This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Call of Duty franchise, and for almost that entire time, the franchise has reigned atop the sales charts as the biggest first-person shooter series in gaming. While other shooter series have fizzled out over the years, Call of Duty just keeps reinventing itself with new settings, multiplayer modes, and bigger and crazier set pieces.

Of course, not every Call of Duty game is a fan favorite, and a few have aged particularly poorly. So, with the release of Modern Warfare III, we decided to take a look at all of the mainline games and rank them from worst to best. For this list, we only considered Call of Duty games released for consoles or PC. While there have also been a few games in the series released for portables over the years, rest assured, you’re not missing out on much by skipping those.

22. Call of Duty: World at War – Final Fronts

By 2008, gamers and developers alike had largely moved on to the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360, but Activision just couldn’t pass up the chance to see if their massive PS2 userbase would pick up one last Call of Duty game. From the abysmal graphics to the braindead AI (for both enemies and squad mates), everything about the game they made screams “cheap cash-in,”

Not only that, but the developers didn’t even bother to include any sort of multiplayer or Zombies mode. At least the music isn’t too bad. It really is the best part of the poor attempts at cinematic battles. A lot of kids with only a PS2 who were desperate for a new Call of Duty probably got stuck with this game on Christmas morning 2008, but with the far superior full-scale version of World at War easily accessible nowadays, there’s zero reason to ever go back to this game.

21. Call of Duty 2: Big Red One

The PS2 era was the last generation when consoles just didn’t have the power to keep up with cutting-edge PC games, so developers would often cut down or even completely make different versions of a popular PC game to port it to consoles. One of the biggest casualties of this period was Call of Duty 2. It’s a landmark game on PC and Xbox 360. On older consoles, it’s perfectly serviceable. Big Red One follows a U.S. Army private through tours in North Africa and Europe during World War II.

The 13-mission campaign actually features quite a bit of variety, and the PS2 and Xbox versions even had solid 16-player multiplayer modes, but those systems just didn’t have the power to put out the impressive graphics and sounds of war that made the series a hit. A lot of older gamers do have fond memories of Big Red One now, but this is a hard title to recommend to anyone just now getting into Call of Duty.

20. Call of Duty 3

While it was well-reviewed at the time, it’s hard not to see the third mainline Call of Duty game as something of a misstep now. Gamers back then wanted more Call of Duty 2, and that’s exactly what they got. Nothing more, nothing less. It wouldn’t be unfair to call this game Call of Duty 2.5. You get the same World War II setting, just with less variety. Even the multiplayer maps feel more like DLC than a new mode.

Part of this is no doubt due to the fact that Call of Duty 3 was the first game in the series developed by Treyarch (who was taking over from series creators Infinity Ward). Treyarch CoD games improved dramatically over the years, but this first draft was rough. Notably, this was the only early Call of Duty game with identical campaigns for last- and next-gen versions of the games, which also likely led to some compromises with the final product.

19. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4

Most Call of Duty players pick up the games for multiplayer, but as the first (and so far only) game in the series to ship without a traditional campaign, Black Ops 4 just feels kind of hollow. The traditional multiplayer modes feel too similar to Black Ops III, with the roster of specialists mostly made up of returning characters from that game. And the big new changes here aren’t great.

Manual healing may make the game feel more strategic, but it just doesn’t feel like Call of Duty multiplayer without automatic health regeneration. And while the battle royale Blackout mode is fun for a few hours, it never quite found the success of other titles in the genre like Fortnite and PUBG. Even Activision seemed to use it as more of a paid beta to eventually launch Call of Duty: Warzone.

18. Call of Duty: Finest Hour

It’s the game that started it all…if you didn’t have a PC that could run the real Call of Duty by 2004, that is. Finest Hour is actually more of a side story to the first game, and if you view it as such, it’s really not bad. There’s actually quite a lot that the series would be known for here, including multiple different stories being told across the various fronts of World War II.

The problem is gameplay. While the 2003 PC release of Call of Duty drew praise for capturing the feel of being on a real battlefield, Finest Hour plays more like a small-scale run-and-gun FPS. It’s a fine example of console shooters from this era, but Finest Hour is largely a nostalgia piece in 2023.

17. Call of Duty

This is the full version of the game that started the multi-billion-dollar phenomenon. And while it’s better than those early console ports, it also hasn’t aged as gracefully as other shooters from the early 2000s.

