Ranking a Decade of Call of Duty Games (2010-2019) – KindaSortaGamer’s Picks
With the new decade upon us I thought it would be fitting to rank the past 10 years of Call of Duty, the annual king of shooters which has sold millions of copies. Ranking is usually a fun endeavor and gives us the opportunity to reminisce on the best and the worst of our time.
When I rank these games, I’m looking at the cumulative experience the game delivers. That include the Campaign, the Multiplayer and occasionally the extra modes such as Zombies and Battle Royale. This means that I’m not nitpicking on smaller issues such as weapon imbalances or map packs but instead looking at the full picture of the game.
Note: This ranking only includes the core annual titles that released in the past 10 years and ignores any handheld and mobile entries.
This gem barely misses the cut off as it was released 11 years ago. It’s unfortunate because if it had made the list, I would have easily ranked in the top 3, if not number 1 itself.
Modern Warfare 2 is the game that started my love for the franchise, and surely did for many other FPS game enthusiasts. An all-around triumph, Modern Warfare 2 excelled at creating stunning sequences in its campaign that felt like a cinematic blockbuster. The astounding score by Hollywood composer Hans Zimmer and the terrific marketing campaigns surely helped make Modern Warfare 2 worthy of its record-breaking sales.
MW2’s best was in its multiplayer, which in retrospect feels like the base that made Call of Duty to be the king of shooters that it is today. Every weapon was satisfying to use thanks to the plethora of attachments and variety of perks. And the multiplayer maps… well I can honestly say that I think they still remain the best in the series to date. Oh, and let’s not forget that this was the first game to introduce the game winning Nuke killstreak at 25 kills.
All in all, MW2 was a masterpiece in every almost every way and is rightfully deserving of the love given by its fanbase.
Writing this opinion piece, the only thing I knew for certain coming in was which game would be ranked the lowest. Call of Duty: Ghosts was a game that promised little and gave less. The story was utterly bland and immemorable. The multiplayer was painful and barely worth playing. Even the killstreaks were completely lackluster and unenjoyable. Perhaps studio Infinity Ward wanted to make a game that resonated with fans of the character Simon “Ghost” Riley from Modern Warfare 2. Unfortunately for both them and us, MW2 Ghost was already dead and CoD Ghosts took place in a universe where he didn’t exist.
The ‘Ghosts’ in this game are a group of elite soldiers that are just as bland as the rest of the game. Not even the playable dog (or the memes that surround it) can make up for the entirety of this game’s existence. I really think the less said about this game the better, so let’s move on!
9. Black Ops 4
This is an odd title to rank because it is the only game on the list that doesn’t include a story mode and is solely a multiplayer experience. Story elements exist through multiplayer progression and deliver a surprisingly interesting story, although it requires playing the game online and a significant amount of playtime to access. Personally, I think Treyarch should have postponed the game and pushed the story with an entire campaign. Nevertheless, Black Ops 4 released with only a multiplayer, zombies and the first ever Battle Royale mode for CoD called Blackout.
The core multiplayer game was very similar to that of Black Ops 3, taking place in roughly the same setting and consisting of generally the same gameplay. Blackout turned out to be the real star of the game with it’s in depth weapon customizing and demanding gameplay. It worked like a more functional version of PUBG which wasn’t necessarily a flaw since Battle Royale games had been relatively new to gaming (and that PUBG itself very much lacked polish). It’s a shame because I think the game would be much higher regarded had there been a proper story mode worthy of the Black Ops name.
8. Modern Warfare 3
The final of the insanely popular trilogy by Infinity Ward, Modern Warfare 3 missed the punchline with their campaign as it relied too much on recycled material without delivering the same quality. While the missions were well put together and enjoyable to play, the story never hit the same notes that the previous two games did, making this the worst in the trilogy. Even the games’ shocking moment was tame in comparison to the infamous “No Russian” mission from MW2. Perhaps they had raised the bar too high or had burned out on most of their ideas. Whatever the case, most of the campaign can be written off as forgettable and didn’t do justice to Task Force 141.
Multiplayer was also disappointing, mostly due to the high standards MW2 had laid out. There were some unique design choices that would be further developed by future Call of Duty’s, such as the score-based support killstreak and the Specialist class. However, many of the maps were too easy to spawn trap and were utterly boring. The killstreaks and weapons were rehashed and, in the end, felt like a lesser version of MW2. And even if you did enjoy the multiplayer, the servers were a constant issue as players would be stuck migrating hosts for longer times than the match itself. The added survival mode was enjoyable for a time but was hardly a replacement for the rest of the game. Modern Warfare 3 will sadly be forgotten throughout time for it’s far too safe design choices and uninteresting gameplay.
