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Call Of Duty: Vanguard

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Online Multiplayer
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Sledgehammer Games
Release Date: Nov. 5, 2021

About Andreas Salmen

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PC Review - 'Call of Duty: Vanguard'

by Andreas Salmen on Nov. 16, 2021 @ 12:45 a.m. PST

Players turn the tides of war to experience World War II like never before in Call of Duty: Vanguard.

Buy Call of Duty: Vanguard

Another year, another Call of Duty. Call of Duty: Vanguard takes us back to World War II for its short single-player campaign, a new version of Zombies, and the usual updates to its multiplayer component. We've spent the last week testing all three modes on the PC. Vanguard is a lot of fun because it reuses the tried-and-true Call of Duty blueprint, but it struggles to contribute anything meaningful of its own. Between familiar multiplayer matches, a short and disjointed campaign, and a bare-bones Zombies mode, there isn't much that stands out.

For some context, Vanguard is the first Call of Duty game that I have spent more than a short session with in the past four years. Even with that gap, I didn't encounter any issues jumping back in. Beyond the setting and some minor adjustments, most of what's expected from a Call of Duty game is present. Coincidentally, the last Call of Duty game I did play was CoD: WWII. I very much enjoyed the WWII's campaign as a somewhat realistic and immersive take on a war story, but the multiplayer didn't hook me as much. Conversely, Vanguard nails the usual Call of Duty multiplayer formula perfectly, delivering fun and fast multiplayer matches with excellent gunplay at the expense of a short and lackluster campaign.


Let's start with the single-player campaign, which is a five-hour-long story that follows a special unit of six soldiers from different countries who are sent on a secret mission behind Nazi lines to discover information about "Project Phoenix." After an impressive train infiltration mission, the soldiers are captured by the Nazis and wind up in captivity. Throughout their interrogation, flashback missions put us in the shoes of every member of the team throughout iconic moments during WWII, including the attack on Stalingrad and the Battle of Midway. As a result, the campaign feels like the equivalent of a Michael Bay movie that's been pushed through an on-rails experience that uses the diverse cast of characters as a plot device to create what I'd cynically call a "Best WWII Moments" mixtape.

The campaign has extraordinarily high production values, and it looks and plays great, but it's neither new nor enticing. It's difficult enough to build up one character in a five-hour campaign, but it's almost impossible to do the same for five characters, and the entire campaign suffers from that. Many of the cut scenes seem keen to imitate a theme closer to "Inglourious Basterds" than an approach grounded in reality, but it never gets interesting enough. Even after finishing the story, you could show me a picture of all of the protagonists, and I'd be surprised to remember half of their names. It's a nice WWII shooting gallery, but it's a far cry from the quality we usually see on display in CoD.

While I'm acting as the harbinger of harsh truth, the only part I was more disappointed with than the campaign is the famed Zombies mode, which I haven't played in any other CoD title, but I understand it's usually a good amount of story-driven co-op fun. If that's true, then Zombies in Vanguard has been stripped down to the bare minimum. Zombies mode places you on a hub map where you can spend in-game currency, which is earned during missions, to upgrade weapons and skills and acquire stat boosts. From that hub world, portals with one of three modes allow you and your friends to shoot hordes of zombies into rotten flesh-slushies. That's about it. There's no lore except a short origin story told in a brief cut scene (TL;DR Nazis get desperate and awaken the dead to turn the tide of war). There's little incentive to invest time in Zombies because it repeats the same three modes without much variation except it gets increasingly tougher. It feels empty to kill continuous hordes of zombies, and I hope that future updates will add more varied content. Zombies is entertaining in short bursts, but it has a long way to go to feel like a full mode.


What is fully fleshed out, however, is the multiplayer portion of Vanguard. As previously mentioned, if you've played any game in the CoD franchise in recent years, this year's iteration will feel familiar. The game includes gameplay enhancements from recent entries, like interactive doors and the ability to mount weapons on cover, and it adds a few of its own, like destructible environments. Doors, wooden walls, and fences can break when shot, so maps can change slightly during a match, and cover isn't always safe. It adds a frantic note to the already quick gameplay. In general, Vanguard is incredibly fast, and that works for and against it at times.

