These are all the Call of Duty games and what sets them apart

Kenneth Williams • December 16, 2021 7:09 am

Call of Duty games all have something special to them, whether that’s a twist on the multiplayer component or a controversial campaign.

With the release of Call of Duty: Vanguard, the CoD franchise is up to 19 mainline games and dozens of spinoffs. The series is officially the best-selling first-person shooter franchise of all time and the most popular video game chain made in the United States. Whether you’re looking for an update on the latest releases or curious if your old favorite is still playable, these are all the mainline Call of Duty games released since 2003.

Call of Duty: Vanguard

Vanguard is the newest release in the Call of Duty series. The game returns to WWII and the campaign tells a fictional story about the origins of the United States special forces. The campaign is told through a series of flashbacks from four allied operatives captured by the Nazi regime. After breaking free from their prison, they undergo one last mission to stop a potential Fourth Reich from forming.

Fan reception to the game’s multiplayer has been generally positive with a few complaints about the heavy-handed cosmetic microtransactions and a slower pace compared to recent entries. Still, the game definitely fills the role of 2021’s mainline Call of Duty release. 

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War

Black Ops Cold War was a triumphant return to form for the Black Ops subseries. The previous title is widely considered one of the worst modern CoD games. Cold War responded by pushing things to the extreme. Instead of focusing on the conspiracies and intrigue of previous Black Ops games, Cold War takes a bombastic approach by emulating action films of the 1980s.

Inspired by 80s action flicks, Black Ops stands out from all the other Call of Duty games by letting you play as action stars like John McClane from Die Hard and Rambo. Some fans decried the new tone as a total break from the original Black Ops series, but that trend really started with Black Ops 4 anyway. Cold War servers are still up, but Treyarch and Raven Software will no longer push new content updates as of Vanguard’s release.

Call of Duty: Warzone

Warzone technically isn’t a mainline Call of Duty game, but it’s popular enough to be included in a list of all of them. Warzone is Call of Duty’s take on a battle royale. Black Ops 4 experimented with the battle royale formula, but Warzone perfected it by speeding up the pace and introducing a ton of customization options. The use of vehicles ranging from trucks to helicopters adds to the excitement, and the gulag system keeps things tense even after a fight is lost.

While hackers are still a rampant problem, the game retains an active player base. Warzone will be continually developed alongside Call of Duty: Vanguard. The latest entry was even announced with a special player-versus-computer mission on Warzone’s map Verdansk. Considering that the game is still extremely profitable for Activision, expect Warzone to continue for a few more CoD games after Vanguard.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

Despite sharing a tagline with Call of Duty 4, Modern Warframe is a completely new game meant to reboot the Modern Warfare subseries. The game’s campaign is considered one of the best in modern Call of Duty history. The stealth mission Going Dark is particularly memorable for its mixing of stealth and nonlinear level design, both rarities for the series. 

Some of the Modern Warfare trademarks like Realism mode and Spec Ops missions received mixed reviews, but most of the expected features were present. All the servers for the fourth-most recent Call of Duty game are still up, though most fans are happy to stick with the single-player modes.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4

Black Ops 4 is probably the worst-reviewed Call of Duty game in recent memory. The title split Call of Duty up into three different modes; multiplayer, battle royale, and zombies. The lack of a single-player campaign was heavily criticized, and the battle royale mode was unfocused and painfully slow compared to the usual pace of CoD. It would eventually form the basis of Call of Duty Warzone, which is generally considered a solid battle royale.

The multiplayer time-to-kill was panned for feeling more like Halo than Call of Duty, and the sheer complexity of Black Ops 4 zombies could give new players a headache. While commonly considered a failure, this edition taught Treyarch several lessons that would serve to improve all the Call of Duty games that came after it. Black Ops 4 is still up and running on all platforms.

Call of Duty: WWII

WWII was supposed to represent a final return to World War 2, but that obviously didn’t pan out given the latter release of Vanguard. The campaign was the usual highlight reel of WWII events including D-Day and the liberation of Paris, but the personal story centered around Private “Red” was generally well-liked. 

The multiplayer received mild criticism for feeling very fast-paced for a vintage shooter, but Call of Duty fans generally felt satisfied with the game’s multiplayer. The biggest gripes are related to the cosmetics, which often look completely out of place for a historical war shooter. Based on the early cosmetics for Vanguard, it seems the developer has taken this criticism to heart. WWII servers are still up in case anyone wants a break from Vanguard. 

