All 14 Call of Duty Games Ranked from Worst to Best
The Call of Duty series is responsible for many major trends in modern gaming — not just trends in first-person shooters but mainstream games in general. Starting in 2003, the Call of Duty series began in World War II; by 2016, we were shooting it out in space with Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. With 2017's Call of Duty: WWII, the franchise has officially come full circle.
To celebrate this journey, we ranked the 14 main Call of Duty games from worst to best, according to their importance in gaming and how well they hold up today.
Image Credits: Activision
14. Call of Duty: Ghosts (2013; PC, PS3, Xbox 360, PS4, Xbox One, Wii U)
Call of Duty: Ghosts is arguably the weakest entry in the series, and while it didn’t do anything terribly wrong with its story or its new modes, like Extinction, the formula was far from the days when Call of Duty was setting the pace for first-person shooters. It's simply boring.
The last of the “modern” campaigns, Ghosts is set in the U.S. during a fictional war between North and South America, with a plot that's both silly and borderline offensive. The base multiplayer mode follows many of the Call of Duty traditions up to that point, including a co-op mission mode and zombies, but it doesn’t stand out.
13. Call of Duty 3 (2006; Xbox 360, PS2, PS3, Wii)
Call of Duty 3 was developer Treyarch’s first time on the scene with the series, and it’s the first and only entry to skip a PC release.
This was the last of the original World War II games, and as in Call of Duty: Ghosts, the formula had begun to get stale. The single-player campaign was simplified from the multifaceted stories of its predecessors. Multiplayer mode was the strongest it had ever been on consoles, but the lack of a PC release left a bad mark on this entry.
12. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (2011; PC, PS3, 360, Wii, DS, Mac)
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is a solid addition to the series. It includes commendable additions, but overall, it doesn’t push the envelope. Multiplayer mode had become a priority for the series, and changes to this mode were aimed at improving the groundwork laid by its predecessors.
Killstreaks were changed to “pointstreaks” to allow more people to contribute to a match, and the cooperative Survival mode helped buoy a single-player campaign that followed a bit too closely to the Modern Warfare 2 playbook. The controversial terrorist scene simply doesn’t pack the same punch the second time around.
11. Call of Duty: Black Ops III (2015; PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One)
By the time Call of Duty: Black Ops III rolled around, the series had changed course, moving toward faster gameplay and a futuristic setting. Characters wear special suits that change gameplay dramatically, adding wall running, midair jumps and knee slides. The action was more nimble than ever, but the story and setting didn’t quite hold up their end of the package.
Series staples, like Zombies mode, make a solid comeback and even get incorporated into the main single-player campaign in Nightmares mode. Character classes called “Specialists” are added to multiplayer mode, giving players access to unique skills, such as reflective armor and increased speed.
10. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare (2016; PC, PS4, Xbox One)
By 2016, the Call of Duty series had been called out for being formulaic and sidelining its single-player modes. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare sought to remedy these issues with a single-player campaign that took things far into the future, to a setting unfamiliar to the series: outer space.
The multiplayer mode added craftable guns and even more agile movement than in Black Ops III, but the real highlight this time around was the single-player mode. An intriguing storyline of intense resource scarcity on Earth and an interplanetary war marked a creative highpoint in the series.
9. Call of Duty: WWII (2017; PC, PS4, Xbox One)
After years of futuristic installments, Call of Duty: WWII served as a return to the series' World War II roots that many fans had been clamoring for. It largely delivered, offering a sprawling new multiplayer mode called War, a fresh, horror-focused take on Nazi Zombies, and the same wonderfully tight shooting that was no longer overcomplicated by jetpacks and robot dogs. However, fans and critics are split on the game's campaign, which is either a raucous emotional blockbuster or another tired WWII tale, depending on who you ask. Still, if you dropped off of Call of Duty once it made the leap to sci-fi, this is a great place to jump back in.
8. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (2014; PC, PS3, PS4, 360, Xbox One)
Advanced Warfare marks the series' first foray into future-tech gameplay elements, with characters sporting exosuits that brought midair jumps and dashing to Call of Duty for the first time. In the wake of Call of Duty: Ghosts, new developers Sledgehammer Games decided to spice things up with new gameplay mechanics, as well as a heavy dose of star power, in the single-player campaign. Actor Kevin Spacey lent his talent by voicing the primary antagonist, Jonathan Irons.
