The Call of Duty (CoD) franchise has included some of gaming’s most prolific moments from the last 20-years. No Russian, Mile High Club, and All Ghillied Up, just to mention a few. It’s also produced some unfortunate lows: press X to pay respects or some of those incredible interactive fish, anyone?

Needless to say, the franchise has been a staple of gaming almost to the point of being overused, and has since had a renaissance with 2017’s WWII and last years’ reimagining of Modern Warfare. Now, every fan has their favorite, and multiple games have been labeled as the best iteration in the series. But where does every game actually rank? 

Well, I took the time to go through the 18 main CoD titles (excluding mobile and spin-offs) to answer that question. The opinions here are my own and also take into account the audience and critical response of these titles in each ranking. So go ahead and pick your loadout, prep that scorestreak, and watch out for those pesky campers because we’re walking through the entire Call of Duty franchise.

Call of Duty Games Ranked

Beginning with our least favorite, let’s work our way down to the #1 best CoD title of all time.

18. Call of Duty 3

CoD 3
  • Developer: Treyarch
  • Release Date: November 7, 2006

Ah, Call of Duty 3. For the first time in the franchise’s history, Treyarch took the reins, starting the tradition of rotating developers for the series. Unfortunately, it also was the first instance of diminishing returns due to a short development cycle. 

Call of Duty 3 only served as a slight graphical upgrade with a multiplayer mode that just couldn’t seem to settle on what it wanted to be. While Treyarch did try to make some major campaign changes, allowing for more open-ended storytelling, the lack of overall polish made this sequel less than what came before.

17. Call of Duty: Ghosts

CoD Ghosts
  • Developer: Infinity Ward
  • Release Date: November 5, 2013

Ghosts served as CoD’s title to split the gap between generations and is the game that promised incredible AI reactions, dynamic leveling, and a fluffy dog companion. It basically failed on all those fronts and served as the negative tipping point for the franchise. 

While the campaign takes place in modern-day, it diverts from traditional CoD storytelling with a wholly original tale of secretive legacy of soldiers called Ghosts. It was a drastic drop-off for the series with lackluster gameplay, an alien invasion mode to replace zombies, and an uninspired and straightforward campaign.

16. Call of Duty

CoD 1
  • Developer: Infinity Ward
  • Release Date: October 29, 2003

The original Call of Duty emerged as a different type of FPS, dipping into realistic gun mechanics, limited gun options, and the potential to be taken out in a matter of seconds.

With most of the development team previously working on the Medal of Honor franchise, the title pushed for realism and focused on a grittier representation of war throughout its three campaigns. Although it was seen as short, it would go on to receive critical acclaim for its mix of tight gunplay, immersive sound design, and focus on bombastic action.

While it may be simple by today’s standards, CoD made the world take notice and set the standard for FPS titles moving forward.

15. Call of Duty: Mobile

CoD Mobile
  • Developer: TiMi Studios
  • Release Date: October 1, 2019

This is the only mobile exception on this list since it also serves as the first full attempt at translating CoD to mobile.

CoD: Mobile serves as the franchise’s first free-to-play game and received fairly favorable reviews for how well it translates gameplay to a touchscreen. It continues to gain new seasonal content, and even has its own esports league! It would definitely rank a bit higher if it weren’t for the limitations of the game being mobile-exclusive.

14. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare

CoD Infinite Warfare
  • Developer: Infinity Ward
  • Release Date: November 4, 2016

Infinite Warfare would take the final step into the future for the CoD franchise, with a campaign fully set in space. This included zero-gravity environments, spaceship missions, and a home base to launch missions from. 

While the game was actually well-received, it also has the most disliked trailer launch on YouTube. It was an ambitious attempt by Infinity Ward to make something new for the franchise, but overall it buckled under the weight and lacked the solid gunplay of previous titles.

13. Call of Duty: Black Ops 3

CoD Black Ops 3
  • Developer: Treyarch
  • Release Date: November 6, 2015

Black Ops 3 felt like a title that didn’t really know what it wanted to do. It added in wall running (thanks Titanfall) but slowed down gameplay compared to Advanced Warfare. What emerged was a strange amalgamation of traditional CoD gameplay with a push for futuristic storytelling and abilities. 

