CoD led to a fantastic year for the esports scene. Some classic levels like Fringe, Stronghold, and Infection made the most of wall-running and jetpacks, while not promoting an unhealthily fast pace that spectators couldn’t keep up with. Search and Destroy also flourished in BO3, with the amateur and online tournament scene booming.
While Black Ops 3 can’t quite crack the top half of this list, it’s as close as an advanced movement CoD will probably ever get.
6. Modern Warfare 3 (2011)
Modern Warfare 3 is sometimes at risk of being forgotten by the Call of Duty community. It didn’t exactly do anything groundbreaking or controversial, but was the perfect follow-up to Modern Warfare 2, a game that was, and still is, universally loved. MW2 fans could expect more of the same gameplay, plus solid maps.
Although the maps are more forgettable than the previous entry in the series, they were designed meticulously, well-balanced, and there are still some classics here like Dome. And the weapons had a great feel to them as well. Sniping left a lot to be desired, but the ACR and MP7 felt smooth as butter.
The revamped killstreak system was exciting at the time, with the addition of Support and Specialist streaks. This gave players a lot more options suited to their playstyle and helped promote a less campy play-style, as you didn’t need to always protect your life to earn streaks. All of this helps it stand the test of time – you could still go back and enjoy MW3 to this day.
5. World at War (2008)
World at War is another entry that has been underrated over the years. It had a respectable multiplayer experience, although balancing was a major issue, but there was one feature that separated this game from the rest: Nazi Zombies.
As the first CoD game to feature a Zombies game mode, World at War completely changed up what Call of Duty could be, chucking in easter eggs and challenging players to get high-round finishes. Zombies was a whole new Call of Duty scene in the making and drastically changed what people demand from a CoD game and allowed a story to develop between titles that will linger long in the memory.
Multiplayer, although perhaps fawned over now, was actually fairly messy. To this day, the MP-40 remains potentially the most overpowered Call of Duty weapon to never be seriously nerfed. And, if you try to play World at War now, you’ll find yourself in a perpetual loop of hacked lobbies. Still, the memories are intact.
4. Black Ops (2010)
The original Black Ops game kicked Treyarch’s series off with a bang. It seemed doomed to sit in the shadow of the Modern Warfare series, but Treyarch had an ace up their sleeve. They brought in countless innovations: Theater Mode, creative streaks like the RC-XD and SR-71, overhauled the Zombies experience, and much more.
It’s also responsible for the most iconic Call of Duty map of all time: Nuketown. This, among other gems like Summit, Firing Range, and Jungle have been remade numerous times. Even the DLC maps, like Stadium and Kowloon, earned much praise for their smart designs and unique atmosphere.
Following Modern Warfare 2 was always going to be a tough ask, and it wasn’t instantly recognized, but over time players have realized that Black Ops 1 was actually an impeccable Call of Duty game.
3. Black Ops 2 (2012)
Although it missed out on the top two here, Black Ops 2, for many fans, is the greatest Call of Duty game of all time – and you can definitely see why.
It had just about everything you could want in CoD. Campaign and Zombies modes were good, building on solid foundations from the previous game, but the multiplayer was wonderful, with incredible maps like Raid and Standoff, which some would argue are even the best ever.
A near-perfect selection of weapons, which were well-balanced and promoted a variety of options, rather than only one or two weapons dominated. Sure, the MSMC and M8A1 were most popular, but there were many other viable picks. The MP7, Scorpion, or PDW for SMGs. The AN-94, M27 or SWAT 556 in the assault rifle category. There were issues (Target Finder LMGs, for example), but generally, there was something for everyone, and it was balanced.
Perhaps BO2’s greatest legacy though, is what it did for competitive Call of Duty. It was an incredible breakout year for competitive play, with an unrivaled League Play system, and the first World Championship, taking a burgeoning esport to the next level.
To many, Black Ops 2 set the bar by which future CoD games will always be judged.
2. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007)
Modern Warfare was a game-changer for the Call of Duty series, taking the action away from the historical battlegrounds of World War 2 to the near future (at the time).
It brought in killstreaks for the first time ever, pioneered the create-a-class system, and so many other gameplay systems that we now take for granted in the yearly CoD release. Not to mention some truly iconic maps that have stood the test of time, like Overgrown, Crash, Shipment, and Vacant, to name but a few. While it lacked some of the features we deem mandatory today, like multiple killstreaks, and had some terrible balancing issues (the M16, and the battle of juggernaut vs stopping power), few CoD games can capture the magic of this groundbreaking entry.
It was the best selling game of 2007, and it’s right to say that if it wasn’t for CoD 4, Call of Duty would not be the juggernaut it is today.
1. Modern Warfare 2 (2009)
Of course, there’s only one game that could even compete with the previous two: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.
The campaign was gripping and features some iconic moments and characters like Ghost and the CoD 4 protagonists Price and Soap. But of course, the multiplayer is why this game is held in such high regard. It had incredible maps (Rust, Scrapyard, Terminal, and many more) and weaponry that welcomed every variety of playstyle imaginable. There are few more legendary weapons than the Intervention, the quickscoping god-gun. Or the relentlessly fun, even if overpowered, shotgun secondaries.
It would be remiss not the mention the balancing problems – most of which when unfixed. Credit to Infinity Ward for patching the Model 1887s (undoubtedly the most OP weapon in CoD history pre-patch), but One-Man-Army ‘noobtubes,’ boosting, and guns like the UMP and Spas-12 went untouched for the game’s life cycle.
And we haven’t even mentioned the streaks yet. This was the first game to break away from the 3-5-7 killstreak system and added new fan-favorites like the Predator Missile, Harrier Jets, and of course, the Chopper Gunner. And no one will forget the Nuke, which continues to be something fans chase every year, with a 25 killstreak (even though it no longer ends the match).
Modern Warfare 2 had its problems, there’s no denying that, but for many, it’s still the quintessential Call of Duty, and captured that indescribable CoD magic better than any other game before it, or since.
So, do you agree with our list? Do you think that Black Ops Cold War should be higher or lower, or did we miss out on your favorite completely in our top 10? Join the debate on @DexertoIntel.