I know it’s a horrible thing to say, but I’ve always been intrigued by World War II. I watch documentaries about it ceaselessly, read books about it, watch movies about it…and I don’t know why. Weirdly, I hate games based on World War II….that’s what Call of Duty: Vanguard is.
I’m always impartial when it comes to reviews. What does that mean for Call of Duty: Vanguard? Is it the best Call of Duty yet?
Keep on reading and you’ll find out!
What is Call of Duty: Vanguard?
Call of Duty: Vanguard is an FPS set during the final days of World War II. It’s the latest in the Call of Duty series, and is developed by Sledgehammer Games (with a host of other studios assisting) and published by Activision Blizzard. It’s out now for the PC, Playstation and Xbox consoles.
Our review copy was graciously given to us by the guys over at Activision Blizzard. Thanks a ton guys and gals!
Call of Duty: Vanguard packs the usual three-pronged approach of Campaign, Multiplayer and Zombies. If you’ve played any Call of Duty games over the years (and seriously, who hasn’t) that means you know what to expect to my now.
I’m not going to mince words.
I enjoyed the game’s Campaign mode (both its plot and stages) but am sorely disappointed by how basic it is.
The visuals are fantastic and each stage has its own distinct look. Everything blazes at 60FPS most of the time, with the only noticeable hitches happening when the game’s streaming in new locations. Most of these happen during in-game cutscenes so it doesn’t affect gameplay in the least. It’s an annoyance, but nothing unforgivable.
While the plot of the mode’s (you’re tasked to find out what the Nazi’s Project Phoenix is) set during the last few days of WWII, the stages you play on run the gamut of the conflict’s famous battles. You’ll fight among the ruins of Stalingrad, take to the skies to divebomb carriers in the Battle of Midway, wage fierce desert warfare in the Battle of El Alamein and parachute behind enemy lines during Operation Tonga.
Call of Duty veterans might notice that these battles have been done before in past games, but the viewpoint and gameplay in Call of Duty: Vanguard is different enough that they’re still fun enough to play. Gunplay is classic Call of Duty running and gunning. You’ll bound from cover to co
Due to the variety of the stages you play on, I never got bored of the setting of the game. One minute I was sniping Nazi bastards from ruined buildings, the next I was in a jungle blasting flames into pillboxes with a flamethrower. It keeps things fresh and varied, which is rare for a game where you’re shooting everybody else in the face every few seconds.
Set pieces for the stages are all also well done, with you in the thick of it every single time. Particularly memorable bits include charging a Nazi embattlement alongside other infantry during Operation Tongo and a tense sniper battle outside Stalingrad. You can now also give orders for your squad mates at certain points of the game, but those points are rare enough that the gameplay element isn’t that important.
Unfortunately, the streamlining of the stages means the awesome somewhat open-ended nature of Black Ops IV’s campaign mode is gone.
In fact, the campaign’s pretty barebones. There aren’t any collectibles of any sort to find, no persistent stats or weapon upgrades or anything of the sort. In fact, there are even any optional objectives in the missions.
It’s all fight (or whatever the objective is) from Point A to Point B for EVERY stage.
I’m really disappointed by that as I love to explore stages for secrets. There’s no point at all to do that here. Once you’re done with the campaign, it’s over. That is unless you want to play on a harder difficulty.
What’s the point though unless you’re an achievement whore? Nothing’s going to change at all.
Zombies has the opposite issue of the Campaign mode.
There’s a ton of customization to be done here and the XP you gain (whether it’s for your weapons or your Rank) all contributes to your overall Multiplayer Level. No more will you have to level your Zombies and Multiplayer experiences separately.
Now, nearly everything (save for Challenge rewards and Operator unlock requirements) are shared.
That means you can level up in Zombies, unlocking new guns and attachments that can then be used in the regular Multiplayer mode. I totally love the new unified experience system and really hope it’s a standard for the series from here on out.
Unfortunately, Zombies doesn’t have a campaign mode.
There’s a basic plot behind the mode, and there are snippets of lore dispensed with the in-game conversations but nothing major. There’s not much cohesion to the mode, as you’re whisked away via individual portals from a main hub. You don’t need to earn points to power generators or open doors or board up windows like in past games. Now points are just used for perks, guns and ammo.
Again, it’s a much streamlined experience, just like the campaign mode.
This time around, I don’t really mind.
The focus on doing portals this time around means for a faster, leaner experience that doesn’t depend on knowing the stage and what to unlock, where to go and all that jazz. Now you just go in a stage, do the objective (such as survive till the time limit, escort a weird magical orb, massacre zombies for runes and more) and teleport out to the main hub.