Don’t get me wrong; this game was super impressive back in the day. While plenty of World War II shooters had been released before, this one really made you feel like you were on the frontlines thanks to its cinematic storytelling, multiple points of view, and some amazing sound design.

It’s just that while all of this was top-of-the-line in 2003, it definitely shows its age now. The graphics and AI have not aged very well at all, and while the 32-player multiplayer was a blast at release, without any of the RPG mechanics that the series later became known for, it just feels hopelessly dated.

16. Call of Duty: Black Ops III

Despite being released in 2015, Black Ops III continues to have a sizable online community (much larger than many older Call of Duty games). But that doesn’t mean it’s a game for everyone.

While the first two Black Ops games were set during the Cold War and the near future, the campaign of Black Ops III is set in 2065 and features plenty of futuristic firearms and hardware. This was something the series experimented with extensively in the mid-2010s with mixed results. Adding four-player co-op to the campaign is part of what’s given the game such longevity, but it also means the campaign is much weaker than others if you’re playing alone.

As for multiplayer…well, this was the game that introduced specialists, something that fans either love or hate. Thruster packs also gave the multiplayer a much different feel from other games in the series, though some clear inspiration was taken from Titanfall in that area. This was really the beginning of the franchise looking to competitors for inspiration rather than forging new ideas on its own. Regardless of how you feel about these changes, at least the expanded Zombies mode is worth checking out.

15. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II (2022)

A common criticism of the Call of Duty franchise is that Activision releases pretty much the same game every year. Usually, there’s enough new content to justify an annual $70 release, but Modern Warfare II really does test what gamers will pay for a new title in the series. The multiplayer is fast and furious as usual, but the handful of new modes here just feel like slight tweaks on what’s already been done.

The campaign is not bad, but it’s hard not to feel like you’re just going through the motions, replaying the greatest hits of past CoD games. Whereas the original Modern Warfare 2 had a really awesome ending, this one has an unusually frustrating final mission where you have to avoid endless enemies while constantly pausing to neutralize a missile. It’s hard not to get the vibe that this is a pale imitation of one of the best games in the series coasting on its popular name. Even if it’s a mixed bag overall, at least the graphics are fantastic.

14. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare

Due largely to being set in the far future, Infinite Warfare received more hate than almost any other game in the series when it was announced. A lot of fans felt the series was straying too far from its roots. To be clear, this game does lean hard into its sci-fi trappings. In the main campaign, you’ll probably shoot more robots than human soldiers, using theoretical weapons like seeker drones are energy rifles, but the combat still feels like Call of Duty at its core. It also lets you decide which order you want to tackle some missions in a small, but welcome, departure from previous games.

Multiplayer modes are a bit more of a mixed bag. Rigs and thrust jumps make PvP feel a lot like a slightly improved Black Ops III, so it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. But if nothing else, Infinite Warfare deserves credit for its expansive Zombies mode which actually packs enough content and story to warrant a full-fledged release. It even featured the likenesses of David Hasselhoff, Elvira, and the late Paul Reubens. 

13. Call of Duty 2

A lot of people have forgotten now that the first-party launch lineup of the Xbox 360 was pretty weak. Perfect Dark Zero and Kameo aren’t exactly fondly remembered, and those were supposed to be the platform’s earliest heavy hitters. Do you know what people still talk about, though? Call of Duty 2. This was the real reason to pick up an Xbox 360 at launch in 2005.  

Infinity Ward took everything that was great about the first game and just made a few small tweaks like regenerating health and persistent smoke and debris that made the world feel just a little more alive. Even the multiplayer still holds up pretty well for a few rounds, though it lacks the stat tracking customization of later entries.

12. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

Ask anyone in the entertainment industry, and they’ll tell you that it’s really, really difficult to make a trilogy where all three parts maintain the same level of quality. The first two Modern Warfare games are all-time classics. And then there’s Modern Warfare 3. It’s certainly one of the Call of Duty games ever made. To be fair, it’s not a bad game, but those first two games were always going to be a tough act to follow. 

The campaigns of its predecessors featured some of the most memorable moments in FPS history. Meanwhile, this final showdown with Makarov’s forces is known for being all over the place narratively and largely recycling set pieces from earlier games. Similarly, the tweaks to Killstreaks designed to make multiplayer more balanced than the last title never really worked out as planned, meaning few gamers still pine for the game’s online heyday. At least this was the debut of the Kill Confirmed mode though, which was a solid addition to the series’ multiplayer suite.

