Call of Duty Vanguard delivers some fantastic experiences.
Boasting a new campaign set in Nazi Germany during World War 2 and carrying that theme through to both multiplayer and Zombies modes, Call of Duty Vanguard returns to ground well-trodden across franchise and genre. I know some people were on the fence about another WW2 themed Call of Duty, especially with the future content changes to Warzone, but I can assure you it’s implemented well.
The Call of Duty franchise has produced some amazing campaigns over the years and Vanguard is no exception. They’ve generally been focused on an entertaining and exciting narrative rather than pursuing historical accuracy but that has always been part of the charm.
Call of Duty Vanguard focuses on a specialist team put together to track down intel on Project Phoenix, a top-secret nazi plan. The first mission tasks you with hijacking a train that leads to a submarine port held by the enemy.
This mission ends with a run-in with the man behind the mysterious Project Phoenix Freisinger a high ranking SS soldier and the team captured by the enemy.
Call of Duty Vanguard Review
The interrogation scenes form the basis for the storytelling structure moving forward. As each member is interrogated they recall the acts of valour that got them a spot on the team. You’ll play as each member during their recollection of the events. The first is the leader of the ragtag bunch Lieutenant Arthur Kingsley, a British paratrooper from the 9th parachute battalion; a brave level headed man that just wants the job done.
Each member gets their time to shine as the campaign progresses. Polina Petrova aka Lady Nightingale is one of Russia’s most deadly snipers. Lucas Riggs is the Australian demo specialist known for his insubordination and heroism equally. And finally the hotshot flyboy Wade Jackson, an American pilot. I found it interesting that the Sledgehammer team decided to use real-life inspiration and acts of valour for each of the characters.
The story is fantastically written and each character’s personality is showcased as it moves forward. The cast did an incredible job at portraying their characters with the voice work. It was fantastic to see them all stand out and be equally well-rounded. The cut scenes are some of if not the best I’ve seen in any recent game and the world feels so real and alive and I can do nothing but praise Sledgehammer and the cast for what I assume was a lot of hard work. There are also some interesting points of diversity layered into it. It ensures to encapsulate the product of the time period and drives that message without being too in your face about it.
The gameplay for the campaign is your typical linear Call of Duty shooter. It utilises that nice fluid experience through its structure and each mission transitions in and out of the cutscenes and feels like one experience as a whole. You’ll be flying planes, sniping in war-torn cities, stalking through jungles and weathering the heat of deserts. Each playable character has their own unique abilities to help adapt to the environments and situations they face.
There is also the addition of elite soldiers. They require a more tactical approach when coming up against them. Hard to kill and using tactical maneuvers like smoking themselves for cover, you need to be a little more cautious of how you approach the situation.
The campaign took me about 5 hours to complete which is pretty standard among the rest of the franchise. For some reason, it felt short to me but this may be due to enjoying it so much I didn’t want it to end.
If you’ve played Call of Duty multiplayer you’ll know they can be equal parts fun and frustrating. The same can be said with Vanguard when it gets down to it. I have noticed some interesting quality of life changes such as mounting on cover. You can now strafe on mounted horizontal cover. This change has somehow made the gameplay feel slightly different when utilized. The other changes I’ve enjoyed are the enhanced mod system in the gunsmith. I was interested to see how the WW2 style weapons would operate in the more modern way Call of Duty games are played. Although it seems a bit tacky to fully mod out these classic guns it is a lot of fun to find that build you really like.
The standard playlist boasts 16 new maps to play and the rotation seems more frequent meaning less chance of repetition of the same map. Visually these maps are fantastic, design wise can be a little frustrating at times. Some maps are just way too small when in the larger lobbies that result in the ever frustrating spawn camp, revive, die and repeat. I did manage to find a way to curb this issue that I will share below when exploring the new pacing feature.
Currently, the game modes in the standard playlist are fairly common. You will still have the option of core and hardcore and this time all game modes are available in hardcore. You will be able to choose or filter the playlist for team deathmatch, domination, kill confirmed, search and destroy, free for all and hardpoint.
The newest feature to the multiplayer playlist is the introduction of pacing. Pacing now acts as a further addition for altering or filtering lobbies for each game mode. The three different pacing modes are all on by default and if so randomize how the lobby will be paced. You have tactical, assault and blitz as settings and all boast a different kind of experience depending on the maps. Tactical is the veteran version meaning lobbies will always be 6v6. Assault on the other hand increases the player limit to around 14 to 26. Then there is blitz, oh the ever chaotic blitz, which further increases player limit to 16 to 36 depending on map size.
As I mentioned previously with map design, map size can be frustrating when playing a blitz lobby. This is not to say it can’t be fun with all that chaos but it can get old kind of fast. The good news is these pacing modes can be filtered, unfortunately not as I would personally like as I would prefer to turn blitz off and play the other two. However, you can either have them all on or select one of the options when searching a lobby.
