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A German soldier in WWII runs through a French street chased by explosions.

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Days of War is not the greatest WWII game in the world, it’s just a (messy) tribute

Multiplayer shooter limps out of early access looking dated, and feeling bland

Image: Driven Arts/Graffiti Games
Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Days of War began life in Steam’s Early Access program, promising to carry on the tradition of competitive World War II shooters that began with Valve’s Day of Defeat in 2003. Now, nearly four years after it first showed up on Kickstarter, developer Driven Arts is back with a fast-paced game that even manages to recreate the Day of Defeat’s classic Donner and Anzio maps, but in Unreal Engine 4. But Days of War feels dated, broken, and bland.

Rather than celebrating games like Day of Defeat: Source, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, and Red Orchestra 2, it just made me want to install those other, better games and play them instead.

What first attracted me to Days of War back in 2017 was the promise of 100-player battles on the beaches of Normandy. I was lucky enough to participate in one of those early test events and, despite the hitches and bugs, it was a tremendous amount of fun. While something like that scale of engagement is still a promised feature that the team hopes to implement down the line, that’s not the experience that shipped when the game went live.

A German soldier in WWII lines up a shot with an MP-44. Behind him is another soldier with a Panzerfaust. Image: Driven Arts/Graffiti Games

As launched, Days of War is a 16- or 32-player class-based online shooter that just feels off. The in-game factions — which include Americans, Britains, Germans, and Russians — all draw their weapons from period-accurate arsenals. But the weapons hew toward historical interpretations, and don’t function comparatively between factions. American riflemen, for instance, get a semi-automatic weapon with reduced damage output. Meanwhile, other factions are one-shotting the enemy from across the map. Other differences impact recoil effects. As an example, while British and the Russians have support weapons that are extremely useful, both the American and German support weapons have recoil that makes them a liability. The result is an asymmetrical conflict, with some sides unable or unwilling to explore classes outside the standard rifleman or assault.

Invisible walls are common in the environment, often preventing me from jumping onto pieces of terrain or through passages that otherwise seem open. Jump-ducking is a skill that I’ve had to relearn in order to get out certain windows and onto some ledges. While the audio has good directionality, the soundscape itself is flat. Also, the running speed is just a bit too fast. The effect is that surfaces appear slippery, with avatars running in place or sliding across slick surfaces. As a result, gameplay often feels frantic. There were many times when I could barely let loose a half-dozen rounds before being gunned down.

An American soldier in WWII reloading a BAR as he stands in a sewer. Image: Driven Arts/Graffiti Games

Tending toward the ridiculous, Days of War includes some of the most bizarre death animations that I’ve seen in some time. The majority of the game’s deaths are bloodless affairs, with characters slinking down to the ground like kids playing in the backyard. Then suddenly someone’s head will explode, shooting a fountain of blood all over the screen. At times, it feels like I’m playing Gears 5 due to the excessive gore. The worse parts come with Days of War’s dismemberment mechanics. Bodies fall to pieces after being hit with a bazooka or a grenade, but, due to the stiff animations and unmoving faces, it looks less like a human body being torn apart and more like an industrial accident at a mannequin factory.

Several times my character locked into a T-pose upon death. Other times he curled up into a reverse fetal position, and on several occasions he suddenly rocketed a few miles away from the map itself.

My biggest issues are with the gameplay and the map design itself. There are so many blind corners that the only reasonable way to push against the opposition on some maps is to blindly bunny hop over incoming grenades and hit the ground, chattering back and forth with the A and D keys desperately dodging. Spawn camping is also a surprisingly effective way to rack up kills, thanks to a limited number of spawn points and maps littered with hidey holes.

Some spawn areas are blocked by terrain that’s impenetrable by the enemy, which allows players to at least get onto the map. But, on more than one occasion my team became locked in by a determined group of enemy players. There was just no way forward. The only way off our digital beachhead was to spawn in as a machine gunner, an entire class that I found otherwise useless, and put down some suppressing fire.

Quite frankly, if you’re dying for classic WWII action there are better options. Battalion 1944 has the same goal of modernizing the classic WWII shooter, and pulled it off pretty well. The latest season dropped in December, and has had mostly positive ratings on Steam. You could even dip into Call of Duty: World War II, which continues to have a thriving community. There’s even a handful of dedicated players still rocking out in Day of Defeat: Source on a regular basis.

Sadly, Days of War feels like its developers tried and failed to reach a bridge too far, and that’s a real shame.