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Call of Duty: WWII is much harder than previous games, by design

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A war fought by the common soldier

Call of Duty: WWII artwork Sledgehammer Games/Activision

Call of Duty: WWII is a hard game. There is no regenerating health, which means you have to rely on med packs you find around the environment or ask the medic in your squad to throw you one. You have to make sure you manage your health through the chaotic firefights, but also your inventory. Do you have enough med packs? Do you need to find more? Should I use one now, before the battle, in case things go sideways?

I died often before I was able to adjust to the new system, and to the game’s more aggressive feel — with the enemies and the number of times you die while moving toward your objective. But that’s all part of the plan.

“It was a very conscious decision. It was deliberate,” Michael Condrey, co-studio head and game director of Sledgehammer Games, told Polygon. “One of the things we talk about with the subject matter was that it was the common soldier. It was the common man. It was a 20-year-old kid going to war with whatever they had available at the time. It wasn’t a super experienced soldier who had all the equipment and all the training and all the weaponry and all the intel to be a tier one soldier, which was some of our last games.”

Sledgehammer Games/Activision

The Second World War didn’t involve jetpacks and advanced ballistic armor, in other words. This was a conflict where people had guns and uniforms and some grenades and a medic, and that was it.

“So when you hear the stories of the brutal conditions and the fear, the hunger and the cold that they endured ... you didn’t charge head-first into battle when you have a German machine gun nest right in front of you, right?” Condrey asked. “You really had to be more thoughtful and strategic. Your squad became more important. The medic in your squad became a critical component to you staying alive.”

And that’s why Sledgehammer decided to ditch the ubiquitous regenerating health system. The developers wanted the player to have to look at the situation, their health and the number of med packs they have in their inventory before deciding how to act. You can’t just rush into every battle knowing that you’ll be back to full health after a brief pause.

“It felt right for those games, but with this game we wanted to make the management of your medkits and the proximity of your medic something that was meaningful,” Condrey said. “It’s a different mechanic, for sure, and it will definitely take some time to get used to for Call of Duty players. But I think it really delivers that spirit of what it was like to be a common soldier.”

This also meant the developers had to spend time tuning Call of Duty: WWII’s checkpoints, and how the game puts you back into the battle after a death. Because players were going to be dying often.

“We don’t want you to be frustrated by the difficulty; we want you to master the health pack system,” Condrey explained. “We spent a lot of time looking at data about [where] people would die, the heat map data, to see where maybe the tools weren’t there for players. So we would put med packs around. I think for me because I play a lot and I switch between multiplayer and campaign a lot, I constantly forget to use the med packs.”

Players have to constantly pay attention to their health while fighting, and remember to take a breath to use a med pack if they need it. This slows down the pace of some of the fights, and it’s a big shift from the last few Call of Duty games.

“You have to train your brain,” Condrey said. “I still sometimes die with health packs in my inventory. I hope to think we found some good balance.”