The latest entry in the Call of Duty franchise, Modern Warfare, was just announced by Infinity Ward and Activision yesterday and is set to be released later this year. Naturally, after the announcement, our team here at DualShockers began talking about not only the new game but the Call of Duty series as a whole. This led to a debate about which game in the series is the best and which ones downright suck.
Rather than just arguing amongst ourselves though, we decided to make things official and actually rank every mainline Call of Duty game that has ever hit store shelves. We didn’t take into account spin-offs or handheld entries like Black Ops Declassified into our own order though, so don’t expect to see those pop up.
After a few hours of yelling at one another, we had finally nailed down the definitive list of every Call of Duty game ever released in order from worst to best. While we think that this list is objectively correct, feel free to go scream at us down in the comments if you disagree, which I’m sure you will.
16. Call of Duty: Ghosts
Call of Duty: Ghosts was unanimously considered by us to be the “worst” entry in the series and there wasn’t really any pushback on that notion. While some on our team hated other entries in the series more than Ghosts, the biggest problem with this installment is that it’s just flat-out boring. Years later, we couldn’t recall anything inventive, fun, or memorable that Ghosts did whatsoever, other than the fact that it contained dogs.
It’s better to hate a game than it is to completely have no emotion whatsoever for one. Ghosts isn’t a Call of Duty that we collectively loathe, it’s one we collectively feel nothing for. As Don Draper once said in Mad Men, “I don’t think about you at all.”
15. Call of Duty
Call of Duty is the OG that started it all. Without this entry, this article doesn’t even exist in the first place. That said, it’s hard to put the original game in this series very high on this list, especially by modern standards. Even though it’s not inherently a bad game, the original Call of Duty felt more or less like Activision’s take on Medal of Honor, which it absolutely was at the time. Even though duping another popular franchise doesn’t make the first Call of Duty bad, it lacks an identity that others in the franchise have.
Perhaps the original Call of Duty being so low on our list here speaks to how young our team is that put this together. We respect the original Call of Duty for kicking off this behemoth of a franchise, but we couldn’t place it higher than what we have it here.
14. Call of Duty: Black Ops III
Call of Duty: Black Ops III is a futuristic acid trip nightmare entirely out of your control, and also, Christopher Meloni is there. After shaking the tree with Black Ops II and its branching paths narrative, Treyarch eschewed that in favor of a more traditional campaign. Sure, you can choose your loadouts before missions, but it was the same standard run-and-gun with a contrived and incomprehensible story.
You play as a literal no-name, and you have an unbearable prick as a sidekick. Christopher Meloni is your buddy, and then Christopher Meloni is your enemy, for some reason. The plot has nothing to do with the first two Black Ops games, except for a brief mention of the second game’s villain and some text on a computer screen. You’re essentially a techno-mage casting spells on enemies and robots, things are blowing up, and everything is the same grimdark color. At some points, you might even be stuck on a mission because it glitched out and you have no way to progress. It all culminates in a nonsensical ending that feels like a slap in the face, as if though you played through a pretentious Darren Aronofsky film in video game form.
We also haven’t even mentioned the wall-running mechanics, which felt sluggish, like a wet sponge. Treyarch used to be accused of being a second rate Infinity Ward, and this game may as well have rebranded them into a third rate Respawn Entertainment. This game hurts our brains.
13. Call of Duty 3
Call of Duty 3 is perhaps the best of the worst. It didn’t do anything that necessarily pushed the series forward in any meaningful way, but it delivered another solid World War II campaign while offering some pretty generic multiplayer. This game is the predecessor to Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and the change from World War II to a modern battlefield was widely welcomed. While we have no ill will towards Call of Duty 3, it sits as one of the more forgettable entries in the series.
12. Call of Duty 2: Big Red One
Call of Duty 2: Big Red One is the only entry on this list that likely isn’t considered “mainline” in the larger series that we decided to include. When the proper Call of Duty 2 ended up hitting the next-gen platform of the Xbox 360, those still utilizing older platforms like the PS2, Xbox, and GameCube were left to play Big Red One instead. Luckily, it was still a pretty great game in its own right that you never felt left out compared to those friends you may have had who were playing the much prettier-looking Call of Duty 2.
While Big Red One didn’t ever hit the same highs as its next-gen counterpart, it still was an excellent game that continued to grow the franchise’s prominence. Plus, it was one of the last entries in the series that equal parts tried to give you a fun game to play while also educating you about World War II. Big Red One isn’t all that memorable compared to what came after, but it’s not a bad game in the slightest.
11. Call of Duty: WWII
Activision decided to return to its World War II roots with Call of Duty: WWII but the results were mixed. While novelties like an actual health bar and utilizing old-school weapons was fun, the game sometimes fell flat on its face. The campaign had its moments of enjoyment, but the characters you interacted with throughout were bland to straight-up annoying. On the Nazi Zombies front, the mode felt more tacked-on than it perhaps ever has before.
