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Easy Guide to Play the Call of Duty Series in Order – What to play first?

When it comes to first-person shooters, Call of Duty ranks among one of the finest. The return of iconic characters such as Captain Price, Simon “Ghost” Riley and John “Soap” MacTavish in last year’s Modern Warfare 2 had players stoked about the game.

A new player might be skeptical to start the Call of Duty series, due to the fact that the series spans across 10+ titles. The wise option for a new player to get into the series would be to play through it either in its chronological order, the release order or the categorical order.

The release order refers to the order in which the Call of Duty games came out. It’s a tad bit easier to follow as compared to the chronological order. Take a look at all the Call of Duty games in its release order:

  • 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: Zombies (2009)
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2009)
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2: Force Recon (2009)
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops (2010)
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops Zombies (2011)
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (2011)
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3: Defiance (2011)
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops II (2012)
  • Call of Duty Online (2013)
  • Call of Duty: Ghosts (2013)
  • Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (2014)
  • Call of Duty: Heroes (2014)
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops III (2015)
  • Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare (2016)
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered (2016)
  • Call of Duty: WWII (2017)
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 (2018)
  • Call of Duty: Mobile (2019)
  • 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)
  • Call of Duty: Warzone 2 (2022)
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III (2023)

The release order is one of the best ways to play the series but there are other ways too which is why this guide has been put together in order to help new players who are looking to get into Call of Duty. You should be fine even if you follow either the categorical order or the chronological order. Let’s take a look at them.

1. The Categorical Order to Play the Call of Duty Series:

Easy Guide to Play the Call of Duty Series in Order - What to play first?
Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War (2020) | Source: Call Of Duty
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The categorical order separates each game into different categories. Following this order would be the definitive order to play the Call of Duty games as it would make the most sense.

Take a look at all the Call of Duty games in its categorical order:

I. Standalone Story – Original Timeline

  • Call of Duty (2003)
  • Call of Duty 2 (2005)
  • Call of Duty 3 (2006)
  • Call of Duty: World at War (2008)
  • Call of Duty: Ghosts (2013)
  • Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (2014)
  • Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare (2016)
  • Call of Duty: WWII (2017)
  • Call of Duty: Vanguard (2021)

II. Modern Warfare – Original Timeline

  • Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007)
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2009)
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (2011)

III. Black Ops – Original Timeline

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops (2010)
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops II (2012)
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops III (2015)
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 (2018)

Once you’re done with the Original Timeline, move on to the Reboot Timeline. The Reboot Timeline features Call of Duty games of the same name from the Original Timeline, which is why it is crucial to know which is which.

IV. Modern Warfare – Reboot Timeline

  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019)
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II (2022)
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III (2023)

V. Black Ops – Reboot Timeline

  • Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War (2020)

2. The Chronological Order to Play the Call of Duty Series

Easy Guide to Play the Call of Duty Series in Order - What to play first?
Call of Duty (2003) | Source: Steam
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The chronological order refers to the most logical and coherent timeline which is to follow the real-life history of these games. It would make the most sense as Call of Duty features games set during the 1940s, the 1980s, the 200s up until the distant future.

Take a look at all the Call of Duty games in its chronological order:

  • Call of Duty: WWII (1940s)
  • Call of Duty 1 (1940s)
  • Call of Duty 2 (1940s)
  • Call of Duty 3 (1940s)
  • Call of Duty: World at War (1940s)
  • Call of Duty: Vanguard (1940s)
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops (1960s)
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War (1980s)
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops II (1980s & 2025)
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2010s)
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (2010s)
  • Call of Duty: Ghosts (2020s)
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare – Reboot Timeline (2020s)
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II – Reboot Timeline (2020s)
  • Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III – Reboot Timeline (2020s)
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 (2040s)
  • Call of Duty: Black Ops III (2060s)
  • Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2000s)
  • Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare (2050s)
  • Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare (2100s)

It is worth noting that some Call of Duty games have the same name, which is why a couple of them are labelled as “Reboot Timeline” which refers to the reboot released in the recent years.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019), Modern Warfare 2 (2022) and Modern Warfare 3 (2023) are a reboot of the original Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007), Modern Warfare 2 (2009) and Modern Warfare 3 (2011) respectively. Hence, the former are labelled as “Reboot Timeline”.

3. Which Call of Duty should you play first?

Easy Guide to Play the Call of Duty Series in Order - What to play first?
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019) | Source: Activision
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It is entirely up to the player to decide which Call of Duty game they want to start with. If one wants to start from the beginning, they should play Call of Duty (2003). On the other hand, if someone wants to start with the Modern Warfare series, they should start with either Modern Warfare (2007) or Modern Warfare (2019).

This is a question which has got layers to it, which makes it incredibly difficult to create an objective answer. The best course that new players should take is to start with whichever Call of Duty game they like. Pick a category and follow through with it. For example, if you pick Black Ops, start the series with Call of Duty: Black Ops (2010) and follow through.

4. Do you need to play the Call of Duty series in order?

Easy Guide to Play the Call of Duty Series in Order - What to play first?
Call of Duty 4 Modern Warfare (2007) | Source: Steam
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The Call of Duty games can be played in any order you like. However, it’s undoubtedly better if you play them according to the category they belong to. If you want to play the original Modern Warfare series, start with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007).

