Call of Duty: Vanguard review: War never changes
Call of Duty: Vanguard, developed by Sledgehammer Games, is 2021’s entry in the Call of Duty franchise. The title looks to offer campaign fans a succinct singleplayer that doesn’t drag its feet while multiplayer lovers will find something meaty to sink their teeth into. For the Zombie fans out there, the change to the core foundation of the mode will likely disappoint many. Despite this, for those that look forward to the annual Call of Duty release, Vanguard manages to nail the expected experience.
Before we get to the review, I would like to acknowledge the ongoing situation at Activision Blizzard. As a show of respect for the employees, we have shared their demands in the tweet below. Here are a few charities that readers can donate to: Black Girls CODE, FUTURES, Girls Who Code, RAINN, Women in Animation, and Women in Games International.
The #ActiBlizzWalkout organizers are encouraging people to signal boost the hashtag as a sign of solidarity while using a 💙 emoji. They also support donations to the following charities:
— Shacknews (@shacknews) July 28, 2021
World War 2, again
The campaign story in Call of Duty: Vanguard follows a rag-tag group of soldiers from all corners of the globe as they sneak into the heart of Nazi-controlled Germany towards the end of World War 2. Their mission is to discover the secrets behind a mysterious Nazi operation known only as Project Phoenix.
With a black North American leader, a female Russian sniper, and an Aussie who’s as bombastic as his beloved explosives, the group manages to represent a few of the major Allied players. Only a few missions take place with the group working together, as the main focus of the campaign is the soldiers’ backgrounds and the stories and events that united this team.
Told in little vignettes, each background story is about 45 minutes to an hour long, meaning the entire campaign can be easily finished in only a few sittings. This ensures the narrative never drags its feet and you wind up experiencing a lot of Call of Duty’s iconic cinematic moments one after the other. Where the campaign does falter is in its linear approach, with players running through corridors, fighting along one set path in a trench, or climbing up clearly-defined grapple points. Where other entries in the franchise do a good job at hiding the linear nature of their campaigns, Vanguard is unable to mask the sense of being on one track.
Despite the linear nature, the campaign missions are heartfelt, with decent character development occurring in the short timeframe. I personally found it quite emotional to be fighting alongside Australian diggers in a video game for what felt like the first time. Seeing the iconic Aussie soldier hat and hearing my countrymen talk as they (rightfully) complained about the British leadership ignited the sense of Australian mateship within my heart.
It was great to see Sledgehammer Games look at some of the outlier stories that don’t get as much attention. Some highlights include the 93rd Infantry Division as well as a character called Lady Nightingale, who appears to be an homage to Lyudmila Pavlichenko, a decorated Soviet sniper.
As you take on the role of each of these characters and play through their backstories, you learn that each one has a unique ability like being able to move faster while crouched or to focus on enemy locations. Unfortunately, though intriguing, these abilities felt inextricably tied to contextual events. For instance, Lady Nightingale could wave her hand to get the attention of enemies, but this was only possible during set moments in the campaign.
One technical gripe I had with the experience were the incessant system notifications, which could not be completely turned off. Whenever a friend comes online, text appears in the middle right of your screen telling you they’re online. What this meant was my dramatic campaign moments were fractured with text telling me that TopBloke89 signed in. Not what I want to see as I’m reaching the climax of a story.
Though it may not be the most groundbreaking story in the franchise, Call of Duty: Vanguard’s campaign manages to be an explosive thrill ride with plenty of cinematic moments that draw your eyes and set your heart racing. When the campaign is over, the real appeal of Call of Duty will take over: the multiplayer.
Live, Die Repeat in 200ms
It’s undeniable that while Vanguard’s campaign may be a solid piece of work, the main appeal of Call of Duty for the vast majority of players will be the multiplayer. Thankfully, Call of Duty: Vanguard manages to nail the intense, fast-paced action that the series has been known for since its inception.
At first glance, there is an overwhelming amount of content in the multiplayer side of Vanguard that will make a newcomer’s head spin. But what starts out as a bombardment of icons soon becomes menus worth diving into in an attempt to level up guns, unlock attachments, and hone your build.
For those that have been playing Call of Duty consistently for years, the experience is going to be a familiar one. There’s nuance to be found in the movement, weapon handling, and the various elements at play like killstreaks. On killstreaks, their snowball effect has been toned down from previous entries (shout out to the VTOL jet). While still powerful and hilarious fun to utilize, it doesn’t feel as terrible having them used on you and your team as it did in previous titles.
Furthermore, weapon mods and attachments don’t necessarily offer a best-in-class option. Players will need to weigh up the benefits and drawbacks of each attachment they plan to slap onto a weapon. It allows for a greater sense of ownership over your weaponry as you tweak your MP-40 into the gun that best suits your specific playstyle.
There’s a lot here for Call of Duty multiplayer aficionados to enjoy. While it doesn’t add anything groundbreaking to its sandbox, Vanguard’s multiplayer is more of the same goodness that fans have come to expect from the series. If you’ve got a group of friends that jump on CoD year in, year out, diving head first into this is a no-brainer.
The other no-brainer
Beyond campaign and multiplayer, Call of Duty’s Zombie mode returns with Vanguard. In this mode, players must survive against waves of zombies while completing objectives. Players can upgrade their weapons, improve armor ratings, and get all kinds of special abilities and perks that ensure they can survive.
Though fun with a group of friends, Zombies in Vanguard lacks the classic round-based zombie mode that popularized the series. Players are forced to travel through portals to a random location to complete a random objective – it’s the only way to progress through waves. Previously, it was up to the player whether they did little side objectives, now it’s built into the foundation of the mode.
The lack of a round-based Zombies mode in a Call of Duty title, especially at launch, seems like a large oversight.
The Call of Duty Experience
While Call of Duty: Vanguard does what it does well, it’s as I wrote at the start: the expected experience. There’s nothing overly surprising here, no major shakeups to the gameplay, nothing that rejuvenates the franchise like 2007’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad. In fact, Call of Duty: Vanguard offers a solid experience for those looking for their annual fix from the franchise. The campaign packs a punch and even manages to hit some emotional highs without dragging out longer than it has to. For Zombies fans, this will likely be a disappointing entry in the series, at least at launch. As for the multiplayer, it hits the Call of Duty gold standard of tight, fast-paced combat that players have come to expect. For those that dig the series, this one nails the Call of Duty experience.
This review is based on the PC Battle.net release. The game key was provided by the publisher for review consideration. Call of Duty: Vanguard launched on November 5 for PC, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, and PlayStation 4.