Even the Zombies mode saw famous contributions from John Malkovich and Bill Paxton. Advanced Warfare proved to be the shot in the arm that the series really needed in 2014.
7. Call of Duty (2003; PC, Mac)
The original Call of Duty might not have been the most revolutionary of the series, but it did get a lot of things started that other first-person shooters hadn’t popularized yet. Set in World War II, the game split its single-player campaign among the three major Allied forces of the U.S., Britain and the Soviet Union.
Call of Duty brought high-impact sound design and a new level of attention to realism in combat, and gameplay features, such as iron sights and limited weapon capacity, bucked shooter trends of its day. Online multiplayer wasn’t a major attraction with the first game — it was missing many of the refinements and conventions seen in later entries — but it held its own among contemporaries such as Medal of Honor.
6. Call of Duty 2 (2005; PC, Xbox 360, Mac)
Like its predecessor, Call of Duty 2 focuses on the events of World War II, splitting the single-player mode among four Allied soldiers this time. Some of the series’ biggest contributions to first-person shooters made their first appearance in this game. Regenerating health helped keep up the pace of action — something still common to the genre — and lent it an action-movie feel that would define much of the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 era of gaming.
Call of Duty 2 would be many console gamers’ first foray into the series, releasing at the launch of the Xbox 360. Multiplayer was still designed with PC in mind, offering mod tools and map makers not found on consoles.
5. Call of Duty: World at War (2008; PC, PS3, 360, Wii, DS)
This game was a solid improvement over the Modern Warfare formula and is notable for the series’ first appearance of Zombies. The original Black Ops would refine this into the staple Zombies mode we know today, but World at War's Zombies mode was no slouch.
Bringing the improvements of Call of Duty 4 back into the World War II setting would prove a fine send off before the series would return to modern and futuristic settings. While it didn’t make any major additions to gameplay, Call of Duty 4 was still miles ahead of the pack in 2008.
4. Call of Duty: Black Ops II (2012; PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii U)
The Black Ops saga continued to be a compelling Cold War story in Black Ops II, taking the setting away from a traditional tale of wartime heroism. Black Ops II also addressed some of the linearity of previous games in the series by offering diverging story paths for players heavily invested in single player.
Black Ops II made some major changes to multiplayer with the Pick 10 system, which offered more flexibility in choice of equipment loadout and stuck with the series for most subsequent entries. Black Ops II showed equal parts innovation and refinement compared with previous games, handily earning it a place in our top five.
3. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2009; PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Mac)
Hot off the success of the original Modern Warfare, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 delivered the goods once again at a time when other games were still playing catch-up. It cemented the series’ cultural cachet with the controversial “No Russian” mission that had players take part in a terrorist attack on a civilian airport.
Spec Ops mode added a challenging two-player cooperative multiplayer experience to the series on top of the popular competitive death-match mode.
2. Call of Duty: Black Ops (2010; PC, PS3, 360, Wii, DS, Mac)
The original Black Ops saw the Call of Duty series officially transition into a pattern of record-breaking sales as the third game after Modern Warfare. Black Ops provided a mysterious narrative that played on espionage and Cold War tactics to deliver a solid single-player campaign.
The original Black Ops did a lot to push the series’ multiplayer forward. It was the first to have match recordings, weapon personalizations and weapon purchasing with in-game currency. Also, co-op Zombies mode was greatly improved over the original version from World at War.
1. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007; PC, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, Mac)
This is the game that turned everything around for first-person shooters and much of gaming in general. Up to this point, Call of Duty had been a World War II military shooter with admirable attention to detail. But Modern Warfare set single-player and multiplayer expectations to new levels. The modern setting did a lot to ratchet up the intensity, offering political intrigue between contemporary powers wielding imposing modern military weaponry.
The role of multiplayer mode in doing so was just as important, as it popularized features that would become standards in shooters to this day. With killstreaks, weapon attachments, weapon loadouts, player experience levels and the prestige system, among other standouts, Modern Warfare laid the foundation that other games would build upon for over a decade.