The Call of Duty franchise began as a World War II shooter, and has grown from that to encompass many different eras of warfare, including Vietnam, the Cold War, modern warfare, and even going far into the future with space combat. But it’s always special when the franchise gets back to its roots, like 2017’s on-the-nose-named Call of Duty: WWII. For 2021, the series once again dips into the well of Axis killing with Call of Duty: Vanguard, and the return to the early 1940s is a fun reminder of both where the franchise comes from, and what it can still do for a war that has been explored in countless other games for the last 30 years.
Call of Duty: Vanguard features three main game modes: campaign, multiplayer, and zombies. Main developer Sledgehammer Games has partnered with other studios under the Activision shingle, including Treyarch and Raven, and more, for an assist in creating the overall game experience. The delegation of duties allows each studio to deliver a top-notch experience, no matter what game mode you play.
The campaign focuses on the story of a specialized group called the Special Operations Task Force (S.O.T.F.), which is the precursor to special forces. The story opens near the end of the war with the group infiltrating a Nazi base looking for details of something called Operation: Phoenix. The mission goes sideways and the operators are captured and taken to Berlin for questioning. Most of the campaign takes place in a jail cell, as the group’s leader, Arthur Kingsley, recounts the exploits of his team, member by member, detailing both how they came to fighting, and then why they are a member of the team.
These exploits come in the form of playable missions, with varied styles. Russian sniper Polina’s story focuses on sneaking and stealth, as well as sniping Nazis across massive snow-covered fields. Hotshot U.S. pilot Wade gets a flying mission during the Battle of Midway, and his second chapter features him crash landing on a pacific island and finding his way to safety by hooking up with the 93rd Infantry, an all-Black unit.
The stories all come together in the end for a satisfying conclusion that includes some fun Call of Duty history name dropping. The campaign serves its purpose well, introducing player to the base-game operators that you will use in multiplayer and zombies. It also features the maps and various loadouts for the other game modes. I found the campaign fun and challenging, and it worked to get me ready for the rest of Call of Duty: Vanguard.
Multiplayer features over 20 maps of various sizes, and all of the classic Call of Duty hallmarks return, including perks, the pick-10 system, and unlocking and leveling up operator skins. Multiplayer plays a little loose with history, as some of the weapons and attachments become anachronisms to keep the game with one foot in a modern era.
Champions Hill for solo, duos, and trios is new for Vanguard, and builds on the Gunfight from previous games. These are squad-heavy, round based exercises on smaller maps that are chaotic fun, and blend both strategy and precision gunplay.
Perhaps the biggest new feature to Call of Duty: Vanguard multiplayer comes in the form of combat pacing. Players can now select the pace of a match, which determines the number of players and the maps in use. Tactical pacing means smaller teams, with more strategy at play. These types of matches often devolve into camper fests with sniper duels. Assault pacing is more of a mid-range sized mode, which feels much like classic COD MP. The last pacing is Blitz, which offers large teams of players on some of the bigger maps.
The map designs across all multiplayer give players various avenues to get into the action and offers plenty of opportunities for campers to find a spot, settle in, and rack up super high kill counts, which, in-turn allows for near constant killstreak bombardments of all kinds. It get frustrating, for sure, but when has any multiplayer shooter not been frustrating?
The last mode in Call of Duty: Vanguard is Zombies. Treyarch, the creators of this mode in other COD games, returns to lend a hand. The story, “Der Anfang,” is a mishmash of Nazi experiments gone wrong with inter-dimensional travel, and that means lots of undead to obliterate in wave after wave. It follows along with other Treyarch Zombies modes, particularly “Dark Aether” from last year’s title. I found this mode fun to play, but after around 10 waves, it does start to get boring. Unlocking new perks and getting new weapons is fun, and there are covenants to unlock that add some fun wrinkles to the mix. The mode serves as a fun distraction to the other offerings in Vanguard.
Call of Duty: Vanguard offers that sense of familiarity that fans want, without breaking what wasn’t broken. It’s a fun experience in any of the three modes, and as two other massive multiplayer shooters are on the horizon, only time will tell if Vanguard has the legs and the stamina to remain relevant. Personally, I see myself sticking around. I have the most fun playing this game, as it is well-balanced and offers a complete gaming experience, with three full modes of play. The other shooters coming can’t rightly say that, so if you want more bang (pun intended) for your buck, Call of Duty: Vanguard is the game to play.
Call of Duty: Vanguard is available now for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and PC. This review is based of a review code provided by Activision.
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