Played on the PS5 | COD: Vanguard is available on the Xbox Series S|X, PS4 and PC.
The tried and true genre is back again in Call of Duty: Vanguard with the promise of delivering a unique story of the heart wrenching war we endured in 1945. Now, it wasn’t that long ago that Activision had Sledgehammer Games develop Call of Duty: WWII and with Vanguard – it seems clear what Activision’s intention will be moving forward. I absolutely love CODs campaigns and will forever be happy to jump right into it, and after my 5hr run on Veteran difficulty, several ranks in MP and a few hours on Zombies – I couldn’t help but be happy with the engine they used, but disappointed with the overall quality of the package.
An Excellent But Shallow Campaign
Activision is advertising that they’re including a campaign in Call of Duty: Vanguard – no doubt to combat their competitors, which always feels odd because it can either mean one of two things, the campaign is going to be over the top and packed with insane content, or fall flat and shallow – all in the name of gaming politics to try and net as much money as possible. Unfortunately, the overarching story of Vanguard is valiantly shallow filled with expositions that takes up the entirety of the plot. Which is a shame because the final mission was absolutely a blast.
Vanguard aims for the player to experience the birth of Special Forces, facing a global threat by the Third Reich in the theatres of World War II. You will take control of British paratrooper Lt. Arthur Kingsley who is the leader of the group, a Soviet sniper Lt. Polina Petrova, American pilot Lt. Wade Jackson, and Australian demolitionist expert Lt. Lucas Riggs. Each of the characters will be played throughout the campaign but not switched during missions – but rather be used as expositions to describe why they were chosen to take on this impossible mission.
Each character has a distinct combat ability that benefits their traits. Polina has the ability to lure enemies to misfire, which would give her ample room to take the target out – she can also freely maneuver through tight places and climb structures. Wade has the ability to sense enemies through walls (aka The Last of Us – and fitting too, given the character is portrayed by none other than Derek Phillips – Abby’s dad in The Last of Us Part II) and so forth. The majority of the plot told in the campaign is through the eyes of Arthur who describes why each of the members were chosen for this mission – after that’s done, you are put in the only forward pushing mission that ended up being an excellent showcase of their storytelling, fallen short by the extension of needless backstory. I do love that each of the character is a representation of true heroes of war and I will always appreciate that – but at the end credits, there’s an indication that Activision is planning on moving COD to a direction away from historical facts for a more creative freedom. Its a shame that opportunity was missed because the idea of a Fourth Reich could have been expanded much further than it did in Vanguard.
Zombies, but Different.
Of course, what’s Call of Duty these days without Zombies? Well, it’s back and its incredibly fun. The conclusion of Vanguard basically kicks off Zombies, which I thought was cool. The mode itself puts you in a base with zones that can expand the location. Each zone has a portal that needs to be explored and extinguished. Once the portal is cleansed the zone opens within the base which gives you the ability to further power up. The portal has distinct objectives, you either have to survive for a certain amount of time, escort a skull, or cleanse an obelisk. As the rounds increase the enemies gets tougher. You face thrall-like zombies, a tank that shoots a Gatling gun at you and exploding zombies. There’s power-up drinks that can increase your health, reload speed, movement, etc. – each locking at tier 4.
A new addition to zombies is Artifacts: alt-abilities with a cooldown. I was using Frost Blast often since it slows enemies and weakens them, others were using Ring of Fire that plants an AOE on the ground, burning those that passes through; combine any of the Artifacts and you’ll be mopping crowds no problem. Speaking of these status ailments, there’s a lot more RPG mechanics in this mode than usual, which I think actually makes Zombies much more engaging (albeit a bit easier). Additional from the usual weapon, armor and random weapon vendors, there’s a new vender that gives you passive abilities that increases in tiers like having a chance to slow enemies upon shooting, dealing more damage to slowed enemies and returning ammo upon critical headshot – I hope you see the type of build you can potentially run in Zombies that can make you an absolute machine and I’m hoping Sledgehammer Games adds more in the future….just no paid ones please?
This mode is overall a much more structured Zombies with engaging elements that truly expands on the mode – but when you look back at Cold War’s Zombies and experience Onslaught – it’s a step back to the overall quality of the mode. I can see that if Activision truly puts effort into Vanguard’s Zombies, it can become something really special.
Gameplay Sprinkled Here, Graphics Upgrade There….
Call of Duty: Vanguard is utilizing the latest IW8 engine, introduced in the Modern Warfare reboot – and it still looks incredible. Despite some odd design choices like blades of grass looking incredibly thick and with no animations whatsoever, the game is still breathtaking. There’s clever use of transition from pre-rendered cutscenes and in-game, I mean it’s obvious when you see the frames go from 60fps to 30fps but there are some moments that just transition well. Facial animations and expressions is truly excellent in-game as it is pre-rendered. I’m just waiting for the day the term pre-rendered is non-existent.
For the most part, Vanguard plays identical to pretty much every COD game to date – the amount of assessible options in the settings really shows the thoughtful approach to all types of gamers. What’s new is the ability to shoot over cover which I didn’t use often but I can see how it can be dangerous in MP – destructible covers and walls is also touted here too, and although it’s not as robust as one would hope, the idea that it’s implemented into the engine brings hope that the developers has big plans for the future.
The Multiplayer is Pretty Much The Same
Aside from the aesthetic of it being set in some form of World War II – the game largely feels and plays the same as Modern Warfare reboot. There’s really nothing much to say aside from how the operators doesn’t have unique abilities and the weapon smith is a bit more robust, but nothing else really flips the mode.
There’s 20 maps, sure, but a large portion of the map has a lot of choke points that really can infuriate the average player. Hit scan is still an issue here where it always seems like the opposite players with a worse variant of the same weapon can map you all the time. Yeah, the spawn system is still a nightmare and modes like Patrol will always have you spawn with a group of enemies. Always.
Cheaters still plague the game, unfortunately, but that’s a whole different conversation.
Activision seems keen in having multiple studios work on their prized IP – which makes sense to pump content for consumers who would net them gargantuan profit. However, things seems a bit quieter than usual with the release of Vanguard; maybe it’s the fatigue of the franchise or just simply the lack of excitement of the WWII genre. Whatever the case may be, it’s not stopping Activision from getting tremendous gains with their projects. However, it is trickling down, and with this release, it may be time for Activision to consider taking a break from its annual release and finally get back on track in releasing groundbreaking technology and gameplay elements for the COD franchise as a whole.
REVIEW SCORE: 7.5/10
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