Changing the Game: Why Call of Duty will never be Halo

Every account of the latest entry in the Call of Duty stable, Black Ops II, say that it is a more than worthy shooter and the best in the franchise so far. We’ll also have our review up this week as to whether or not we’re on board with those ratings. But with that aside, we have to discuss something that we feel Call of Duty will never become: Halo.

Don’t get us wrong, there is a reason Call of Duty has proven so successful. It brings together fantastic multiplayer and single-player campaign play with a tried-and-true formula. Our only gripe with it is that it hasn’t changed the game.

The reason Halo 4 is so successful is that 343 Industries managed to keep the functioning parts of the previous games intact while building on them, all the while introducing new mechanics and an entirely new species that, you guessed it, changes the game.

In Call of Duty, because the series is based in reality (by that, we don’t necessarily mean present day, but on Earth with humans and no alien races), there are far fewer ways to expand the series. It will never go to other planets or have plasma weapons. It will never pit an alien race against the destruction of an entire planet against a completely different alien race hell bent on consuming all life in the galaxy. These are storytelling points that Halo has become known for, and it has managed to maintain a very human story while interacting with so many more non-human elements.

In reality-based games (that’s just what we’re calling them for the sake of brevity), you can’t introduce new species like Prometheans, and therefore, it is very difficult to implement a change in strategy and force people into re-learning how they play. And that should be the focus of designers is to show gamers something they’ve never seen before and force them into doing something they’ve never done before.

By our account, Call of Duty doesn’t need to become another Halo. It shouldn’t, in fact. But with fewer possibilities in the realm of realism for the Call of Duty franchise left in reserve, what else can the series do beyond upgrade graphics and audio and change up the story lines and invent new weapons? What else beyond changing multiplayer and marginally improving upon it can they really do to make the game stand out from the crowd?

Obviously, Activision, Treyarch, and Infinity Ward are doing something right, as Call of Duty continues to sell millions of dollars worth of product. But we can’t help but wonder what will happen in a few years when the franchise has worn out its welcome, becomes just the tiniest bit stale, and admits defeat to a better game with more innovation and possibilities in its universe, whether that game is Halo or not.

Games that have massive expanses all take place within a realm of fantasy. Whether we’re talking about World of Warcraft, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, or Halo, these worlds are as potent and beautiful as they are because they are so fantastical. They’re not real, and they would never thrive with such diversity if they were.

Games rooted in reality will never be able to match the incredible power and variety of those in fantasy worlds or in make-believe times. That’s not to say all fantasy-based titles are going to be exemplary, and it’s also not to say that games more heavily rooted in reality are not stellar, but it’s hard to imagine a series with more variety and depth when it’s based on just a single time like this century on a single planet like Earth.