Review – Call of Duty: Vanguard
Call of Duty: Vanguard has officially been unleashed upon the gaming world. The annual Call of Duty release everyone has come to expect ahead of the holiday season. With constant backlash from the previous installment, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, it was time to go back to something comfortable. Activision actually had to prove our concerns wrong. It was time for Call of Duty to return to its cozy childhood home of World War II.
As a whole, everything you’ve come to understand from Cold War still stands. Vanguard will be split into seasons, with new content coming at the start and around the middle of each season. To properly cover what Vanguard has to offer, this review will be split up in the exact order the game’s opening, and frankly, horrible-looking, splash screen orders it: campaign, multiplayer, zombies.
Vanguard‘s campaign follows a small group of military professionals from all different walks of life. The campaign is mostly used to show what makes each character so special, split up by fairly well done, although quite long, cutscenes. Consider it a movie, with gameplay segments splitting it up. The “main” character (and narrator of the story) is the leader of the team, Arthur Kingsley. Kingsley, as the game will make sure you’re reminded of, is black. Why is this important? Well, it’s not, but the game will tell you constantly that a black man is in charge. It’s more of a convenient plot device than anything actually important, as the SS officers like to say they “would never take orders from a..” well, you can probably work out where that quote might end.
The missions through the campaign are high energy, and frankly a lot of fun, but a bit weird. Vanguard can’t really pick a lane to stay in. The opening mission is a pretty standard Call of Duty mission, shoot Nazis on a train, then on a submarine, then in a submarine. From here it changes, mostly. Paulina, the Russian sniper on the team, has a mission akin to Assassin’s Creed or Mirror’s Edge, which will see you running across rooftops, jumping from one to the next, sneaking through vents and crawlspaces, climbing walls, and of course, assassinating enemies. There is also a flying and shooting down Japanese planes mission, that turns into a stealth section like in Metal Gear. One thing every mission has in common though: they all devolve into shooting everything, eventually.
While variety is the spice of life, Vanguard‘s campaign simply didn’t stick with a concept long enough to really make enough of an impact outside of “that was neat.” The same thing goes for each character having their own ability or tactic to use. Paulina uses a knife to trick and draw out snipers, and Wade, our resident pilot, can sense other people briefly. Again though, the concept doesn’t stick around long enough to actually make it too memorable. One thing that is prevalent enough though, is mild framerate issues. It’s not often, and weirdly it’s not even during high intensity segments, like huge dogfights over the ocean, but randomly, and always in the same spots, the framerate takes a weird dip.
Next up comes multiplayer. This is already a huge step up from where Cold War started, and honestly, even from where Cold War ended. Cold War launched with a total of eight multiplayer maps, while Vanguard has doubled this to sixteen, and that doesn’t include the Champion’s Hill maps. Thirteen original maps, like the larger Desert Siege, or very tight maps like Das Haus, and three returning maps from Call of Duty: World At War. Returning maps so far include Dome, Castle, and Sub Pens, the last of which I genuinely can not remember from that game, but it’s great to see Dome return.
One huge change to Vanguard is a degree of destructibility to the maps. Whether it’s walls or doors that you’re running through, or certain segments of walls you’re shooting out to make a good vantage point, it’s interesting to see a variety in playstyle, especially on the older maps. On the note of variety, weapons are able to have an attachment in every slot. No more “do I want an extended mag, or do I want a sight” when organising your gun. Each gun also has its own proficiency and kit: a proficiency, for instance, can give you faster reloading, and your kit can make it easier to hit an enemy with the butt end. This means everyone will be able to build their gun to their own comfort level and playstyle preference.
Dogs return as a menace in Vanguard multiplayer. As opposed to Cold War‘s scorestreaks, Vanguard returns to killstreaks, and dogs are one of the top ones to aim for at the moment. One of the easiest options, sitting at just three kills, is personal intel. This tells you, and only you, about enemy locations around yourself. Others include the glide bomb, which is this game’s version of the predator missile, as well as bombing runs. Some of which can be hard to get, especially if you’re trying to play the objective.
Vanguard also launched with a couple of new game modes. Patrol sees a small area, similar to Hardpoint, that your team needs to stay in to collect points. The kicker being, the patrol zone is always on the move, meaning you’ll be exposed and in the open at certain points. It’s as self-explanatory as it cane be.
The other mode is Champion’s Hill, which is definitely more exciting. Placed on a team of two or three people, your team is given a set amount of lives to go up against seven other teams. Each round you’ll only have a few minutes to get as many kills on the opposing team as possible. Once your team is out of lives, there will be no more respawning for the round, but you’re not out unless your team is killed before the end of it. You also can’t bring your classes into these matches; instead, everyone starts off with the same gun, but you’re able to buy upgrades for it, or buy a new gun. You can also buy perks, lethal and tactical equipment, or even extra lives. If you knock out a team, you can also steal their guns.
The last interesting change to Vanguard multiplayer is combat pacing. It allows you to pick how intense a match will be, and right now, it would appear “Blitz” is the preferred pacing by most. The basic premise is that there are three pacing options: “All Tactical” features the last amount of players in a match, usually reduced to around 6v6. Then there is “Assault Pacing”, which is your average match size, around 8v8 or 10v10. Finally, there is “Blitz”. It is the most hectic of them all, which will fill the lobby entirely. The amount of people in the match will be dictated by the map size, so you won’t have 16v16 on a super small map like Shipment.
