Where Will Activision Take the Call of Duty Franchise Next?
November in the gaming industry can only mean one thing: Activision’s Call of Duty series is back in vogue. Releasing in the face of thicker competition than years prior, Treyarch took the reins of the first-person juggernaut to generally favorable reviews, integrating a co-op element into the campaign and providing what is arguably the best Zombies Mode in the series’ history.
Steeped in a rich and dark cybernetic future, Black Ops 3 takes the futuristic setting and gameplay mechanics introduced in Advanced Warfare and fires them into the year 2065. That makes it two on the trot for hyper-kinetic Call of Duty experiences, and by this stage in the game players have grown accustomed to the bleeding-edge tech and far-future setting, which really begs the question: where will Activision take the franchise next?
Forgive us for speculating so soon after the launch of Black Ops 3, but under the publisher’s new three-tier studio cycle, you can bet your bottom dollar that Call of Duty 2016 — whatever it turns out to be — is already incubating in development.
As per Activision’s new set-up, it is Infinity Ward that is primed to enter the hot seat once more come next year, and we can make a pretty good estimation of what said title will be based on the developer’s track record.
On paper, it really comes down to three potential options. First, there’s Ghosts 2 emerging as something of a frontrunner after the original’s post-credits sting (more on that in a bit); retreating into the more critically sound Modern Warfare franchise after a five-year hiatus is also a possibility; and finally, as what is perhaps the least likely of the three, Infinity Ward may bundle together the MW series as a remastered compilation.
Each is interesting in its own right, though not all are guaranteed to succeed. It’s speculative, of course, but the studio would be left facing an uphill battle should it choose — indeed it likely already has — to pursue Ghosts 2.
Novelty, or Nostalgia?
Out of the four leading sub franchises under the Call of Duty umbrella, it is Ghosts that fared poorly when it launched in 2013. Tiptoeing along the line between once console generation and the next, IW’s budding franchise-starter didn’t carve out an audience in the way the studio would have hoped. That’s not to write off Ghosts as a bad game, certainly not; instead, a lacklustre story campaign and unremarkable multiplayer clipped its wings shortly after launch.
It was a soft effort that was reflected in sales, too, with Ghosts slotting in far below its peers on the franchise’s standings. For the sake of perspective, Modern Warfare 3 tops the pile as the best-selling entry in the series at approximately 26.5 million at the time of writing. Modern Warfare 2, meanwhile, is currently simmering around 23 million, while Call of Duty: Ghosts lags behind at 19 million.
Hardly a financial dud, but when viewed against the larger Call of Duty framework, it’s clear that the Ghosts brand doesn’t elicit the levels of excitement and interest as, say, Modern Warfare, Black Ops or even Sledgehammer’s Advanced Warfare.
However, hypothetically speaking, let’s assume that Ghosts 2 is indeed the subtitle for next year’s Call of Duty, what would that entail? Naturally, the sequel would pick up the story strands of its predecessor, which has all but laid out a loose set-up for the narrative thanks to a rather intriguing post-credits scene.
About mid-way through Ghosts’ campaign, you may recall the shooter’s narrator recounting a horrific memory wherein a soldier and member of the Ghosts unit was take prisoner, drip-feed poisonous food, and brainwashed into turning him against his former allies. It’s this haunting experience that is echoed in the game’s ultimate sequence.
After being crippled and dragged from the beach by the dastardly Gabriel T. Rorke, Logan is effectively under the influence of the Federation, and we assume that our once-heroic protagonist will return as the villain of the yet-to-be-confirmed Ghosts 2, with David “Hesh” Walker supplanting him as the playable character.
But the potential success of Infinity Ward’s sequel will ultimately hinge on the gameplay tweaks and general changes that the new entry brings to the table. Whatever the outcome, Call of Duty 2016 will be the studio’s first installment that is built from the ground up with the current-gen systems in mind, which ought to allay any fears that it will be a simple palate swap.
On the other hand, a Modern Warfare 4 — or some variation on the title — reads as the likeliest possibility after Ghosts 2. Out of all the entries in the series, MW harbors a tremendous amount of goodwill across its prestigious trilogy, and for that exact reason the notion of bundling together all three instalments as a HD collection can’t be ruled out, either.
Revisiting the Call of Dutys of yesteryear is something that Activision considers regularly, too, with the most recent hint at a potential remaster coming only a few short months ago. On the topic of nostalgia rereleases, CEO Eric Hirshberg had this to say about taking a walk down memory lane.
If done well, I think [remasters] can be great. You talk about nostalgia, and people have such connection to the games they love from the last cycle. They want to see what it would look like if someone did it right for this cycle. It’s always the opportunity cost, meaning we need every body we can get to make the content we’re already committed to for our new games.
Unlikely, then, but not entirely out of the question. Then again, the launch of a HD collection could be viewed as a stop-gap by some, and Activision will need to be firing on all cylinders next year as 2016 will also mark the release of DICE’s Battlefield 5.
Yes, Black Ops 3 released in the thick of a AAA maelstrom. Fallout 4, Battlefront, Need for Speed and Halo 5: Guardians each presented competition in some shape or form, but for years — generations, even — the two genre titans have continued to divide shooter fans like no other. But perhaps more important than all of that is the fact Battlefield’s return to what we assume will be a November release window will surely lend Call of Duty the competition it so needs.
Time to Give up the Ghost?
Infinity Ward, it’s almost time. Granted, IW isn’t the only development party that’ll be working on Call of Duty 2016, gaining assistance from the likes of Raven Software, Neversoft and Certain Affinity across different multiplayer and campaign components.
Whatever direction the team opts to pursue, all eyes will be directed at Infinity Ward. Perhaps more so than years prior, and coming off the back of a critical disappointment in Ghosts, Call of Duty 2016 represents an opportunity to unveil an experience that will convince even the most impassioned naysayers.
For instance, Sledgehammer Games’ shelved third-person Fog of War, one which would have took place in a gritty realization of Vietnam, underlines some of the concepts that are pitched from within the walls of Activision. It didn’t pan out, of course, but it’s not as though there’s a dearth of creativity at the studios. The real question is whether the publisher is willing to truly push the boat out and release an experience that can reach Modern Warfare levels of fan adulation.
As for the exact timing of the reveal, Activision often showcases the next Call of Duty installment at an event that takes place in late April or early May — if the publisher is sticking to tradition, that is. What are your hopes for Call of Duty 2016? Indulge in some good ol’ speculation with us down below.