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The state of Call of Duty — how Vanguard isn’t a game changer

Call of Duty Vanguard
(Image credit: Activision )

Another year, another Call of Duty. Like clockwork, it’s during the leadup to the launch of the next entry to the popular franchise that we start to see a recurring theme around the internet: “I don’t care about Call of Duty,” “Call of Duty is not worth $60,” and the straightforward, “does it suck?” With 2021’s Call of Duty: Vanguard, the consensus is no different.

Despite Vanguard going back to the series’ World War II roots, boasting a blockbuster campaign across “four major theatres of war,” a reinvigorating multiplayer mode with 20 maps at launch, and a “universe-expanding” zombies mode, many cast their doubts on this year’s Call of Duty. After players like myself got their hands on two weekends of multiplayer gameplay in the beta, Vanguard doesn’t feel like anything special. 

Sure, it brings the same standard of quality from past entries that other first-person shooters take notes from, but in an era of next-generation titles such as Returnal, Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, and Deathloop, Vanguard doesn’t appear to bring anything new to the table. However, that doesn’t mean it won't be a thrilling entry to the franchise.

It’s hard not to relate Call of Duty to the subtle yet hugely sought-after upgrades Apple brings to its annual iPhone release, with the recent iPhone 13 being no exception. The Cupertino tech giant’s latest flagship smartphone may not offer drastic changes from its predecessors, but it’s still one of the best phones on the market. That same line of thinking can be applied to Vanguard; if you enjoy everything Call of Duty has to offer, Vanguard will be the experience you’re expecting.

First impressions

The Call of Duty: Vanguard multiplayer beta has received mixed feedback, which I'm inclined to agree with after spending a few days playing through three maps: Hotel Royal, Red Star and Gavutu." Luckily, this was just a beta, and many of the issues can easily (and hopefully) be solved for when Vanguard finally launches.

One of the first features I found interesting was Vanguard's Combat Pacing which essentially details the number of players that will be in each game. Tactical combat pacing is deemed to be the "classic Call of Duty combat timing," featuring 6-vs-6 match-ups, Assault acts as the middle ground with player counts varying between 20 and 28 players, while Blitz offers all the action with player counts between 28 and 48 players.

(Image credit: Future)

No matter what the combat pacing, from the high-intensity “Blitz” team deathmatch to “Tactical”-style domination, matchmaking is speedy. This is largely dependent on different player’s internet speeds, but you’ll be notified about your ping speeds. Bringing up the pause menu even offers an average for latency, just in case you’re wondering why that headshot didn’t land (because of course it did, right?)

Matchmaking was a breeze, but in-game latency? Upsetting. I found more often than not, my character would burst into a superspeed sprint to catch up with any lag, which meant running into an enemy I couldn’t react to fast enough. This latency issue may be because of the crossplay feature so PS5, Xbox Series X and PC gamers can play with one another. Not something you want to see in any online multiplayer game, but Sledgehammer Games has plenty of time to repair those dents before launch. 

Speaking of combat pacing, I didn’t initially understand how limiting the number of players in different multiplayer matches could truly make a Call of Duty match more “Tactical.” A majority of the game is about escaping enemy fire, sprinting around the map, and unloading a clip into an enemy before they do the same to you. Rinse and repeat. This formula performs at its best with the chaotic action of Blitz, tasking 24 players on each team with the simple job of mowing down the opposition. But that type of playstyle is generally applied to Tactical or Assault combat pacing, too.

(Image credit: Future)

It wasn’t until I witnessed a player named John Wick (no joke) that I fully realized how tactical Vanguard can potentially be, especially in two of my favorite modes: Search and Destroy, along with the new Patrol mode. The former is a Call of Duty staple: an elimination-based game mode à la Counter-Strike or Valorant, while the latter is a variant of Hardpoint. Sure, Sledgehammer Games just took the objective-based mode introduced in Black Ops II and made the “hardpoint” move instead of keeping still, but it’s incredibly fun to constantly be finding cover in a forever-moving circle.

Back to John Wick, I found the player wasn’t just running and gunning to rack up an absurd amount of kills but was taking time to anticipate the opposing team’s actions. Throwing a well-timed stun grenade in a doorway got them an easy three kills, which makes all the difference when playing the aforementioned game modes. With this in mind, I have hope that once more maps are introduced and players have more time to learn all their nooks and crannies (seemingly like John Wick), Vanguard’s tactical approach will have more substance. 

The real adrenaline rush comes from Champion Hill: another newly introduced mode in Vanguard. Like the Gulags in Warzone, players are pitted against another group of duos or trios in various camps, and must eliminate the enemy without losing all their respawns in a tournament-style series of deathmatches. It’s thrilling to be on your last leg in the final rounds of the mode, not knowing how the opposition will engage and yet somehow flawlessly annihilate them. 

