Earlier this month Call Of Duty Vanguard launched and with it some really impressive new features and experiences. It offers a brilliantly written character focused campaign that is reminiscent of a film or TV series. While its setting is nothing new for the franchise, Sledgehammer Games has done a fantastic job of presenting the time period through fresh perspectives. As I played through the 6 – 8 hour campaign, I found myself blown away by the animations and set pieces and they’ve actually urged me to consider how truly brave those soldiers were who actually fought during WWII. Charging towards enemy trenches, fighting through them and putting their life on the line to secure enemy fortifications must have been a daunting and traumatizing experience. Playing COD Vanguard has been an absolute blast and has definitely opened my understanding that there can be new ways to breathe life into an overused setting.
COD Vanguard’s campaign is roughly 6 to 8 hours or so which is pretty short, but for the style in which it’s presented, it actually feels appropriate and varied. This time around the story focuses on a small team of elite fighters from around the world, each with their own unique skill set. Their leader Arthur Kingsley is probably the most well written and developed character in the franchise. Call Of Duty games generally have this way of writing their characters to be like drones. They appear to serve the purpose of telling the story and you kind of get an idea about what they are actually contributing, but there is never any greater connection to the characters. Vanguard does away with that structure and instead creates a cast of characters that you grow with through their struggles in a very short time. The whole story told through a very cinematic lens and functions more like an interactive movie. Details are littered throughout the campaign, things like rain drops on clothing, sharp lighting and shadows, and smoke effects really stand out and make the game world believable. Presentation was king in regards to the campaign and it shows in every level.
Unlike the campaign, the visuals take a bit of a hit in multiplayer. While the game still looks beautiful, you can tell there is a decline in the quality of the visuals. This is understandable since there is much more going on online and in order for the performance to keep up, the system needs to take a hit somewhere else. In my Vanguard Beta Breakdown Post I discussed some of the newer features in that version of multiplayer, and for the most part I found the general experience carried over well, although the final release includes much more improvements. There is a lot more flexibility in customization this time around, which allows you to fix your weapons just the way you like. You have the option to pick 10 attachments and still choose your perks and tactical gear separately which feels fantastic. You never have that sense of being forced to compromise or exchange one thing for another and this allows you to run your classes the way you really want to.
Another cool feature is the pacing mode setting for multiplayer matches. Essentially this setting enters you into lobbies that limit the amount of players in each game to cater to your preferred match style. This setting gives you three options. One to select a slower paced tactical match, a medium sized action driven match, or a larger chaotic big team match. This pacing feature is pretty unique and is a simpler approach to entering into larger or smaller lobbies without having to switch your mode playlist. While I didn’t find much wrong with multiplayer I did come across some strange design decisions and some technical issues. One major issue I noticed is the limited number of operators to choose from and those same operators can be used by both teams at the same time. This was probably the most confusing decision, especially because many times you find yourself facing an opponent who is running the same operator you are and in many cases you can’t tell if they are an enemy or not. Not to mention it looks ridiculous having 5 of the exact same character model running around. Even if there were only a few operators there should have been some kind of distinction between both teams so at least you could identify if they are opponents or not.
Next I noticed some issues with grenade hit detection, in particular the gammon bomb (impact grenade). This grenade seems to trigger at the strangest times even when tossed in the air or larger distances. For some reason the grenade seems to have large hit box and can kill the sender even if you aren’t in close proximity. Finally, I also came across packet loss issues across the board. It seemed no matter what the servers were having connection issues and many times I found the game to be lagging or placing my character behind a wall and a few times I was caught in a rubber banding scenario. Even with my PS5 having an open NAT type, the connection quality still suffered regardless, so I figured it may have been a server problem.
Zombies / Final Score
Vanguard also has a new chapter of Zombies to offer, and follows a new storyline, a new villain, and a more accessible perk system. The new zombies mode starts you off in a main hub area where you can free roam and fight off smaller groups of enemies, however, its primary goal is to be used to level up and prepare for each portal. Waves are now introduced through entering each of these portals (which are just sectioned off areas of the larger map) as you complete the standard mini objectives we have seen before from previous zombies modes. The whole mode feels unique in that its perks and setup are much more accessible and simplified and it doesn’t feel as confusing as previous games. The storyline features some unique voice acting and a somewhat engaging premise as you complete each wave and help other demon allies power up. In return they help you gain enough power to prepare to fight the main super demon. Its not the most interesting story for zombies but the initial premise for the mode is solid.
Call Of Duty Vanguard as a whole has a lot to offer newcomers to the franchise. There is a fantastic campaign with engaging characters like Arthur Kingsley and Polina Petrova who really set the stage for the game, and together they form this awesome WWII equivalent of an Avengers team. The campaign is immersive, and it really pushes your mind to consider the reality of what those war experiences were really like for the veterans involved. Personally, this is the most rewarding take away from a story presented this way, and because of it, an even greater respect has formed for those who risk their lives for our freedoms. Truthfully, one of my greatest concerns about Vanguard was the return of the setting and time period since it has been used many times before, however, with clever writing, enhanced graphics, and stellar presentation, it sets itself apart and proves that great game design can still deliver a quality experience no matter the setting.
For the remainder of the game, while still fun and entertaining, both multiplayer and zombies modes are a bit lackluster compared to the campaign. Specific things like the customization system and mode settings are welcomed additions and I would love to see those features brought back in newer games, however, there is just something about all of it that just feels limited. While maps and gameplay are solid and kept pretty much the same as they’ve always been, Vanguard does nothing to really change the formula. On one hand this is perfect since it encapsulates that “classic” COD experience for those who are familiar with it and still enjoy it. However, on the other hand, there seems to be no growth for the franchise and instead it remains the core game with a fresh coat of paint. This limiting feel to the experience is what is truly holding Vanguard from greatness and therefore brings the review score to 8.
FINAL SCORE: 8 Good Stuffs out of 10
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