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Is Call of Duty 2017 Swimming In Battlefield 1's Wake?

The timing of the tonal shift seems awfully coincidental.

During a recent Activision earnings call, the company announced that this year’s Call of Duty title will “take Call of Duty back to its roots” and will feature “traditional combat.”

While no specifics were discussed, the above statements strongly hint at the series potentially moving away from the more futuristic tone of recent entries like Black Ops 3 and Infinite Warfare. In fact, Call of Duty 2017 may even return the series to its World War II origins.

If such is the case, one could argue this comes in response to the release of DICE’s World War I shooter, Battlefield 1.

A Tale of Two Shooters

Fans of the first-person shooter genre and of Call of Duty in particular no doubt remember how Infinity Ward’s 2016 Call of Duty game (the game which would later be revealed as Infinite Warfare) was rumored to be set in the past. As a result, when DICE grandly unveiled Battlefield 1, many irate Call of Duty fans accused DICE and publisher Electronic Arts of stealing Infinity Ward’s thunder.

But, as we now know, Infinite Warfare wasn’t the glorious return to the series’ roots fans hoped (and in some cases expected) it to be. This might explain why its reveal trailer ended up garnering one of the highest numbers of YouTube dislikes to date.

Of course, despite the seemingly endless barrage of hate and snark thrown its way, Infinite Warfare was still a Call of Duty game and as such, wound up selling thousands of copies following its release in November of 2016. However, in the very same earnings call I mentioned above, it was revealed that Infinite Warfare’s total sales numbers weren’t as high as Activision had hoped.

This made it clear the game’s futuristic outer space setting resonated poorly with the series’ dedicated fanbase. Meanwhile, Battlefield 1 has continued to see substantial growth over the last few months following its strong initial launch.

So what the heck happened?

How did a game set in the year 1914 featuring technology no more advanced than a zeppelin beat out a game where you can literally engage your enemies in a zero-gravity space environment? Someone at DICE must’ve had a premonition, as I’m sure development on Battlefield 1 began long before Call of Duty fans started clamoring for a return to the game’s World War II roots.

Somehow, whether through sheer luck, divine providence, or one heck of a good guess, DICE knew they’d be able to announce Battlefield 1 at exactly the right moment when fans of both the franchise and its competitor, Call of Duty, would be on the lookout for exactly what DICE was planning to offer.

Talk about right place, right time.

Of Imitation and Flattery

Now, I know it’s easy to kick Activision while they’re down (or at least as “down” as a multimillion dollar video game production company can be when one of their flagship games sells poorly), but you can’t exactly fault Activision for restructuring this year’s Call of Duty title around Battlefield 1’s foundation.

Activision previously assumed Call of Duty fans would want more of the futuristic setting the company spent several years building up through games like Advanced Warfare and Black Ops 3. Which makes sense, considering how well both of those games sold. Despite Infinite Warefare’s setbacks, it’s still nice to know Activision is committed to giving fans what they really want in Call of Duty 2017.

Sure, it can be argued that DICE showed true courage by taking the risk of releasing a World War I shooter amid a sea of futuristic titles (Infinite Warfare, Titanfall 2, Halo 5, Gears of War 4). However, this year’s Call of Duty is Activision’s way of playing catch up.

Call of Duty 2017 is being developed by Sledgehammer Games who’ve presumably been working on the game ever since the studio wrapped up production on Advanced Warfare back in 2014. While the game’s specific DNA has probably been altered following the release of Battlefield 1, it’s rather silly to think an Activision rep saw Battlefield 1, called up Sledgehammer to say, “Yeah, whatever you’re working on for 2017, throw it out and do Battlefield 1 only better.”

No matter what, I’m confident Activision has been listening intently to player feedback and that Call of Duty 2017 will be a stronger game for it. World War II setting or not, this year’s Call of Duty title will truly be a game shaped by the times which is more than enough to get me excited about the future direction of the franchise.

Call of Duty 2017 may indeed be swimming in Battlefield 1’s wake, but should this yield a better Call of Duty game overall, it’s probably for the best. 

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Nate Hohl

Nate Hohl got his start in the video games journalism industry shortly after graduating college and since then he has come to find enjoyment in critiquing various forms of media (games, movies, books, etc.) and seeing how they affect our ever-developing idea of culture. If you'd like to contact him, you can do so via his email address, nate.hohl@greenlitcontent.com, or his admittedly oft-neglected Twitter account @NateHohl.