In just two years time the Call of Duty franchise will be celebrating its 20th birthday – the first game in the series was released back in 2003 and sequels have been coming thick and fast ever since.
Keeping track of the timeline order of the games can be tricky, as many of them span several years. Treat this guide as just one way to do it, rather than the definitive way, as there are admittedly arguments for shuffling the order around.
If you want to play through all the existing CoD games in order, here is a guide for how to do it – but remember, there are an awful lot of them!
How to play the Call of Duty games in timeline order
If you want to play the Call of Duty games in an order that makes some kind of sense, the most coherent timeline to follow is that of real-life history. This isn’t a perfect science, because some games span more than one era, but it’s still a great way to play through the franchise. With that in mind, check out our recommended Call of Duty timeline order below.
Call of Duty: WW2
The first game in timeline order is WW2, which was released relatively recently in 2017. When we mentioned that some of these could be shuffled about, well the first entry is a good example of that as the game starts in 1940 – the earliest date in the COD timeline – but then moves on and takes place around 1944 – 1945.
So while we have chosen to place it here, you can place it after World at War without it making a huge amount of difference. One advantage of starting here is that you can play zombie mode and wipe out Nazi zombies, which is every bit as fun as it sounds.
Call of Duty: Finest Hour
This is another game that jumps about in the timeline, but going by its earliest point it’s here that we have chosen to place it. American, British, and Soviet soldiers all take centre stage in this one, which gives us three different campaigns in one game. Also, as a fun fact, this was the first game in the series to be made for consoles and it got a release on the original Xbox and the PlayStation 2.
Call of Duty: World at War
Kiefer Sutherland leads the voice cast in this World War 2 based entry, which remains one of the highlights of the franchise even all these years on. This one is set in Pacific Theatre against the Imperial Japanese, and it is an epic campaign that still holds up to play today.
Also, this was the first game to give us zombie mode, a reason in itself to name check this game as one of the Call of Duty greats.
Call of Duty 2
Again, we’ll go by the earliest date shown in the game to decide its placing, which is 1942. The sequel to the original game, Call of Duty 2 upped the ante and gave us four different lead characters of different nationalities, all with an eye on freeing the world from the evil Nazi regime.
Call of Duty
Now we go right back to the beginning with the original Call of Duty game that was first released in 2003. You get three different campaigns in this one, with British, Russian and American soldiers leading each one.
The stories run from 1942 to 1944, but as with every other game we are going with the earliest date, so 1942 puts it here on our list – just after the game that followed it to keep us all on our toes.
Call of Duty 3
Yet another game set in World War 2, this one at least makes it easier to place as it does not span multiple years. So we can pop it here with no asides complicating things. Call of Duty 3 takes place around the events of Operation Cobra, which involved the Allies battling their way out of Normandy.
Call of Duty: Big Red One
Taking place around 1944, this is a must-play game for fans of the hit mini-series Band of Brothers (if you haven’t watched that, do yourself a favour and do so right now) as it features several members of the cast in its voice line up – including Michael Cudlitz and Richard Speight Jr.
A real-life Army Infantry Division was called the Big Red One, if you were wondering where the game got its name from.
Call of Duty: Black Ops
Onto the hugely successful and popular Black Ops series now and we skip forward quite a few years to the Cold War era, starting in 1961. The story runs through to 1968, so it covers a lot of the decade. You play as Alex Mason who is part of the US black operations unit – or SOG as it is otherwise known.
Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War
The most recent game in the series in terms of release, Cold War is set… well it’s set in the Cold War funnily enough! Timing-wise, it is an ’80s-centric game and the story involves the “pursuit of the alleged Soviet spy Perseus, whose stated goal is to subvert the United States and tilt the balance of power toward the Soviet Union”.
The online Battle Royale version of the game looks set to have an ’80s themed map as part of the Call of Duty season 3 update that is due to launch soon.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 2
One of the “easiest” games to complete on the brutal veteran difficulty, Black Ops 2 is where things get a tad more complicated in terms of when it takes place. This one switches between a 1960s setting like the original Black Ops, and also takes place in the future (although 2025 is not as futuristic now). It also features many new additions to the gameplay that would become commonplace in the games set in the future.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
Modern Warfare starts off with General Barkov’s invasion of Urzikstan in 1999 – but things soon change and the setting moves to 2019 for the rest of the campaign. While technically a reboot, and therefore not strictly part of the continuity of the other Modern Warfare games, this is still a good place to put it.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
One of the most popular games in the history of Call of Duty, Modern Warfare had a remaster a few years back so you can play it with improved graphics and gameplay – or just stick to the original version which still holds up to play now.
