After a wildly successful reboot for Modern Warfare, the launch of a massively popular battle royale game, and a return to basics for Black Ops, Call of Duty is going back to its World War II roots with Vanguard, launching later this year on last-gen consoles, current-gen consoles, and PC. Sledgehammer Games is at the helm of this entry, and after their last take on a WWII shooter, fans are eager to see how this one will shape up. Call of Duty: WWII was a divisive game at launch (at least its multiplayer offering was), but Sledgehammer managed to turn this around and deliver a solid title in the end. With that experience under their belt, how does Vanguard fare?
I recently had the opportunity to go hands-on with Call of Duty: Vanguard multiplayer, and I walked away excited. After last year’s development shakeup, I wasn’t sure how the next Call of Duty entry would turn out. To make matters even worse, the development landscape changed for the entire industry when the pandemic hit, making an already supposedly turbulent development period even tougher. With all that said, it’s a surprise that I enjoyed my time with Call of Duty: Vanguard as much as I did.
Call of Duty: Vanguard runs on the Modern Warfare engine, and it definitely shows. The game feels great to play, but many of you already know that based on your experience with the Champion Hill Alpha in late August. If you weren’t too fond of the movement or gunplay in Black Ops Cold War, then you’ll feel right at home in Vanguard. Weapons feel fantastic and sound amazing. Maps are gorgeous and packed with detail. All of this runs at 4K/60 FPS on PlayStation 5 as well.
The map selection is pretty hit or miss from what I played though, but I could see myself getting used to the maps I wasn’t too fond of. The two standouts that will be featured in the beta are Hotel Royal and Eagle’s Nest. Both of them offer fast-paced close-quarters shootouts and were a blast to play. They even have a decent degree of verticality, with Hotel Royal allowing players to drop into the building through glass panels on the rooftop, for example.
The other two maps, Gavutu and Red Star, weren’t as exciting in my experience. Hotel Royal and Eagle’s Nest felt like classic Call of Duty maps, but Gavutu and Red Star felt like they learned the wrong things from Modern Warfare. Both are wide open with plenty of sightlines, and it felt like there were too many routes to keep track of at once. Red Star features a courtyard without much cover in the center of the map, and crossing it feels like a death sentence. I started getting the hang of them after spending more time with them, however, so my opinion of these maps could change as I learn the layouts and familiarize myself with them. Vanguard will launch with 16 core multiplayer maps anyway, so one or two disappointing maps doesn’t mean much.
Spawns seem to be a problem on all the maps I experienced, though. I felt like people were constantly spawning right behind me, and spawns flipped frequently on some of the smaller maps like Hotel Royal. Just like in previous years, spawns will be tuned in the lead up to launch and things will get better the longer the game is out, but as it stands right now, spawns could use some work.
That being said, spawns and map quality changed based on the selected combat pacing. This is a new feature that Vanguard is introducing to the series, allowing players to choose between slower, more intimate matches or fast-paced, hectic shootouts. This new system allows those that loved Modern Warfare’s slower pace or those that want chaotic action to queue up for specific types of play.
During the hands-on period, I got to try the Tactical and Blitz modes. The same maps and modes are available for each pace, but they feel radically different. Tactical pacing offers slower 6v6 matches. You have a little more room to breathe, and it can take a little while to find someone. Blitz ups the player count, and things can get really hectic on smaller maps like Hotel Royal. The maps don’t change at all for different combat paces, so Blitz really just adds more players to the same maps. It can feel crowded, but that’s kind of the point.
That brings me to destruction, which is another new feature this year. Some walls can be shot through or destroyed, and you can break through weak spots at predetermined points on the map. There’s even cosmetic damage for things that cannot be destroyed. For example, Hotel Royal features a bar in the center of the map, and by the time a match would be over, that bar would be absolutely decimated. Bottles shatter, wood splinters, and windows break, especially on Blitz. Destruction opens up new tactical opportunities, but the cosmetic damage really makes the maps feel much more dynamic and alive.
Despite grievances with a few of the maps and spawns, I still had a blast trying out Vanguard’s multiplayer. The moment-to-moment gameplay feels miles better than WWII’s, and the game looks and sounds amazing on PS5. The movement feels great too, and I can’t wait to see what all of this looks like in Warzone. With a ton of maps available at launch and plenty of post-launch patches planned for the upcoming year, Vanguard seems like it’ll be a great experience. Here’s when you can get your hands on the beta.
- PlayStation Early Access (Pre-Orders): September 10-13
- PlayStation Open Beta: September 16-20
- PC and Xbox Early Access (Pre-Orders): September 16-17
- Open Beta for All Platforms: September 18-20
All in all, Vanguard is shaping up to be a great experience for Call of Duty fans this fall. While some players will be a bit disappointed that the series is going back to World War II yet again, the breadth of gameplay options more than makes up for that. Going back to the Modern Warfare engine was the right call, and I can’t wait to see what Vanguard’s Warzone integration will look like. More information about the game, including Warzone details and the reveal of the Treyarch-led Zombies mode, will be available in the coming weeks.
Call of Duty: Vanguard launches on November 5 for PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X|S.