Call of Duty: Vanguard Review: A super stale entry that’s tacked onto Warzone

Played On: PlayStation 5 (Original)

Difficulty: Regular (Campaign)

The Call of Duty franchise has definitely shown itself to be formulaic even as new games cycle through different studios, but its latest entry from Sledgehammer, Vanguard, proves that this formula is staler than ever.

Vanguard acts as sort of a sequel to Sledghammer’s previous Call of Duty title, the very underrated WW2, as it takes players back to World War II for more globe trekking conflict. However, Vanguard takes place towards the end of the war as the Allies begin to turn the tide and the Third Reich begins to fall. Sledgehammer set a pretty high bar for Call of Duty storytelling with the cinema-caliber war story it displayed in WW2. It brought together notable celebrity talent like Josh Duhamel and Jonathan Tucker while showcasing a visually stunning engine that amped up the explosive action and raised the bar for Call of Duty games having a cinematic feel.

Vanguard’s campaign shows a lot of potential to hit those same marks in its story about its titular team of international soldiers coming together to uncover the details of a secret Nazi project that could keep them alive in the war. The campaign takes an interesting story approach in how it explores different warfronts through its squad made up of soldiers from different parts of the world. As each member looks back on their own experiences in the war, players will see how leader Arthur (voiced by Chike Okonkwo) found his voice leading his team through Great Britain’s own D-Day invasion and how Russian sharpshooter Polina (voiced by Laura Bailey) became motivated by the loss of her father during a devastating Nazi bombardment. It’s even nice that players are brought into the chaotic skies during the Battle of Midway through an aerial fight for your life with team pilot Wade (voiced by Derek Phillips).

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Vanguard‘s campaign sees a group of international soldiers attempting to stop a secret Nazi plan.

It’s great that Vanguard pulls together at multi-perspective view at the tail end of World War II, but its greatest qualities are only skin deep. Campaign ends up being a great way for the game’s engine to be shown off since its truly cinema quality. The textures on faces look incredibly realistic and the more atmospheric lighting and set pieces can be very impressive. Other than that, Vanguard’s campaign fails to impress with its story experience as it isn’t all that original or engaging. Frankly, it’s what the Battlefield franchise has done with its World War campaigns and the story execution here just isn’t all that ambitious. Players are basically just thrown back into different parts of the war to play as a different member of the team. At times this can be an interesting way to see individual character growth and creates interesting arcs, but for the most part its just kind of a boring Call of Duty experience. There’s way too much unnecessary narration from Arthur and the cinematic cutscenes keep you out of the action too long. Not to mention, the villains are just generic Nazi generals trying to maintain power as the Third Reich falls.

The missions also don’t offer enough variety to make them an engaging experience. It’s nice that Sledgehammer brings back command abilities for certain characters to direct team fire and other gameplay elements like stealth, climbing, and even flying a plane, but there’s not a lot of depth or finesse to them. The stealth aspects are pretty basic and the climbing mechanics in Poliva’s mission are a total joke with how you basically just hold up on the left stick to get to the next climbing point. The worst is flying as Wade as his mission during the battle of Midway ends up being one of the worst campaign missions of all time because of sloppy flight controls. It’s mostly just the same kind of basic running and gunning that’s typical for these games. Vanguard’s campaign simply lacks any sort of inventiveness in its story or gameplay making it an uneventful, tacked on experience.

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Vanguard takes players to interesting points in the war, but it doesn’t come with a compelling story or unique gameplay design.

Multiplayer continues to be where this franchise pours most of its efforts into and this iteration comes with some interesting changes. First and foremost, with cross-play becoming more of the norm, there are actually some noticeable adjustments made that signify PC as the central standard with options for controller inputs and the overall faster pace of the shooting evoke more vibes of that community. It’s a pretty fair choice given the franchise’s large PC community and allows for more accessibility options overall. For the most part, the main formula of multiplayer stays the same with its loadout options, killstreaks, operator options, and game mode choices, but there’s one big addition that changes everything about the feel of Multiplayer. Along with being able to filter out game modes for playlists, players can now choose the style of pacing they want for the match that ranges from having a more tactical 6v6 to a more kill-happy 24v24.

Combat pacing, in theory, feels like the perfect next step in the evolution of Call of Duty multiplayer as it adds another layer of customizability to the experience. At times, it can work really well in creating a more balanced experience, but it depends too heavily on map sizes. Players can no longer choose what maps they want to play on, so you’re left at the mercy of the game – which doesn’t always make the best choices. Sometimes you end up playing a way too slow game of 6v6 on the game’s largest map and other times you end up being in a 12v12 on the smallest map and get spawn-killed every five seconds. The spawning is incredibly inconsistent, and spawn-killing happens way too often. Combat pacing could be a revolutionary step forward for the franchise, but there needs to be greater consistency in map selections and spawning for it to work. Honestly, the maps themselves need to be better as their designs are super unmemorable and even bringing back World at War maps like Dome and Castle aren’t enough to make Vanguard’s maps special.

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Zombies returns with a very bogged down design that takes away from the pure survival experience the mode once was.

Zombies also makes a return and frankly, the more this franchise tries to do with Zombies, the less it really feels like Call of Duty Zombies. Personally, I felt like Sledgehammer did such a great job making WW2’s Zombies mode feel like a true return to form with some modern upgrades. Vanguard’s Zombies mode is them trying to make it something more than it needs to be and its unique identity feels lost. This Zombies mode sort of harkens back to maps like “Tranzit” where squads bounce around between different maps to complete objectives while fending off hordes of zombies. It’s nice that certain aspects like crafting return and the way that perks are handled is impactful as they’re easy to obtain but take reasonable effort to improve. The way hordes work is really unsatisfying though as you can only progress in rounds by completing objectives making the experience feel disjointed. Frankly, I miss the days of Zombies just being pure survival as iterations like Vanguard’s just complicate things for no reason and bogs down the experience. Also, let’s just stop trying to create this enveloping story for Zombies because its starting to become ridiculous.

Rather than instill confidence in the future of the Call of Duty franchise, Vanguard is a mediocre iteration that questions if the franchise has just run completely stale. Frankly, from how Activision boasts Warzone as the real future of Call of Duty pulling their other studios, for better or worse, onto to it to be it thriving, the main Call of Duty games, especially Vanguard, feel like a tacked-on accessory to Warzone and it begs the question if Call of Duty really needs a yearly installment anymore.


*All Photos Used Here Were Taken By the Author*

Watch the Trailer Here:

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