It’s hard to believe how the time has flown, but the Call of Duty series has officially turned 18 years old. With the very first game releasing back in 2003, the series has been on one hell of a journey.
The eighteenth game due to be released this week in the form of Call of Duty Vanguard. In light of the series out-ageing most of its player base, let’s take a look at how the series has ranked critically, according to Metacritic.
Call of Duty: Ghosts – 68
Stone cold last on the list is a title that I think we all saw coming. Call of Duty: Ghosts was released in 2013 and was developed by Infinity Ward. In defence of the ugly duckling of the series, Ghosts did find itself in a tricky spot. As a cross-generation title, it had to span the incredibly technical performance gap between the Xbox 360 and PS3, and the Xbox One and PS4.
Sadly, Ghosts didn’t live up to expectations. Its story of a fallen America did nothing to reinvent the wheel, and its graphics appeared even muddier than the Modern Warfare games that preceded it. It’s not one that fans will be revisiting in a hurry.
Call of duty: Infinite Warfare – 73
Another Infinity Ward title, Infinite Warfare is another Call of Duty that fans just didn’t take to. Unlike Ghosts, however, Infinite Warfare did have some innovative tricks up its sleeve. The single-player campaign is hosted on a gigantic spaceship that operates as a hub. From there, players are free to jet off to different planets and interstellar locations for each mission.
It’s certainly a Call of Duty game with spectacle. However, this was also another Call of Duty that followed the futuristic trend. Players found themselves a little sick of the jetpack boosting antics by the time Infinite Warfare came around, hence why it’s so low on this list.
Call of Duty: WWII – 73
WWII was the last Call of Duty game to be led by the development team at Sledgehammer. That’s the same group of people that are releasing Vanguard later this week.
The swap back to a historical setting was a breath of refreshing air for much of the playerbase. Its tight focus on a band of brothers story helped to focus the narrative on a more personal story, rather than one of global warfare.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 – 73
Black Ops 3 arrived bang slap in the middle of the era when Call of Duty was obsessed with futuristic shooters. Yet again, it featured soldiers with fancy jet boosters. This meant that players were more often in the air than actually on the ground. Oh, and there was wall-running too. Black Ops 3 also introduced a specialist ability system that would also later be used in Black Ops 4.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 – 74
I’m a little doe-eyed for Black Ops 2, mostly because it was my first Call of Duty as a teenager. Black Ops 2 kicked off the series’ infatuation with a futuristic setting, continuing the Cold War war storyline into an era when killer drones are the new enemy.
Black Ops 2 did nothing exceptionally, but it certainly was a jack of all trades. A serviceable campaign, decent multiplayer, and fun as hell zombies mode makes it one of the better ones on this list.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War – 76
And then we get to Cold War. Just like Ghosts, Cold War had the tricky task of bridging the gap between console generations. Not only that, but it arrived at a time when Call of Duty was evolving quite drastically as a franchise.
The reboot of Modern Warfare brought with it a new engine and new standard for the series, and Warzone only complicated things further. It’s by no means a bad game, but certainly sits in the shadow of its predecessor from Infinity Ward.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare – 78
I’m personally quite surprised to see Advanced Warfare this high on the list. Maybe it’s because it arrived after Ghosts, so the bar to clear wasn’t so high. This was also the first title that introduced jetpacks and boosting, so maybe the novelty hadn’t quite worn off yet.
This was Sledgehammer’s first standalone entry to the Call of Duty series. Without Advanced Warfare, we would never have seen WWII and almost certainly wouldn’t be getting Vanguard later this week.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 – 78
Modern Warfare 3 had a lot riding on its shoulders. After the immense success and popularity of Modern Warfare and Modern Warfare 2, it had to somehow tie up a story in which a literal third world war had broken out.
With such lofty goals, it’s no wonder that it’s the lowest reviewed of that series. However, it still holds up remarkably well and fostered plenty of cherished childhood memories for plenty of gamers currently in their twenties.
Call of Duty: Vanguard – 81
Early reviews for the latest entry in the Call of Duty series are placing it around the middle of the field as CoD games are ranked. We felt about the same in our review – while it does very little to reinvent the wheel, Vanguard is still a solid reproduction of Call of Duty by numbers. Fans of Modern Warfare especially will appreciate the move back to the 2019 engine. Stunning visuals and a surprisingly enjoyable campaign keep Sledgehammer’s latest entry from being a bore.
Call of Duty: Black Ops – 81
Now we’re getting into the classics! Black Ops kickstarted a whole new era for Call of Duty, bridging that gap between historical and modern day shooter. It introduced an intriguing and refreshing take on the Cold War featuring a mixture of espionage and more heavy handed warfare.