This was the first game in the series, in release order, to move away from World War 2 and it came at the right time as this felt like the reinvigoration that the games needed at this point. Timing-wise, it mostly takes place in 2011.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Following the massive success of the first game in the newly named series, Modern Warfare 2 did not disappoint when we all got to play it. This was one of the most “action movie”-like games in the franchise with Russians invading the USA and some memorable fights, including an invasion of the White House. Of all the games that Call of Duty has given us, this one is among the most replayable. It’s set in 2016, just in case you were wondering.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
The excellent original Modern Warfare trilogy drew to a close with this game, and it certainly went out in style! Captain Price and Soap MacTavish return for the third story and it wastes little time in picking up exactly where the second game left off. So play these back to back and experience one heck of an adventure.
Call of Duty: Ghosts
A coalition of South American nations is the threat to the US this time around, in a game that starts in 2017 and has a story that stretches across to around 2027. And Ghosts has perhaps one of the most bombastic starts to any of the games on this list.
Several cities in the southwestern United States are wiped off the map as the story begins, destroyed by a superweapon in space that goes by the mighty name of Odin. After that occurs we skip ahead 10 years to play the rest.
A large portion of Black Ops 2 that takes place in 2025 happens here, so if you wanted to move that game to this point in the list then that’s certainly a valid choice.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4
The Black Ops stories continue, but this time we go further into the future as the game is set in 2043. Researcher Savannah Mason-Meyer takes the lead here and she trains elite soldiers via a virtual simulation to get them ready to deal with a major threat that is on the way.
Disappointingly, and controversially, this game does not have a regular single-player campaign and instead focuses on a Specialist HQ training mission, Battle Royale and zombies. These are all good fun, but not having a campaign makes it one that you may want to skip if you are only interested in the single-player experience.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare
We jump further ahead in time now to 2054, and it is at this point that things went very futuristic, something that many long-term fans of the series were not overly thrilled about. It is easy to see why – while the series had strayed from being a grounded military game many times before, now we have cloaking, hoverbikes and exoskeletons!
It is still a ton of fun though, with some memorable moments – but it’s no surprise that it wasn’t long before the franchise started looking to the past again.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 3
2065 is the setting for Black Ops 3 and the futuristic aspects of the game were really dialled up for this one, further alienating some players who were longing to get back to a more grounded version of the franchise.
Military robotics in a dark twisted future is the name of the game here and the story covers five years, finishing in 2070.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare
And all this brings us to 2016’s Infinite Warfare! The game takes place around 2080 (ish), so the furthest in the future by at least 10 years and you play as Captain Nick Reyes. Reyes is a Tier 1 Special Operations pilot and he leads his forces against the enemy – in space!
Earth here is not as we know it and resources are depleting quicker than ever while the solar system is being explored to find replacements. We’ll try not to worry that, in the eyes of the developers, we’ll all be nearing extinction within 60 years.
How to play the Call of Duty games in release order
However, the timeline order isn’t the only way in which you could play through the Call of Duty franchise! If you want to play the CoD games in the order they came out, this is the order you’ll want to follow:
- Call of Duty (2003)
- Call of Duty: United Offensive (2004)
- Call of Duty: Finest Hour (2004)
- Call of Duty 2 (2005)
- Call of Duty 2: Big Red One (2005)
- Call of Duty 2 (Mobile) (2006)
- Call of Duty 3 (2006)
- Call of Duty 2 (Windows Mobile) (2007)
- Call of Duty: Roads to Victory (2007)
- Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007)
- Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (Nintendo DS) (2007)
- Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (Mobile) (2007)
- Call of Duty: World at War (2008)
- Call of Duty: World at War: Final Fronts (2008)
- Call of Duty: World at War (Nintendo DS) (2008)
- Call of Duty: World at War (Mobile) (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: Modern Warfare: Mobilized (2009)
- Call of Duty: Modern Warfare: Reflex Edition (2009)
- Call of Duty: Classic (2009)
- Call of Duty: Black Ops (2010)
- Call of Duty: Black Ops (Nintendo DS) (2010)
- Call of Duty: Black Ops Mobile (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: Black Ops: Declassified (2012)
- Call of Duty: Strike Team (2013)
- 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: Modern Warfare 2 Campaign Remastered (2020)
- Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War (2020)
We’ll be sure to update this list when more Call of Duty games are released. Until then, you should find plenty to keep you busy in the franchise…
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