Call of Duty Vanguard (Impressions)

The latest entry in Activision’s lucrative franchise is here and it might be one of the more controversial entries due to what’s on offer, and what’s not. Even as I type this I’m still on the fence as to which direction I’m leaning but I do want to share some thoughts on where I think it stands now.

Call of Duty Vanguard brings players back to World War 2 and is developer Sledgehammer Games second game in the setting after the appropriately titled Call of Duty WWII. This time around they’re taking a few more creative liberties with the source material as the group you are a part of in this game feel like they more align with a Dirty Dozen or Suicide Squad type of team – though not necessarily bad like those teams their ability to cause trouble has brought them together. It also allows the developers to mix up the campaign by having players to experience the conflict from multiple perspectives, locations and times which has been part of the classic CoD formula right from the beginning of the franchise.

The game is broken up into three modes: campaign, multiplayer and zombies. Of the three I’d say the campaign comes out the strongest as it starts with an excellent opening/tutorial and backed by some impressive visuals. The cinematics help move the story along and I’m genuinely looking forward to seeing where it goes. The Midway section is one that I really enjoyed thanks to it being such a stark contrast to the usually gritty “boots on the ground” missions. The gameplay itself for that part may not have been too complicated, like most CoD vehicle segments, but they really nailed the look and it makes me wish I had a WW2 flight sim on hand that was just as pretty. Zombies feels a little bare right now in terms of modes but it’s worth pointing out that in Cold War it required six seasons of updates for it to be as good as it became. What we have with now feels like a solid update to the classic mode first introduced WAY back in Treyarch’s World at War – instead of earning credits from kills to open maps and obtain weapons players have to complete “mini challenges” to expand their hub area and access even more challenges. The advantage of this approach is that it helps keep a team together when needed while letting them upgrade before tackling the next one.

The big question mark for me right now is multiplayer. When the beta rolled out there were a lot of issues that impacted gameplay and made it feel like a lesser experience. Some appear to have improved such as modes being employed on appropriate maps but others still remain. Respawns are still very suspect though with a number of maps making the problem even worse. The map designs aren’t necessarily bad, they just allow spawn camping (ie. waiting for a killed player to reappear at a base or starting point so you can shoot them again) too easily. Matchmaking can still put you in games with people who are either too good or cheating. The upcoming anti-cheat system (to release with the new Warzone map) is only for PC and so console players using cheat devices are still free to wreak havoc. On a positive note, the unlock system has been revamped and there’s incentive to stick with operators a little longer thanks to the extended leveling system for each one. It’s still a grind to unlock a weapon to a configuration that you be comfortable with but there’s no forced limit to attachments so (for example) you’re not forced to pick and choose whether to swap a stock for a different magazine. I was disappointed to see that killstreaks now reverted to Modern Warfare‘s method of earning them which required consecutive kills without dying as it denied lower skilled players an opportunity to use them. Cold War allowed players to of accumulate XP (regardless of dying) which gave more players a chance to access them. It seems like a step backward from a change that gave a wider skilled range access to a big feature in CoD multiplayer.

Quick tip: If using a controller, make sure aim assist is on and changed to one of the modes that closely matches Warzone or Black Ops. Why this wasn’t on by default I can’t understand as it makes a significant impact to your ability to aim straight.

Technically the game delivers on the visual front with great set pieces in the campaign really showing off the engine powering the game. Character models look great and the environments highly detailed. Audio is a big disappointment for me as it comes across as being muffled and lacking punch – the exact same issues I had with Cold War are present here which is a real shame and worse I can’t find an audio mix preset that helps resolve it. It really lessens the impact that the game should have considering what is thrown at you. Looking back at that Cold War post I’m really thinking that what we have with Call of Duty Vanguard is once again another game that stands in the shadow of it’s predecessor. Post release support will make huge strides in improving it, and that’s something which really elevated Cold War’s zombies mode, so I hope we see a similar impact when the first season arrives alongside the new and improved Warzone next month.

The more I think about it, the more I wonder if the game needed another few months to bulk up the multiplayer modes and get them right. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with the maps or the modes (patrol is a good twist to hardpoint) it just feels like some aspects were overlooked. The respawn situation is bad enough to make me have second thoughts about sticking around. The campaign really is the star of this game and considering how much the franchise relies on it’s multiplayer that is not a great indicator of the product as a whole. If you like Call of Duty, you’ll probably like Vanguard but you’ll also be hoping that next year’s Modern Warfare sequel sticks to the high standards set by that game or players may find another game to scratch that shooter itch… and there’ll be plenty of them out there by then too.

Call of Duty Vanguard is out now for PC, Xbox and PlayStation. Played on an Xbox Series X.

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