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Call of Duty is one of the most popular first-person shooter franchises of all time, and it's remained a powerhouse in gaming for nearly two decades. Through poor releases and instant classics, nearly every gamer has jumped into at least one of these titles.

Today, Call of Duty has a known presence on most platforms in one way or another. Traditional yearly releases continue to drop, COD Mobile is a dominant mobile option, and Warzone is among the most popular Battle Royale games in the genre. 

Through all of the releases in the past two decades, though, it's easy to lose track of the story and philosophy behind the first-person shooter franchise. Different developers and eras within the series can define the way players see the game.

The Story and History of Call of Duty games

In 2003, Call of Duty was released as a fairly groundbreaking World War 2 first-person shooter. Not only was the game gritty and grounded, but the gameplay was immediately a hit. Crisp mechanics with an arcade shooter backdrop has always defined the series to a degree.

The first few Call of Duty games were all World War 2 games that weren't necessarily connected to each other. They were renowned for their multiplayer modes and the single-player campaigns with a Band of Brothers style. These first few games marked the initial era of the series.

Everything amped up with the release of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. This game, which was developed by Infinity Ward, became an instant classic. Many long-time players of the franchise will list this game as their absolute favorite and a peak for the series.
Two major shifts came out of Modern Warfare. One was the campaign that continued that philosophy of a gritty campaign that follows different groups of soldiers from two different countries. The Modern Warfare campaign would introduce Soap and Captain Price as faces of the franchise. Price was technically in previous games, but they aren't exactly the same character.

Multiplayer was also something that revolutionized what we know about arena or arcade shooters today. The three-lane map philosophy was perfected, create-a-class options were added, and players were able to grind for camos to customize their weapons.

Those two aspects of Modern Warfare would continue into many future releases, including World at War. Treyarch was the studio behind that release, and it was also the introduction of Zombies. Both Call of Duty 4 and 5 would set the stage for this era of COD going forward.

For a small stretch, each year would change between a Modern Warfare game or a Black Ops game. This era is thought of as the golden era of COD for many, and the characters that existed in those stories, like Captain Price and Woods, have become iconic.

Call of Duty jetpack era and the renaissance

The golden era of COD ended when Call of Duty Ghosts was released. This game marked a time when players became tired of the same games, and the base philosophy of the map design was also warped. Their answer to this was jetpacks.

There were three Call of Duty games that contained jetpacks, and it was only Black Ops 3 that garnered some decent praise, especially competitively. Advanced Warfare received praise for something new and some fantastic competitive matches, but the player base was divided. All of these entries would typically have a unique mechanic that defined the game and a standalone story.

Though Infinite Warfare was the last jet pack game, this era wasn't entirely over as COD World War 2 and Black Ops 4 will be released afterward.  All of their marketing was based on the return of boots on the ground, and WW2 had a well-received campaign that was reminiscent of the originals, but it wasn't enough.

Black Ops 4, in particular, lacked a campaign and was a return to what players had already grown tired of. This is where Modern Warfare 2019 would enter the picture. This game brought a brand new engine to the equation along with plenty of new philosophies, all while retaining the same base mechanics.

This game would also mark the addition of Warzone and the first real Battle Passes. Blackout was technically the first Battle Royale, but it would not remain the flagship version.

Each Call of Duty after 2019, Black Ops Cold War and Vanguard, are part of the same connected system. Level progression carries over between them all, and each has shared weapons in the Battle Royale. 

Call of Duty game titles and release dates

With so many years and various release dates, it can be hard to track all of the COD games that have been released. Nearly every platform has had at least one, and there have been a ton of spin-offs. Even just counting the main entries, there are numerous titles to account for.

 

Main series of games:

  • Call of Duty - 2003

  • Call of Duty 2 - 2005

  • Call of Duty 3 - 2006

  • Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare - 2007

  • Call of Duty: World at War - 2008

  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 - 2009

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops - 2010

  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 - 2011

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops II - 2012

  • Call of Duty: Ghosts - 2013

  • Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare - 2014

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops III - 2015

  • Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare - 2016

  • Call of Duty: WWII - 2017

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 - 2018

  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare - 2019

  • Call of Duty: Warzone - 2020

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War - 2020

  • Call of Duty: Vanguard - 2021

  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II - 2022

Side series of games:

  • Call of Duty: United Offensive - 2004

  • Call of Duty: Finest Hour - 2004

  • Call of Duty 2: Big Red One - 2005

  • Call of Duty 2 Mobile - 2006

  • Call of Duty 2 Mobile (Windows) - 2007

  • Call of Duty: Roads to Victory - 2007

  • Call of Duty: World at War: Final Fronts - 2008

  • Call of Duty: Zombies - 2009

  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2: Force Recon - 2009

  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare: Mobilized - 2009

  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare: Reflex Edition - 2009

  • Call of Duty: Classic - 2009

  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3: Defiance - 2011

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops: Declassified - 2012

  • Call of Duty: Strike Team - 2013

  • Call of Duty Online - 2013

  • Call of Duty: Heroes - 2014

  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered 2016

  • Call of Duty: Mobile - 2019

  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Campaign Remastered

In between all of these games, there have been plenty of DLC releases as well. However, these are considered part of the base games themselves.

Can you play COD for free?

The answer to this depends entirely on the Call of Duty you want to play. In general, the main series of games will cost something, and they remain relatively expensive even after they've been out for a decade.

In some cases, the latest games will have free weekends where anyone can test out the game. This is certainly a free way to play, but it's only temporary. But don't worry, there are a couple of free methods.

First and foremost is Warzone, which is the most popular aspect of the current state of the franchise. Warzone is a Battle Royale that combines all of the weaponry of the last three entries in the series. Battle Passes and cosmetics will require payment, but they are not mandatory to play.

COD Mobile is another free version of Call of Duty that anyone can play. This game functions much like the latest games, and it combines content from plenty of previous releases. However, if you want to jump into the upcoming Modern Warfare II, you'll need to pay full price. The good news is that this game will be the main Call of Duty series entry for the next two years.

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