In November, as per usual, Call of Duty Vanguard was released. This was the franchise’s first return to the World War II era since 2017, when Call of Duty World War II was released. In 2007, World at War came out and turned into an all time classic which still gets fondly looked back on even today. World War II was a somewhat underwhelming attempt to recapture that captivation, so Vanguard was another attempt to try and rekindle that interest. Did it work out?
Absolutely, positively not. Not even close. In fact, Vanguard has been one of the biggest busts in gaming this decade. Let’s talk about why this has been, starting with what little this game has going for it, then talking about why it sucks, starting with the former.
Weapon selection is quite solid
In theory, the player has a good deal of options which are quite flexible and at least should cater to just about any playstyle out there. The return of classic weapons such as the M1 Garand and PPSH-41 is supplemented with some interesting new choices, such as the Gorenko Anti-Tank Sniper Rifle and the Einhorn Revolving Shotgun. Activision and Treyarch probably intended for the wide variety of choices to give credence to a metagame which was dynamic and boasted plenty of viable, quality options. The historical significance of a lot of these weapons also means that WWII enthusiasts can probably appreciate the research that went into choosing them for this video game.
Too bad almost every single weapon in the game flat out sucks.
Presentation is decent
The menu of each mode in the game passes the eye test. It’s complemented by a decent soundtrack that gives the game as a whole a nice atmosphere.
Now let’s talk about why Vanguard is a disgrace to gaming in discussing its critical flaws.
Almost every weapon in this game sucks
SMGs are pitifully weak, both in zombies and multiplayer. This is especially the case when taking them into Call of Duty Warzone, as they are disgustingly outclassed by SMGs which are both elite for the most part and have been in the game for quite awhile.
Assault Rifles are both slow and mostly deal pretty pathetic damage as well. The same critiques that could be had about SMGs apply here.
LMGs have absurd recoil that makes using them outside of very close quarters a chore. As a result, they function as SMGs only with clunkier movement and far poorer mobility.
Sniper rifles are at least okay in multiplayer but are horrific in zombies to compensate. The fact that they’re usable in multiplayer may just be more of an indicator as to how awful other weapons are more so than the snipers themselves standing out.
For secondary weapons, handguns are straight up pathetic. For some reason we got three launchers which function practically the same as one another and I guess someone at Treyarch thought that having the Combat Shield now take up a weapon slot was a good idea for whatever reason.
In zombies, shotguns are the only ‘good’ weapon you could possibly find. Even the classic Ray Gun sucks really, really badly.
In Call of Duty Cold War, you could competently make the argument that weapons were too strong. In truth, the player had an incredibly large variety of strong weapons they could turn to that made the zombies mode mostly trivial in difficulty. That said, if perfect parity with weapon strength cannot be reached for any reason, it would be better to overdo making weapons strong rather than to deliver the pea shooters and BB guns found in Vanguard. In that regard, though Vanguard offers a variety of weapons of many different types, this simply fails to matter in practice because almost all of them are completely terrible.
Zombies mode is pathetically awful
At the time of writing, there are two different zombies maps: Der Angfang and Terra Maledicta. The former is based in Stalingrad, while the latter takes the player into an unidentified Egyptian desert. Apart from the aesthetics, can you tell me what the actual difference between these two maps are? If you can’t, then let me help you: they are both very underwhelming, coupled in mini-Outbreak maps which are incredibly lazy and depressing to try and play. Thus, there isn’t a significant difference, and to call them two separate maps feels vile.
In both maps, the player spawns in what is essentially a hub area where they can purchase things they need to try and complete objectives. They are surrounded by anywhere from 2-4 portals. Once one of them is activated, the player will be brought into another area where they must complete a particular objective to get to the next round.
This isn’t terribly different from Cold War’s Outbreak Zombies map. The reason it’s nowhere close to as fun as Outbreak is because both maps are significantly smaller than Outbreak, the main objective is the only thing the player actually has to do opposed to various side objectives in Outbreak, and as a result, both Der Angfang and Terra Maledicta feel rushed and dull in comparison.
