Call of Duty: Vanguard is a competent World War II shooter that doesn’t take many risks or do much to innovate.
Another calendar year means we get another Call of Duty title. It’s now the most reliable franchise in the industry for annual releases. This year, Sledgehammer Games takes the reins with another foray into World War II with Call of Duty: Vanguard. WWII was released four years ago, and since then we’ve seen Infinity Ward return to roots with Modern Warfare and Treyarch take us back in time yet again with Cold War.
Vanguard feels like a weird middle ground between the last two games – farther back in time than Cold War but with the modern aesthetic and engine that made Modern Warfare so great.
Like previous titles, Vanguard is made up of three pillars: Campaign, Multiplayer, and Zombies. Campaign and multiplayer are where I sunk the most time. I’ll be honest; my time with zombies was minimal as only one of my friends picked the game up this year, and he didn’t want to touch the zombie mode. Honestly, Zombies probably makes the most core gameplay changes this year, while the other two modes play it relatively safe.
A Motley Crew
Vangaurd’s campaign is a serviceable return to World War II. Players take control of different members of a group of special forces. A unique mish-mash of characters from different nations, working together to turn the tide against the Nazis. The characters are probably the highlight of Vanguard’s campaign. Each one has a very distinct personality; all are motion captured and acted well. Laura Bailey’s performance is the stand-out here, not just in performance but the missions as well.
Despite this, Vanguard almost feels like it has an identity crisis. It’s a game that reportedly took an extra year of development time but still doesn’t do enough new or interesting to really justify that. Vanguard’s campaign is a game that wears its inspirations on its sleeve, yet still feels relatively lifeless, despite solid performances.
Explosions Explosions Explosions
Vanguard funnels you from checkpoint to checkpoint without giving players any autonomy along the way. We’ve seen this work in other Call of Duty titles – and I know this is telling very specific tales from the history of World War II, even if they don’t strictly follow history. After dropping players into a very cinematic opening mission, players end up going back through missions that shape each main character. It isn’t the most original way of storytelling, but it is rather effective in helping understand character emotions and driving forces.
Really, Vanguard’s campaign really shines when all the characters are driven together. Other than a few missions, they’re mostly apart, which seems like a weird choice when having them together makes things far more exciting and explosive.
The whole thing can be wrapped up in just over a handful of hours, making this not only one of the shortest Call of Duty titles but also one of the weakest campaigns. I actually prefer shorter, self-contained storylines. I feel like they do a better job of driving narratives and even give titles better replay value. I’m way more likely to replay a game that takes five to ten hours than one that takes forty plus, but other than the strong character performances, Vanguard is so by the numbers I likely won’t return to it again.
Vanguard’s Multiplayer Doesn’t Do Much To Excite
This stands true for the multiplayer as well. I’ve played most Call of Duty multiplayer titles for a solid chunk of time after launch for years. Some sit better with me than others, but after the bad taste Cold War left in my mouth, my excitement for Vanguard was low. Either way, I wanted to play it. I figured it had to be more fun than Cold War because it was running on Modern Warfare’s engine (which I loved).
Call of Duty: Vanguard’s multiplayer isn’t bad. It’s just… basic. Much like the campaign, it plays it safe and doesn’t do anything to innovate the franchise. I will give it credit with Champion Hill. That mode, like gunfight in Modern Warfare, is the singular, standout interesting mode. Champion Hill plays like gunfight. It’s 2v2, but also 2v2v2v2v2v2v2.
Each team starts with twelve lives. After loading in they have a minute or so to buy some gear with limited funds and then go into battle. Each round takes about a minute and a half to complete; you’re tasked with preserving as many of your lives while taking the enemy teams as possible. It keeps going around and around until there is only one team standing. There are opportunities every few rounds where you can go and buy more gear with the money you’ve earned from getting more kills than the enemy team or eliminating enemy teams. It’s an interesting mode that requires a bit more skill and strategy than any other mode in the game.
Patrol is the other unique mode in Vanguard. It plays a lot like hardpoint, but the capture point slowly moves and rotates around the map. It can be an okay mode on some of the maps, but in others, it quickly becomes a trainwreck. This is mostly due to a visibility issue on certain maps, like Oasis and Red Star. Even at mid-range at some points on that map, it is nearly impossible to see enemies. It seems like it came down to character design, as a lot of them just blend into the map and environments.
Small Map Design Remains King
When Vanguard is firing on all cylinders, it can be a lot of fun. I know shipment will soon be released for it, but currently, Das House is fitting the bill for a small, chaotic map. Overall though, the map design is about 50/50 on good maps. Most of the really fun ones here are just remakes of old map design.
Of course, Call of Duty has always had really strong shooting mechanics. That is no different here, but a lot of these guns you’ve used in the past, and none of them are all that fun to shoot. Most of the SMGs or assault rifles feel like the other ones on display, and the most multiplayer fun I had outside of champion hill was blasting through Das House with one of the shotgun offerings.
The pick ten system makes a return here as well. So there are plenty of attachments and perks to go through. Some of the guns have up to 75 levels to grind through as well, so there’s plenty to do. This is where Call of Duty really sets itself apart from other shooters like Battlefield. There is always a sense of progression. You’ll constantly unlock new things to equip and try out on your weapons.
I just wish Vanguard was more fun to play. It’s fine. Everyone knows what they’re getting. It’s another yearly Call of Duty release. There just isn’t much risk here – and maybe that’s what Sledgehammer was going for.
It’s been four years since WWII launched. Maybe they were worried about jumping back into the same setting again. Vanguard is exactly what anyone thinking about picking it up will expect it to be: a competent shooter that doesn’t do much new.
Game Freaks 365 received a review copy.