Black Ops also did a fantastic job of fleshing out the Zombies mode introduced with World at War. Looking back on the series as a whole, much of its DNA can be traced back to the additions brought in with the original Black Ops.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019) – 81
The 2019 reboot of Modern Warfare is possibly the biggest turning point of the series yet. Bringing in a new engine completely overhauled how Call of Duty looks and feels. Of course, Modern Warfare also introduced the massively popular Warzone that’s now the free to play pillar of the series.
Not only did it move the series forward, but it was a neat homage to the series’ past. Rekindling lost characters like Captain Price and spinning them into a new story has breathed new life into the series. It’d be a shame if we didn’t see a sequel to this reboot, which given recent leaks is looking likely.
Call of Duty 3 – 82
We don’t hear too much about Call of Duty 3, yet it remains one of the highest reviewed Call of Duty’s on the list. It was released in 2006 and developed by Treyarch, who later went on to make the Black Ops series. Yet again, this was a title that straddled console generations, spanning both the original Xbox and PS2 as well as the Xbox 360 and PS3.
This put plenty of strain on the developer at the time, which is quite clear to see from gameplay. It looks particularly dated which isn’t helped by the lack of a PC port. That version was reportedly scrapped due to time constraints. It would also explain why so few people seemed to have played this aging WWII shooter.
Call of Duty: World at War – 83
Speaking of WWII, World at War was the next game to be developed by Treyarch after Call of Duty 3. Released in 2008, this was a huge step up from the studio’s last outing in the global theatre of war. It’s surprisingly well reviewed, even after having a tough act to follow with Modern Warfare releasing the year before it.
Most people will remember World at War for introducing the novel concept of the zombies mode. Black Ops would later flesh this out properly, but World at War is where the fun really began.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 – 83
This Treyarch title isn’t one that I expected to see so far up the list, especially with it being so modern. It was released in 2018 and was the last Call of Duty to use the now outdated engine before Modern Warfare completely revamped the series.
While set in yet another futuristic setting, Black Ops 4 ditched the fancy jetpacks and made a big deal of keeping players firmly on the ground. It also heavily leaned into the Specialists system in which players could choose from a selection of hero abilities.
Call of Duty 2 – 86
Call of Duty 2 capitalised on the success of the first game, pushing it forward in ways that seem trivial to us now. The campaign was set in WWII again, this time focusing on the stories of four individual soldiers. Each of them were from a different faction: The Red Army, the US Army, and two from the British Forces.
You’ll likely laugh at the sort of innovations Call of Duty 2 brought to the table. Back then, auto-regenerating health and grenade indicator icons were the height of excitement. Call of Duty has surely come a long way since then, but it’s fun to look back and see where the series started.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 – 86
Here we are – top three. I think we all expected Modern Warfare 2 to be somewhere near the top, and rightfully so. It couldn’t quite reach the heights that the original Modern Warfare did, but it was a stunning sequel nonetheless.
The epic globetrotting game gave us so many iconic levels that are still fantastic to play today. Ones that spring to mind are the favela mission in Brazil, as well as zooming down an icy mountain on a snowmobile. It’s something that’s straight out of James Bond.
Call of Duty: United Offensive – 87
Before we get to the one that started it all, the standalone expansion ranks in just behind it. With a respectable 87 score, it’s clear that this was a beloved entry to the series. It released in 2004 and brought with it an entirely new single player campaign, complete with new battles and all new weapons. Players could take part in iconic battles including the Battle of the Bulge and The Battle of Kursk.
United Offensive also expanded the multiplayer experience, adding all new maps for players to enjoy. These new maps were much more open, allowing for vehicular gameplay to make its debut in the series. This one often gets forgotten about since it’s not a numbered entry, but it’s certainly one of the more critically well received entries.
Call of Duty – 91
Who’d have thought that with 17 entries in the series that the very first would be ranked so near to the top? Well, it turns out that’s the case with the original Call of Duty! Infinity Ward worked some wicked magic with its original title back in 2003.
Call of Duty is mostly known for its modern day depictions these days, but the series actually began rooted in WWII. Back then, the game was praised for its squad-based approach to AI. Shooters like DOOM and Medal of Honor had previously focused on providing a lone wolf power fantasy. Call of Duty flipped that to make you feel as part of a squad.
Of course, it’s incredibly dated to look back upon now. But it’s where Call of Duty’s journey started.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare – 92
I don’t think anyone is going to argue with this one. Modern Warfare, like the reboot that preceded it, set a whole new bar for the Call of Duty series back in 2007. It brought the games out of the past and slap bang into the modern day.
Presenting a particularly ambitious story about world nations coming together to prevent World War 3, it introduces us to surprisingly heartfelt characters. While its successors ended up becoming a little cringeworthy in their “hoo-ah, semper fi” energy, Modern Warfare maintained a fairly grounded approach.
The remaster of this classic from 2016 holds up remarkably well, and it’s one of the only games on this list that’s absolutely still worth a replay.
This list is the critical ranking of the Call of Duty games according to Metacritic. What’s your personal ranking of the series? Let us know across our social channels.
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[Featured Image Credit: Activision]