11. Call of Duty: Vanguard 

If only judged by its campaign, Vanguard would actually be quite a bit higher on this. Despite being yet another Call of Duty game set in World War II, it does quite a bit to distinguish itself. Focusing on a small group of soldiers on a secret mission and showing flashbacks to how they got to this point in the war gives Vanguard‘s campaign a much more cinematic feel than most other titles in the series. And the stealth-focused mission in Stalingrad stands out as one of the very best in any Call of Duty game.

Unfortunately, things go off the rails when you delve into multiplayer. The maps are actually quite good, it’s just that nothing else really does much to stand out from even Call of Duty: WWII, which had been released only four years prior. Even the Zombies mode has frustratingly little content compared to other games. Vanguard is a solid game that just doesn’t have much staying power.

10. Call of Duty: Ghosts

Ghosts is widely disliked by many Call of Duty fans, but I’d say in hindsight it made a lot of daring changes that have actually aged pretty well. The campaign is absolutely one of the best in the series, thanks to a more unique setting where battered U.S. forces face down a federation of South American countries. That very different type of conflict means levels set everywhere from the ocean depths to outer space. At one point, you even play as a dog.

Admittedly, the multiplayer maps are not the best in the series, but the expansive Create a Soldier mode with its multitude of perks and classes means it’s almost impossible not to find the perfect loadout. And let’s not forget Extinction: a unique co-op alien-hunting mode that’s actually closer to Left 4 Dead than the Zombies modes of other Call of Duty games. We’ll probably never see a Ghosts 2, but there are certainly some great ideas here that could mined in future CoD installments.

9. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War

By the time Black Ops Cold War was released in 2020, more than a little Call of Duty fatigue had started to set in. This is not a title that revolutionized the series, but the campaign actually does innovate a bit, with missions that require more sneaking than running and gunning, clearly taking inspiration from the likes of GoldenEye 007. There’s even a neat story twist straight out of Bioshock.

Despite being the fifth Black Ops title, the multiplayer is more streamlined than a lot of other CoD games, with more limited options closer to the first two Black Ops games as opposed to the often bloated sequels. Maps are also on the smaller side, as is the leaner Zombies mode. Cold War may not be the most popular Call of Duty game, but for a more recent title, it’s actually one of the most accessible.

8. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

I love Advanced Warfare for its unintentionally hilarious campaign moments. The game tries to deal with serious issues like chemical weapons and the dangers of private military contractors, but this is also the game where Kevin Spacey (basically just playing his Frank Underwood character from House of Cards) casually announces he’s going to take over the world on the floor of the United Nations. This is also the campaign that gave the internet the infamous “Press ‘F’ to pay respects” meme. It deserves to be recognized as one of the better Call of Duty games just for that.

Multiplayer is more of a mixed bag. The Pick 13 system expands on one of the best ideas from the beloved Black Ops II, but this was also the first Call of Duty game to experiment with more futuristic weapons and hardware. The Exosuit is cool in the campaign and makes for a very unique Zombies mode, but when it comes to multiplayer matches, it’s something you’re either going to really love or something you’re going to think completely ruins what made Call of Duty great.

7. Call of Duty: WWII

World War II put the Call of Duty series on the map, but the franchise actually took a break from the setting for almost a decade until this 2017 release. That long hiatus paid off, though. You might only play as a single private throughout the campaign, but that smaller focus on the interactions amongst a single squad on Western Front following D-Day makes for one of the most emotional campaigns in the series.

Turning the clock back to World War II also gave developer Sledgehammer Games the opportunity to incorporate a lot of the advances the series embraced over the years, like a class system and a Headquarters social space while retaining the authentic weaponry and maps of the era. And then there’s a new Nazi Zombies mode. As fun as the various Zombies modes have been over the years, still nothing quite tops mowing down hordes of Nazi Zombies. 

6. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019)

It’s really debatable whether the Modern Warfare subseries needed to be rebooted just eight years after the conclusion of the original trilogy. For the most part, though, Modern Warfare 2019 is an excellent homage to those games that falls just short of its inspiration.

This is one of the tightest campaigns in the franchise with a gritty tone that separates it from the original trilogy (even if the story isn’t quite as morally gray as it was originally touted). This was also the first title that significantly adjusted the gunplay. Each weapon feels like it has some real weight, giving each shot some impact. That’s a more welcome addition for the multiplayer, which also includes some interesting options to make modes feel more realistic. And of course, this was the game to debut Warzone. It may not have even been the series’ first attempt at a battle royal game, but it’s hard to deny that the mode can be a lot of fun.