The second game fully developed by Sledgehammer Games, WW2 was one of the more grounded games in the past decade, taking place in (you guessed it!) World War 2. WW2 benefited heavily from the time it released, a period where there was a heavy drought of CoD games taking place in the past. The main story should have been harder hitting than it was, but lacked immersion due to the Call of Duty formula that made it hard to empathize with. Surviving a crashing train and watching it explode meters away from you takes away from the gravity of war that should have been delivered for a historic shooter. Perhaps the mainstream Call of Duty games had evolved into an experience that didn’t quite fit into the form of historical pieces.
In retrospect, there wasn’t anything memorable about the multiplayer other than the setting it took place in. Gunplay was more toned down to reflect the time period (with good reason) and had players slowing down and playing tactically rather than jumping on walls or parkouring. Trench warfare saw a comeback but was crippled by terrible luck-based spawning and campers. Ultimately, if you have a fixation for this era of warfare then you would have undoubtedly found more enjoyment in the game than most. However, if you’re indifferent to the time period as I and many were, then there wasn’t much to go back to.
6. Black Ops III
I really wish I could say this game was better than it was, but not even the awesome setting of 2050 can make up for this game shortcomings. While I appreciated the combat in the story which had players fighting futuristic mech that are akin to Metal Gear, the actual story was completely batshit. It’s been 5 years since the game came out and I still have no proper understanding of what took place in the campaign. Worse was the fact that it didn’t continue the storyline of the Mason family from Black Ops 1 and 2. Granted, the utter confusion was entertaining to experience with a friend (since this campaign allowed cooperative play) and the general gameplay of the campaign was fresher than most.
The multiplayer shared the setting of the campaign and introduced a new specialist system. Players would choose one of nine characters each with their own unique powerup ability. PvP matches were more on the frantic side, praising shooting ability above all else. Maps were well thought out and gunplay was usually balanced. But apart from the specialist abilities the multiplayer didn’t bring much new to the table. If anything, it felt like this game existed solely to satisfy the status quo for CoD games.
5. Advanced Warfare
This is the only game in the franchise where the real star was the motion capture performances of several characters. Most notably the protagonist Private Mitchell played by Troy Baker and the villain Jonathan Irons played by… Kevin Spacey. Yeah… This in itself is a major hit on how this game will age moving forward thanks to the tarnishing allegations towards the actor. But regardless of what your thoughts are on Kevin Spacey today, it is undeniable that his powerhouse performance was the clear showcase in the story. My most memorable scene was where his character addressed the United Nations and quite literally declared war on them and the rest of the world.
While the Exo-Skeleton mechanics added a new dimension to the single-player, it didn’t translate the same way to the multiplayer. PvP matches would inevitably become fights where players are jumping around the map in a comical game of pogo stick shooting. It was fun for the first couple of weeks but eventually lost its momentum once players realized the game felt less like a Call of Duty game than any of its predecessors.
Nevertheless, the game is certainly worth playing for the campaign alone…if you’re able to move past the awkwardness of Spacey being in the game.
4. Infinite Warfare
Thankfully Infinity Ward chose not to continue the story of its previous installment (yeah, I’m still ripping on Ghosts) and instead chose to bring a new title in that of Infinite Warfare. Although a riskier venture, the creative choices taken by the studio paid off as the result was a setting that none other has dared to match.
The Campaign felt surprisingly similar to Mass Effect taking place in the future where space travel and combat are the norm. The player takes control of Nick Reyes, the de-facto captain of the space ship Retribution as he combats a hostile force that threatens peace for Earth and the solar system. The setting allowed players to see some insanely cool sci-fi tech that was mesmerizing and still grounded enough to make it believable. But most impressively was the story that proved that, no matter what time period you’re from, the tragedies of war are all the same.
It’s a shame that Infinity Ward didn’t maintain their innovation with its multiplayer in Infinite Warfare. All the maps felt utterly small and the PvP gameplay was significantly less tactical, despite taking place in the far future where multiple planets are now accessible. None of the high-stakes atmospheres that the campaign demonstrated could be felt as you found yourself jumping around evading spawn campers using ridiculous weapons more akin to a game like Fortnite. Worse yet was the loot drop system which provided a certain set of weapons that could only be obtained through micro-transactions. While Activision has seemingly learned from this mistake and strayed away from this mechanic with their most recent title, the scars from this experience still haunt their reputation.
