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Call Of Duty: Vanguard review for PC, PS5, Xbox Series X


Platform: PC
Also On: PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X, Xbox One
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Sledgehammer Games/Treyarch
Medium: Digital/Disc
Players: Multi
Online: Yes
ESRB: M

Call Of Duty: Vanguard marks the 19th release for the series. Every year, the given developer is tasked with how best to have the new entry stand out from a strong lineup of ancestors while still keeping the core essence that the fanbase has grown to love. In my mind, Sledgehammer Games has firmly planted themselves as the one that is able to somehow shake up the formula the most while still keeping that core essence alive. From the incredible campaign and creative weaponry delivered by Advanced Warfare, to the concept of blueprints that has grounded itself as a permanent staple in every Call of Duty game since its introduction in CoD: WWII. Sledgehammer has notably found a way to evolve the series beyond expectations while somehow feeling like you already know what you’re doing. Vanguard seems to be no exception to this pattern they’ve set in place.

One of the things I love in Call of Duty: Vanguard that I’m hoping to see stick around in future releases is the introduction of “pacing” based matchmaking. When you hop into multiplayer, you’re offered to search for either Tactical, Standard, or Blitz pacings. The changeup in how a map or game type plays between the different options is huge. Tactical pacing has team sizes reduced, while Blitz has team sizes very largely increased. Since you can search in matchmaking as a basically “wildcard”, you may find yourself bouncing through some drastic player number changes between matches. 16 v 16 on a map that would normally only support 16 players between both teams is a level of chaos that I didn’t realize would be so enjoyable. Sure this was offered by way of ground war in the past, but what this offers that you never got out of ground war is the continued ability to pick and choose the actual game type you want to play and the element of randomization. You’ve not truly experienced the available chaos of CoD: Vanguard multiplayer until you’ve played a round of 10 v 10 on the smallest map available (Das Haus).

Vanguard has also introduced a shaken up variant of the gunfight mode available in the past. Gunfight was a fast-paced 2v2 or 3v3 on very small maps that didn’t allow you to bring in prebuilt classes and gave you 40 seconds to eliminate the other team. This new mode, Champion Hill, builds on the foundation of Gunfight and evolves it. Now, you are entered into open competition with 9 other teams of 2 in a cycling battle between squads on different playing fields. Every team is given 20 lives and will face off against one other random team on a small field to take as many lives as possible before time runs up and you get paired with another random squad. The back and forth continues until all but one squad runs out of lives and a victor emerges. In my opinion, this is one of the most original game modes I’ve seen in any game in quite a while, almost feeling like something akin to a battle royale with the way you’re required to earn money and buy guns and perks to win.

Another huge change to me is the revision of the Gunsmith system. Where 2019’s Modern Warfare shined bright in this regard, Vanguard manages to polish it even brighter. The gun customization offered in Call of Duty: Vanguard is extraordinarily in-depth. It allows you to turn guns from their iconic styles into an abomination that Dr Frankenstein would blush at should you choose to do so. There are so many options to twist guns and modify them to just the perfect setup for your playstyle. You can almost just choose a gun that you like the look of, level it up, and fine-tune it to any play style. While there’s definitely some nonsense that you can get for guns (looking at you, MG42 with 125 13.2mm anti-tank rounds), as long as you embrace the impracticality and lack of historical accuracy, it is absolutely beautiful what you can do to some guns. They also got rid of the “only 5 attachments” rule that Modern Warfare had in place, and instead took the stance of “just put an attachment in every slot, we won’t judge”, and so I will.

Multiplayer is the big draw to Call of Duty as a series, but it would be amiss to not also make sure to pay attention to the campaign. As I had mentioned in my opening paragraph, Sledgehammer are no strangers to writing a high-quality, engaging story while also giving you legions of enemies to shoot. They first illustrated their abilities in Advanced Warfare, and they have definitely not lost their touch in the time that’s passed since. The campaign is beautiful, starring a cast of soldiers banded together, each from a different allied army. You will get to know these soldiers through the course of the campaign, playing within their backstories as well as in the present. Vanguard delivers the story in a compelling way that takes the time to stop the bullets and work in some non-action-oriented character building, both in cutscenes and out.

As I played through the story, I continued to be awed by just how beautiful the graphics were, especially in the cutscenes. Having watched games evolve over time, I know there’s always a new point at which everyone looks and goes “wow, this looks almost photoreal”, but you can always still spot the computer-generated visual aspect of it that doesn’t sit just quite the way the real world does. In Vanguard’s cutscenes, however, I was absolutely stunned by the visual quality at times. There are several scenes, especially the ones where the camera gets close and there’s not a lot of action going on that rivals real camera work and quality. It’s worth playing the campaign just to be able to experience the future of computer-generated graphics alone, but that paired with the fact that the actual story offered is also top-notch means that should you play Vanguard, you’d be missing out to skip the campaign entirely.

Finally — the zombies. Vanguard’s zombies mode offers something that lies somewhere between the standard zombies formula that the community has grown to love and the Outbreak mode added later in Cold War’s lifespan. Vanguard has dropped the wave-based method in favor of a kind of “world tier” increase that advances as you complete objectives rather than after killing a given number of zombies. There are a lot of remnants of both the classic zombies and outbreak, while not quite being either one. I enjoyed my time with zombies, but unfortunately was stuck playing it solo, so I definitely did not get to experience the extent of what was being offered by the mode.

Overall, Call of Duty: Vanguard is a very welcome addition to the Call of Duty franchise. Sledgehammer has always helped drive the franchise forward into adventurous new territories and Vanguard is no exception. If you find yourself itching for a new FPS in your life, Vanguard is ready for you to pick up and is easy enough to drop into so that you’ll never feel out of place as a new player. If you’re wary about picking this game up because you’re someone who didn’t like the change from 2019 Modern Warfare’s engine to Treyarch’s in Cold War, then you’ll be happy to learn that this runs on Modern Warfare’s engine and the gunplay and visuals remain entirely intact.

Activision provided us with Call of Duty: Vanguard PC, PS5 codes for review purposes.

Grade: A

Call of Duty: Vanguard (Video Game)

Manufacturer:  Activision Inc.
ESRB Rating: 
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