This holiday season is full of promise and excitement for fans of first-person shooters, because it’ll see an almost unprecedented amount of major releases. Both Battlefield 2042 and the long-awaited Halo Infinite are on the near horizon, but the season of bullets has kicked off with Sledgehammer Games’ Call of Duty: Vanguard. Will the first one out of the gate be the best and most popular? Only time will tell. For now, all we can do is talk about how good the iconic and annual series’ return to World War II is.

Last year’s return of Black Ops sent us back to the Cold War, and delivered what was merely an okay experience. In comparison to the franchise’s best, it was mid-range or so. Then again, this is a series that has been going on for quite a long time, and some fatigue has definitely set in.

The good news is that Vanguard, which comes to us from a different lead developer, is a superior game in pretty much every aspect. It’s tighter, more fun and more memorable. This is especially true of the campaign, which is one of the best in recent memory, joining Black Ops 3 and, to a slightly lesser extent, Modern Warfare 2019.

This time around we’re tasked with playing as different members of a special, multinational, group of soldiers called Vanguard. Their mission? To discover what a secret Nazi project — code named Phoenix — involves.

The story requires paying attention to, because it’s more than just a typical action film or B-movie, and isn’t simply an excuse to shoot (and blow) shit up. This is also true because things are told and presented out of order. As such, you’ll be jumping between different years and some major battles, but not chronologically.

As mentioned above, Vanguard is made up of people from different Allied nations. There’s a cocky and brash American pilot, a Russian woman who’s one hell of a sharpshooter and has a knack for using tight spaces to her advantage, and a Black British man who leads the crew. These are just a few of the several members of a group that also includes an Australian. Sadly, Canada was seemingly ignored once again, despite being a major part of the War. Hell, the Canadian Armed Forces were involved well before the Americans.

Anyways, I digress…

It all begins with a bang, as the group jumps between two trains full of Nazi soldiers. Although it acts as a bit of a tutorial, this is a mission that practically begins and ends with lots of action, and is chock full of many bad guys.

After discovering something important, you’ll then move on to past missions, which essentially introduce and provide back stories for Vanguard‘s major players. One involves finding one’s way back from the middle of nowhere, after a botched D-Day aerial landing, before leading a large group of soldiers against German bunkers. Meanwhile, others take us to Stalingrad before, during and after it’s bombed, into the skies over Midway, and to more exotic locations like the Papua New Guinea jungle and a sunny desert. When Activision promised a global campaign, they meant it.

For some reason, I had a bit of trouble hearing some of the dialogue, and ended up turning subtitles on after a while. The volume was quite high, and the gunplay was loud, but it seemed like the cutscene dialogue was lower than it should’ve been. This led to a bit of confusion at points, but it’s not like this is a terribly cryptic storyline.

Telling things in non-chronological order was an interesting choice, but it works pretty well. It was nice to be able to go back in time and meet the heroes, especially since it gave them more depth than Call of Duty protagonists usually receive. Those missions also introduced something somewhat new, because each character has his or her own special ability. These aren’t game changers, because they’re things like being able to take advantage of tight spaces to confuse enemies, using focus and ordering allies to attack specific areas, but they’re at least something different. Flying airplanes and dogfighting are also both rarities in first-person shooters.

When I heard that there’d be an aerial stage, I got excited. However, I finished it with mixed emotions. While it was pretty cool, and had a great sense of speed (especially during takeoff), the plane wasn’t all that easy to control; at least not when it came to trying to turn and follow enemies. Maybe they truly were that difficult to fly, but I struggled, and found some of the segment to be frustrating. It probably didn’t help that I played on veteran, and was trying not to be hit by gunfire during bombing swoops. Just be warned that this is a very hectic level, and one that could easily trigger motion sickness.

Along the way you’ll be able to take advantage of mechanics like peeking through partially opened doors, driving vehicles (such as a large truck), ordering fellow soldiers and mounting your weapons on cover objects. It’s also possible to blind fire while in cover, which can be helpful. For the most part, though, this is Call of Duty through and through, which will be good news to many and bad news to some. Series fatigue is a real thing, after all, and these games have been releasing for around 20 years now.