It also introduced the specialist concept, minimizing character customization in favor of preset characters with unique abilities. On top of all that, it continued the confusing trend of overcomplicating Zombie Mode and may be one of the more disappointing games on this list for me.

12. Call of Duty: World at War

CoD World at War
  • Developer: Treyarch
  • Release Date: November 11, 2008

Treyarch returned to develop the fifth entry in the series, and took things back to basics with a WWII setting. Call of Duty: World at War set up the initial storyline that would continue through the Black Ops titles and added in the ability to purchase downloadable map packs. 

Probably the biggest addition was the introduction of Nazi Zombies to Call of Duty, a game mode that would take on a life of its own throughout the franchise. While it may have retreaded similar scenarios, the refined gameplay and bloody graphics set up World at War as a decent addition to run alongside the Modern Warfare franchise.

11. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3

CoD MW3
  • Developer: Infinity Ward, Sledgehammer Games
  • Release Date: November 8, 2011

Continuing the story of its predecessor, Modern Warfare 3 became the best selling CoD title of all time and was the first title to be co-developed by Sledgehammer Games. While it sold like gangbusters, it unfortunately felt like a hollow retread of what came before due to the absence of most of the original team from the first two MW titles.

Overall it was still an enjoyable and admiral addition to the franchise, but not quite the unique or triumphant finale that it could have been.

10. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4

CoD Black Ops 4
  • Developer: Treyarch
  • Release Date: October 12, 2018

Possibly the biggest change to the CoD franchise was the decision to eliminate the campaign entirely and introduce a battle royale mode in its place, aka BlackoutCall of Duty: Black Ops 4 retained much of the movement, progression, and specialist concepts from the previous Black Ops but added a new black market system for specialized weapons and skins you could earn and buy.

Overall this felt like a return to form for Black Ops after the strange sidestep of BLOPS 3. The gameplay felt tight and addictive, and the first battle royale attempt was a lot of fun to explore. It didn’t receive the support I’d hoped for, but it laid the groundwork for a massive addition just a little over a year later.

9. Call of Duty: WWII

CoD WWII
  • Developer: Sledgehammer Games
  • Release Date: November 3, 2017

World War II took things back to basics, even eliminating the automatic health regeneration that had been a core piece of the franchise since CoD 2. Ditching the other modern pieces of the previous few titles, Sledgehammer opted for a more strategic and simplified experience, even adding in pre-defined divisions in place of specialists.

WWII felt like a necessary refresher that still kept with the tradition of making small adjustments to test out. The Headquarters was a neat addition that added to the emotional value of the campaign, but the lackluster Zombie Mode and strange progression system did bring it down a few notches.

8. Call of Duty: Warzone

CoD Warzone
  • Developer: Infinity Ward, Raven Software
  • Release Date: March 10, 2020

I really wasn’t sure what Activision wanted to do with CoD battle royale after the abandonment of Blackout, but I suspected that they’d try to launch a solo title. Sure enough, Warzone premiered a few months after the Modern Warfare remake and blew everything out of the water. 

Gone were the complicated inventory and attachment systems. The map was now more varied and easier to navigate. And the two different game modes and gulag system were great additions to mix up the battle royale genre. Since this is somewhat of an expansion, it doesn’t quite break the top 5. But it’s a whole lot of fun, and I’m excited to see how they’ll keep supporting the game.

7. Call of Duty: Black Ops

CoD Black Ops
  • Developer: Treyarch
  • Release Date: November 9, 2010

Treyarch’s jump to modern day was all they needed to establish their style for CoD games. The Cold War mystery intertwined with real-world events and characters was a fun surprise that really set Black Ops apart from earlier games. 

The gameplay, map design, and balanced combat was the perfect combo, expanding on nearly everything that came before it. It also introduced Nuke Town, so we have to give it props for that alone.

6. Call of Duty 2

CoD 2
  • Developer: Infinity Ward
  • Release Date: October 5, 2005

Releasing two years after the original, CoD 2 led with the regenerating health feature to encourage faster-paced gameplay and differentiate itself from similar shooter titles. Still set in WWII, it retained the same split campaign system and overall mechanics but included a noticeable graphical update.