Call of Duty: WWII’s multiplayer however was the game’s main saving grace, but even in this realm, Activision began dipping its toes into elements like loot boxes that made it unsettling. Plus, the addition of a hub area was equal parts neat but also unnecessary. WWII felt more like it was trying to become more of a games-as-a-service product from Activision than perhaps any other installment in the Call of Duty series before it, which left a sour taste in our mouths and kept this entry out of the top 10.
10. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4
“Is there gonna be wall-running?” Treyarch developers asked the audience at the Black Ops 4 reveal event. “No!” the audience yelled back. The absolute worst parts of Treyarch’s abhorrent third Black Ops installment were exorcised from its follow-up, resulting in a tight, competent, and fun package. The subseries still proved to have some fuel in it with Black Ops 4.
The Hero-like Specialist concept from Black Ops III is better realized in 4, with each character feeling distinct and all of them meshing quite well to form team dynamics. While the Meloni schlock-filled campaign of III was followed up with a total lack of a campaign in 4, the tutorials were a fun way of integrating story into multiplayer, with absurd cutscenes that featured Mason’s descendant as the world’s first trillionaire(?) and gameplay providing players with a holographic Vietnam-era Frank Woods assistant yelling 1970s colloquialisms while you fire a future gun at dummies.
The Blackout battle royale mode is a technically consistent take on PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. The inventory is well-suited for console controls and the vehicles add a fun element that is unusual for the Call of Duty series. More surprising though was how much nostalgia the Blackout map invoked. Call of Duty still feels like a somewhat recent and modern game franchise, and while this may be a cheap tactic, it was fun to see the map’s lifting of classic areas from World at War, Black Ops, and Black Ops II. It is weird to think of CoD as a “nostalgic” franchise, and Black Ops 4 is the first entry in the long-running series to really earn that reverence. Plus, there’s a Viktor Reznov skin, so that instantly puts that battle royale over others for that reason alone.
9. Call of Duty 2
Call of Duty 2 is easily still the best of the series before it made the jump to Modern Warfare. If you picked up an Xbox 360 the year it released, in all likelihood, Call of Duty 2 was the game you grabbed with your system. Not only was Call of Duty 2 just a great launch title, but it immediately showed what would be so special about the next iteration of consoles in HD.
Importance and influence aside though, Call of Duty 2 also offers an enjoyable campaign with some fantastic setpiece moments that the series has always been synonymous with. Call of Duty 2 by proxy gets lost in the shuffle amongst the larger franchise nowadays, but it still stands as an excellent game that you could return to and still greatly enjoy today.
8. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
The Modern Warfare series is pretty much loved by all and considered to be one of the greatest and most influential CoD franchises ever. That said, no one can deny that MW3 is the “worst” entry out the three mainline games. That’s not to say it’s bad as the story does a good job of wrapping up what MW1 and MW2 set up. The Spec-Ops mode added even more fun content, but the multiplayer just felt like a more boring and light version MW2. It overcomplicated things with three different types of scorestreaks and made all the weapons that were fun in MW2 just no longer enjoyable.
When putting together this list, Modern Warfare 3 in our estimation just came across as the definition of average. There’s nothing necessarily bad about Modern Warfare 3, but it felt like the perfect game to slot in right here in the middle of the pack.
7. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
For better or worse, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare tried to be something different. While many longtime Call of Duty fans ended up hating many of the changes that this entry made, especially in the realm of multiplayer, if you were growing tired of each installment due to fatigue, there’s a good chance Infinite Warfare had something you’d like. The game’s campaign felt more like a Wing Commander game than it ever did Call of Duty and also introduced some wild new elements to the story like side missions. Plus, some of the weapons that you could utilize were wildly inventive, you could fly what was basically an X-Wing in some of the missions, and the story ended with you murdering Jon Snow.
Likely Infinite Warfare’s biggest flaw is that it just came out at a time where fans were growing weary of futuristic war shooters. Between the Black Ops, Advanced Warfare, and even other franchises like Titanfall, Infinite Warfare was just the straw that broke the backs of many when it came to the futuristic setting. Still, if you return to Infinite Warfare today, at least to play its campaign, there’s a whole lot to like.
6. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
Advanced Warfare is the first Call of Duty developed by Sledgehammer Games. It offered a new feeling to movement with the inclusion of exo suits which wildly changed the feel and fluidity of each game mode. Following the bore that was Call of Duty: Ghosts, Advanced Warfare was a refreshing change-up for the series as it began delving into futuristic combat. To this day, it might still have some of the smoothest and most enjoyable mechanics of any entry in the series.
