The approach of Call of Duty: World War II represents a major change to the Call of Duty franchise.
For many players and spectators, it means finally returning to what Call of Duty “should” be – specifically, on the ground. For a portion of the player and fan base, however, it will potentially mean a significant change to what they have come to understand Call of Duty to be.
The period of advanced movement and futuristic tech, having spanned three years by the time WWII is released, is no longer an aberration, not a solitary quirk of a particular game, but an era. It has characterised Call of Duty for long enough that it has permeated how with think about the game on a fundamental level.
As we depart from the science-fiction that has defined the franchise, an interesting is question is therefore raised – that of the “jetpacker”, and their fate as we return to a more traditional Call of Duty game.
Stigma against up-and-coming players is not a new phenomenon. Before the arrival of Advanced Warfare, everyone’s favourite term for a new player who was taking scalps from the established elite was “Ghoster”, on the premise that the shift towards the SMG-heavy, Domination/Blitz environment of Call of Duty: Ghosts made it easier to find success with less understanding of how the game “should” be played.
Historically, these terms have usually been nonsense, an easy criticism to throw out when a player comes along who disrupts the status quo. Players’ success or failure almost always runs a lot deeper than the nature of a specifc game, and while the yearly cycle creates some variance, with some being considered superior games to others, it’s rare that victory can be entirely predicated on abuse of a particular less competitive aspect of a game.
The term ‘jetpacker’ is arguably slightly different, however. It may have started life in much the same way, a simplistic way of discrediting the successes of those thriving on Advanced Warfare if they didn’t have pedigree from previous titles. These days, however, while on the surface it remains a derogatory term, albeit less prevalent, it perhaps represents a slightly more pertinent question.
The underlying implication of these aspersions has always been along the lines of “you’re only a good player because this game isn’t a proper Call of Duty title. You’re just abusing aspects of the game that shouldn’t really be there. When things go back to the way they should be, you won’t be able to keep up.”
This has rarely held up when applied to a single yearly cycle, but the difference here is that not only did Advanced Warfare introduce the most dramatic shift to the way the game is played that Call of Duty has ever seen, but that change has been perpetuated by the following titles.
As a result, there now really are a set of players who have broken out, risen, and adapted to a series of games all within the confines of a very particular movement system that has a fairly dramatic impact on the way the game is played.
Suddenly, the underlying question beneath the “jetpacker” criticism cannot be entirely dismissed out of hand. Exactly how are these players going to respond to a game that will quite possibly be, perhaps for the first time in their professional career at least, significantly different in how it’s played?
The primary reason that terms like “Ghoster” never really held up in practice is because, while weapons, maps, and utility vary from year to year, many of the fundamental skills required for success remain the same.
Ultimately, a lot of Call of Duty at the highest level is not a set of highly specific skills, but rather more general skills and understanding that can be applied to various situations. Because of the change in game every year, and the high number of map/mode combinations played every year, it is not sufficient to specialise.
Instead, players must learn at a core level how to co-ordinate with team-mates, how to identify and play to the strengths of a particular weapon, how to communicate effectively, how to trade kills as efficiently as possible, how to play around spawns, how to cover team mates and when to rely on them to do the same.
All of these aspects, and more, cannot be relearned on a case-by-case basis. There are too many variables and too little time within each season. Naturally, time spent within a particular game allows for honing these skills to the specifics of the environment, but Call of Duty has never allowed teams to rely on map-specific strategies. The best teams in the world are always those that have the strongest foundation in the fundamentals.
As a result, we’ve rarely seen dramatic changes in performance at the elite level specifically as an identifiable consequence of a game change. Players rise and fall, as they do in all games, but it’s the exception rather than the rule to see players drop off completely at the start of a new season, or start to dominate where previously they showed no such potential.
It has been suggested, however, that Advanced Warfare did cause a notable shift in these fundamentals. The speed of the game and the addition of a third dimension increased the mechanical ceiling, but also changed the paradigm when it came to positioning – cover became less beneficial, and players were punished less for being caught in motion. In fact, remaining in perpetual motion arguably became the prevalent play-style in some cases.
The more chaotic nature that the advanced movement system brought resulted in traditionally “smarter” plays often producing fewer results, while teams as a whole were penalised less for making mistakes regarding spawn control or rotation in Hardpoint, for instance. Meanwhile, the more deliberate mode of Capture the Flag was gradually phased out in favour of the more frenetic Uplink.
So what happens when the change is reversed? Is it possible that players who never played on a professional level prior to Advanced Warfare will struggle, too easily punished by the sorts of aggressive, fast-paced plays that work under a system of advanced movement, but might not be so successful with boots on the ground?
One of the first things to point out is that while we know World War II will, obviously, not include jetpacks, we know little else about the game-play. The jetpack isn’t exclusively responsible for the change in play-style in recent years, however – it’s the source of the verticality, and the ability to wall-run, but many other aspects can be replicated without it.
We don’t know the pace of the game, or the size of the competitive maps, or what the spawn system will be like. Simply going back to boots on the ground doesn’t necessarily mean we’re getting a game that functions in exactly the same way as earlier titles.
One way or another, however, how we judge the impact of that change will come down to how the newer players respond to it. We already know that those who maintained their position during the original shift to advanced movement are among the most adaptable in the world, capable of adjusting to the nuances of any game. It will be the so-called “jetpackers” whose test will be greatest, and who will be most scrutinised in how they meet it.
Ultimately, a lot of the discussion prior to the release of the game is little more than conjecture. We cannot know for sure how newer players will respond to the change until they are forced to either adapt or fail. This, then, will be the jetpacker’s crucible, and those who survive it will have proven themselves stronger than ever before.