‘Call of Duty: Vanguard’ Review: A Deadly Return To World War 2
| Last updated
Featured Image Credit: Call of Duty: Vanguard / Credit: Activision
Can you imagine Call of Duty without multiplayer? Exactly. Thankfully, out of the three content pillars in Call of Duty: Vanguard, multiplayer is by far the strongest.
The mode features a whopping 16 maps - double what the previous Call of Duty iteration, 2020’s Cold War, had at launch. It also includes a further four maps specifically for Champions Hill, which I’ll go into more detail about further on in this review.
These multiplayer maps span multiple theatres of war, which you’ll experience if you play through the early 1940s-set campaign. From the streets of Berlin to the rooftops of the Hotel Royal in Paris at night, there’s a lot of maps at players' disposal, and you’ll soon have your favourites picked out.
There are also two returning maps from 2008’s Call of Duty: World at War, maps which die-hard Call of Duty fans have been begging to be reintroduced into the franchise for many years now. Sledgehammer has listened, and answered our requests in Vanguard by bringing back Dome and Castle. The remastered maps fit seamlessly amongst the other WWII-era maps, and if you played World at War, you’ll know these two maps have a special place in CoD players’ hearts. I’m sure it won’t be long until Dome becomes a favourite among newcomers to the franchise, and Sledgehammer introduces a Dome 24/7 Playlist, instead of Das Haus. These new maps, and the 14 others that come with them, look stunning on next-gen consoles and really push the Call of Duty boundaries.
The gunplay feels spot on in Vanguard - forever fast-paced and Sledgehammer has nailed the time-to-kill for its weapons. However, new maps aside, much of the multiplayer experience is exactly what you’d expect from a Call of Duty title - and at times during the launch weekend, it did feel like I was playing Call of Duty: WWII again, or a slightly reskinned version, as there’s really not that much between the two games multiplayer wise, aside from the absence of the HQ.
Although Sledgehammer Games have largely played it safe here, there is innovation in a few places. Patrol is a new addition which is clearly inspired by Hardpoint, the only difference being that the Patrol point gradually moves around the map, rather than spawning in new places at set times and intervals. Patrol is a fresh spin on Hardpoint, which is an already popular game mode among fans, and is often seen in CDL matches. But after playing a handful of matches, for me it doesn’t come close to Hardpoint, and I think I’ll always find myself leaning towards the older mode, as I find tactically timing rotations and learning the Hardpoint spawn points of each map much more rewarding.
Speaking about what’s rewarding, at the end of each multiplayer match, as well as the top play, you’ll also get a chance to vote for the team MVP. The game picks three players with different accolades such as Headshots, Most Time Spent Near Enemies, Most Kills, Most Multi-Kills, and lets players vote. Usually the vote swings towards whoever placed the highest on the leaderboard - however, don’t play too well otherwise people will probably assume you are hacking and vote for someone else as the MVP. The MVP winner gets a little XP reward which doesn’t amount to much, but I suppose every little helps, right?
Champions Hill is the other significant new addition to Call of Duty: Vanguard multiplayer, and if you didn’t get a chance to experience it during the Beta weekend, it's definitely worth checking out if you pick up the full game. It’s basically Modern Warfare’s (2019) Gunfight mode, Team Deathmatch and Battle Royale mashed together. It’s a very tactical and communication-heavy mode which you’ll probably hate at first, but in time, as various strategies develop, you’ll soon learn to love it.
Eight teams drop into an arena with a small amount of cash and with a set amount of lives. You’ll be able to buy weapons before being matched up with an opposing team. Each team will battle it out against each other, until one runs out of lives. At the end of each match, you’ll either move up or down the leaderboard, until there’s just one team standing (hopefully yours). Champions Hill is a brilliantly tactical mode, which is really fun to play - and I imagine it’s just as great to watch, too.
These minor, albeit entertaining additions aside, Vanguard doesn’t offer anything extra, and is ultimately a return to a familiar era if you are a fan of World at War or WWII. If you’re a casual player, the lack of innovation probably won’t bother you, as the amount of maps alone and signature Call of Duty gunplay is more than enough. Also, the multiplayer side of Vanguard will definitely keep you entertained for longer than the Campaign and Zombies mode will. Speaking of which...
Watch this intense Call of Duty: Vanguard multiplayer match on the fan favourite map Dome!
The Call of Duty: Vanguard campaign puts players right at the heart of WWII, but instead of large-scale invasions you’ll find yourself up close and personal with Nazi high command, together with a band of soldiers known as the Vanguard.
