Call of Duty: Vanguard is the latest annual release in the series; released with one of 3 rotating studios, and with their own era of combat. When going through my Call of Duty: Vanguard review, it adds more weapons to the very profitable Warzone battle royale. This year’s iteration takes the franchise back to World War II with the engine from Modern Warfare 2019.
It should be noted that this is the first Call of Duty title to release with controversy attached. Even with those issues aside, the core of this game is a very focused World War II game with no accuracy in history, more weapon customization, and enough content to keep fans busy. How does this game stack up to previous titles? Does it do anything special? Will it bring in more players? Find out in my Call of Duty: Vanguard review!
Call of Duty: Vanguard
Developer: Sledgehammer Games
Platforms: Windows PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Release Date: November 5, 2021
Price: $59.99 USD
World War II for a Call of Duty game can have varying results. Call of Duty: WWII, which released in 2017, had a fair bit of criticism due the implementation of microtransactions via loot boxes. However, the game itself was still positively received, including it’s campaign and zombies modes, besides it’s multiplayer component.
Vanguard has you experience World War II again, but with twist on history. Starting in Hamburg, Germany, you fight of Nazi soldiers on a train. It opens in a very cinematic style with a huge set piece to kick off the new story unfolding. From the beginning to the end, you’ll be playing as different characters in various times and locations.
Most cutscenes are played out pre-rendered with transitions to the in-game engine, but make quick jumps back and forth periodically. Stories are short shooting galleries and more cinematic than the previous two entries, with little in the way of gunplay. The meat of the campaign is very little, since most scenes require little player input to progress.
Some missions of the main story are inaccurate to weapons being in locations that they shouldn’t, and events that didn’t happen. I’m not saying this is a negative, but the true moments of being not so good are from other areas. Characters act irrationally, the story has no pacing with jumps and flashbacks making it incoherent, and in some instances bugs prevent progression.
One of the main draws to Call of Duty is its multiplayer; which features new killstreaks, 20 launch maps, and new weapons. Introducing a new system for multiplayer comes “Pacings.” There are 3 different paces you can choose for your playstyle, and also mix up map selections based on them.
Additionally, the maps can be small like “Das Haus,” to something a bit larger. Most maps can handle 48 players depending on the pacing chosen, and will filter them appropriately. Besides the typical leveling up, you still level up weapons like previous entries that give you camos and attachments.
In the same breathe, you can also level up operators that each have their own favorite weapon. Using those weapons will give double XP for the weapon and the operator. While the multiplayer has the same types of challenges, it doesn’t improve or do anything more with the foundation laid out before.
Zombies has always been a hit since it first premiered in Call of Duty World at War. Each iteration of the zombies mode has tried to improve on the last by giving players more missions, upgrades, and story to complete. Unfortunately, they didn’t do much to make this one stand out from the former. While I personally enjoyed the zombies mode, hardcore and diehard fans of zombies may be disappointed.
There is a story that serves as a prequel to Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War. The Dark Aether storyline in this game introduces a previously mentioned characters; Gabriel Krafft, Oberfuhrer Wolfram Von List, and Kortiflex the Deathless. Operators from the multiplayer mode are the characters your team will play as during the mode instead of exclusive characters.
Playing solo doesn’t grant you the ability to pause the game, and there a huge difficulty spikes even when playing in co-op or multiplayer, which can make the progression of upgrading weapons feel insignificant. You can still get power-ups scattered throughout the map, such as increased health and critical hit damage, but can be costly.
After dozens of hours of playing everything in the game, graphics had a difficult time working properly. In some instances that I was able to catch; patchy and missing textures are frequent, and other textures don’t appear nearly as good as Modern Warfare 2019 with the same engine. The game’s brightness is low by default, and still tried to force an HDR type of effect in certain areas.
Multiplayer suffers from missing characters during the post-game screens. When presenting play of the game, characters are missing sometimes, which is a huge oversight during development it seems. Additionally, some standard character movements like reloading a gun as an idle animation in the menus had broken, stretched animations as well.
In zombies, I observed missing textures for blood the environment. All of these graphical issues were overlooked, and left in the game even after a post-launch patch. Disappointingly, this is another huge step down when it comes to detail that was present in the last game using the engine.
Generally, the soundtrack for a WWII game is epic and booming with orchestra. This is still somewhat the case, however, the game’s soundtrack is a little more somber in tone, as you’re supposed to be witnessing the harsh world around you. The main points of the soundtrack are consistent of violins and horns which lend the simplistic but epic sound it should have.
Alternatively, sounds are somewhat lackluster in comparison to the music and environment. They aren’t as authentic as most other games when shooting weapons, however, distant shots sound good to the ear. Explosions from grenades are often boring, as well as bombing runs and the like. The positives are mostly here which seems unfortunate when stacked up against a game that could be more than it is.
Soldiers in-game have quips when getting kills in a certain way. They can be annoying and break immersion on some level, but nothing too bad, just an eye roll. However, when engulfed in flames by grenades, your character will let out screams that will overtake the sounds in the game. Audio mixing is a letdown, and is a cluster of random sounds at time with a lot of yelling, music blaring, and explosions.
Being conditioned from playing Call of Duty from the early days of Call of Duty 2 to now is partially the reason that I feel the way I do. Every iteration of the franchise from the beginning always sought to improve the core mechanics, and introduce longevity into the future. Single player campaigns started to get phased out slowly, and replaced with online only activities and co-op modes.
Ultimately, in the long run of the series, there have been a few missteps that were still profitable. This isn’t the case here. Call of Duty: Vanguard is major step back.
Some could argue that wall running didn’t belong in previous entries, but they added verticality to gameplay, and made players look up instead of left and right. Vanguard lacks all originality, doesn’t improve in almost any areas, and goes down in quality.
Like most, I’ve never been the biggest fan of annual releases in the Call of Duty department. If you skipped the last entry, you’re definitely not missing anything, and are better off staying away from this release like the plague. My expectations were low, but those were shattered by being lower than those.
Call of Duty: Vanguard was reviewed on Windows PC using a review code provided by Activision. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.