The end of last year had the potential to upend what the big shooter of 2022 was going to be with both Call of Duty Vanguard and Battlefield 2042 releasing betas but Halo Infinite too. After almost a year on from my initial impressions, the directions where all three games have headed was certainly not where I had expected.
Call of Duty Vanguard
Returning to the second world war was a good change for Call of Duty and the campaign was enjoyable too. By playing on the “dirty dozen” types of characters, their backstories allowed for a substantial variety in levels that avoided repeating too much. It also lead to a finale where each character and their unique skills would be leveraged, showing their value to the overall team.
Multiplayer is still an average experience that has issues that have not ever been fully resolved. Map design didn’t deal well with respawns in tight maps from the beginning where you could either appear in front of an enemy player or them behind you for cheap kills. That it can still happen is extremely frustrating. Having Zombies not include modes from Cold War like outbreak still feels like a step back, more an evolution of the Modern Warfare version. The leveling system, including battle pass, seems to have been engineered to have more things to unlock but is a lot of it really necessary? Do we need themes for the killcam view, though you only see your opponent’s when you die, or a frames and tagline for your calling cards? These feel like they are nickel and diming players with token battle pass items that are of less value than blueprints and operator skins.
Then there is the Ricochet anti-cheat system… is it really there? At least how it’s shown to work in Warzone you need them in a game long enough to penalise so how to that work in shorter modes like Deathmatch? Doesn’t seem to do much in Vanguard multiplayer as we see our fair share of wallhacks and aimbots combined with matchmaking that is just as likely to put you against players who may be so good that of course you’ll assume they cheat. And then the number of starting rank players who win games with kill counts of double or better the opposition’s best… how can that not be anything but suspicious?
The irony is that Warzone might be the biggest beneficiary of Vanguard‘s flawed release. Though the Caldera map has been criticized since release the steady flow of events and updates has made it feel like a more consistent experience for players. The Godzilla vs Kong event added unique objectives to the map that dominated the landscape much like the token addition of Nakatomi Plaza did on the Verdansk map. It still has its fair share of cheats, but it also seems mitigated by so many players apparently using Vanguard instead to level up cheaply that the issues with Warzone pale in comparison.
The general consensus at launch when it came to Battlefield 2042 was how did EA and DICE get it so wrong. Instead of a next generation version of their franchise it came out half-finished and buggy. Worse, many players found the previous gen console versions were at launch a better experience and so those who elected to buy a cross gen console edition got the better deal. It was like the negative responses to the buggy Battlefield 4 launch but then magnified a number of times. It was a bad place to be and a lot of players were burned and walked away from the game.
However, to their credit the development team have kept working on the game and fixed a lot of bugs while trying also trying to get it back to a form that would be better embraced by both old and new players. Picking it up recently from a sale made it a much less risky proposition for me and I was pleasantly surprised with where it is now. The gunplay feels a little more like Call of Duty which I personally like and the matches I’ve played in have been with modes that helped focus the fighting rather than plonking you on the map in a situation where you spend more time running than shooting. The battle pass might also be the better of the three games too – there’s plenty of free items, you progress quickly and it seems like a lot less unnecessary cosmetic items.
Of the three games, Battlefield 2042 was the one that launched in the most disappointing state but like the saying goes, when you hit rock bottom you can only go up and as it turns out that has also meant the game has improved the most making it feel close to level pegging again with the other games in this list. The Battlefield team is undergoing a lot of changes over at EA with additional teams being lined up to develop games in the franchise, including single player focused products, and the head of Respawn (Titanfall, Apex Legends) is jumping in to also help guide this change. How that may change the path of the franchise is anyone’s guess at this stage, but it seems like a major rebuilding process is underway that makes me wonder if it will result in more frequent releases from EA.
Of the three games, Halo Infinite really appeared to launch in the best state, even if some features were being delayed until 2022. The campaign is very good and the multiplayer feels like old school Halo in all the right ways. It really got players hyped for what else was to come. And then the waiting began and that’s unfortunately where it all began to fall apart.
The lack of substantial new content has proven to be a real drag to the momentum set from the launch and it has left a lot of players frustrated. The battle pass cosmetics are fine but what was really needed was a faster roll out of new maps and features. Vanguard throws in new maps each season like Halo Infinite but their seasons are 2-3 months long with a mid-season refresh, so within the same time period we’ve seen three to four times as many maps added to the game, across all modes. For Halo, it’s meant that new maps prop up interest for a period of time but are allowed to become stale long before new ones arrive. Without Forge at launch, it really should have been a priority to get new maps out fast to fill the void left by it.
Both campaign co-op and the Forge game/map editor have been pushed to the end of the year and they really need to come sooner rather than later. Especially Forge – many of the leaked demos show it has massive potential to turn the game into a creative sandbox unlike any previous game in the series. The community are begging for it and if developer 343 Industries are still working through their pipeline issues, rolling out Forge ASAP would allow the fans to keep the game fresh with new content in the interim. The longer it takes for this to happen the less likely there’ll be enough fans still playing the game to check it out. If the recent “The Yappening” event is any indication, there’s not many active players in Australia right now because most of the time it had me join games elsewhere in the world, 250ms ping and all.
To think that once again 343i are in damage control with a Halo title is hard to believe. Halo: The Master Chief Collection was criticised at launch for its underperforming multiplayer and quality issues and it was a mammoth effort to turn it around and make it a product worthy of spanning Xbox generations. It’s difficult to tell if they will be afforded that amount of time and effort for fixing another one of their games but the recent reshuffling of staff at 343i indicates that the team are well aware of the problem and are trying to resolve it. Much like Battlefield 2042 though, it was unfortunately a wasted opportunity to gain fans against a much weaker Call of Duty game from the last year.
So… who wins?
It could still be months or more before we see Battlefield 2042 and Halo Infinite really hit their stride but from next month they’ll have to be facing the one-two punch of Modern Warfare II and Warzone 2 which are coming from a resurgent developer in Infinity Ward who’ve proved once more they are the “A Team” when it comes to Call of Duty. If the new games succeed, Vanguard will quickly get swept aside as per usual, but that tidal wave could impact the other games too if they don’t find ways to retain their player bases. In that you might say that though Vanguard lost the battle it may inevitably have helped Call of Duty win the war, again.