Call of Duty: Vanguard Review (PC) – Familiar Territory

Call of Duty: Vanguard Review

Amidst the growing allegations at Activision-Blizzard, another yearly Call of Duty title is upon us. Call of Duty: Vanguard promises to give a fresh take on World War 2, with a gritty story, a multiplayer experience packed with content, and a new Zombies mode helmed by fellow COD studio Treyarch. So how does it fare? Read on for our COD Vanguard review for all three core modes the game has available at launch.

Campaign

Vanguard’s campaign follows a small group of elite soldiers, each with their own specialty. Those specialties translate into unique gameplay abilities, and you’ll need to use each of them during the roughly five-hour campaign.

As you follow Vanguard squadron on their mission to retrieve classified intel from the Germans, you’ll learn about their backgrounds, and play through some of the most important moments of their lives. After each mission, a short cutscene returns you to the “present day” narrative of Berlin’s fall and a fictional Nazi plan to install a new Fuhrer.

Despite the interesting premise, Vanguard’s campaign unfortunately falls flat. For the most part, the characters are generic and there is nothing about the story to keep you invested. Most of the unique gameplay abilities are either highly situational, or could have simply been quick time events.

That’s not to say it’s all bad. Operation Tonga, one of the game’s standout levels, follows Vanguard squadron’s captain Arthur Kingsley, as he relives the Battle of Normandy. After crash-landing, you’ll have to sneak into enemy lines in the dead of night, in order to regroup with your fellow British soldiers. One of the highlights will have you charging into battle, flanked by transport tanks and your fellow troops as you mount an attack on a Nazi bunker. This moment is bolstered by Vanguard’s incredible soundtrack.

In the end though, Vanguard’s campaign feels like just another run of the mill Call of Duty campaign that says nothing about the events of the war. The story is decent enough, and it certainly has its highlights but nothing about this campaign stands out or pushes the series forward.

Multiplayer

With tons of competition this Fall, Sledgehammer Games had to bring their A-game for this year’s multiplayer, and for the most part, they’ve succeeded.

Call of Duty Vanguard’s big selling point is content — and lots of it. Vanguard launches with 16 standard multiplayer maps, with an additional four maps reserved for the new Champion Hill mode. As if that weren’t enough, there are a healthy number of weapons in the game, each with dozens of attachments to unlock. The challenge and progression system has been upgraded as well, now with unique specialist skins to earn and more customization options to grind for than COD has seen in years.

So how does it play? Vanguard’s multiplayer sits somewhere between the last two entries, Modern Warfare and Black Ops Cold War. The playstyle is faster than Modern Warfare’s, where a slower, more tactical playstyle was encouraged. This is partially due to the map design, which is overall solid, and omits some of the clutter seen in Modern Warfare 2019. The TTK (time-to-kill)  is a bit slower as well, which gives you more of a fighting chance during gunfights.

The maps as a whole are solid, which is impressive considering the number of maps in the game. One of the standouts is Numa Numa, where a big, circular hill in the center of the map makes every match feel like a game of King of the Hill.

Vanguard runs on a slightly modified version of Modern Warfare 2019’s engine, which now features destructible elements. While it’s a cool feature, truth be told it doesn’t add a whole lot to the gameplay. Killstreaks are also back, in lieu of Black Ops Cold War’s convoluted semi-scorestreak system.

Outside of that, the core gameplay of Call of Duty: Vanguard hasn’t changed very much. But this seems to be by design. Activision have decided to forego some of the drastic gameplay changes and experimentation seen in Modern Warfare and Cold War, such as the changes to the minimap and the scorestreak system. Instead, they’ve opted for a more back to the basics Call of Duty multiplayer, with new and returning features that have long been requested by its core fanbase, and they’ve packed it with as much content as possible at launch. That decision pays off.

Zombies

Unfortunately, the same can not be said for Vanguard’s Zombies experience. At launch, Vanguard Zombies is a barebones experience, that amounts to little more than a series of mini-games played on maps recycled from the game’s multiplayer.

Unlike previous COD Zombies entries, there is no standalone Zombies map this year. Instead, you’re dropped onto one of the game’s multiplayer maps with a different skin and some of the Zombies essentials like perk machines, and the Pack a Punch.

Each round, you’ll take one of the portals on the map and attempt to complete a small challenge to proceed. For example, you may be asked to survive in a small room for 60 seconds while zombies flood in or fill up obelisks by depositing Runes. Once you complete the challenge, you’ll travel back to the main map, where you can purchase upgrades before continuing on to the next round. Rinse and repeat, until you choose to extract and end the game, or until the team wipes.

While I appreciate the attempt at trying something new, it’s a lackluster experience at the moment. Treyarch have promised a main Easter egg quest with Vanguard’s first season of content in December, but until then the loyal COD Zombies community has been left hanging.

Final Thoughts

Vanguard comes at an awkward time for Activision, and into a sea of competition. While the campaign is decent, it’s nothing to write home about, and the Zombies experience probably should have been delayed altogether. For Call of Duty, multiplayer is where it counts though and they’ve managed to put together a solid offering this year. Kudos to the teams at Sledgehammer Games and the other COD studios for managing to do so on such a tight deadline, in the midst of a global pandemic.

Score: 7/10

Pros:

  • Enjoyable multiplayer that addresses feedback from the core community.
  • Beefy amount of content at launch with a good variety of maps.
  • Very well-optimized with no real technical issues to speak of.
  • Decent campaign.
  • Has a campaign (sorry Battlefield).

Cons:

  • Zombies mode is unfinished and feels like an afterthought.
  • Nothing new or exciting.

Call of Duty: Vanguard review code was provided by the publisher. Game tested on PC. You can read SP1st and MP1st’s review and scoring policy right here.

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