Call of Duty: Vanguard is the most predictable entry in Activision’s first-person shooter series yet. Players still aim and fire guns as usual. Plenty of enemy soldiers show up to eat bullets. Teammates sprint their way through multiplayer maps as expected. Zombies run and snarl “here we go again” with unintelligible rage.
That’s not to say players won’t find comfort in 2021’s annual Call of Duty. Followers of the franchise can still appreciate Vanguard’s consistency. From top-notch shooting controls that carry the game’s fun. To a refreshing new campaign delivering playable movie thrills. Then a non-stop online experience for endless replayability. Sledgehammer Games manages to maintain a polished quality for entertainment. As expected.
Vanguard no doubt picks up the slack from Call of Duty’s past two games. It fills in that WW2 era Activision wants players to stick with for years to come. Now, players can travel through all three timelines for warfare. In other words, Call of Duty players have every itch to scratch with Vanguard, Cold War and Modern Warfare. Depending on what theme they choose from a menu inspired by compilations like Halo: The Master Chief Collection.
But that’s the best part of Sledgehammer’s work on Vanguard. It creates the most definitive WW2 shooter plays can get to date. Even if every mechanic and mode is identical with MW and CW. At the cost of players getting a same-old experience without an end. 2020’s Cold War succeeded by exploring history under a brand new 1980’s setting. It was the first time in a while where players received a fresh Call of Duty. All while bringing back fan favourite characters and elements.
I had my reservations with Call of Duty going back to WW2. The setting scales back more advanced forms of warfare. But boils combat down to its simplest forms. Less technology relies on pure skill and that “boots on the ground” action Sledgehammer brought back with 2017’s Call of Duty: WWII. But Vanguard’s anticipated campaign manages to tell a new story that fits newer controls. Starting with the birth of special forces soldiers as WW2 ends. This is the game’s excuse to turn players into a 1940s Terminator. I surprisingly enjoyed a serving of over-the-top set pieces in the older setting. Players aren’t trying to survive the horrors of war, as much as they’re winning it as creatively as possible.
Call of Duty Vanguard Campaign
Vanguard sets a handful of WW2’s finest soldiers upon fascists to finish the job. Players jump across Task Force One in an enjoyable shoot-first-ask-questions-later romp. The campaign keeps players invested in a five to six — hour saga. I owe Sledgehammer credit for putting its strengths into four playable characters. The result pays off with healthy pacing and a larger experience than Cold War’s single player story mode.
British squad leader Arthur Kingsley puts up a brave face, reflecting on his action-heavy missions to lead charges on hills. Or rally surviving troops to turn the tide of big battles. Soviet sniper Polina Petrova transforms into a vengeful Lady Nightingale. But offers stealth and exploration-heavy levels. Australian Infantryman and joker Lucas Riggs likes to make tanks explode. Which is exactly what satisfies players looking for flashy Hollywood spectacles. Lastly, U.S. pilot Wade Jackson sends death from the skies from his WW2 bomber plane. His story was surprisingly the most fun to watch as his face lands on mud. Then goes through a humbling arc in one feel-good level.
The campaign goes full Quentin Tarantino with a time-jumping story. I’ll admit to staying hooked at Call of Duty borrowing techniques from Reservoir Dogs and Inglorious Basterds. Without spoilers, Task Force One is together. Until they’re not when players learn more about each member. The campaign evenly uses each character to tell an origin story. Sledgehammer does the gameplay justice by giving more of it this time around. Levels feel noticeably longer thanks to players getting agency. By this, I mean chances to pick your own ways to beat objectives. Even taking different paths or sneaking through open areas.
Call of Duty Vanguard’s story starts to feel a bit too cheesy at times. Particularly with its star Nazi villains delivering threats in every banter. Fitting to their one-dimensional performances, each villain sends a cliched “you can’t stop us” line in twenty different ways. Task Force One also lacks chemistry from meeting on such a short notice. The flashbacks outweigh their actual mission at hand. Leading to a lack of chemistry and cliched band of misfits mentality.
Here, Sledgehammer forgets about the impacts they made with their 2017 game. Call of Duty WW2 refreshed the series with an emotional campaign. Players became attached to one character in a band of brothers. Vanguard’s story lacks themes of camaraderie in the face of horror. Teammates in Call of Duty: WW2 were also important to surviving levels through supplies. But Sledgehammer takes a step back to fall in line with Call of Duty’s unified gameplay. This adds to the predictability of Vanguard, which hurts innovation.
Call of Duty Vanguard Multiplayer
Call of Duty Vanguard’s multiplayer tries to make minimal changes and hope for the best. Again, the game doesn’t set itself apart from Modern Warfare or Cold War. As Activision intended when making a trio of games to jump across seamlessly. It’s not the worst thing to see Modern Warfare’s controls work in the WW2 setting.
In fact, this direction serves as a step-up for fans looking for a middle ground. There’s a clear balance with classic WW2 action and modern gamification. Multiplayer starts with the typical competitive modes online. Team Deathmatch, Free-For-All and Kill Confirmed are staples for trigger-happy players. Domination and Hardpoint still let players hold their ground across open battlefields. Here, capturing and defending territory feels more immersive as soldiers did in WW2. Search and Destroy takes some notes from Rainbow Six: Siege with destructible environments. Surprising players with a bigger focus to kill or be killed.
