Call of Duty: Vanguard Review: A Decent Entry in the Series, But Not the Best

Call of Duty, It's so close to being absolutely excellent, but it's still a long way off.

Call of Duty: Vanguard Review: A Decent Entry in the Series, But Not the Best
Call of Duty: Vanguard Review

Despite being the object of much derision and hatred, the Call of Duty franchise has consistently managed to finish up at the top of the annual sales charts. Even before its release, the game had its job cut out for it, as Call of Duty Vanguard's open beta attracted hackers and cheats, and Activision's much-touted anti-cheat technology, Ricochet, failed to keep them at bay. So it's safe to say Vanguard's road to success would be difficult, but now that it's out, does it do enough to dispel the air of suspicion around the game's multiplayer and deliver the blockbuster AAA experience COD is known for?

In many respects, Call of Duty Vanguard encapsulates the best features of the genre and explains why the franchise has been so wildly popular for so long. The campaign's presentation and earnest charm are enough to disarm any skeptics or doubters right away, while the multiplayer throws enough chaos at the player to keep them occupied for hours – and the final blow is delivered by the surprisingly fun Zombies mode, which remains a highlight for these games.

Activision and the game companies are well aware of this tried-and-true pattern, but at some time, the pandemonium, presentation, and carefree pleasure of each character wears off, and the player is left with a sadly disposable chapter in the series.

Call of Duty Vanguard is a solid but ultimately forgettable installment in the series.


One of the numerous misconceptions regarding Call of Duty that gamers and critics have is that each entry has the potential to be someone's first COD experience. To that end, I'm making this comparison for the first and only time – a new iPhone and a new COD have a lot in common. Instead of each new entry being a generational leap that blows the prior release out of the water, the adjustments made to the new technology, or game in this example, are only incremental improvements from the previous release.

In comparison to the rest of the franchise, Vanguard's campaign lacks a "No Russian" moment, the Clancy-levels of cold-war paranoia found in Black Ops, or the moral grey areas explored in Modern Warfare (2019). What it has is a type of refreshing story set during WWII, one that is more intimate and, as a result, a lot more effective in terms of storytelling.

The campaign gets off to a good start with an explosive beginning that leads to a genuinely stunning ending, but it fails to maintain the same level of tension and personal stakes throughout the story. The tale mostly pulls its punches at important, pivotal times, and the campaign doesn't bring anything fresh to the table in terms of mechanics or perspective.

The game makes a valiant attempt to portray the big bad Nazi as Call of Duty's version of Cristoph Waltz's Hans Landa from Inglorious Basterds, but it fails miserably. Despite being a solid and enjoyable campaign, Vanguard's single-player experience won't be remembered in three months, which is a shame because it has its moments of genuine genius – but never truly follows through on its best ideas. I've always felt that throughout COD's history, there has never been a typically "terrible" campaign, only "excellent" to "great" campaigns, and those that are "forgettable." Vanguard comes dangerously close to being “good,” but eventually falls into the “forgettable” category alongside COD: Ghosts and Black Ops III.

Multiplayer – Call of Duty Vanguard

The COD formula offers very little room for research and innovation, so there are not many calls of Duty that can do at this point to truly "surprise" fans of the series. If you increase the map size to allow for more play-styles and approaches, you'll end up with a game that looks like EA's Battlefield or another game that isn't COD – if you don't make any radical changes and simply polish and refine key aspects, the changes will be far less dramatic, but it will still be the COD that people fell in love with nearly two decades ago.

While the Campaign has the freedom to actually surprise audiences and violate expectations, the Multiplayer, unfortunately, does not. Except for this new, cute little trick that Vanguard has in its pocket, Combat Pacing, Call of Duty Vanguard's multiplayer is precisely what fans expect. Combat Pacing essentially allows users to apply extra filters that decide the type of matches they want to play. Assault, Tactical, and Blitz are the three distinct preferences. As the titles suggest, each filter provides a unique experience, allowing players to have a greater degree of control over the kind of matches they participate in.

What it truly does is limit the number of participants in a match, allowing those who want to jump in and blow stuff up to choose Blitz, while those who like a more deliberate approach may choose Tactical – and those who prefer balance can choose Assault. This is an interesting addition to the series, and it's possible that it will be improved upon in future releases.

Apart from Combat Pacing, Multiplayer in Black Ops Cold War is largely unchanged, which isn't a criticism - after all, why fix what isn't broken? The maps are mostly good, with a number of standouts like Das Haus and Tuscan. The multiplayer is also noticeably faster and frenzied than in Sledgehammer's previous offering, Call of Duty WWII. Despite the outdated armament, the fighting is intense and rapid, and it seems more like recent COD games than older COD titles.

Zombies - Killing Nazi zombies is still a lot of fun.

For the past few years, I've remained on the periphery of the Call of Duty Zombies craze, catching only a few fleeting glimpses through the looking glass. The Call of Duty Zombies has been adopted with open arms by the community since their inception in Treyarch's World at War - to the point where they are now one of the primary reasons why the game sells as well as it does.

The Zombies mode has gotten more ambitious over time, to the point that it now features an amazing amount of lore and context, as well as brilliant story missions that are more than just a diversion. Zombies are still a lot of fun in Vanguard, and it's just going to become better after the debut. The combination of WWII shooters and Nazi zombies is a marriage made in heaven, and Treyarch, as the pioneers of the genre, knows just how to create a consistently enjoyable experience.

Final Score – Call of Duty Vanguard

The "don't change what's wrong" attitude to Call of Duty is here to stay, and it's tough to get rid of the series' odor of mild complacency, but every now and then, the brand releases a truly extraordinary title that stands alone as a truly brilliant game - which Vanguard is not. It is, however, a joyful AAA experience that, despite the unusual texture pop-in, is visually stunning and technically superb.

Combat Pacing is added to the multiplayer, which perhaps does the most legwork in terms of changing things up and remains the show's centerpiece. Zombies is an incredibly enjoyable mode that will only improve with time after its debut and is possibly the greatest way to explore Vanguard. The game hits a number of high notes, particularly in the campaign, when the story reduces the scale to individual characters, resulting in a more effective campaign. However, Vanguard's decision to stay within the lines and not take any risks prevents it from being considered one of the series' best titles.