Last to discuss is Zombies. As much as I would like to say I was leaving the best for last, this mode has been quite lacklustre so far. Cold War was meant to launch with two maps, but due to Covid-19 and time restrictions, that just wasn’t possible. Vanguard, on the other hand, launched with one multiplayer map, which features a small section of World At War‘s Shi No Numa.
Now let me throw out, I do really like the concept of the new zombies mode. Instead of the normal round-based zombies experience, it’s now a mix between rounds and Outbreak mode. You travel through a portal to a section of map that presumably resides in the Dark Aether (the current zombies storyline), complete an objective, and return. Each objective completed means the amount of points earned is increased and zombies get stronger.
Everything is fine to this point, except not having a normal round-based map. Seriously, Treyarch worked on this Zombies mode as well, kept it in the same story line, and still couldn’t give it a proper round-based map? The map features two special zombies, one of them being a Boom-Schriker, which explodes. This is nothing new, as plenty of enemies in Call of Duty Zombies modes have done this in the past.
One thing the zombies have never done is shoot back, but this time around, there are big zombies with miniguns. Basically think of the Grinders from Gears of War. Basically that. This is a huge turn for the zombies, and honestly not a very nice one. Being shoved into small open areas with these enemies that absolutely refuse to die is horrible. Zombies isn’t meant to be a hide and hold out mode; this is a run and gun game mode. If I wanted to face enemies like this, I would just play Zombie Army again.
Zombies throws a couple new things your way in terms of power ups as well. Carpenter is gone, but now we have max armour. Pretty much the same thing, just there aren’t any windows to board up anymore so that part of it isn’t needed. There are new perks and you can upgrade perks by buying them multiple times. Every perk is free to get for Level 1, but the next three levels will cost an increasing amount. Personally, I find sleight of hand/quick reload to be mostly useless this time around.
What was one of the best perks is basically null and void at this point. While pack-a-punch costs more this time around, weapon modifiers like electric and fire ammo elements no longer cost points. Instead, they cost heart sacrifices, which you get one of per portal completion. This is complete with basic tiering, so rare upgrades cost one heart, epic two, and legendary three hearts. You can only have three upgrades total, so as you find new ones you like more, you’ll have to give up a different one.
Pack-a-punch, the mystery box, the alter for sacrificing hearts, and the portals: everything is found in the hub area, which is the same map the portals will take you too, just slightly different even if it’s never really explained why. Zombies are here as well, but they’re less aggressive unless you take too long, or you shoot them, or for unknown reasons sometimes they just get aggressive for the sake of it. It’s a pain when you’re just trying to buy a new gun, and you keep getting shot by the minigun zombies. On the note of the box, though, you can now pull pack-a-punched weapons out of it.
This last bit is just to discuss some general bits and bobs that didn’t fall under one category. For instance, Vanguard does a great job of using dynamic sound. Shooting indoors, outdoors, in tunnels, ect., all sound different. Nothing crazy, but it’s a nice touch. Also, on the note of sound, the music in this game drove me INSANE. The main theme music, which is basic and boring as all hell, plays on an almost constant loop throughout the campaign. That’s fine, but then there’s also a tune in multiplayer that goes every time you use the deathmachine. When you die, you don’t lose the deathmachine, you just need to pull it back out, the tune plays again.
It has become a joke for me to randomly sing the deathmachine tune as it drives me so mental at this point that I feel the need to mock it! Last off, let me briefly talk about the graphics. Vanguard looks great, at least for a Call of Duty game. This is nothing exceptional, but the cinematics and everything through the campaign is leaps and bounds better than anything Cold War had to offer, or any other previous iteration of Call of Duty for that matter.
Save for some small changes to each of the individual game modes, it’s obvious that most the effort in Vanguard went into multiplayer, which makes sense. Zombies has been brushed almost entirely to the wayside, and while the campaign is fairly lengthy and has a story that actually makes sense, not involving brainwashing, it’s a big win for Call of Duty this year. The hope now is that the season updates, new maps, and hopefully some new Zombies content, can help to fully flesh the game out effectively. At the very least, Vanguard hopefully won’t be adding Rambo as a skin just because it was “a popular 80s movie.”
The cutscenes and details in Call of Duty: Vanguard are great, but not exceptional by any means. The cinematic moments do look quite good though.
Nothing here breaks the mold. At its core, Vanguard is another Call of Duty title that will sell incredibly well. There’s no huge changes, but why go risky when you have a model that works?
The gun and character sounds/voices are done greatly. Characters match their attitudes and voices which is a nice plus. The theme music may soon make me rip my hair out though, if the deathmachine music doesn’t do it first. Hearing those on repeat is some high level torture.
Vanguard definitely stands above Cold War, Modern Warfare, and Warzone in terms of enjoyability. The game doesn’t feel too arcade-y like Cold War, or too heavy like Modern Warfare. With some good season updates, Vanguard could see the praise that Modern Warfare got as well.
Final Verdict: 8.0
Call of Duty: Vanguard is available now on PS4, PS5, PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series S, and Xbox Series X.
Reviewed on Xbox Series X.
A copy of Call of Duty: Vanguard was provided by the publisher.