Given it’s already September (shew, this year has flown by), you know that fall is around the corner, and so is the next Call Of Duty game. That’s not always a bad thing though, and as you can read in our preview from the games reveal, Vanguard seems to be picking the right attachments for it’s loadout. One thing we saw only a smidgen of at that event was multiplayer, but we usually get a separate unveiling later on, with Vanguard’s hitting September 7th. Well, we were invited to get a hands on peek at what to expect, and while the final layer of polish is clearly absent, I left very positive in the direction this year’s title is heading.
The key for every Call Of Duty release is simple: make changes, experiment at times, but don’t upset the formula too much. For the most part, it’s felt like the series has played it safe since the jetpack era, and with good reason. While our own Mike Dunn was decently high on Infinite Warfare in his review, I and many didn’t share the sentiment, and it felt like the teams paid attention to it. Since then we’ve been boots on the ground, and after Modern Warfare 2019 completely took over the scene and Cold War blew out sales records, both still felt like they chased our positive feelings of previous titles.
You can certainly claim the same with Call Of Duty: Vanguard, but the choice to build the game off of Modern Warfare’s engine seems to be genius. First off, the feature set for MW19 is fantastic. I know some don’t like Dead Silence as a field upgrade, or don’t like tactical sprinting, but everything it brings to the table works wonderfully. Second, it makes for some extremely pretty graphics. Yeah I know, graphics aren’t everything, and from what we’ve seen so far there’s still polish to come, but the bones are there for some ray-traced goodness, especially after what we saw in our press exclusive campaign footage.
That all being said, if it doesn’t play well, it doesn’t matter. We played about two hours of the multiplayer, jumping between several modes and maps, and there’s some really cool stuff to unpack. As I brought up before, Vanguard is built on MW19’s engine, and it very much shows. While stating that it’s a WWII setting stapled over Modern Warfare isn’t ridiculously far off, it’s also an oversimplification of what Sledgehammer has built this year. Let’s not forget, the rumors that came out earlier this year said that it was a dumpster fire, so the fact that they’ve completely 180’ed this game shows not only talent, but that they’re not just looking to reskin a previous title.
By 180, I mean that this game plays extremely well. I was at least a bit skeptical, and the Champion Hill alpha test was really rough and obviously an alpha build. But from the first match of the beta preview I played, everything felt pretty smooth. Moving around the map was clean, and although some polish is still needed (my tactical sprint often took a few extra taps to activate), I’m honestly stunned at how crisp everything is in beta form. When this opens up to PlayStation pre-orders this weekend, with Xbox, PC, and an open beta to follow, I get the feeling that players are going to feel the same. It’s hard to put into exact words just how good it is, but the easiest way is to imagine you’re playing Modern Warfare gameplay, but it feels fresh. It’s new but familiar, and it works to Vanguard’s benefit.
Where I think Vanguard is at its best is the maps. I remember playing the Call Of Duty: Black Ops Cold War beta last year, and my squad and I only really liked about half of them. Fast forward to the full release, which was only ten maps with eight being 6v6, and we spent plenty of time auto-vetoing the likes of Cartel and Armada Strike. With Vanguard promising twenty maps at launch, with sixteen of them being 6v6, I feel a lot better about the possibility of having plenty I prefer to play on. If the initial beta offering is anything to go on, we might even have a majority of them worth a pick.
The ones we were able to play consisted of Gavutu, a war-torn beach I’m assuming from Midway, Hotel Royale, a swanky rooftop hotel restaurant, Red Star, a snow-covered Russian city square, and Eagle’s Nest, a clifftop home that feels like it was made for Hitler. All of them are surprisingly different as well as colorful, which is a welcome approach from the usual drab WWII setting. Somehow, all of these also had a great flow to them, even when following the three lane approach most Call Of Duty games do. While my time was brief, and I’m sure people will find the spots, I didn’t encounter many power positions that couldn’t be flanked or taken over through brute force. That was a big issue with several of the Black Ops Cold War maps, if I’m in Garrison, it’s going to take a lot of fighting if I’m trying to get up in top green from the opposing side.
Maybe it’s just my mind playing tricks on me, given there are plenty of buildings on BOCW maps, but there is a feeling of separation between them in Vanguard that I felt in Modern Warfare, but that disappeared in Cold War. I’m not sure that the size of them is much larger, and in the case of Hotel Royale and Eagle’s Nest it definitely isn’t, but I think the doors as well as a more full feeling of verticality has added some oomph into these maps. Something else that’s been a welcome addition, the destructibility, allowing you to create new positions as well as open mini lanes throughout the maps. I wasn’t sure how it would work, as well as if it might cause bigger problems, but it worked out well during our play time.
The weapons also felt pretty good to use, with the caveat of the foreign nature of what the attachments were doing without a decent amount of time to study over them, as well as the lack of time to play with them all. I spent most of my time with the STG44, which feels like it will be the most all around weapon of choice for the moment, with a good blend of range as well as speed, kind of like the XM4 or Groza in BOCW. I used the BAR and the MP40 as well, but not nearly as much, so I’ll be spreading out my time with different ones over the next few weeks of beta. One thing I’m extremely curious about is the viability of snipers in this game. They were a lot more useful in MW19, so I hope that makes its way into Vanguard. I never really had a reason to use a sniper rifle in Cold War.
As for issues, I honestly don’t have much to dislike, even with the game in beta. There’s some audio issues I’d like cleaned up a bit, particularly the kill sound being a little more impactful like it’s predecessors. The rough edges that could appear in the graphics will also be smoothed out most likely by release, so I don’t have much to say there. I guess there is the issue of the spawns, which were pretty awful, especially in Patrol mode. This new mode, which is pretty fun by the way, offers a moving Hardoint (think the final moving circle in Warzone) to grab points from as opposed to the shifting point. In the middle of the chaos, I found myself often being killed from behind, or spawning in right next to an enemy. It’s kind of par for the course to see bad spawns right out of the gates, but I hope this is corrected well before the final beta week so we can see things in action. Could it have been Patrol mode? I do think that has a hand in it as my Domination match on Red Star wasn’t nearly as bad, but there is still work to be done.
The only other thing I’m a bit apprehensive about is the combat pacing. There are several options, all adjusting the player counts on maps. I didn’t necessarily enjoy the blitz version, cranking up the amount of players to 24 on the Hotel Royale map, but my overall distaste hinges more on splitting the number of players available even more. It already takes a moment to get into some matches in Cold War. What happens if this only further divides players into smaller camps with higher ping? Just a thought, and it could be nothing, but as a 6v6 Hardcore player it at least gives me a bit of unease.
Overall, my impression of Call Of Duty: Vanguard is very positive. Even though we’re headed back to the World War II era, the game feels fresh and plays crisp. There are things that are going to have to be fixed, yes, but that’s exactly what the upcoming beta period is about, identifying those problems before the launch. If anything, Sledgehammer feels ahead of the curve in building this one, and I can’t wait to see how they continue to fare in the coming weeks of beta. Call Of Duty: Vanguard will launch November 5th, 2021, and will be available globally on PlayStation 5®, PlayStation 4®, Xbox One®, Xbox Series X|S, and PC via Battle.net.