As mentioned above, I chose to play on veteran, as I normally do. It’s something I got into the habit of doing when I started Modern Warfare 3, and I’ve completed almost every game since then on that difficulty. This isn’t a way to brag, however, because I’m far from amazing at these games. I die quite a bit, and I sometimes get stuck, as I did during that incredibly frustrating elevator sequence in Black Ops – Cold War. As folks are wont to say, veteran also isn’t as difficult as it used to be, in games like Call of Duty 4 and World at War, which I can personally attest to.

I’m bringing veteran up, not because I want to act cool, but because I understand that it might not be the best way to enjoy a campaign. Dying a lot isn’t fun, and I’m not a fan of Soulsborne or roguelike games because of that, plus the fact that you lose things when you perish and have to keep redoing segments over and over. For this reason, I go into my reviews of Call of Duty games understanding that it’s my decision to play on the hardest difficulty, and that I need to understand that the campaign will play differently, and perhaps even be more enjoyable, on easier settings. Hopefully that makes sense, because it does in my head.

The only true complaint that I can muster about this campaign is that it’s possible to get shot while in cover. Not always, but the odd time. This led to some unexpected and annoying deaths. Don’t worry, though — it’s not like this happens a lot. We’re not talking about that Xbox 360 Terminator game.

It’s great that the campaign is a standout and memorable experience, though, because I’m someone who actually plays these things for their story modes. Yes, we do exist! I mean, sure, I like the multiplayer and have played lots of it in the past. I’ve always been a big single player gamer, though, and love to beat campaigns. On top of that, I grew up obsessing over the Medal of Honor series, and many other first-person shooters. World War II shooters were especially fun to me, and I remember being excited about them as far back as the original PlayStation.

Moving on, it’s time we started talking about what everyone seems to care about most: the multiplayer.

Call of Duty: Vanguard has yet another massive multiplayer suite, which offers numerous different online modes, and also brings Gunsmith back. Favourites like Team Deathmatch, Control, Domination, Kill Confirmed and Free-For-All return, but a new ‘combat pacing’ mechanic has been introduced. This allows people to further customize the type of competitive experience they’ll have.

Combat pacing is broken down into three different types, and they are:

  • Tactical: Classic 6 versus 6 Call of Duty, with traditional timing.
  • Assault: 10 versus 10 or 12 versus 12 engagements, which are not only larger but more action-focused
  • Blitz: This is where you’ll find the massive, 24 versus 24 battles that you may or may not crave.

This all plays out over 16 different maps, some of which are rather good. However, like many of the more recent installments, Vanguard‘s maps don’t feel as fresh or unique as they once did. I think this is due to longevity, repetition and series fatigue. While some of these maps are quite good, and the developers did a good job with them, the ones found in Modern Warfare, Modern Warfare 2, Black Ops and other earlier games will probably always seem better.

There are four other maps, but they’re limited to a new game mode called Champion Hill, which essentially tasks you with trying to survive as long as you can. These squad based battles take place in close quarters, and it’s a fight to the digital death in round robin format. Think of it as the new Gun Game.

If you’re not aware, all of the above involves cross-platform play, meaning that the player pool isn’t limited to just one console. Xbox gamers can play with PC and PlayStation 5 users, and vice versa.

Multiplayer was the first thing I jumped into, but I had to abandon it after a bit for unexpected reasons. Why? Well, there was lag in every match for whatever reason. This was the day after launch, and while lots of people seemed to be having fun, I was prevented from enjoying myself as much as possible because of this issue.

At first, I assumed that my modem needed to be reset, so I unplugged it and then plugged it back in. However, that didn’t end up fixing the lag. I then hopped online and read complaints from select others, who posted on Reddit saying that they were also experiencing lag and other connectivity issues. That made me feel a bit better, because I’m always sensitive to Internet issues, having grown up in the country. In fact, it wasn’t until recently that I was able to upgrade my Internet to something somewhat modern. Before that, I was stuck with basic DSL, which drove me absolutely nuts. You can imagine how fun reviewing video games can be when it takes around a day to download one, and hours to update them before being able to play. Lag was rarely ever an issue, though, and it was always rectified by rebooting the modem.

