Call of Duty: Vanguard Review: Innovations in the Wrong Direction

Call of Duty: Vanguard

RRP $ 59.99

“While it adds some interesting new features to the Call of Duty formula, Vanguard’s mixed range of changes makes it an entry to remember.”


  • Guns feel wonderful

  • Classic, fast-paced multiplayer

  • Destructible environments add depth


  • Forgotten campaign

  • The new zombies formula isn’t that fun

  • Unbalanced weapons in multiplayer

  • A cheat’s paradise

I fell in love with Call of Duty again two years ago when the series’ Modern Warfare storyline restarted. The game included many of the good parts of the classic Call of Duty experience while adding some fun new parts at the same time. The tactical sprint was a delight, new options for varied gameplay with equipment and new weapons (including a lever rifle that I spent way too much time with to do well) was a delight. Call of Duty: Vanguard seemed to mimic much of what led to its release, using the same engine as Modern Warfare and mimicking the more realistic feel of the game.

However, Vanguard is all show and very little substance. It turns off some features and claims they are new when it really is just one of them. Outside of multiplayer, both Vanguard’s campaign and zombie modes try to reinvent their classic interpretations, though both fail in those attempts. After spending around 15 hours playing the game so far, I’m happy to put my controller down and leave Vanguard for good.

Characters have no character

I have some expectations when diving into a Call of Duty game as I’ve been a gamer for years. I expect a straightforward campaign that lets actions speak louder than words and a zombie mode where I can turn my brain off completely and enjoy the carnage with a few friends. Vanguard tries to mix up both experiences with some pretty radical changes, though the result is that both changes left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

Call of Duty: Vanguard’s campaign brings the franchise back. once again about the Second World War. Instead of viewing the war through the lens of the fighters of a particular faction, the players are introduced to the Vanguards, a select group of highly qualified specialists from the allied nations. Everyone has their own backstory, methodology, and even special skills. Each is also painfully uninteresting, along with the rest of the campaign.

Very few of Vanguard’s combat-heavy encounters get the blood pumping like previous entries in the franchise.

Vanguard puts his characters at the center of the story, not their battle. It’s a big turning point for a Call of Duty title, one that would work better if the game actually managed to get me interested in one of the Vanguards. Instead, the group presents itself as a motley team of stereotypes. The Australian has been in and out of jail and ignores orders, the American is a lonely pilot, the Russian is vendetta-happy and the team is led by a rational British. These descriptions are the beginning and the end of the depth of the characters players slip into. They’re typical Call of Duty characters – superficial and uninspired – but still in the spotlight.

The action set pieces that usually get all the attention in a Call of Duty title are also a little disappointing. Most of Vanguard’s missions follow a formula where the player sneaks before engaging them in a firefight. However, very few of Vanguard’s combat-heavy encounters get the blood pumping like previous entries in the franchise.

Call of Duty: Vanguard - crawl through a jungle

Establishing tradition

If Vanguard manages to bring the intensity, it does so with weighty weapons and fantastic sound design. Each weapon in Vanguard has its own sound profile that is fascinating to listen to. I can still hear the somewhat hollow, tinny sound that an MP40 makes when it is reloading. Firing guns is a simple joy in Vanguard, and the fact that they can blow away cover (or even body parts) only gives that power that power.

Each character’s skills don’t do much to add to the power trip that players should be feeling. They are all extremely simple: highlighting enemies, commanding teammates, making players hold onto different types of explosives, etc. These skills set any character apart during the game, but they made little difference in the end.

Each weapon in Vanguard has its own sound profile that is fascinating to listen to.

Vanguard’s campaign turns everything players should expect from the single-player Call of Duty experience on its head. It lacks those massive action-packed moments, instead it tells its story through character-oriented cutscenes. The same quick change of direction applies to the zombie mode of the game also, which now features a slew of characters who yell orders to players when they accomplish objectives. Killing zombies is not a pointless action in Vanguard, but a goal-based mode in which the players’ next steps must be carefully considered.

Zombies run in Call of Duty: Vanguard.