Advanced Warfare also has arguably one of the most iconic memes in video games with, “Press F to pay respects.” You can also drop Kevin Spacey (who is now a freakin’ weirdo and a creep) into a pit of fire. For these aspects alone, we have a lot of love for Advanced Warfare.
5. Call of Duty: Black Ops II
Out of all of the non-sensical action blockbuster-like single player campaigns that the Call of Duty series has to offer, Black Ops II might have the most original story mechanics amongst the nonsensicality. We’ve spoken about the campaign at length in a previous feature for this website, but even though the concept of branching paths in a story isn’t one bit original for a video game, the way Black Ops II implemented it resulted in a number of fun possibilities.
After Modern Warfare 3 felt like more of the same, Black Ops II felt like a shot of adrenaline. The Pick 10 system of class creation is something that should’ve always been a standard for the franchise, and creating and experimenting with unusual combinations was quite entertaining. It allowed one would want to go all out with weapon attachments, or you could overload with perks, start with no firearms, find a gun on the field, and operate like a human tank.
Black Ops II is probably the least traditional modern Call of Duty game, even compared to the later more futuristic entries in the franchise. It isn’t the trailblazer as the more “iconic” and “essential” games, but it is one that should be considered when talking about the most original and boldest Call of Duty titles. Plus, having a foul-mouthed Tony Todd as your commander on the aircraft carrier the USS Barack Obama, serving a POTUS who looks like Hillary Clinton and a Secretary of Defense resembling David Petraeus is objectively hilarious.
4. Call of Duty: Black Ops
Black Ops is without a doubt in the top tier of Call of Duty games. It has arguably the best narrative in the entire franchise. Playing as Mason and interacting with great characters like Frank Woods, Bowman and let’s not forget, Reznov aka Gary freakin’ Oldman. Black Ops boasts an incredible campaign with great moments that we’ll almost certainly never forget.
The multiplayer was super fun with numerous great maps including the introduction of the now iconic Nuketown. The weapon balance was better than most, if not all, Call of Duty multiplayer experiences, too. Black Ops also had the greatest compilation of Zombies maps in the series. Kino der Toten, Ascension, and Moon were such memorable gaming experiences that we poured countless hours into playing. In general, all the Zombies maps were a blast. Black Ops was also before Zombies got too over the top with the story and Easter eggs. Black Ops stands as one of the best Call of Duty experiences and is a full, complete package.
3. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
With Modern Warfare 2, we are getting into the cream of the crop. Between a single-player campaign that is arguably still the best in the series, a multiplayer with insane and over-the-top weapons and killstreaks (you could freaking nuke the entire map), and a co-op mode with Spec Ops that let you and your friend have a blast in some of the most memorable Modern Warfare moments, there’s no denying MW2 is one of the best CoDs of all time.
While it’s not a perfect game and definitely has some flaws, such as every gun being overpowered as can be, there’s no denying that top to bottom, this could very well be the best Call of Duty package to date. Modern Warfare 2 is where the franchise began actively leaning more into the craziness that the series would become synonymous with, and as a result, it deserves to be here in the top three.
2. Call of Duty: World at War
Call of Duty: World at War remains one of the most fun games in the entire series. Memorable characters, great set pieces, and high replayability make its campaign stand out. The multiplayer continued to refine the mechanics we all know and love with things like War Mode and helped assure the series remained a multiplayer beast to be reckoned with. Call of Duty: World at War also introduced Zombies, which has since become a series staple, though, in its form here, Zombies is simplistic and fun enough to still hook you for hours — there’s a reason that Zombies got so popular.
While other Call of Duty games excel in specific areas, Call of Duty: World at War is a game that relies on pure, unadulterated Call of Duty fun, which makes it a joy to return to over a decade after its release
1. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Over ten years later, nothing has surpassed Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. This is by far the most important entry in the entire franchise and established the groundwork for everything that would come after it.
Even when putting aside this game’s importance though, Modern Warfare just remains the best Call of Duty game, bar none. Its campaign remains impeccable with missions like “All Ghillied Up” still standing as some of the best in any first-person shooter. Plus, if you had the patience and will to beat “Mile High Club” on Veteran, you probably still brag about the feat to your friends.
On the multiplayer front, the original Modern Warfare essentially created the mold of what every multiplayer shooter would try to mimic in the years to come. While the roots of what started in the realm of multiplayer would later be altered in subsequent entries, the entire format which took the world by storm was established here.
Nothing has yet to beat Call of Duty 4 and if the new Modern Warfare wants to surpass this original game that kickstarted this phenomenon, it’s going to take a minor miracle. Call of Duty 4 isn’t just the best game in this long-running series, it’s on a very short list of the best first-person shooters ever created.