Call of Duty Vanguard Review: Stepping Into the Past to Shape the Future
Call of Duty Vanguard is the 18th mainline entry in the series, representing a culmination of what has come before it. Rather than fully taking the series in a brand new direction, the main developer, Sledgehammer Games, buckles down on what makes a Call of Duty game what it is. Our Vanguard review is here to help you decide whether or not it might be worth checking out.
For the most part, our Vanguard review will assume that you already checked out the open beta or read our thoughts on it, plus perhaps the PS5-exclusive alpha that happened before that. Has the game improved since then? And how is the overall package, especially in comparison to recent Call of Duty games? That is what our Vanguard review is going to tackle.
Vanguard Review: Multiplayer Is King Again
For starters, in our Vanguard review, the most important part of Call of Duty Vanguard is the gameplay. Returning to the World War II setting is one that I was concerned about as 2017’s WWII did not convince me, but I’m happy to say that Vanguard is a much more positive experience for me.
Once again, Call of Duty Vanguard proves that this series is the king of online multiplayer for first-person shooters. If you’re looking for frenetic, fast-paced chaos as you try to defeat your enemy team in whatever objective you’re doing, this is the pure bliss of action that you might be looking for.
Vanguard does not trade any of the fluid action for World War II as it proves that both can coexist at the same time in multiplayer. Much of the game does not even resemble World War II in the slightest, with only a single multiplayer map having the classic trench-style warfare.
Vanguard takes much of its gameplay systems from Modern Warfare, as both games were built on the same engine, which would have normally been a turn-off for me as a fan of the Black Ops side of Call of Duty, but I find that this game also has a flair for Black Ops, too.
Vanguard is almost like a nice mix of the two, featuring the movement systems of Modern Warfare with the style and gunplay feel of a Black Ops game. In this way, it is the best of both worlds gameplay-wise, moving the series forward in a fascinating way that has me excited for what’s to come next from Sledgehammer Games.
While Vanguard is unlikely to be my favorite Call of Duty game of all time, there is a high chance that it will break into my top five and perhaps even into my top three favorites in the series. The main reason behind this is that the multiplayer represents the series at the peak of its performance.
There are a whopping 20 multiplayer maps, four of which are in Champion Hill, and the other 16 are in the main multiplayer. That is an insane number of maps, especially for just the launch, and the best part is that they are all mostly quite great, minus a couple of maps that are meh or even bad.
Other than that, though, I would say that at least a dozen maps are good, if not great, and a third of the maps are some of the best Call of Duty multiplayer experiences that have ever been released. While some of them, like Decoy and Bocage, feel like derivatives of one another, and maps like Das Haus and Hotel Royal are just really bad, this takes little away from the overall package.
After all, you have maps like Eagle’s Nest, Berlin, Castle, and others that are some of the greatest Call of Duty maps I have ever played. The multiplayer experience is not perfect and could be better, especially when it comes to some of the game modes.
For one, the modes are fairly lacking in multiplayer, containing the basics and the new Patrol mode, besides Champion Hill, which is its own thing. Patrol is still a wacky and not good version of Hardpoint, making the multiplayer mode content pretty meager.
Champion Hill is a bit better than my experience in the beta and alpha, but still not something I will go back to. Then it makes it worse than some of the basic modes are changed in some frustrating ways. For one, Domination has tiny flag areas for capturing the points that make it more difficult than it should be.
Then there is Search & Destroy, which still contains the annoying way of handling the changing rounds in the beta. I hoped they would change the format to the usual swap sides every round. Still, it kept the style, making it one of the worst S&D versions I’ve played since a team will likely dominate the first three rounds. The match is already over by then, with little room for comeback or the classic S&D struggle back-and-forth.
Campaign Is Worth Trying
The singleplayer story campaign takes place across the entire World War II setting, from the Western Fronts on the Pacific Ocean to the sands of North Africa to the fight on Soviet land and just about everything in between. It covers a lot of ground, and like WWII before it, has a solid story worth checking out.
For the most part, the campaign is one of the better-written Call of Duty campaigns due to the strong writing and instantly memorable characters. Polina Petrova and Arthur Kingsley are two of the stars of the show and they carry the entire story in a welcome way that feels like a cinematic experience.
The core group of the Task Force One characters that you play across the numerous missions of the campaign carry the entire story, feeling alive and real in ways that other classic Call of Duty characters have failed to in the past.
The writing and visuals of the campaign are by far the standouts, for sure, as the gameplay is a bit repetitive and uninteresting at times. The campaign does the usual shtick of being a tutorial for the multiplayer, so, the missions vary in the exact ways you would expect.
However, the problem with the campaign in Vanguard is that it feels quite repetitive and safe at times, doing little to break the mold that past games have set. If you can get past that, though, the characters will shine through and make for a story worth experiencing once before deleting to save space for everything else.
That said, I will at least say that some of the set pieces that you experience in the Vanguard campaign are fun and exciting, with a particularly great opening to the game. The first few missions that kick off the story and introduce the characters are notable, while the rest can be lacking after that. It is not an amazing campaign, but one with that movie-like style that should not be completely ignored.