Possibly the biggest success of CoD 2 was how it introduced the franchise to consoles, serving as a launch title for the Xbox 360. It really feels like the simplest version of the best gameplay aspects of traditional Call of Duty, even if it is missing some of the series staples from future games.

5. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Modern Warfare
  • Developer: Infinity Ward
  • Release Date: November 5, 2007

Modern Warfare brought the CoD franchise into a contemporary setting and proved that Infinity Ward knew how to write an intricate and nuanced story. The mission design was unparalleled at the time, and the additions to multiplayer would set the standard for CoD titles for the foreseeable future.

Now you had scorestreaks, kill to death ratio, and weapon customization to mess with. It really put CoD at the forefront of FPS titles and still stands as the golden standard in revolutionizing a property. I might get yelled at for not listing this as number two, but really everything in the top 5 is in good company. 

4. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare

CoD Advanced Warfare
  • Developer: Sledgehammer Games
  • Release Date: November 4, 2014

Advanced Warfare may be the most under-appreciated CoD game. It landed in between Ghosts and Black Ops 3, which I think stunted most people’s appreciation for the dramatic and enjoyable changes in movement and gameplay. 

It really felt like it took a lot of cues from Titanfall, which wasn’t a bad thing, with the exoskeletons allowing for new abilities, double jumps, and wall running that felt natural and enjoyable. The story also served as an exciting representation of current concerns with technology, oversight, and worries around the free market and military action. 

It’s a shame that the next few titles wouldn’t expand on what worked so well here, but at least we had this one-off experiment in the series.

3. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019)

CoD Modern Warfare 2019
  • Developer: Infinity Ward
  • Release Date: October 25, 2019

A lot was riding on the Modern Warfare reimagining, with the original being so beloved. While some of the story choices landed CoD in hot water for historical representation, it did nail exploring the gray side of war and making you really think about the decisions you were making. 

Modern Warfare (2019) also serves as possibly the best iteration of multiplayer in terms of progression, mechanics, and quality of life. Everything makes sense, you’re easily able to track how you’re doing, and the gunplay feels better than ever. With the addition of Warzone, which we talked about earlier, Modern Warfare felt like the official return to form for the franchise.

2. Call of Duty: Black Ops 2

CoD Black Ops 2
  • Developer: Treyarch
  • Release Date: November 13, 2012

This ranking might get me the most flack, but I have a major soft spot for Black Ops 2. It worked as the natural next step in the series and optimized what came before it. Sure, the campaign missions were kind of all over the place, but the advanced customization and varied map designs in multiplayer were an absolute blast.

On top of that, we had the first occurrence of the zombie Easter egg system, which told an expanded story if you took the time to hunt everything down. This one really may be a title I see through rose-tinted glasses, but there’s just something about it. Kind of like the Modern Warfare revision, it hits everything it tries to do just right and is a blast to play.

1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

CoD Modern Warfare 2
  • Developer: Infinity Ward
  • Release Date: November 10, 2009

I’m pretty sure you all saw this one coming. How could it not be number one? Modern Warfare 2 basically redefined, again, what a modern FPS game could be. It expanded on everything that came before, amped up the set pieces, and added twists and nuanced storytelling – all while refining gunplay and multiplayer systems even further.

There’s not really much else to say about this one aside from it being the gold standard for CoD. Every other game on this list that I praised took a page out of MW2’s book to find success. Hopefully if/when this gets a remaster, it will feel just as good as it did before.

The Future of Call of Duty

CoD has had a mostly successful run of games that may have worn out its welcome for a while. Thankfully, it’s regained its stride with the last few titles and the addition of a battle royale mode. But there may be more trouble on the horizon.

We still don’t fully know what the next game will be and are waiting on an announcement. On top of that, there’s talk about studios being fired off the franchise, development cycles being shortened, and a fast-tracked Black Ops title to fill the gap.

Hopefully, this doesn’t spell further missteps for the franchise. But regardless of what lies ahead, there are at least 5-10 great games in the series to revisit if you hate what comes next. So good, in fact, that the rankings I listed here could really shift around the top 5 on any given day. Overall, it’s a surprisingly storied franchise with a wealth of highs and lows, that have helped make Call of Duty the powerhouse franchise it is today.

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