Unfortunately, some weaker multiplayer maps hold Modern Warfare back from being at the very top of this list, but it’s easily the best CoD game of the last decade.

5. Call of Duty: Black Ops

Black Ops was proof that Treyarch could create a compelling Call of Duty subseries on par with what Infinity Ward had done with Modern Warfare. Moving the action to the ‘60s could have meant just another derivative Vietnam War game, and while you spend a fair amount of time in Southeast Asia, Black Ops goes one step further by fully embracing the espionage and paranoia of its Cold War setting. That approach led to a number of classified missions set all over the world, which culminated in the best twist in any Call of Duty campaign.

While Black Ops is absolutely a fantastic game, and often ranks even higher on lists like this, the multiplayer modes are a bit lacking. Again, what’s here is fantastic. The series had found its groove by 2010, though, and Treyarch found little reason to deviate. So while the competitive and Zombie modes are absolutely worth checking out (and continue to be favorites for many nostalgic fans), they just didn’t do much different than what had come before at this point.

4. Call of Duty: World at War 

As already noted, Treyarch’s first attempt at making a Call of Duty game was not great, but the developer’s sophomore effort still stands out as one of the better entries in the series. Yes, it’s the fourth game in the series set during World War II, but much of the action takes place in the Pacific rather than Europe. But what really stands out is just how graphically violent the whole thing is. While many Call of Duty campaigns play out like PG-13 action movies, World at War pulls no punches by showing the horrors of war with dismemberments and realistic burns. 

Multiplayer played it safe in this entry, largely just copying the RPG mechanics of the previous year’s landmark entry, Modern Warfare, but setting everything during World War II. That might seem a little lazy in hindsight, but it was exactly what the series needed at the time, and it’s held up well. More importantly, this is the game that debuted Nazi Zombies: a mode that has become a fan favorite. 

3. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

It’s hard to overstate just how revolutionary the original Modern Warfare was when it came out in 2007. It wasn’t just that this was the first game in the series to move the action to a modern setting. The additions of XP, the prestige system, and killstreaks brought brand-new levels of customization and replay value to multiplayer. There are good reasons why pretty much every other online title of the last 15 years has copied this game in some way.

And while most players lost dozens of hours to multiplayer, the campaign is no slouch either. This is the game that gave the world “All Ghillied Up” and the explosive ending to “Shock and Awe.” Even the epilogue mission, “Mile High Club,” is iconic, and beating it on Veteran continues to be a true test of skill.

2. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

As amazing as the first Modern Warfare was, Infinity Ward somehow managed to top themselves with the sequel just two years later. The campaign is basically a highlight reel of the best moments in Call of Duty history. From the thrilling Rio De Janeiro favela pursuit and storming the gulag to the infamous “No Russian” mission and the absolutely insane conclusion that sees Soap pull a knife out of his own chest to throw at and kill Shepherd, Modern Warfare 2 does not let up.

To be fair, the multiplayer wasn’t a huge step forward from the first Modern Warfare. However, it didn’t need to be, and it did introduce some maps that have gone down as the very best in the series (like Terminal and Rust). And who could forget the tactical nuke killstreak? Is it game-breaking? Yes, but the first time you see it go off is one of the most memorable moments in any multiplayer game. Finally, Modern Warfare 2 debuted the Spec Ops co-op mode, and arguably, no other Call of Duty has done Spec Ops better since.

1. Call of Duty: Black Ops II

Black Ops II is the gold standard for Call of Duty games. If we were just judging the campaign (an explosive tale that switches between the 1980s and 2025) on set pieces alone, this would be one of the best in the series. What really sets it apart, though, is the freedom and replayability. The choices you make and how Strike Force missions go directly impact which of the multiple endings you’ll see. Plus, you can actually customize your loadout before each mission. For that alone, it’s head and shoulders above the single-player options in every other Call of Duty game.

Zombies was greatly expanded with the 4v4 competitive Grief mode, and you can even play as a zombie for the first time ever, but it deserves extra praise for going off the rails in the best way possible with the insane “Mob of the Dead” story that sees time traveling mobsters fighting off the undead. Of course, the real star here is multiplayer, which introduced the customizable Pick 10 system. The new progression system to prestige guns could have come off as grindy, but it actually just gives you even more incentive to keep playing. This was the pinnacle of the series that a lot of players are still pining for.

The post Every Call of Duty Game Ranked Worst to Best appeared first on Den of Geek.

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