My personal favourite – and a Vanguard exclusive – is Patrol. It’s essentially Hardpoint, where teams work to stay in a zone and accumulate points. But Patrol keeps this zone moving across the map. Forcing teammates to travel across the map and out of hiding spots. This mode puts a fun spin on the capture and defend formula. While adding endless challenges from always being on the move. Patrol is easily Call of Duty Vanguard’s most addicting mode and it’s something I hope to see included in future games.
As I previewed, Vanguard also adds in a special Champion Hill mode. It’s an exciting twist on Gunfight mode from MW and CW. Teams of two or three share limited lives. These lives are taken in a tournament across four mini maps. All the spots are designed around a hub to resupply from. Vanguard manages to innovate with Champion Hill’s non-stop pacing, which sends tension and teamwork into overdrive. Players hit the ground running with this unique Multiplayer mode well worth revisiting time again in Call of Duty Vanguard.
Sledgehammer and Activision have clearly listened to players for building quality-of-life changes in Multiplayer mode. There are more options for choosing how you want to play. Combat Pacing is a new feature that adjusts player count in matches. It’s a much-needed way to keep things from being too overwhelming or comfortable. Combat Pacing marks the sign of better player feedback. While promising a more comfortable experience through future updates. Online players might be welcome to see the inclusion of Anti Cheat software and easier muting functions at launch.
Though it’s all too familiar, the Multiplayer portion is a laxed experience. It doesn’t reinvent a wheel from Modern Warfare. Meaning Vanguard’s online space is easier to pick up and play without missing a beat.
I emphasize space with Vanguard’s 16 maps. Each location in Multiplayer has a theme to set itself apart. Players are dropped into the theatre of war across places like Berlin, Red Star at Stalingrad and the Pacific’s Numa Numa Trail. Some maps are directly remade from 2008’s Call of Duty World at War for the nostalgia factor. Each one has a mix of indoor and outdoor spaces. The Combat Pacing greatly ups the importance for sliding through trenches. Or gaining some high ground to ambush enemies. Vanguard introduces blind firing straight from other shooting games before. But it’s rarely used as players have to find a few compatible spots around the map.
Vanguard keeps players invested with a deep progression system. Obviously, weapons are the biggest rewards to spending time online. The WW2 era guns are as welcoming and typical as they get. From the Thompson, Kar98k, Lee Enfield, M1 Bazooka, Mosin Nagant to the M1911. To Call of Duty Vanguard’s popular STG-44, BAR and the MP40. There’s a healthy library of weapons to unlock and experiment with for fun in Multiplayer. I’ll admit to being fascinated with using Gunsmith on older weapons, letting me try all sorts of pre-existing attachments.
Unlocking weapons and attachments come quick after playing online for hours. There is a new list of goals to reach with creating winning weapons to suit a play style. Along with using perks, which are nearly identical to previous games. As players keep augmenting themselves with different abilities and weapons, classes in Vanguard are still highly customizable as ever.
Call of Duty Vanguard Zombies
Nazi Zombies – gaming’s most vile enemies – are back. But delivered at a surprisingly mind-numbingly dull level at launch. Der Anfang, the game’s first Zombies map, faithfully lets Treyarch’s developers help out. They have also returned to help keep Zombies mode consistent with Cold War’s. This starts with a shared storyline. Vanguard’s older setting scales Zombies back to a prequel. But the story is barely touched on while players are mindlessly destroying the undead.
Der Anfang feels like an endless slog due to a lack of any real progression. Waves of Nazi Zombies still get tougher to beat in later rounds. But the real problem comes from not pushing things along by unlocking doors. Much to my surprise, Call of Duty Vanguard’s first Zombies map barely lays out any real steps to win. Players are fighting easier enemies out in the open. But have frequent opportunities to enter portals. Each one has a certain challenge to beat. It was exciting to collect and gather stones for points. Another required players to survive in a small part of the map for minutes. One more had players escort a floating head to safety.
Along the way, players can still find ways to beef up their weapons. A Pack-a-Punch machine returns to turn old guns into laser rifles at a cost. Perks like Juggernog, Speed Cola and Stamin Up are renamed to fit Der Angfang’s world of demigods. Eventually, players will get strong enough to blast zombies, heavy gunners and boomers without a problem. Unless carelessness and a brief existentialism of accomplishing everything in Der Anfang gets the better of you. It’s worth noting Treyarch is still building a true easter-egg driven quest for Der Anfang. Which should have been included in Zombies at launch.
“Call of Duty: Vanguard isn’t the most exciting game to come.”
These objectives are also accessed with a vote. But these few objectives are all that stands from being bored in the hub. The same few challenges become repetitive, seemingly without an end. My online teammates were bored to the point of ending the game by exfiltrating with our lives and points intact. Der Anfang lacks the same depth as other Zombies maps before. By removing that layer-based approach to solving puzzles and unlocking more doors. It’s arguably the most disappointing Zombies map at launch for Treyarch. But players progress faster with long sessions here. Call of Duty Vanguard’s levelling is shared with Multiplayer and Zombies. Making this the easiest way to get ahead without much struggle.
Call of Duty: Vanguard isn’t the most exciting game to come. Simply, it fills in the gap for Activision’s trio of franchises players can enjoy. That’s if fans and returning players can appreciate a WW2 setting under some top-notch controls. Sledgehammer’s latest game unsurprisingly suffers as an annual release to Call of Duty with no end in sight.
But Sledgehammer at least tries to make Call of Duty Vanguard worth collecting through an enjoyable campaign and comfortably fun multiplayer with new ways to play. Zombies is sadly the weakest portion despite the creator, Treyarch stepping in. But I hope to see improvements come in new maps and other remakes via updates.