Following the categorical order reduces the risk of confusion when you’re playing through the Call of Duty games. However, that does not mean you cannot play the games out of order. You absolutely can, but keep in mind that some Call of Duty games have connections to each other.

5. Are all Call of Duty games connected to each other?

Easy Guide to Play the Call of Duty Series in Order - What to play first?
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II (2022) | Source: Call of duty
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The Call of Duty games are not all within the same universe. However, some of the games are connected to each other. All of the original Modern Warfare games are connected to each other. On the other hand, only Black Ops (2010) and Black Ops 2 (2012) are connected to each other.

Games like Advanced Warfare (2014), Infinite Warfare (2016), WWII (2017), and Vanguard (2021) are entirely set in a separate universe without any connection to each other. You might be confused with the timelines at first, but the more you progress through the games, the more you understand it.

6. Which is the hardest Call of Duty game?

Easy Guide to Play the Call of Duty Series in Order - What to play first?
Call of Duty: WWII (2017) | Source: Fandom
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Frankly, any Call of Duty game can be the hardest when played on Veteran difficulty. However, some are harder than the others. When it comes to having the hardest Veteran difficulty, Call of Duty (2003), World at War (2008) and WWII (2017) score a tie.

All three games feature a Veteran difficulty, which are excruciatingly painful to beat. On top of standard enemies being able to kill the player in just one or two shots, the lack of a health regeneration system makes it a nightmare for players to master this difficulty.

7. When is Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III (2023) releasing?

Easy Guide to Play the Call of Duty Series in Order - What to play first?
Captain Pric in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III (2023) | Source: Call Of Duty
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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III launches globally on November 10th on PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PC. Developed by Sledgehammer Games, it’s a direct follow-up to last year’s smash hit Modern Warfare II, and it follows Task Force 141 as they face their biggest threat yet.

Modern Warfare III features the return of the iconic ultranationalist war criminal Vladimir Makarov, and it also includes various different game modes, both new and returning. Long-time fans of the franchise will be pleased to know that lots of things from the older games are making a comeback in this one, such as the fan-favorite map Verdansk.

8. Which is the best Call of Duty campaign?

Easy Guide to Play the Call of Duty Series in Order - What to play first?
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007) | Source: Steam
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The topic itself is debatable as the answer can differ from player to player. But according to the majority of them, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007) has the best campaign in the series and there’s plenty of reasons to back that up.

The franchise itself wouldn’t be as revolutionary as it is today without Modern Warfare (2007). Being the 4th mainline entry in the series, it introduced players to iconic characters like Captain Price and Soap, an incredibly fleshed-out campaign and cinematic visuals and gameplay.

It redefined and changed the genre of first-person shooters. It even got a remaster in 2016, which made the cinematic experience even better. Today’s Call of Duty games owe their successes to Modern Warfare (2007) because without it, the series wouldn’t be half as memorable as it is today.

9. Are any Call of Duty games free?

Easy Guide to Play the Call of Duty Series in Order - What to play first?
Call of Duty: Warzone 2.0 | Source: Call Of Duty
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Even though all the mainline Call of Duty games are priced, there are three Call of Duty titles that are free-to-play:

  • Call of Duty: Warzone
  • Call of Duty: Warzone 2.0
  • Call of Duty: Mobile

There are, of course, in-app purchases, just like in every other battle royale game, but they’re free to download and play. They’re extremely popular, with hundreds and thousands of players playing them on a daily basis and content being added regularly.

Both Call of Duty: Warzone and Warzone 2.0 are available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S, while Call of Duty: Mobile is available only on handheld mobile devices. But they can be downloaded for free from their respective platform stores.

10. What’s next for Call of Duty after Modern Warfare III (2023)?

Gameplay Reveal Trailer | Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III

The next mainline game in the series after Modern Warfare III is rumored to be Treyarch’s next Call of Duty: Black Ops game which is expected to release sometime next year. Various leaks and rumors have suggested that it’ll take place during the Gulf War.

While the focus might shift to Black Ops from next year, it seems like the franchise isn’t done with Task Force 141 yet. Recently, Call of Duty narrative director Brian Bloom confirmed that Modern Warfare III won’t be the end, unlike the original trilogy.

Bloom stated that there are already plans for stories to be told in future games, potentially hinting at Modern Warfare IV, and that they’re just getting started. “We think of character arcs as going one way, but they can also fall off their arc, they can go backwards, and people can evolve and devolve,” he said. “All these things offer rich, fertile ground to tell stories, and that’s not going to stop. In fact, I would say we’re just getting started.”

11. About Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III is an upcoming instalment in the new line of Modern Warfare Series. 

It is reported to follow incidents of Modern Warfare II that came out in 2022 and featured the iconic Task Force 141 led by Captain Price.

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Aaryan Sharma

Aaryan Sharma

Meet our Tech Wiz – he’s a true-blooded otaku and an encyclopedia of all things tech! Foodie to the hilt and the clandestine king of online food ordering! There is No Veg burger he doesn’t have an opinion on!