A new setting is battle pacing, which lets players choose between three pacings —assault, blitz and tactical — to determine the number of players on a map and how quickly you run into an opponent. Even with this setting, the speed of gameplay is quite intense, so the time between respawning and kill is often rather short. In Blitz matches on smaller maps, it's almost insane. Be prepared to be killed at your spawn point often when playing in Blitz matches. This speed also translates to character movement. While I cannot make direct comparisons to its predecessor, movement in Vanguard feels very fast, fluid, and fun. Tactical sprinting, which is slightly faster than regular sprints, and the option to automatically sprint when available, add additional urgency to matches.

With the usual selection of game modes, pacings, and 20 launch maps (the most I've seen for a new game release in a long time), Vanguard provides a satisfying amount of variety. I had to slightly adapt my gameplay style based on a variety of factors in every match. I don't think there was a standout map, and there were a few less-exciting maps, but they are all rather good. The number of available maps also helped players to not get burned out on Vanguard's multiplayer too quickly.

That doesn't even include the depth of creating character loadouts and leveling up your character and weapons. This year, you have an operator-driven experience, including characters from the campaign and more to choose from as your player model. Playing games unlocks new skins and animations for your character, XP for your overarching level, weapons to unlock more gear and weapon attachments, and challenges to get rare skins. It's all in place as expected and it works as well as it always has. While the amount of content is appreciated, veterans might feel that things are too familiar for comfort this year. In terms of game modes, there are the usual deathmatches, zone control, moving zone control, bomb planting/defusing, etc.


The biggest new addition is Champion's Hill, which pits several teams of 2-3 players against one another to determine the last team standing with intermittent rounds to purchase equipment. It's a fun time, especially if you only have a few friends playing Vanguard and would like to team up with those friends to test your team skills, but it's not groundbreaking or a reason to buy Vanguard over any other CoD title.

Overall, I enjoyed my time with Vanguard's multiplayer. It was fast, fun, and the same solid experience that fans expect. It doesn't move that concept forward in any way and fails to put its flavor on the experience — except the obvious WWII skins.

There are enough things that repeatedly annoyed me or didn't quite work. After every online match, there's a voting period for the team MVP. The process can't be skipped but takes a good 10+ seconds during which time the same characters on-screen play one of a few animations until voting has concluded. It's often faster to leave the game and restart matchmaking, which puts a dent in the fluidity of going from match to match. There are also minor bugs that pop up throughout the entire experience, such as character models not loading in correctly during voting periods or the fact that your menu is always littered with small dots to signify new unlocks. It would be fine if you could reliably remove them. Instead, marking new additions as read is frequently undone by the game, so dots appear and reappear at their convenience, making it difficult to determine if you've unlocked anything new. I hope these minor gripes can be fixed with updates in the future.


Where I have the fewest complaint is in Vanguard's looks and performance. The game looks gorgeous most of the time, regardless of what mode you're playing. Character models and environments look excellent across the board, as do weapon models and everything else. At the same time, the game is well optimized. On our test machine with a 3070 and a 5600x, we cranked up all the settings (including DLSS), and the game regularly went past 80fps in 1440p. Dropping settings slightly down to high instead of Ultra brought us very close to a locked 144fps in most instances online, which is the perfect sweet spot. The amount and detail of the graphical settings are extensive and allow plenty of adjustments to tune things just right for your machine.

It's a solid product throughout from a visual standpoint, and the sound design is equally impressive. From its epic orchestral soundtrack to environmental and weapon sounds, almost everything sounds authentic and enriches the experience. If anything, I thought that footstep sounds in online modes were a tad too quiet, which made it difficult to pinpoint enemies and further contributed to a short spawn-to-kill time during matches.

Call of Duty: Vanguard drops the ball on two fronts. The campaign is a short, disjointed, and shallow affair, and its Zombies mode is solid but too bare-bones and devoid of content to recommend at the moment. Regular multiplayer matches are where Vanguard shines the brightest, but a lot of that is due to leaning heavily into familiar territory. Vanguard struggles to make meaningful additions to the formula, and apart from new battle pacing options and a generous selection of maps, Vanguard sits comfortably on the achievements of its predecessors. That's not a bad thing, and I enjoyed the online components throughout this review, but it's also not a great look for a yearly release. If you haven't played a Call of Duty title in a few years and don't care for its single-player campaign, Vanguard is a fun and solid entry in the series.

Score: 7.5/10



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