Call of Duty: Vanguard multiplayer review: A strong, content-rich entry to the franchise
Call of Duty: Vanguard offers an extremely solid and complete multiplayer experience, but there are still a few kinks to be worked out before it’s remembered as one of the greats.
After months of leaks and rumors, Call of Duty: Vanguard is finally here. The CoD player base can be hard to please, but Sledgehammer Games’ first title since WW2 appears to have captured what the player base wants – fast gameplay, interesting maps, and plenty of content.
However, it’s not all plain sailing. Skill-based matchmaking is back, but it’s clear that it does wonders for Activision’s strategy so, like it or not, it’s here to stay. And there are some further kinks that hold Vanguard back from reaching its full potential.
Fun, classic CoD gameplay
Call of Duty took quite a significant shift in direction with Modern Warfare, where a fast time-to-kill, loud footsteps, and map design promoted slower-paced tactical gameplay. And while Cold War was a funner core experience, its engine felt like a step back in terms of gameplay, and it didn’t feel truly next-gen. Vanguard has captured the best of both games, however.
Running on the same engine as Modern Warfare, it has that next-gen feeling where the movement feels smooth and responsive, and the weapons feel powerful. As soon as you launch into your first multiplayer match, there will be no doubt in your mind that this game was developed in 2021 with next-gen consoles in mind.
And even with all of these next-gen improvements, it undeniably feels like a CoD game – and a very fun one at that. Even with the issues that I’ll mention below, the map design, sheer amount of content, and overall feel make it the most fun I’ve had in a CoD game in years.
16 unique maps at launch
Let’s start with Vanguard’s most significant improvement from Modern Warfare and Black Ops Cold War’s launch – 16 classic multiplayer maps! MW was released with ten, and Cold War was released with only eight – so it didn’t take long for them to get repetitive. But Vanguard released with 16, so you can play for hours and have not even played on all of the maps.
And the majority of the maps are great. They’re interesting and unique, and they actually encourage players to move around. Even with doors returning, there aren’t any positions that are super easy to hold. Modern Warfare could be slow-paced and campy at times, but Vanguard players aren’t afraid to run around and constantly take fights.
The destruction element to the maps might have been intended to be a game-changer, but unfortunately, it comes across as quite gimmicky. The first couple of minutes of the game can be quite slow, as players don’t want to be the first player to noisily burst through a wall into the unknown.
Instead, you’ll find players shooting holes through small pieces of cover to get the drop on whoever’s on the other side. But, once the action really kicks off and all the destructible environments are gone, you’ll forget they were ever there. It’s unlikely to be an addition that anyone will miss if it doesn’t carry into CoD 2022.
Combat Pacing needs work
It’s absolutely worth mentioning the Combat Pacing option. Setting your matchmaking from Tactical (6v6), all the way up to Blitz (maximum players) allows for much more control over how you want the game to play – which is especially useful for grinding camos or weapons.
But, Combat Pacing doesn’t always work as intended. You’ll often be matched into whatever lobby’s available, even if it’s the complete opposite of what you were after.
Broken spawns also prevent Blitz from reaching its full potential. In a perfect world, Blitz would be reminiscent of Nuketown, where you spawn and it only takes a second to get into the action.
You’ll often find yourself spawning directly into a firing squad, and it’ll take several deaths to get out of the trap. Gun-skill goes out the window, and it’s who can find the best position to mow down enemies, rather than who can finesse and outplay their opponents.
A grinder’s delight
For the grinders out there, there’s plenty of challenges to work through. Each weapon will take several hours to max out, and there’s plenty of camo challenges to complete as you’re leveling it up. But, these camo challenges range from standard to utterly outrageous. As an example, players are tasked with getting 100 point-blank kills with bolt-action Sniper Rifles, which Sledgehammer will hopefully adjust ASAP.
The new Operator system is nice, as it encourages players to use every character on offer. Each one has their favorite weapon, and you’ll earn bonus XP for that weapon when using the right Operator. And for reaching max level with every single one, you’ll earn an Epic Operator Outfit to show off your dedication to the grind.
And of course, regular Challenges have returned. Although bugs are preventing them all from tracking, there’s plenty of Calling Cards to earn for your efforts.
Fast time-to-kill makes fights inconsistent
The one area of the game that needs serious work is the time-to-kill (TTK), and the time-to-die in particular. You’ll die incredibly fast, hardly having any time to react to getting shot. This isn’t a game-breaking problem, but it can get extremely frustrating.
Often, you’ll be turning a corner and die before you’ve even made it all the way around. With the STG44, you’ll find you’re killing players in only a couple of shots, which makes it feel closer to hardcore than the classic CoD experience.
And the TTK doesn’t feel consistent either, which is where the time-to-die comes into play. Often, it’ll feel as though you’ll die much faster than you can kill. You’ll tag an enemy across the map with several hitmarkers, but then die in milliseconds, as though every bullet has hit at once. Players have been experiencing packet burst issues, so this could be a netcode issue.
It would only take a slight time-to-kill reduction to vastly improve Vanguard’s multiplayer experience.
Vanguard multiplayer Verdict
At its core, Vanguard is a very good Call of Duty game. It hasn’t reinvented the wheel or introduced any new mechanics that completely change how the game is played, but it runs great, the maps have a satisfying flow, the weapons feel unique, and there’s plenty of content to sink your teeth into.
Luckily, all of the negatives that I’ve brought up are fixable and aren’t core gameplay features. Of course, bugs and glitches are present – but they’ll likely be fixed soon.
While I criticized the lackluster destruction mechanic, it by no means detracts from the overall experience – it just feels a bit pointless. Also, spawns will need to be addressed for Blitz Combat Pacing to achieve its true potential, and while the time-to-kill feels far too quick, it’s not entirely game-breaking.
But, issues aside, Vanguard will offer a fun and satisfying experience to both new and returning Call of Duty fans.
Reviewed on PC
Image Credit: Sledgehammer Games / Activision