(Image credit: Activision)

The last time Call of Duty delved back into World War II, it was a largely forgettable experience. So far, from the way weapons look and sound to the various environments each of Vanguard’s maps will take players to, Vanguard is already looking to be a more memorable World War II shooter. Bringing the graphics engine from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019) offers an upgrade in immersion, from the shining night lights of the surrounding city in Hotel Royal to blowing up doors or walls into smithereens thanks to the destructible environments. I mainly used the M1928 Tommy gun throughout my playtime, and I adored the sound, look and feel of it. Even the hard clanging noise of reloading a clip sounded authentic, and that’s just a minor feature in multiplayer. With all this in mind, I have my fingers crossed Vanguard is the CoD World War II experience fans have been waiting for. 

Blinding suns and dognados

With the Call of Duty: Vanguard beta now finished, developers Sledgehammer Games unveiled a shortlist of issues beta players have voiced their concerns on. In a joking manner, Sledgehammer Games’ tweaks included "nerfing the sun" and avoiding "Hotel Royal’s murder kitchen." But these were real issues that got in the way of completely enjoying the multiplayer experience.

During the extended open beta, players had experienced a number of quirky bugs and issues over the three playable multiplayer maps. Sledgehammer Games notes that official reports, gameplay clips, and messages have helped developers "in squashing bugs, improving features, and refining the maps."

The Vanguard developers named a number of the biggest issues they are working on fixing in time for the game's launch. This included the following: 

  • Nerfing the sun 
  • Cracking down on Red Star raves 
  • Removing dognados 
  • Tuning spawns to avoid Hotel Royal’s murder kitchen 
  • Closing open mic lobbies in Search & Destroy 

Like myself, those who took part in the beta are likely to have experienced these issues, such as the sun in the Gavutu map blinding players so they couldn't spot the opposing team, the Attack Dogs Killstreak glitch, and spawning right next to enemies which led to near-instant deaths.

On a more serious note, as the post states, the developers will also be taking a closer look at weapon balancing and audio mixing, with the latter regarding the sound of enemy footsteps. Visibility is another issue expected to be fixed, with many complaining about characters blending into the environment on certain platforms, making it harder to spot other players. The snow in Red Star didn’t help visibility, either. 

No shame in campaigns

If there’s one thing I always look forward to in a Call of Duty entry, it’s the campaign. Rather, it’s the unique missions that make them memorable. Who could forget All Ghillied Up in the first Modern Warfare, the controversial No Russian in the sequel, or storming a prison in Vorkuta in Black Ops. The Clean House mission in the recent Modern Warfare was also a standout. 

(Image credit: Activision)

If Vanguard is set to deliver the same Call of Duty experience fans have come to know, then its campaign is sure to have a mission or two to remember. This time, we’re getting an interwoven story about four heroes fighting back the Axis powers in “major theatres of World War II.” This includes North Africa; the Eastern Front and the Western Front in Europe, including Stalingard and France; and the Pacific, such as the Midway Islands.

We do know that Vanguard’s campaign will have us “dogfighting over the Midway Islands, defending Stalingrad with a sniper’s precision, airdropping over France, or blasting through advancing forces in North Africa,” according to trailers. And we also know Vanguard’s campaign will see our heroes fight back against the game's fictional villain, Heinrich Freisinger. As part of a plan named "Project Phoenix," he is meant to be Hitler’s successor, and is inspired by the real-life Gestapo operative Heinrich Müller. I don’t know about you, but fighting Nazis is rarely a dull experience.

Outlook

Call of Duty: Vanguard will launch on November 5, going head-to-head with the other major-league first-person shooter of the year: DICE’s now delayed Battlefield 2042. There is no doubt BF 2042 is poised to be the biggest, boldest entry in the popular franchise, with the kind of new features fans have been craving since Battlefield 1942. Despite the hype, long-time fans, such as Laptop Mag’s Assistant Managing Editor Phillip Tracy, are still worried about Battlefield 2042 and its new shift in direction.

The same concerns can’t be applied to the Call of Duty franchise, as the series hasn’t gone through a radical overhaul since Modern Warfare. Even when Infinity Ward offered a taste of the futuristic direction Call of Duty could take in Infinite Warfare, it was berated by everyone and their mother for being too far gone off the path (a shame, as Infinite Warfare’s campaign is stellar).

Vanguard will be the Call of Duty you’re expecting, this time with another World War II skin, beautifully enhanced visuals, and minor yet significant tweaks to gameplay to make firing off a bullet in the chamber feel that much smoother — and I can’t wait to jump back in. Is it already deemed to be a copy-and-paste production? Certainly, and it’s hard to argue with anyone that rightfully says it's getting stale. But Call of Duty already got its gameplay mechanics down a while back, and Vanguard will arrive to give players the experience they expect, but also want.