Call of Duty: Vanguard – Same Old CoD with a Coat of Next Gen

This year’s Call of Duty is titled Vanguard, developed by Sledgehammer Games and published by Activision and placed in a post-World War II setting. The game’s open beta recently concluded, and I was happy when they extended the beta from September 20th to the 22nd. It was enough to get some first impressions and get a better idea of what to expect from the multiplayer when the full game releases on November 5th.

Cross-Play

I wanted to test out the cross-play functionality of the game. I enlisted Nerd Reactor’s John to join me on his PC. In the past two iterations, cross-play worked very well.

The player goes to the social menu and has a list that can contain both platform-based and Activision-based friends. John was able to join right into my party by going to his friend’s list. From there we were ready to go and we had no cross-play issues moving forward.

Playlists

Call of Duty: Vanguard’s beta consisted of five game modes a player could put into a playlist. Team Deathmatch, Domination, Kill Confirmed, and Search and Destroy were all game modes familiar to me. Patrol is a new mode similar to Hard Point with a constantly mobile zone two teams vie over. This mode has some potential depending on the combat pacing you choose.

Combat Pacing

Combat pacing is a new feature that allows the player to change the type of fight they want to engage in. This is a welcome addition that will cater to all fans of the first-person shooter genre. Whatever your playstyle is, there is a pace for you.

Want a slower stealthier battle? Then choose the tactical pace where games are only 6v6. You do not have to be in a constant firefight with this option. Matches tend to last a little longer with this pace. Kills were more satisfying and deaths even more agonizing.

If you have an itch for something a little faster you would want to choose the assault pace. Matches had anywhere from 10-14 players per team depending on the game mode. This is a good mix of tactical and the next pace you can choose, Blitz.

Blitz is what one would call chaotic. With up to 48 players in a match, you will have no problem getting kills. If you do not care about your K/D (Kill/Death Ratio), then this is the place for you. Being one who likes to just run and gun to blow off steam, this was my favorite pacing option.

Players will also be able to choose to have all pacing options be included in the playlist, and this is the direction we went. Right away we were thrown into a Team Deathmatch with Blitz pacing on the small map of Gavatu. This map featured a crashed naval ship on a Japanese island. At 20v20 it was a little jarring at first, but a lot of fun.

Champion Hill

Not included in the playlist options is Champion Hill. This game mode is very similar to the Gun Fight and Gun Fight Tournament game modes we saw two years ago in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. This version has both good additions and bad additions to one of my favorite game modes ever in a first-person shooter.

Champion Hill pits twelve teams against each other, each with twelve lives. The teams are randomly pitted against each other in a round-robin elimination format until only one team survives.

Courtesy Activision

I really love this idea though I think it could use two more teams and four more lives. Also, the maps were not very impressive, lacking color and character, something I hope changes in the full game.

Before the match starts, as well as after every third round competitors get the option to buy weapons, killstreaks, perks, and grenades to use in the matches. You are also given the option to use the money you earn, through kills and random pick-ups, to upgrade your weapon mid-game. Though sometimes you may not like what you get. This is where Champion Hill takes strategy.

Players are given $500 to start which is enough to buy a gun, armor, grenade, a perk, or even a spy plane. How does one spend that opening credit? Then you have to last the next three rounds. When you do, what do you do next? It all depends on how many teams are left and how many lives your team has remaining.

The inclusion of the spy plane at only $500 definitely dulled the intensity of the opening matches. This is one kill streak option I would suggest the devs at Sledgehammer Games adjust or remove entirely. Champion Hill could become a very fun and balanced experience with some tweaking.

Gameplay and Atmosphere

The essence of Call of Duty is the gameplay and the maps. Vanguard does an excellent job of immersing you in a World War II-era setting while making you feel like you are playing a modern game on the newest technology.

The graphics were stellar on the Series X. One map was of a castle in the mountains. You could see every detail of the mountainside in the distance. Another map put you in a hotel in Paris where the Eiffel Tower loomed in the background as only the City of Lights could look. While another sent you to a downtown Russian city of Stalingrad covered in snow. 

As shown in the multiplayer reveal, the environments are very destructible. That made the way you played the game change as the match went on. New areas to shoot from were uncovered. There were fewer places to take cover. And in games like Domination where cover to capture is important, it played a huge factor.

The audio was what you would expect from a Call of Duty game though it seemed every player was using the Ghost perk so footsteps were few and far between in the beta. It would also seem when you get a kill, you will no longer hear the voice of the player you just killed. This is a feature we could give or take.

Courtesy Activision

The gunplay felt very modern, so it was a nice combination of old-school weapons and technology with that feel. The guns had a ton of customization options which allowed for multiple attachments and bullet types which gives you a ton of loadout flexibility. While gun customization has been in Call of Duty, it seems this year there are many more options. and combinations.

Final Reaction

There is a lot to like about what we have played of Vanguard. The Call of Duty team seems to have a product that will appeal to a large audience. While this has always been the case, this year, with combat pacing it seems Activision’s strategy is now player retention by giving players more control on ways to play.

The setting mixed with the gameplay style definitely keeps the franchise fresh. With a few tweaks to balancing and atmosphere in Champion Hill, that mode could become a player favorite. And while it does feel a lot like past Call of Duty versions, if it isn’t broken, why try and fix it?

As someone who has been back on the Call of Duty train since Modern Warfare 2019, this is a game that will probably grace my library this holiday season. Call of Duty: Vanguard hits Xbox Series X|S, PS5, PC, Xbox One, and PS4 on November 5, 2021.

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