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare

Call of Duty’s 2016 release Infinite Warfare is a polarizing addition to the series. Instead of fighting over land on Earth, the Infinite Warfare campaign is a war for the entire solar system. Specialist mode, which players unlocked after beating the campaign for the first time, was extremely ambitious. Health did not regenerate and players could become injured by enemy fire, reducing movement speed or even disarming them. It was a strange new way to experience Call of Duty, and very few players actually gave it a try.

Infinite Warfare was also controversial when it was announced. The trailer became the second-most disliked video in YouTube history within days. Fans were upset about the drastic setting change. Complaints continued after the game’s release with imbalanced multiplayer and frequent glitches. On the bright side, Infinite’s zombies mode is pretty solid according to most hardcore fans.

Call of Duty: Black Ops III

Black Ops II’s campaign hinted that future Black Ops titles would bridge the gap between real past conflicts and fictional future wars, but Black Ops III decided to go entirely with the latter. Instead of the futurism of Advanced Warfare, Black Ops III attempted to predict what war would look like in 2065. The campaign protagonist has extensive cybernetic enhancement which allows for several movement options and a faster pace than previous entries.

Black Ops III’s biggest misstep was its multiplayer-only release on seventh-generation consoles. Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 gamers couldn’t play the campaign or any of the co-op content on their preferred consoles, and they had to be constantly connected to the internet to even browse the main menu.

Out of all the Call of Duty games, Black Ops III is probably the best attempt to bridge the gap between realistic modern warfare and the future of international conflict.

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

Advanced Warfare was Sledgehammer Games’ attempt to reinvent Call of Duty as the futuristic shooter series that Modern Warfare 3 promised. The wallrun mechanic was probably the most polarizing part of previews, but many fans appreciated the expanded movement options. The game’s maps also changed to suit airborne movement, which resulted in wider areas with more verticality.

The campaign and multiplayer were generally well-received, though the former prominently featured actor Kevin Spacey who was later accused of severe sexual misconduct. Though some parts have aged poorly, Advanced Warfare is still remembered as an innovative entry with exciting movement mechanics and great customization.

Call of Duty: Ghosts

Before Black Ops 4, Ghosts was generally considered the low point of all the Call of Duty games. Between the unpopular rap song from the trailer, the overly complicated unlock system, and mediocre movement options compared to Black Ops II, fans mostly derided Ghosts at launch. But as the game has aged, Ghosts is sometimes fondly remembered for its cinematic campaign and its array of cooperative modes. Fans can still play online, but the game is best experienced in offline co-op.

Call of Duty: Black Ops II

Fans didn’t know it at the time, but Black Ops II was the end of an era. The game was the last CoD game to use a real-world conflict as its setting until WWII five years later. Black Ops took the fast movement and conspiracy themes of the original and ran with them, creating a fascinating campaign that questioned the United States’ actions during the Cold War and drew parallels with modern conflicts in the Middle East.

The campaign swapped back and forth between original protagonist Mason and his son David fighting 40 years apart from each other. The Strike Force missions are particularly memorable. Black Ops II multiplayer took elements from both eras, resulting in a varied set of weapons that always kept things fresh.

It also introduced the pick ten gun customization system which has returned for several games. If you ever want a blast from the past, Black Ops II servers are still up on all platforms. It’s the oldest game you can still play on official servers.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

After the great success of the previous two entries, fan expectations for Modern Warfare 3 were sky-high. The marketing for the game emphasized that it was a direct sequel to the highly-successful Modern Warfare 2. Instead of zombies, the developers experimented with a survival mode where players took on waves of human bots. This mode introduced the heavily-armored juggernauts. The cooperative mode is warmly remembered, and the campaign had some high points including an incredible final mission in Dust to Dust. Another depicted terrorist attack caused the game to be censored or outright banned in some countries.

While not terrible by most metrics, the multiplayer was generally considered underwhelming. After all the glitches in Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops, Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games decided to play it conservatively for this launch. The game was reasonably balanced, but it lacked the movement options or hilarious jank of the previous entries. The multiplayer is no longer available on console or PC, but survival and the campaign are still an option.

Call of Duty: Black Ops

Black Ops is still the wildest Call of Duty game in the entire series. The Vietnam War and Cold War were largely untouched by the Call of Duty series at this point. The original Black Ops game tackled both of them along with the MK ULTRA project in one fell swoop. Campaign protagonist Alex Mason was a joy to play as whether he was setting the Vietnamese jungle on fire with a dragon’s breath shotgun or strapped to a chair screaming about what the numbers mean.

