Since its debut in 2003, Call of Duty has become the best-selling first-person shooter series ever. Not a bad effort for a WWII FPS that first emerged as Activision’s ambitious answer to Medal of Honor, a franchise which has since faded from relevance but was a genre juggernaut for EA at that time.
Of course, there are two pillars of Call of Duty: there’s the multiplayer, and there are the single-player campaigns. And, hey, for those of us a little unwilling to huck ourselves into the online hellhole and compete in the Call of Duty combat cauldron, the quality of those campaigns is very important!
So which Call of Duty games have the greatest campaigns? IGN’s keenest and crustiest Call of Duty fans combined to carve out a list of our favourite single-player stories, plucked from all throughout the series’ two-decade history.
Here are our top 10 Call of Duty campaigns.
10. Call of Duty: WWII
After nearly a decade break from the setting that launched the series, Call of Duty’s return to form in 2017 was such a coming home party for the franchise, they straight up named the game WWII. But this return to roots, led by Sledgehammer Games, isn’t exactly the Greatest Hits of World War II experience you would imagine. Instead, you’re met with a much more intimate story about Private “Red” Daniels and his squad living through some of the most pivotal moments of the US 1st Infantry Division’s fight from the Normandy invasion to the Rhine. But while it strives to be a personal story, it never lets you forget it’s supposed to be a loud, bombastic Call of Duty game.
To this day, WWII features some of the most over-the-top sequences ever seen in the series, from the bell tower collapse, to the train crash – if you’re looking for thrills, they’re sure to be found. And while those insane moments often make you forget about the war going on around you, WWII still has plenty of well-worn heart to give, especially when it ends with one of the most gut-wrenching walks you’ll ever make in a video game.
9. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare was a bold new direction for a series that needed to get out of its comfort zone. Gone were the slow-paced tactical missions, callbacks to historical battles, and realistic guns in favor of Exo suits, lasers, and a plethora of futuristic weaponry. Advanced Warfare’s campaign was much more than a Call of Duty with lasers, thanks partly to its multi-dimensional villain Jonathan Irons and its exploration into the world of private military contractors, American interventionism, and, as the name implies, Advanced Warfare.
Underneath its flashy, over-the-top summer blockbuster action, there’s a terrifying story about the dangers of private militarization that makes this a must-play for fans of the series or someone looking for something a little different in their action shooters.
8. Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
The Black Ops series has separated itself from Call of Duty by always trying something different with its campaigns. While Black Ops Cold War resurrects some familiar faces with Mason and Woods, the story’s primary focus is on series newcomers Bell and Russell Adler and their time in the CIA during one of the most critical moments of the Cold War.
The story explores some of the darkest times in US intelligence history and mixes up the standard series formula by offering puzzles, branching pathways, and even a mission where you trade your guns in favor of some good old-fashioned retro spycraft. It’s a short romp through the tail end of the Cold War, but this entry into the Black Ops series offers plenty of memorable moments that will keep you guessing until the credits roll.
7. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare came at the tail-end of gamers no longer wanting Call of Duty to be an epic, wall-running space adventure – which is unfortunate because under its by-the-numbers hood is a well-written shooter campaign with some of the best acting seen in the series. The plot itself is somewhat thin: you play as the newly promoted Reyes (played by Brian Bloom of Wolfenstein fame), who has to command the American marines against the painfully, obviously evil SDF, led by Game of Thrones’ Kit Harrington. But beyond that overarching narrative lives a personal story of friends who truly care for each other.
We’ve always said that Infinite Warfare is the Halo Reach of Call of Duty campaigns (if you know, you know), and it’s apparent this is a character’s first story above all else. But beyond that, the space-spanning adventure’s gameplay is still incredibly fun. From hacking robots, to piloting Jackals in dog-fighting space combat, Infinite Warfare is definitely one of the campaigns you should give a second look to if the almost too-familiar setting turned you off the first time around.
6. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019)
It’s a risky move to reboot one of the most beloved and essential games in a mega-popular franchise like Call of Duty, but 2019’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare pulls this off in a way that few reboots have before. The gameplay feels fresh and, while its time-worn setting during a middle eastern conflict wasn’t groundbreaking, the game features exceptional attention to detail with its presentation and one of the most memorable and realistic depictions of a slow-paced infiltration on an enemy base we’ve seen in the series thus far.
Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2019 is not only one of the best examples of how to reboot a series correctly, but also an excellent entry in a series full of memorable campaigns.
5. Call of Duty: Black Ops II
At the time, Call of Duty Black Ops 2 was a much-needed breath of fresh air to the series as a whole and changed Call of Duty fundamentally. Black Ops 2 gives the player a bit more control over how they want to see the story play out in the form of branching pathways, optional objectives, and multiple endings. These elements combined to make this one of the most replayable and intriguing entries in the series.
Partly set in the late ’80s as the Cold War draws to a close, and partly in 2025 during a Second Cold War, Black Ops 2 sees the return of Alex Mason and the introduction of his son, who features in the 2025 segments. However, Black Ops 2 particularly shines thanks to its main antagonist Raul Menendez. He’s much more than another Call of Duty villain, but instead the tragic product of the Cold War. Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is a must-play for long-time fans or anyone looking for a shooter that relies a little more on creative storytelling than shooting galleries and over-the-top action.
4. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2009)
Infinity Ward’s follow-up to its powerhouse leap into the modern era did not disappoint. It delivered exactly what players wanted: more, more, and more Modern Warfare. The fictional political theater got more intriguing, we got to know Soap and Captain Price even better, and who DOESN’T remember that insane ending, which saw Shepherd stab you in the chest with a knife, only for you to mash a button to pull it out of your chest and throw it into his eye in an ultimate act of revenge. This Call of Duty campaign couldn’t be missed, lest you be left out of the “did you see that?” conversations at the water cooler.
3. Call of Duty 2
The original Call of Duty was an excellent first-person shooter for PC made by a startup developer called Infinity Ward. Its founders previously worked on Medal of Honor for EA. But Activision signed the new studio to a deal, and after the team’s first World War II-set campaign was a hit, they set out to top themselves with the sequel, which was a day-one launch title for the Xbox 360. The campaign, again set during the Second World War, was incredible, with the 360 able to render volumetric smoke effects so gorgeously that smoke grenades became both a gameplay mechanic and a new next-gen tech toy to play with.
Call of Duty 2’s success helped kickstart Microsoft’s incredibly successful Xbox 360 era, and ushered in a glorious new HD era of gaming as well – and at 60fps, no less.
2. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007)
Call of Duty was already a big deal before Modern Warfare arrived in 2007, but when the fourth mainline game in the franchise time-jumped its setting from World War II into the modern era, it also launched it from a blockbuster series into THE blockbuster series. Call of Duty became the number-one first-person shooter with this release, and for good reason. This campaign introduced memorable heroes like Soap and Captain Price, and let us play incredibly cool moments like the AC-130 gunship mission, the storm-ravaged cargo ship escape, dying in a nuclear blast, and that unforgettable eff-you finale where you get to fire one last bullet.
1. Call of Duty: Black Ops (2010)
“THE NUMBERS, MASON!” Call of Duty: Black Ops brought the powerhouse first-person shooter franchise to the Bay of Pigs, Vietnam, and beyond for an espionage-filled trip through the sixties, and brought the franchise’s best-ever campaign – and its best-ever soundtrack – along with it. Black Ops took you on a dizzying ride that culminated in one of the coolest unexpected twists in any major game around that time – and certainly the biggest Call of Duty story surprise we’d seen prior to that or since.
Treyarch, Call of Duty’s “other” developer aside from the series creators at Infinity Ward, absolutely leveled up on this one, turning its work on the impressive World at War into a stealth prologue to Black Ops and proving that it deserved to be held in the same high esteem as Infinity Ward always had been. Black Ops has been a massive sub-franchise within the brand, and it all started right here.
Those are IGN’s most-loved Call of Duty campaigns, but what are yours? Do you still love United Offensive even though there’s very little chance anyone under 30 knows what you’re talking about? Do you love Ghosts and are prepared to admit that in front of your friends and peers? Let us know in the comments. In the meantime, check out IGN’s favourite Assassin’s Creed games and our top 10 open-world games of all time.
Leave a Reply