3. Modern Warfare (2019)
A reboot to the original trilogy, Modern Warfare capitalizes on the fandom by revitalizing Captain Price’s team in the modern era. It seems that Infinity Ward aims to fix the choices of its previous games by setting up a new group for Task Force 141. The story may not have been as risqué as the original game was but it still delivered a good war story, particularly with the elements revolving the fictional country Urzikstan.
The multiplayer is a hit or miss as some of the maps are notorious for terrible spawns. Thankfully, Infinity ward has provided the best support for a CoD to date by providing free map packs which add in both new and classic maps. An important mention is that this is the first title in the history of the franchise to have cross-platform multiplayer, a major step towards the future of gaming. Last month we saw the launch of Warzone, the free-to-play expansion which added in the Modern Warfare take on the popular Battle Royale mode. I have spent many hours playing this game mode alone and the fact that it’s free without any pay-to-win additions is exceptional. Modern Warfare makes it to the top tier of the Call of Duty games for its support and continued content.
2. Black Ops
The first in a series that would eventually span 4 titles (so far!), Black Ops is the game that created the oh so wonderful “The numbers, Mason!” meme. The story is that of Alex Mason, a CIA operative in the Cold War who is trying to recall events of his time in combat alongside his fellow soldier and good friend Frank Woods. Terrific storytelling and some mostly enjoyable missions made for one of the best campaigns the franchise has ever produced. It’s a shame that the best part of the story can’t be discussed without spoiling some key moments. If you have not experienced the story yet yourself, I would highly recommend you watch a playthrough to see one of the best twists in gaming history.
Multiplayer maintained the cold war setting and had players using weapons from that time, which was enjoyable albeit a few issues with balancing. Most weapons were ignored as the best weapons were monumentally overpowered and spawn trapping was far too easy to accomplish. On the plus side, fan favorite map Nuketown was introduced in the game and gave players endless carnage with its ridiculously small layout. As well, the Zombies mode was insanely fun and held my personal favorite level, Kino der Toten. Black Ops is a true classic certainly deserving of the many sequels to follow it.
1. Black Ops 2
The futuristic sequel to their original Cold War based game, Treyarch brought the whole package with Black Ops 2. An exceptional campaign coupled with a thoroughly well put together multiplayer made for a Call of Duty game that delivered more than we could have hoped for.
The story would switch between that of Alex Mason (after the events of the Cold War from Black Ops 1) to that of his son David Mason in 2025. This elapsed narrative was refreshing, delivering an expansive story with multiple characters and a wide variety of gameplay that differed based on the setting. There were many familiar faces for players of the original Black Ops but the real star of the game was in the villain Raul Menendez. Raul antagonized the player in both timelines but his motives as a villain, charismatic approach and daunting demeanor are what made him so memorable.
The story of Black Ops 2 was all the more unique because it’s the only game in the series with multiple endings. Choices that the player makes throughout the story resulted in one of four endings, varying based on the players morality and decision making. This made for a campaign that was worthy of many replays to see what your choices would result for the future of the universe. No other CoD has continued this trend and it’s truly a shame as it made for one of the most engaging and shocking campaigns.
Black Ops 2 even nailed it’s multiplayer. All of the maps worked perfectly with the PvP gameplay Treyarch designed, with some of the maps such as Hijacked and Carrier becoming instant classics. The year of 2025 gave opportunity for some fresh yet familiar gunplay, which is ultimately what CoD fans are hoping for. Maps weren’t based on RNG like spawning (which most of the CoD’s tend to be) and instead are better laid out for a more skill-based experience. Likewise, killstreaks reflected the futuristic era by showcasing technology that could very well be within our grasp.
Black Ops 2 was arguably the most ambitious title in the series. It released in a time when only modern and historic based shooters were thriving and Treyarch could have easily gone with the safe decision to stick to the Cold War setting. And yet, they delivered a game that proved Call of Duty could be more than just a boring annual shooting game. Full of surprises in all the right ways, BO2 pushed what Call of Duty games could be while still delivering the flair fans wanted.
This is a guest post from KindaSortaGamer. KindaSortaGamer is a semi-professional blogger and lifetime gamer. He plays a little bit of every genre and doesn’t really like Call of Duty: Ghosts.
Check out more guest posts here!