The game’s lone map, The Beginning, places players in a hub area and guides them to portals that lead to zones where players must complete objectives. Some objectives are as simple as killing zombies and surviving, while others challenge players to collect drops from zombies and take them to a giant obelisk. While it’s fun to revisit old zombie maps like Shi No Numa from Call of Duty: World at War and have instant access to the Pack-A-Punch machine in the hub, Vanguard’s zombie mode felt like his Aiming weighed down and left me I wish it were more directional like its previous iterations.

The sign is missing

It is a Call of Duty game defined by its multiplayer modewhere almost all players will spend most of their time. And while I can confirm that Vanguard’s multiplayer is better than the other two game modes, this isn’t exactly a high quality bar. Multiplayer in Vanguard provides satisfactory gunplay overall, but suffers from far too many balancing issues that punish players who aren’t ready to grind up the game for a weekend.

When you step into Call of Duty: Vanguard’s multiplayer, you get a basic set of weapons and perks. But what the game doesn’t tell you is that these weapons and perks are some of the worst out there. Low level players are constantly being outdone by high level players who have access to the game’s better weapons and weapon accessories. The game’s STG-44, its starting assault rifle, for example, is incredibly difficult to control with its starting attachments when shooting. But higher-level players who have upgraded the weapon can turn it into a laser beam that knocks down players in no time.

Vanguard’s multiplayer also runs into some classic first-person shooter multiplayer problems. On some of the smaller, more chaotic maps in the game, it’s not uncommon to spawn in front of an enemy and give them a quick, free kill. This problem isn’t uncommon enough as not to jeopardize the outcome of a game at times, or to give opponents easy access to their killstreaks, some of which are problematic in themselves. Some of Vanguard’s killstreaks drop bombs on the map, and while they won’t always harm you, they are guaranteed to send a cloud of smoke in the player’s face. It’s a disorienting effect that easily made me lose shootouts and generally feeling unfair.

Call of Duty Vanguards Multiplayer.

Vanguard’s biggest problem, aside from weird spawns and balancing issues, it shares with Call of Duty: Warzone. During my time with the game, I have played a handful of games where it was clear that a player was cheating. Killcams showed them locking onto players, sometimes through walls, before mowing them down with extremely precise fire. Cheaters will make their way into every game at some point, but given the competitive nature of some of Vanguard’s game modes, such as Search and Destroy, encountering cheaters can be a game-breaking experience.

During my time with the game, I have played a handful of games where it was clear that a player was cheating.

But when everything is going right in a Vanguard game, when things don’t feel too unbalanced and there are no cheaters around, the game’s innovations shine. Adding destructible environments to the game brings a new level of depth as entire chunks of cover are eventually blown away, transforming the cards. Breaking through walls is just a tough move like something ripped straight out of a ’90s action movie. It is unfortunate that these features are overshadowed by Vanguard’s more prominent issues.

Our opinion

Vanguard does what every entry in the Call of Duty franchise tries to do. It is supposed to develop the fast-paced action of the series and in some places turn entire game modes upside down. But Call of Duty: Vanguard is an example of innovation in the wrong direction. It emphasizes the wrong parts of a Call of Duty campaign and zombie mode, making them the worst versions of themselves. The only redeeming factor in the game is the multiplayer, which keeps the good ol ‘run and gun playstyle the the players should expect. However, it is bogged down with its own problems, ranging from cheaters to potentially game-destroying spawns. These issues can be fixed, however, and once they are fixed, Vanguard could be left as an overall decent entry into the franchise for multiplayer aficionados.

Either way, I’ll keep playing Modern Warfare 2019 for at least another year.

Is there a better alternative?

If you’re looking for a new multiplayer FPS to jump into, Battlefield 2042 is easy to recommend.

How long does it take?

The Call of Duty: Vanguard campaign goes by quickly and lasts a little over six hours. Anyone looking to unlock everything in the game’s multiplayer should be able to chat with the game until another Call of Duty title comes out next year.

Should you buy it?

Call of Duty: Vanguard doesn’t hit Modern Warfare’s 2019 quality mark, which is holding up well to this day. If you are in urgent need of new Call of Duty content, please feel free to do so buy the game, but if you are happy with the game in the franchise you are playing right now, stick with it and skip this game.

Call of Duty: Vanguard publisher Activision-Blizzard is currently facing legal proceedings over the company’s alleged history of toxic workplace behavior. If this could influence your purchase decision, we recommend read up on the situation.

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