Disclaimer: Activision provided us with an early copy of Call of Duty: Vanguard Ultimate Edition on PC for review purposes.
Call of Duty: Vanguard had me worried from the get-go. At first, there was a dreadful wait for any official updates on the game. The community heard whispers through leakers such as Tom Henderson, but Activision continued to withhold updates from the community for months on end. It was the middle of August which was usually the time we would all be checking out the beta and we still had no updates. Obviously, it eventually got announced later that month and by October we all were diving into the beta. My second concern with the game was that I didn’t enjoy the beta. The gunplay and mechanics felt rough and it was clear that it needed more time in the oven to cook. I was one of the many people calling for a delay which never got granted. However, I have now beaten the campaign, enjoyed the surprisingly content-filled multiplayer, and dabbled with the disappointing zombies mode. In this review, I am only going to be talking about my time with the campaign. Which was better than expected.
Narrative and Gameplay
Six specialists from six different backgrounds join the first Task Force to take on a threat from the Nazi Army during World War II. In the first mission of the campaign, your team hops back and forth between two trains as they push through countless enemies. They even go as far as jumping off the train, onto the roof of a truck and shooting everyone inside of it, and then jumping back onto the train at the last second before it blows up. I was pretty disappointed by this because I wanted a more grounded experience similar to Sledgehammer Games’ Call of Duty: WWII, rather than getting something that feels like it was taken out of a Michael Bay movie. Thankfully, my wish was granted because everything after this point in the game has a much more realistic vibe to it, even though it still pushes the gas pedal to its max. Throughout the next couple of missions, we get flashbacks that give much-needed bonding time to our cast of characters on an individual level. Four different fronts throughout the war are explored ranging from the jungles of Midway to the rooftops of Stalingrad. These four storylines are the best moments of Call of Duty: Vanguard and give distinct experiences that were top of the line. Each storyline introduces new side characters to care about (and in classic Call of Duty fashion, a lot of them unfortunately die). Each character you play unlocks new abilities. Crack locks and safes as Novak, command troops as Kingsley, climb walls and bait snipers with the reflection of your knife as Petrova, take over the sky as Jackson, and blow everything up as Riggs. Some of these are more lackluster than others (I am looking at you Novak). When the flashbacks are over, it brings us back to where the first mission ended, for an exciting conclusion to the story. I still wish the main cast got more bonding time together as a squad because eighty percent of the game is flashbacks before they all met (excluding Kingsley and Webb). It would be tough to believe that Task Force 141 were able to take down Makarov in essentially their first two missions together. The main villains of this game also are very forgettable. To the point where I was almost ready to publish the article, and then I realized that I forgot to mention the villains. Their only traits are that they are ruthless Nazi leaders which aren’t really enough for me when I compare them to some of the previous main villains.
Call of Duty: Vanguard from a gameplay perspective feels like a mixture of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019) and Call of Duty: WWII. With forty-plus different weapons, there are plenty of ways to deal with enemies. Blowing through the wooden planks of a train with a machine gun feels as good as anyone would expect it to. The destructible environments have always and continue to be one of the most satisfying parts of playing through the campaign. I played through the campaign on the default difficulty due to being strapped for time and not wanting to have to spend time replaying sections which led to me seeing one flaw that I probably would not have seen on the higher difficulties. The AI can be very rough at times. Like standing in front of an enemy and them taking ten seconds to open fire level of bad. This only happened on a handful of occasions, but I guess that is what I get for being a coward and not playing on veteran.
I am happy to announce that my experience had no major bugs and ran incredibly well on my PC. The only bug that I can remember running into in-game was a dead body having a spasm after dying which caused a trash can to start making a ton of noise. Obviously, your miles may vary depending on what platform you are playing on because my friend Mike ran into quite a few bugs on his Xbox Series X including having his achievements glitched. It is also nice to report that Activision may have found out how to compress their files because my game only takes up 77 gigabytes, which is incredible compared to the mess that was last year. One gripe that I had with previous games that somehow continues to happen is this bug (I think it’s a bug, maybe it’s intended, and I am just stupid) where shaders download every time I open the game. The message doesn’t stop me from starting a campaign mission or joining a multiplayer match, but it is still at the top of the screen constantly as I go through the menu. Also be prepared to see advertisements for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019), Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, and Call of Duty: Warzone every time you launch the game. Activision had the idea to have the Vanguard launcher act as a launcher for the previous iterations of Call of Duty meaning you can select their campaigns or multiplayer (which will prompt you to a screen to purchase them). Warzone being there makes sense considering it will have Vanguard content in it, but the other two really have no business being there.
In the end, I was satisfied with the campaign experience that Sledgehammer Games provided. My main gripe comes back to the main cast not getting enough bonding time with each other before the flashbacks started to roll. I really feel like having a mission or two occur before the train mission could have done some good for the story. As an overall game, I would say Call of Duty: Vanguard is better than Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. Even though the following review score will JUST be for the campaign, I do want to note that Vanguard has so much more content on the multiplayer side compared to last year’s entry. If you even remotely enjoy playing zombies, I highly recommend you check out a review covering exclusively that, because there are some serious issues with Vanguard’s zombies mode. However, I am only focusing on the campaign here so I am not going to let that change the score for the review.