As to the meta, it hasn’t been entirely fleshed out yet as players level up new weapons. In saying that, prepare for a lot of shotgun and SMG action. The feel of Vanguard’s multiplayer is fairly fast-paced and time to kill is reasonably quick. This means that performance and stability are key when jumping into a match. After spending some time tinkering with settings I noticed that Vanguard utilises on-demand texture streaming. This can create performance issues, especially for my fellow Aussies and our average internet speeds. If you have changed your settings and still have performance issues this may be worth turning off. From my understanding when this setting is on it is downloading high-quality textures as needed.
One key note as of writing this review is that quick scoping snipers are not viable in Vanguard. I’m sure people will find builds eventually but so far snipers have taken a severe hit to ADS time. Outside of that though all the weapons feel fantastic and very unique. There are also some tweaks to some of the perks available for your loadouts. Each type of perk now feels like they are categorised well making for some fun builds but limits them in a way for more balance. It’s a shame to see dead silence is still rearing its ugly head but to be honest it doesn’t have a huge impact. The audio tends to be so cluttered you don’t hear footsteps that often anyway.
The real shining light of the multiplayer is the new mode champion hill. It serves as a fresh version of gunfight combined with a round-robin mode with a duos and trios playlist. All 8 squads will load into a neutral zone, to begin with. Then squads are paired off to face each other in their own arena like battlefield. The goal is kill or be killed, with only a limited amount of lives for each team. Once you lose a certain amount or force the other team to, you will end the round with the lives lost deducted from your total. At this point you are either thrown into another round or as the teams are knocked out you will have a chance to upgrade and purchase new weapons.
To claim victory you will need to be the last team standing. The neutral zone serves as an area of respite and gives you a chance of upgrading via a buy system. To earn cash to use in the buy zone you need to collect it from the enemies you kill. This can allow momentum for the early teams to dominate but it is a more competitive style of play. Plus you can take those upgraded enemy weapons when you kill them, so blowing all your cash is not the only way to upgrade. I’ll be keeping an eye on how this mode evolves moving forward as it could be what freshens up the competitive multiplayer scene for Call of Duty.
Zombies mode in Vanguard is currently the weakest part of the game. I say currently as this mode has a lot more to offer and can see future content bolstering it up. As it is on release I certainly had fun with it. The standard game mode Der Anfang has loose ties to the campaign story wherein the Nazi regime had many projects during WW2. It just so happens that one of them was research on the occult. This leads to one of the researchers triggering an ancient artifact that allows contact with another supernatural world. Of course, being an evil Nazi, they accept the power offered from the otherworldly entities and bam, zombies.
You can form a squad of up to a four-man team, match make or play solo. The usual Zombie mode traits remain; start in a small area and progress through a wave system slowly expanding the area. There is however slightly more to it this time around. When you want to expand an area you must activate a portal that loads you into an instance. There will be one of three different instances assigned to the portal. The first being blitz, which sees you fight off waves while holding an area. Harvest requires you to be killing enemies and collecting souls to give to a totem that moves around the area when filled. And lastly, Transmit has an artifact that creates a dome area designated as a safe zone. The artifact moves around the map forcing you to be on the move at all times until it reaches its destination.
Once you complete one of the portal instances you will expand the starting area revealing more of the map. This area acts as a Hub in a way but after each instance, you will find Zombies have set up shop around the area and need to be cleaned out. Speaking of shops, the usual suspects return like the pack a punch and mystery box but a few new features now add to the experience and tidy up the buy system. The newest addition is the Alter of Covenant which you can purchase up to three perk-like upgrades specific to Zombies. These perks are fun and upgraded versions will become available as you progress. My personal favourite was called dead accurate, where consecutive hits on the same enemy do more damage. The upgrade perks return as well to boost your health, speed, crit damage and so on. All together makes for a lot of fun trying to build different setups to take on the hoards.
My experience playing Zombies was indeed fun but without further content it seemed lacking. The other part of the experience was that I never really felt under threat. I played with random team mates via matchmaking for all playthroughs and completed it every time. With the exception of one playthrough I never felt overwhelmed or like I was in any real danger. I did happen to get downed once but it was due to carelessness. Another new addition I thought may change the threat level was my first time seeing one of the elite zombies appear. Unfortunately with the right perks or weapons they can be dealt with rather easily.
To sum it up, Call of Duty Vanguard has a killer campaign. The multiplayer is just more of the same fun with a great new mode. And the Zombies mode is a little lacklustre on release but does have more content I think will really bolster the experience.
Sledgehammer proved it has some fantastic creative direction even when working with a somewhat run down theme. On top of that the performances by the voice actors are truly outstanding. For Call of Duty fans you won’t be disappointed and for you on the fence people consider researching if it’s for you first.
Call of Duty Vanguard was reviewed on PC using a digital code provided by Activision.