The mode feels particularly lazy because of how barebones it was when Vanguard launched. Upon launch, Der Angfang did not have any main Easter egg. It didn’t even have the Ray Gun, which has been a fixture in Zombies in every single map launched since 2007!
As a result, the zombies experience in Vanguard is easily the worst we’ve ever seen, and it’s not even close.
The game has a habit of not giving the player meaningful, necessary context
In the campaign mode’s first two missions, the player is dropped in an unidentified area, aren’t told who they’re playing as, what they’re ultimately supposed to do, or anything other than one short task that’s right in front of them. The second mission, in particular, is meant to be started off stealthily, but the player is never given any indicator at all that they’re supposed to try and sneak around the map.
In zombies, a swath of characters engage in confusing, often annoying dialogue that doesn’t make any real sense because, again, important context is never given to the player so they can try and understand what’s going on. Personally, I played the mode for roughly 50 hours and trying to piece together what’s going on without using a search engine or alternate source would be quite hard. The mode takes place in the Dark Aether, and is meant to be a sequel to Cold War. Apparently, an evil demonic entity known as Kortifex is the antagonist. What he’s trying to achieve is pretty confusing, but it seems that he’s trying to utilize an army of zombies to … takeover the Dark Aether maybe? Kortifex has a human ally who’s known as “Von List,” whose purpose aiding Kortifex isn’t really clear, though he seems to have some control over the zombies the player directly fights. Protagonists include a human professor named Gabrielle Kraftt, a feminine creature warlock named Bellakar, some heroic demonic entity named Norticus and a couple other seemingly random, unimportant characters. The ultimate objective, fittingly, is confusing on Der Angfang, and on Terra Maledicta seems to be recovering a powerful weapon known as the Decimator Shield.
With even just a breadcrumb of context, the campaign and zombies modes might’ve been able to tell meaningful stories that were worth investing in. Unfortunately, the zombies mode in particular falls flat in that regard. At the end of the day, this results in a zombies experience which is just listening to a bunch of voices scream things at the player, and often engage in boring dialogue with one another, and is realistically too boring and confusing to care about.
There is nothing innovative that will make Vanguard a memorable game
Every year, boom or bust, the new Call of Duty of the year offers at least something to allow it to standout. Basically, if you want a particular experience, it may be that you could only get it from playing a particular Call of Duty. For example, Cold War introduced the Outbreak mode, Black Ops 4 gave birth to the franchise’s Battle Royale clone in Blackout, and Black Ops 3 began to place a large emphasis on Easter Eggs in zombies which became a mainstay for the next two entries in the saga.
Vanguard brings nothing new to the table that’s worth playing it for. The only semi-innovation Vanguard offers is Multiplayer’s new Champion Hill mode. Here, a group of either 12 or 24 players is meshed together in pairs. Pairs enter team-vs-team engagements with other teams until only one duo remains, who wins the whole game. In practice, this is just a slight variation to typical Team Deathmatch modes which, while decently fun, isn’t innovative enough to make the game memorable.
In conclusion, the majority of Vanguard feels very rushed to meet the typical yearly deadline of producing a new Call of Duty annually. It’s become blatantly clear at this point that the yearly release schedule has overwhelmed Treyarch and possibly Activision. It would be better for the franchise as a whole to stop pumping out underwhelming, monotonous games every year and take some extra time to really refine their games moving forward. Rushed, poor releases are only serving to undermine the Call of Duty franchise, one which has long been a big player in the FPS market.
For Vanguard, a game with very little in redeeming qualities and mired with flaws, I’m inclined to give the game a grade of a D. It can be a little bit of fun played with friends, but you could make that claim for pretty much any video game. Played solo, the game is a bore and will likely go down as the worst Call of Duty ever produced.