Simply put, it doesn’t seem like it was caused by my connection, which still isn’t amazing but is far better than need be. It’s ten times better than what I had before, and all tests said that things were okay. I checked my multiplayer connection via the console, and enabled network statistics in Vanguard‘s menu. It showed 0 packet loss, and had me at a decent ping. Furthermore, I also turned off the texture streaming that allows this game to be a lot smaller than its massive predecessors, clocking in at about 61gb instead of 105gb at launch.

Boy, were those games fun to download, and regularly update, on DSL.

If you’re wondering what the exact issue was: I could move and shoot fine most of the time, but there’d be occasions where my operator would pause, or grenades would float in mid-air. The main problem, however, was other players pausing and glitching, leading to me being unable to shoot them at times, and being killed when it seemed like I should’ve killed the opponent instead.

Lag

Being that this was a server issue, it was something that Activision was able to address. My first experience wasn’t great, but at least I had the campaign to fall back on. It was quite immersive and fun, and made up for most of the other disappointments.

It was also launch weekend, meaning that the servers were overloaded with excited Call of Duty fanatics. Things will surely be better moving forward, so don’t avoid this game because of the above. I just need to be honest.

Call of Duty: Vanguard isn’t limited to just its quality campaign and massive multiplayer suite. It also promises a Pacific Theatre map for Warzone, which I’ve never gotten into because I’m not into the one death and you’re done type of battle royale multiplayer. On top of that, it also has its own Zombies mode. Honestly, that’s another gameplay option that has never done much for me. I don’t know why, but it’s never held much appeal. The hit detection was always poor, and it just wasn’t that fun to me.

This time around, Zombies offers an expansion of the Dark Aether storyline, and acts as a prequel to that of Black Ops – Cold War. That Zombies mode was better than most, and this one is okay if you’re into that type of thing. It’s still not really my cup of tea, though. Regardless, I respect that it has lots of fans, and understand that I’m in the minority for sure. It’s odd, too, because I love most zombie games and adore good zombie movies, like Romero’s classic trilogy.

Needless to say, there’s lots of content here. One could theoretically spend thousands of hours playing this game, giving it incredible value.

With more time to work with the new hardware, Sledgehammer Games have been able to deliver something that looks, (generally) sounds and plays better than what we received last year. Outside of its early technical difficulties, Call of Duty: Vanguard is a pretty beautiful game. The campaign is often gorgeous, especially during its cutscenes, most of which look amazing. Its gameplay visuals are pretty impressive too, and the multiplayer suite looks better than before as well. Of course, multiplayer never looks as good as single player, but the drop off isn’t nearly as noticeable as it used to be. Call of Duty: WWII was notable for the opposite experience, at least in my experience.

The presentation found in campaign mode is top notch, and the texture streaming is sure to help make it look better and take up less space. There’s some odd slowdown during a few sections, but outside of that the frame rate is smooth. This is a bit of a slower iteration, though, and this is evidenced during aiming with certain guns. It works, though, and the ability to reload while aiming down the sights is another nice touch. Then again, I was simply impressed with the reloading animations in general. The same goes for the gun effects, because firing bullets outdoors sounds noticeably different than firing them in tight, indoor, confines.

With all of those many words having been typed, I doubt I need to reiterate that Call of Duty: Vanguard is a worthy buy, provided you’re a fan of this type of game. If you don’t like this series, or are burned out from it (which would be understandable, as it’s happened to me too), maybe don’t buy this one. It is one of the best, though, especially in more recent memory. Some kinks need to be ironed out, but this is a quality package that offers a much improved campaign, tons of multiplayer options and lots of undead.

This review is based on the Xbox Series S version of the game, which we were provided by its publisher.

Call of Duty: Vanguard Review
Call of Duty: Vanguard has had some technical issues at launch, but outside of those it's one of the best series installments in recent memory. The campaign is especially impressive, and multiplayer is another step forward. It's a notable improvement on last year's Cold War.
Visuals86%
Audio82%
Gameplay88%
Storyline81%
The Good Stuff
  • A gripping and immersive campaign, which is well made and fun
  • A notable improvement in comparison to last year's game
  • Tons of bang for your buck
The Not-So-Good Stuff
  • Launch day server issues
  • Suffers from series fatigue and repetition
  • Cutscene (dialogue) audio is lower than expected
83%Overall Score
Reader Rating: (0 Votes)
0%

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