Zombies Is Disappointing
Continuing down this train of the amazing multiplayer to the just good campaign, we now come in our Vanguard review to the most disappointing part of the package: Zombies. Hearing that not only would Vanguard have Zombies that would continue the Dark Aether storyline started in Cold War, but be developed by Treyarch sounded amazing.
In execution, though, it feels rushed, unfinished, and a shell of a complete Zombies experience that will likely come in the next few seasons. The bulk of this comes down to the fact that Zombies in Vanguard has launched with what is effectively a lesser form of the Outbreak mode from Cold War.
Rather than having the traditional round-based map experience with a quest to complete, it has something akin to Outbreak, in which you have multiple locations that you can visit. There are four in total, with several different types of objectives that you can do each round.
The Transmit objective is to escort a glowing ball across the area while fending off the undead masses. There is Harvest, where you have to defeat zombies to take the items off and put them somewhere else. Then there is Blitz, where you have to survive for a set amount of time.
After each round that you complete, which usually takes no more than four or five minutes, you head back to your home base on the Red Star map and unlock more parts of it. There, you can fight off random zombies while upgrading your abilities and weapons.
It is a highly repetitive system, which is something that Zombies is anyways, but it is also far too simple at the same time. The four areas you visit are too small to feel unique or interesting compared to one another, while the main Red Star map is just a rehash of an existing multiplayer location.
I will say that the best part about this Zombies mode is the accessibility nature of it, as you can jump in and quickly get a feel for what is going on compared to the sometimes complicated nature of Zombies in other games. At the same time, though, it is a bit too simple and quickly boring.
Sure, lore chatter is constantly happening in the background, but it was more uninteresting than the mode itself and made me wish I could turn it all off. This Zombies mode is rather easy, too, not needing much communication as you could do your own thing and likely do quite well.
I don’t dislike this type of Zombies experience in Der Anfang, but it feels like something is missing. With a more traditional round-based map and main quest alongside this, it will be an excellent Zombies experience, but for now, it is underdone. This is unfortunate because Cold War suffered from the same issue last year at its launch, so that’s twice in a row for Treyarch now.
Vanguard Is the Best-Looking Call of Duty Game
Moving away from the individual game modes that make up Vanguard, we have the overall package of the game. In terms of performance, Vanguard runs rather well. I encountered a few issues and major bugs in the launch period of the experience, especially compared to the extremely messy beta.
There were very few times that were connection issues. This was usually in between matches, rather than actually in the middle of one. Audio, or the lack thereof in some cases, is still a huge problem for the game, but I found that it worked decently well on my TV instead of my headphones, where the issue was more noticeable.
Visually, Call of Duty Vanguard is the best-looking Call of Duty game yet, which should be the case. While built on the Modern Warfare engine, it looks much better than that game, which is surprising given that this is a World War II-set title.
Sure, there are the grays and browns of World War II that you would expect, but you can tell that Sledgehammer tried hard to implement experiences and areas that break the mold. There are plenty of colorful island areas and nighttime locations that certainly break the mold.
There was even one moment on the Castle map, which I think is the best in the game, where I stood there, stopped fighting, and just stared at this picturesque landscape in front of me. It was awe-inspiring and an unforgettable moment that stood out in my time with Vanguard so far.
Another key aspect of the game’s performance is that loading is so silky smooth in this title, even more so than in Cold War, where it was extremely fast there, too. On PS5, the loading is almost instant into a match, but the problem I had in Cold War where that also happened is that I would then be waiting forever for everyone else to load in.
Thankfully here, it loads just as fast, seemingly for everyone else, so I’m not waiting for a long time to start a match. Matches start and end extremely quickly, letting me hop from one to another in quick succession without much downtime.
Is It Recommended? 8/10
If we recommend that you should play or watch Vanguard, we have to say yes. If you are a Call of Duty fan or a World War II fan, this is a game that you should not miss out on. The multiplayer is the peak of the series to date, with excellent performance, movement, feel, and maps.
While some of the modes lack multiplayer, and the campaign is mostly only worth playing for the story, not gameplay, the overall experience is worth checking out. Unfortunately, Zombies is disappointing and unfinished, but if you are a multiplayer fan, you will likely be satisfied by what Vanguard offers.
When it comes to progression, the progression is detailed and lengthy in Vanguard, with plenty of levels and features to grind. There are weapons, your overall level, your battle pass level, and even the new operator levels that give you plenty to do.
Though the grinding does feel a bit uneven and slow at times, especially when it comes to the later levels of your account, having it shared across Zombies and multiplayer is once again a welcome experience. Perhaps the most exciting part is the esports potential.
Call of Duty Vanguard has fantastic multiplayer that carries the entire game on its own. This gives me high hopes for the next season of the Call of Duty League. If it is as competitive, fast-paced, and varied as the multiplayer in this game, it will be the best season of the CDL to date. As such, we do not just recommend you play this game, but we recommend you watch the pros play it as well.
- Price: $59.99
- Release Date: November 5, 2021
- Reviewed on: PS5
- Available on: PS5, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series, PC
- Developer: Sledgehammer Games
- Buy Link: www.callofduty.com/content/atvi/callofduty/vanguard/web/en/home.html
This was reviewed with a code provided by the publisher.