Release Date November 5th, 2021
Genre First-Person Shooter
Platforms PC/XBO/XBS/XBX/PS4/PS5
Developer Sledgehammer Games
Price $59.99 US
ESRB Rating Mature
Players 1-48 Players

 

*A copy of this game was provided to FYIG by Activision for review purposes*

I wondered what this year’s Call of Duty entry would feel like after testing the waters on next-gen consoles with last year’s Cold War. I’ve traditionally been pretty underwhelmed by the Sledgehammer-developed Call of Duty games so I want into this with that very much in the back of my mind but I was very intrigued by the return to a World War II setting, especially because I wanted them to wash away the memories of Call of Duty WWII from 2017 which is arguably my least favorite entry of the entire series (unpopular opinion or not). Call of Duty: Vanguard managed to impress me with a lot of the steps forward that it did take. I spent a good 7 hours with it the first time I booted it up and it has easily become one of my favorite Call of Duty games in years despite the occasional shortcoming.

Call of Duty: Vanguard Review
The fire effects are second to none.

Vanguard returns to World War II although it is a more fictionalized and exaggerated approach which I really didn’t mind considering there are already so many World War II depictions in existing video games. The story puts you in the position of four veteran heroes who form a special forces team to take down the Nazis. The story takes you through flashbacks showing why each of these heroes is so badass and then working together to hijack a Nazi train and destroy a Nazi base.

Your team is heading to Berlin trying to gain intelligence about a secret Nazi program before they bury it. Lord of the Rings star Dominic Monaghan plays the sadistic Nazi officer Jannick Richter and a lot of the story centers around the Nazi interrogations of the heroes. There are a lot of cutscenes in the campaign and it’s something that I really liked because Call of Duty hasn’t historically been incredibly story-heavy. Vanguard really spent a lot of time on character development and it really helped me feel much more connected to the heroes and how they got to where they are. This is even more impressive considering how often the story jumps around the timeline. 

Call of Duty: Vanguard Review
The perilous atmosphere of war.

As good as the character development is in the campaign, where it struggles the most is trying to make these characters deliver different experiences. Each character has their own mission sending you to various parts of World War II. The goal is to make each of these heroes feel like specialists but it kind of falls flat. 

Polina was my favourite character. She’s a Russian sniper and the hero of the Battle of Stalingrad. She’s quick and agile and a good portion of her missions have her jumping around the level and using her stealth to take out various soldiers. Her special ability flashes a knife so she can coax snipers into taking a shot thus revealing their position isn’t all that useful but her portion of the campaign was the part I enjoyed the most. The other three characters generally feel very similar and this is where the campaign kind of takes a step back for me. Lucas is an explosives expert and can carry different types of grenades…that’s it. Arthur can order teammates to focus fire on a position. Wade’s Focus ability allows him to detect enemies through walls. He has an annoying stealth section and an airborne mission over the Pacific which breaks up the game a little bit. 

It’s easy to see that they were trying to differentiate the campaign as much as possible with the different abilities, characters, and battles but it comes up short in its goal. It’s a linear campaign and the use of these special abilities is relegated to specific moments versus being useful all the time. There’s a specific way to play through the story and if you deviate from that in any way, the game will force you to play it the way it wants you to. There was one moment as Arthur where I was supposed to go out in a yard and fight off some Nazi soldiers. I instead stayed in the house with the door wide open waiting for them to try and cluster to my position and they just sat outside the door waiting for me. I had to go out there and do what the game wanted me to do. There were other instances where I fought off a wave of enemies only for them to respawn in the same position. I wasn’t supposed to fight, I was only supposed to escape. 

Call of Duty: Vanguard Review
Multiplayer is at its best in Vanguard.

Multiplayer is where the game really shines, as usual. There’s a bit of a character focus here too as each operator can be leveled up and has a special weapon that they’re more proficient than others with. This doesn’t really add a whole lot considering each operator still plays the same but it’s a subtle little addition that I liked. The big addition that I absolutely loved was destructible environments which allowed for the map to change dynamically as time goes on. This isn’t as pronounced as games like Battlefield Bad Company, but it does allow for some strategy involved. I was able to create a tiny hole in the wall just enough to see through to catch enemies off guard many times before they ended up blowing the whole thing up. There were also moments where I could see someone’s feet from a piece of wall that was destroyed to figure out their position.

Multiplayer allows you to tune the kind of matches you want to play whether you want smaller, fast-paced battles or bigger, methodical battles. This is something the series has needed for years and it works really well. New modes include a new favourite of mine called Patrol which is a new twist on Hardpoint where the control point moves around the map and you have to move around with it to hold it reducing the ability for teams to just camp one position. It led to some fast, frantic battles and required a lot of cohesive teamwork. Champion Hill is another fun new mode mixing Gun Game with the random weapon/money pickups of Warzone. Champion Hill pits single players or teams of two or three against each other in a round-robin competition. Each team has a set number of lives and earns money from kills. You can use that money between rounds to buy upgrades and weaponry to help in the next round. It’s a heart-pounding mode that mixes in existing Call of Duty ideas to create a fun new take. 

The Gunsmith has a huge emphasis on creating the exact weapon type you want and giving you the right perks to accentuate your play style. Some weapons even have different ammo types, my LMG with incendiary ammo was a particular favorite. These weapon unlocks transfer between modes too so there’s an incentive to get experience in all the Vanguard has to offer. It really felt to me like multiplayer is really rounding out with the little tweaks and adjustments we’ve seen in Vanguard and I’m personally very glad they didn’t try to add anything too gimmicky. 

Call of Duty: Vanguard Review
The maps in the game are pretty varied in terms of size and setting.

Zombies returns and while I enjoyed it, it’s not as engaging as it has been in recent years. This mode has been streamlined in a few very significant ways but the puzzle-solving aspect is non-existent leaving it a little bi. You now begin in a central hub which is a really smart addition. From there you enter portals and are given objectives to complete like holding an area or defending a control node like in Patrol in multiplayer. You can come back to the central hub after completing an area and killing enemies to purchase upgrades and buffs. The framework is there for Zombies to be one of the best iterations yet but the lack of story/puzzle elements at launch leaves something to be desired.

Call of Duty: Vanguard doesn’t stray from the formula too much and I don’t think the game suffers for it at all. I enjoyed this one more than the last two Call of Duty games and that’s saying something for someone who has poured probably 400 hours combined into those two games. The multiplayer is solid, the campaign is fun albeit a bit weak in certain areas, and Zombies has the potential to reinvent itself into a better more robust game mode than we’ve seen in recent years. 

Pros Cons
Destructible environments in multiplayer matches breathe new life into the tried and true formula Zombies mode is missing story elements that help flesh the mode out
Gunsmith customizations allow you to really tailor your weapons to how you want to play Character specialties in the campaign don’t feel very unique
Tuning match types offers players the ability to choose the type of MP experience they want to play  

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