Call of Duty: Vanguard sees the long-running series at its peak with developer Sledgehammer Games back at the helm. The studio’s last punt at the franchise – Call of Duty: WWII – was a welcome return to form, stripping superfluous double jumping bells and whistles away for a pure boots-on-the-ground approach.
In a post-Warzone world where Call of Duty is bigger than ever, the pressure to carry that torch year after year has only become more intense – last year’s game should have been a Sledgehammer-led title, but plans were adjusted. Vanguard is more than up to the task with another triple threat that spans yet another blockbuster campaign, manic multiplayer mayhem, and a clever revival of the popular Zombies mode.
Call of Duty Vanguard Review – Campaign
It doesn’t matter how much effort Activision and its cabal of Call of Duty studios put into each campaign, there’s always a shocking number of players who don’t even touch the single player, let alone play all the way through.
That said, there has always been something more enticing about the World War II setting that the series debuted with all the way back in 2003. Ultimately, we know how the real world conflict ends yet the stakes somehow feel much higher, these intertwining war stories always feeling more personal.
Vanguard is far less grounded than Call of Duty WWII was. You play as the titular crack team deployed to eliminate the remnants of the Nazi regime as Berlin crumbles. After a botched mission, Arthur Kingsley and his companions fall into the hands of Hermann Freisinger (Dominic Monaghan), subsequent chapters fleshing out each key character’s backstory.
It’s an unusual narrative structure for a Call of Duty campaign, though returns to the series’ roots as it hops between various theatres of war. We get just enough time with each of the Vanguard to develop a bond while also being treated to various backdrops and nail-biting set pieces. The game’s writers also deserve praise for how they portray the Nazi as rat-like delusionists, giving Freisinger and his underlings a surprising amount of airtime.
That’s another thing: the cutscenes. They’re simply jaw-dropping.
Call of Duty Vanguard Review – Multiplayer
Having more options isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, in recent years, I’ve struggled with the sheer number of loadout customisations available in Call of Duty’s multiplayer. It’s all very granular, demanding that you spend hours glued to a gun in order to unlcok its full potential. Despite being set during World War II, there are just as many options in Call of Duty Vanguard. That said, there have been far fewer times where I’ve felt outgunned during multiplayer, as if having more weapon attachments was essential to winning the fight.
Call of Duty’s gunplay is as punchy here as it always is, accentuated by the lo-fi arsenal of weapons. Sledgehammer may have turned back the clock several decades, yet there are plenty of familiar mechanics and features inherited from 2019’s Modern Warfare and Cold War Black Ops. Compared to WWII, there’s a much better sense of mobility and interaction within each of Vanguard’s 20 multiplayer maps. From doors and destructible walls, to double sprint and cover-mounting, this year’s game has absorbed so many improvements and refinements to the COD formula.
There’s a meaty slab of multiplayer content to dig your bayonet into. Besides a brilliantly varied list of maps (which reintroduces World at War favourites Dome and Castle) there are some new game modes to experience. Champion Hill feels partly inspired by the Auto Chess trend, pitting eight teams (duos or trios) against one another in short, one-on-one rounds. You’ll start with a basic loadout that you can tweak and upgrade between rounds as you earn money. Meanwhile, Vanguard’s Patrol mode isn’t quite as innovative. Instead it delivers a simple yet effective twist on the domination/hardpoint game mode by having an objective area that constantly moves.
Overall, there’s a faster flow and a fairer playing field in this year’s Call of Duty. It already has its hook in deeper than Modern Warfare or Black Ops Cold War ever managed.
Call of Duty Vanguard Review – Zombies
What started as a fun bonus mode in Call of Duty: World at War, Zombies has continued to mutate for well over a decade now. That’s not to say it gets better each year – in fact, this is the first time since 2008 that I’ve truly cared about Zombies thanks to a much needed overhaul.
Der Anfang is a continuation of the Dark Aether saga, Treyarch stepping in to develop this final piece of the Vanguard trifecta. Summoned to Stalingrad, you and up to three squadmates will rally here between each round, diving into demonic portals to complete an objective-based wave before being teleported back.
This isn’t the Nazi Zombies I adored when playing World at War. There isn’t that same sense of impending doom as the undead rip away makeshift barricades before overrunning you. Der Anfang can be played for hours at time, unspooling a steady selection of guns, perks, and extras.
Returning to a central hub between rounds flips the Zombies formula, yet makes the mode easier to digest compared to previous iterations. I had a much better understanding of how to progress in Der Anfang, which resources I should be hoarding, and which unlocks to save these for.
Repetition is inevitable as you bounce between the same objectives, making those initial dozen or so rounds a little chore-like on subsequent runs. It takes a while for Zombies to get challenging, but the allure of shared XP/weapon progression with Vanguard’s multiplayer means that I never feel as though I’m wasting my time.