Doing portals also serves to slowly open up the Stalingrad hub though there really isn’t much to it. The map’s nowhere near as big as past Zombies mode maps. The Stalingrad hub’s pretty barren but it has all the trimmings you’d expect. You can equip your loadout, buy guns and perks, refill ammo and after 5 different challenges, can opt to escape.
You don’t have to, but if you do you’ll need to survive a massive zombie invasion before you can do so. Suddenly the game goes from a simple objective based shooter, to the classic Zombies experience.
I really like that you’re able to play the game in bite-sized chunks instead of trying to survive till the end of the map like in other Zombies versions. I just drop in, do a couple of challenges, level up and then move on. It doesn’t require a massive time commitment and all the progress I make in Zombies is carried over to other multiplayer modes too! Win win!
I’ve never been a fan of Call of Duty’s brand of multiplayer.
It was unique in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, but that was more than a decade ago and the mode’s not evolved much since then.
Call of Duty: Vanguard’s Multiplayer doesn’t change the status quo much.
You’ll still be customizing your custom class loadouts, you’ll still unlock new guns as you progress. You’ll still unlock killstreaks as you murder without dying. This is the Call of Duty that most players know and (hopefully) love.
Unfortunately, it’s not for me.
I like that the developers have tried to cater to all camps with the Tactical (slower paced, less players in a match) or Blitz (fast paced, more players) gameplay toggle. Still, even with the slower Tactical gameplay, the matches are too much like the regular matches to feel radically different.
I particular don’t like the cramped maps that the matches are on. Death comes too easily and kills depend more on luck than skill. Camping often trumps coordinated gameplay, which leads to groups of players just staying in one place and waiting for people to get into their killzones.
I still like the Perks system but some the ones you unlock later clearly trump the lower leveled ones. Sure, you can play as a Set Class to use them but that means you give up customizing your loadout. That’s not really a good trade-off at all.
The Operator system also returns but this time around the special characters are all locked from the start. To play as them, you’ll need to fulfill their unlock conditions. Some are pretty easy (kill a certain number of people) but some are nigh impossible to do unless you’re damn lucky or a camper or both.
Are they worth it though? That depends.
If you’re hardcore and aim to play the game for the next few months? Then hell yes. They give you custom unlocks, which lengths longevity. If you’re only sticking around for a bit before moving on to the next game? Nope. Still, as a value added system, it’s pretty decent though most players will never unlock the whole range.
Respawns are particularly problematic in Deathmatch games.
I’ll regularly pop to life right in front of other players and get gunned down before I can even ADS or fire. Death feels really meaningless in the fast paced matches, with you barely being out for more than a second or two before you’re back in the game.
While I love that the game now features modes with higher player counts, the fast paced gameplay gives it too much of an arcadey feel, especially compared to shooters like Battlefield or Rainbow Six. In fact, the bigger matches means killstreaks seem to get used more often, leading to completely random deaths a ton of the time due to them.
The worst offender though? The fact that you’re forced to sit through all post match results screens. It’s a waste of my damn time. Just let me quick to the lobby as soon as the game’s done please!
The Bottom Line.
Call of Duty: Vanguard is a solid Call of Duty game…but one with a number of issues.
The streamlined campaign (while fun) will completely alienate fans who prefer a beefier experience. Removing optional objectives and other campaign mechanics from past games is a ballsy move and one that I feel doesn’t pay off in the least. With nothing optional to be done in the campaign, once it’s over, there’s nothing that calls you back to replay it.
Thankfully, its multiplayer side fares better.
The unified progression system is great! You’re constantly getting XP no matter what mode you play, which means that those who only play Zombies don’t get screwed out on regular multiplayer progress and vice versa.
Unfortunately, Multiplayer is still an acquired taste.
Call of Duty’s frenetic, run and gun style of matches will undoubtedly not sit well with those who prefer the more tactical experience afforded by other shooters despite concession made in the Tactical mode. Respawns can also be an issue, especially in Deathmatch. Granted, this has been an issue for pretty much every Call of Duty game, but that doesn’t mean it still shouldn’t be highlighted.
At the end of the day, Call of Duty: Vanguard is still the same old Call of Duty dressed up in World War II fatigues again. It’s a decent game but one that some players might be sick of with its stagnating gameplay.
Solid Call of Duty entry that doesn’t do anything particularly innovative or exciting.
- Fun stages in campaign mode.
- Unified multiplayer XP system.
- Zombies mode doesn’t require much time investment.
- Smooth gameplay.
- Operators in Multiplayer.
- Sound effects are great.
- Streamlined campaign.
- Respawns in multiplayer.
- Multiplayer still too arcadey even with Tactical setting.
- Some Operator unlock requirements are stupidly hard.