Black Ops multiplayer had the difficult job of following up on Modern Warfare 2. It miraculously succeeded. The dolphin dive turned drop-shotting from a clunky exploit to a stylish movement technique. Many Call of Duty fans divide all the games by whether or not you can dolphin dive in them. Gun customization was excellent and the maps were solid across the board. While original Black Ops multiplayer is now impossible to play, the campaign is still worth returning to.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

Out of all the Call of Duty games, Modern Warfare 2 is probably the most influential. CoD was already a reasonably popular franchise, but the stellar gameplay and timing of MW2’s release made it a household name.

The multiplayer was fast-paced and frantic with tons of iconic maps like Rust, Estate, Terminal, and more. The multiplayer is also remembered for its insane balance, intentional and otherwise. The javelin glitch remains hilarious and the pre-nerf akimbo Model 1887s can send chills down many gamers’ spines to this day.

Modern Warfare 2’s campaign also started a nationwide conversation on depictions of political violence in video games. In the level No Russian, players could shoot up an airport full of civilians with automatic machine guns. The developers defended the level by emphasizing that the player is never instructed to join the shooting and could complete the level without harming a single innocent.

The remastered Modern Warfare 2 campaign is available on multiple platforms if you’d like to give it a revisit. 

Call of Duty: World at War

After a single game focused on a different conflict, the Call of Duty series had to jump back into the mid-1900s. World at War was the first in a long line of Call of Duty games to return to World War II.

World at War sets itself apart from the original trilogy by showing the perspective of multiple Allied countries. Players stormed the Japanese coastline, sniped their way through Stalingrad, and of course, captured the beaches of Normandy. Perhaps the most memorable part of the World at War campaign is the difficulty level. Enemies send an absolute avalanche of grenades on every level.

While official World at War servers have been down for years, the PC version is still alive and kicking thanks to a dedicated community. Most servers are either heavily modded or feature a voluntary list of rules that slow the game down into a more tactical experience. The game can run on a smart fridge at this point, so feel free to grab it from Steam and skulk the streets of France if you feel like it.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare sparked a golden age for Call of Duty that lasted six years until the release of Ghosts. Modern Warfare was the first of all the Call of Duty games to break from the standard World War 2 setting and break into the modern era. That meant a modern look, an innovative single-player campaign, and fully-automatic assault rifles for everyone. 

The game is still fondly remembered for its innovative setting and gameplay. Call of Duty’s developers agree, which prompted a remake in 2016 and later a complete reboot. The original Modern Warfare servers were taken down long ago, but fans can still enjoy the 2016 remastered version on most platforms.

Call of Duty 3

Call of Duty 3 is the grand finale of the original CoD trilogy. This entry stuck fairly close to the established formula, but took a more open approach to level design. Several missions in the campaign plop the player down in the middle of a battlefield with nothing more than a short list of objectives. The series quickly switched to a linear and cinematic approach starting in Modern Warfare. 

The multiplayer is barebones with little in the way of customization and only a handful of maps to choose from. It’s interesting to go back and see how the series evolved, and that’s pretty much the only reason to play Call of Duty 3 nowadays.

Call of Duty 2

The first game set the tone of the series, but Call of Duty 2 is where the basic gameplay framework truly solidified. Carrying two guns, using iron sights, multiple grenade types, and stationary weapons were all first created for CoD 2. The campaign and multiplayer are ancient by modern standards, but you can still see a hint of Call of Duty 2 in all the games that came after it.

Perhaps the most notable impact of Call of Duty 2 was a false advertising claim that actually led to legal consequences. A television ad for the game depicted real-world events from a first-person perspective. A handful of consumers sued on the grounds that it misrepresented the actual gameplay and graphics. The ad was subsequently banned in the United Kingdom. Graphics have gotten a lot better now, but realistic combat footage is still a rarity in all the modern Call of Duty advertisement campaigns.

Call of Duty 

The first Call of Duty game and the one that started it all. The original Call of Duty might as well belong in a museum at this point, but it’s still an important title to look back on. At this time, Infinity Ward chose to set Call of Duty apart with a focus on AI teammates. It’s easy to take friendly bots for granted now, but this was a major feature at the time.

The first Call of Duty game is also the only one to feature a fully-fledged expansion. United Offensive introduced a new campaign, a bunch of new weapons, and even drivable vehicles. Most players don’t know that one of the most requested features was added in the very first game. Nowadays, Call of Duty gives new content and balance patches for free and monetizes with battle passes and cosmetic DLC instead.

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