The Vanguard is a specially assembled group of soldiers from different fronts - think Avengers, but in Call of Duty. Each has their own background as to how they came to be involved. What initially starts off as one mission soon takes a turn, and in an unusual direction too, as the Vanguard find themselves imprisoned and later interrogated by Nazi officer Jannick Richter. The Vanguard campaign isn’t a linear globetrotting adventure, the sort of which you’d expect from a Call of Duty title. Yes, you do experience multiple theatres of war, but this is played out as each member of the Vanguard shares their side of the story while imprisoned.
Sledgehammer focuses heavily on the characters throughout, maybe a little too much in places, which takes away from the overall story development. Each member of the Vanguard has a lengthy mission, and only after that does the main storyline advance. And even when it does advance, that is through no actions of your own. Because of this, the missions feel largely insignificant and anti-climactic.
The campaign is relatively short, taking only six hours to complete. The Call of Duty: Vanguard finale arrives just as the game begins to pick up pace. When you reach the end game, you do get a small taste of the Vanguard powerhouse, and that’s when Vanguard really starts to shine for me. Without dropping spoilers, it's basically a GTA V-esque mission, which sees you dropping into each of the Vanguard members as they rush a German airport. It’s a real shame we didn’t get more missions like it, to fully appreciate the Vanguard squad as a whole.
The campaign gives you a unique view on WWII, covering a wide range of locales. As well as this, the Vanguard features a very likeable set of characters: Arthur Kingsley, Polina Petrova, Lucas Riggs, Wade Jackson and Richard Webb. Each has an extensive backstory that keeps the story human and grounded. There’s no denying how beautiful the Vanguard campaign is, the facial animations, cutscenes and weather really elevate the experience. However, as the campaign wrapped, I was left feeling underwhelmed. I feel like Sledgehammer missed an opportunity with the Vanguard squad, which meant the story fell short of expectations. As short and underwhelming as the campaign was, the foundations for the Vanguard have certainly been set, and only time will tell if any CoD games or DLC of the future will put them to good use.
With Call of Duty: Vanguard being set in the WWII era and Treyarch leading development on the Zombies mode, you’d think it was a match made in heaven, right? Alas, that could not be any further from the truth. The Vanguard Zombies mode is completely unrecognisable from previous entries players have loved, and not in a good way.
The Zombies mode features one map, if you can call it that, named Der Anfang. It’s set in Stalingrad - which is, on paper, a perfect setting for a WWII-themed Zombies experience. Yet it doesn’t come close to the signature Zombies mode Call of Duty fans come to expect from Treyarch.
Firstly, Zombies is now more objective-based rather than round-based, which loses the one thing that kept you playing for hours. In making this choice, the mode has completely lost touch with the core Zombies fan base. Casual players may find a few hours of enjoyment, but nothing that’ll come close to the endless Zombie hordes slain in previous iterations. The Call of Duty: Vanguard mode feels like a really lazy approach to Zombies, featuring plenty of reused assets from campaign and multiplayer, which all attempt to bring Der Anfang to life.
Don’t get me wrong, it's great that Treyarch has been involved in bringing Zombies to Vanguard, but this is completely different to what you’d expect from them. This disappointing attempt makes you appreciate Cold War’s Zombies a hell of a lot more if you didn’t already, and it’s also a huge downgrade from the advances made in Cold War.
I mean, why change the main Zombies formula this far in? It’s been the same ever since Nacht der Untoten in World at War. As we saw with Outbreak in Cold War, objective-based game modes are much better off as a secondary offering rather than the primary experience. I guess there’s only so much a studio can do, especially with Cold War launching only last year, but it really is a shame to see Zombies like this, given how much potential it had on paper.
With two World at War maps returning in Vanguard multiplayer, and Treyarch involved in Zombies, things were looking good for Call of Duty: Vanguard. But sadly the Zombies mode misses the mark completely, and forgets about its core audience.
If you enjoy WWII shooters, you’ll still have a good time with Call of Duty: Vanguard. Sledgehammer Games have graced the WWII era once again with their innovative approach to multiplayer and packed it full of maps. The campaign, albeit short, gives you a unique view of WWII at the heart of one of the deadliest squads. And the Zombies mode? It exists, but the less said about it, the better.
Pros: Amazing graphics, huge multiplayer offering, strong character development
Cons: Short campaign, poor Zombies mode
For fans of: Call of Duty: WWII, Call of Duty: World At War
7/10: Very Good
Call of Duty: Vanguard is available now on PS4/5 (version tested), Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One and Microsoft Windows. Review was conducted after launch, using a copy purchased at retail. Find a guide to GAMINGbible's review scores here.