Another year, another Call of Duty. That genuinely is the feeling you get once you boot up Call of Duty: Vanguard. What once was (to me) one of the highly anticipated franchises of each year now falls into a “let’s see what they did new this year” experience. Yet again we find a Call of Duty game set in World War II because we haven’t had enough of that setting over the years. Ultimately, my time with Call of Duty: Vanguard left me wishing Activision would stop the yearly release of COD titles and take a page out of Assassin’s Creed‘s playbook. Call of Duty: Vanguard is fine at best, and its multiplayer is typical COD, but Vanguard is painfully more of the same without much new to show. If you desperately want to play a new Call of Duty, Vanguard is a passable experience. If you wanted something new or fun, then look somewhere else.
The story in the campaign of Call of Duty: Vanguard revolves around a group of World War II heroes from various allied nations that combine to form Task Force One (think spec ops team). The campaign begins near the end of World War II, with the Nazis defeated and in disarray. There is a secret plot to see the Third Reich live on, and Task Force One is sent in to infiltrate Germany on the quiet in order to put a stop to it. To be honest, the campaign pretty much highlights what the total Call of Duty: Vanguard experience will be like: setting up towards something that seems interesting and fun, only for it to decide to hold back and be very “same-y.” The idea of following this group of renegades through infernal Berlin got me quite excited because I thought this would allow for an interesting, alternate take on World War II storytelling. Vanguard doesn’t do this at all. Immediately after one of the raids, your group of agents are captured by the Nazis and spend most of the campaign imprisoned beneath a gloomy Nazi administration building. The campaign then hops between flashbacks that individually focus on each member of the team’s experiences during the war. Turns out Vanguard is a lot like most World War II shooters these days and lets you play a highlight reel of events rather than crafting an interesting story you get to play out.
Multiplayer in Call of Duty: Vanguard is a better experience. Vanguard is built on the technological leaps Infinity Ward achieved for 2019’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare rather than the tech that powers Call of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War. It moves and shoots more like Modern Warfare and Warzone. From a modes perspective, Vanguard heavily focuses around classics like Team Deathmatch and Domination, while there’s a new version of Modern Warfare‘s ‘Gunfight’ mode called Champion Kill. This sees players square off in teams of two or three in small-scale rounds. You all start off with the same loadout, but cash you earn by winning lets you upgrade your weapons and equipment, meaning fights gradually diversify as they progress.
Multiplayer in Call of Duty: Vanguard suffers from strange decisions. One thing to point out, which I find absolutely mind-blowing, is that Vanguard doesn’t have a ping system. It’s 2021, it’s Call of Duty, and we don’t have a ping system? Insane! I’m also really not thrilled by the return of Killstreaks. Killstreaks are all about getting kills, obvious statement is obvious, but it makes playing the game quite obnoxious when there’s pretty much no incentive to play the objective. There are loads of maps and plenty of modes in Vanguard, which is great. I like Vanguard‘s multiplayer, but there’s nothing here that makes it a must-buy. Like the campaign, Vanguard struggles with the World War II setting and the apparent fear of wanting to try new things. It’s good but not great.
Zombies mode in Call of Duty: Vanguard, honestly, is a completely barren mess. The basics are right in place. You and three friends have been transported into a hellish, phantasmagoric alternative universe where there’s a big, bad demon who fuses with a Nazi, and there are four other demons who hate the big, bad demon enough to work with the players to defeat it. Vanguard‘s Zombies mode only has three different types of objectives on one single map. One sees you escort a floating zombie head while fending off zombies. Another sees you survive until the end of the time limit. And the final objective type tasks you with feeding special objects with a unique drop you occasionally get from a dead zombie. The main issue with Zombies mode is that the mode is way too thin. Every zombie party I was in went through the same three narrow missions over and over again, with nothing ever reaching stressful, chaotic horde action as in past COD games. Vanguard possesses no Easter egg storylines, no wonder weapons, and a very limited amount of perks. Supposedly, more content is coming for Zombies mode, although when? No idea.
Overall, Call of Duty: Vanguard rarely impressed me, and I leave thinking that I won’t be picking this game up again soon. The campaign is your typical WWII shooter storyline we’ve played many times before, and while visually it’s a gorgeous experience, it’s all very same-y. It’s not great, not bad, it’s just…passable. Zombies mode falls into this exact same issue, although the lack of content this year isn’t excusable. I usually play many hours of Zombies mode with friends and don’t tire of it, but this time, I was good after an hour or so. The multiplayer is where Vanguard feels the best because it’s your typical Call of Duty experience. The problem is that this mode, yet again, feels very same-y to every other WWII COD game and doesn’t do anything really new or interesting. Is it fun? Yes, but I don’t think there’s enough here to justify buying Vanguard, unless you really badly want to play a new Call of Duty this year. For everyone else, I’d suggest you either pass on Vanguard or wait until the game starts reaching bargain bin pricing. There are too many better experiences to be playing than Call of Duty: Vanguard.
Developer: Sledgehammer Games
Platforms: PS5, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC
Release Date: 5th November 2021