Call of Duty: Vanguard Xbox Series X Review

Call of Duty: Vanguard exhibits that this once great franchise is now a shell of its former self.

By Grayshadow, Posted 11 Nov 2021

The Call of Duty franchise has become less about innovation and more about providing the bare minimum. The once acclaimed franchise that set the standard for multiplayer progression, military campaigns, and overall presentation is now a yearly release that rarely attempts to take risks. After the release of Call of Duty Modern Warfare, many hoped this was a turning point but Call of Duty: Vanguard shows the opposite. It's not terrible but it's nothing we haven't seen before. 

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Call of Duty: Vanguard stars the Vanguard, soldiers who have been chosen specifically for unique talents and taking on suicidal missions. Much of the campaign highlights how these soldiers became the Vanguard in this 5-hour campaign. We have Arthur Kingsley who took part in D-Day, Polina Petrova who seeks revenge against the German army for her family's death, a pilot for the U.S. named Wade, and Riggs from Australia who has a thing for explosives.

The campaign attempts to distinguish each of the characters with both story and unique gameplay elements. Arthur can command troops, Wade has bullet time, Riggs can throw explosives with more accuracy, and Polina is quicker when prone and crouched. Arthur's commanding ability makes sense since he's a leader but this is rarely used effectively since you can only command troopers in specific situations such as moving a barrier or targeting specific enemies. You cannot command soldiers to charge outside of certain events or issue any other commands. Riggs's ability is so standard that can't really be considered special as he just has an indicator for grenade throws for better accuracy. Wade is a pilot so it makes little sense that he would come equipped with an auto-targeting bullet-time, in fact, his campaign is centered on him learning how war is fought on the ground. Polina's talents fit her narrative given she is a sniper and is the most effective by far, making her such a joy to play as compared to the others.

The game tries really hard for you to like and remember these characters. Yes, the voice acting and performances are great, especially in the cutscenes. It definitely feels like you're watching a WW2 movie but this isn't a movie, it's a video game. This means you have to make sure the narrative and gameplay match the quality or it means little. It simply does not because despite the game trying to showcase everyone in this group is close it does the opposite. It has been resolved now but the game did launch with audio problems where the voices and cutscenes did not line up, from a multi-billion dollar company this is just not acceptable.

Call of Duty Vanguard,NoobFeed,

The story is told through separate campaigns to show why the characters became the Vanguard. These are told in flashbacks as the team is being tortured in a Nazi prison. The game even has these tawdry comedic scenes to try and get a chuckle from the player during dire situations, trying to mimic the same black comedy moments from Saving Private Ryan. But where in that movie you travel with Company C and see them grow closer through the brutality of war to better emphasize why those moments of joy were that more impactful here you never see why the Vanguard care about one another. Why are they close, why should they trust each other, hell in one situation Polina jokingly states how she hasn't decided if she'll kill them during a race against time. You never get that sense of comradery because the only time they spend together is in a few missions and most of the game has them separated.

The actual missions are made of linear stages that mix together stealth and active combat. There's 1 mission involving an aerial battle but it holds your hand the entire time. It doesn't have much variety and you'll butcher your way through Axis soldiers with some mini-boss fights against Juggernaut-like enemies who toss smoke bombs. There is 1 boss fight but it's a hide and sneaks match where you have to stab a Nazi officer 3 times for some reason. 1 stab should be enough but you have to stab him 3 times.

The primary goal of the Vanguard is to uncover Project Pheonix. A mysterious plan is hidden from everyone except the most high-ranking Nazi officers. The payoff with this is underwhelming as the plan itself makes little to no sense. I cannot say what it is because of spoilers but once it's revealed you'll be able to pick out the very basic problems with the overall design. Like how they plan to survive.

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Enemy variety is limited, you have basic soldiers, Juggernauts who toss smoke, and attack dogs. Despite having attack dog animations in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare this game does not. Just being touched by a dog means death. It just screams lazy.

The best thing about the campaign is the music surprisingly. The score used in the campaign does capture the moment very well. Whether that's sneaking or high-octane shootouts against overwhelming odds the soundtrack capture the moment well.

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Now let's talk multiplayer, the crowning factor that many buy this franchise every year for. It's Call of Duty, in the most baseline way possible. There are 16 maps with 7 modes to choose from and 12 operators that you can unlock through specific requirements. Each Operator has multiple cosmetic options and highlights. Unfortunately, there's only 1 unique Intro and MVP highlight for each Operator for some reason so get ready for a lot of repetitive animations during these highlights. Since Overwatch made this popular I guess it's now required for all Activision Blizzard titles but you need more than the options that are available.

The progression system has not changed and still works effectively. You earn points by completing challenges and matches, with unique cosmetics provided for each weapon. Earning the max rank of 55 allows you to reset all progression and earn a unique medal. With zombies and competitive experience linked together so you're always earning new levels and stuff.

Competitive matches are listed based on combat pacing with Tactical, Assault, and Blitz. Each option controls the speed of spawning and the size of the map, with Tactical focusing on big maps and fewer players, Assault being in the middle, and Blitz being the opposite. You can choose from the 7 modes provided and have them cycle between the modes with the combat pacing selected. Be warned that Blitz is not balanced for spawning so expect erratic spawning to the point of camping enemy locations resulting in immediate death.

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As of now balancing is a major issue. Many players are using the MP40 or the STG44 and using any other option will mean being at a disadvantage. There's also a problem with some of the Operators currently where some make no sound when vaulting over things. This is expected from Call of Duty games due to how fast they're developed, just not enough time to balance these things and issues will arise. Such as matches where the game cannot find players to fill teams resulting in incomplete matches.

The Gunsmith system makes a return, allowing players to customize their weapons using a variety of options. You can choose anything from optics to ammo type, each highlighted with the positives and negatives. It's an effective system that works. The same goes for the perks and throwable selections. Kills streaks range from Intel, Mortars, attack dogs, and other advantages that offer a good balance of risk vs. reward. 

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As with Black Ops Cold War, there's only 1 zombies map. The developers attempt something different here by not including weapons on the wall and rounds being separated by objectives. You're placed in a hub area and can kill the surrounding zombies for points or head into a portal and take on 1 of 3 objectives; collect runes, survive the time limit, or escort the orb. These objectives take place in the competitive multiplayer maps or in the surrounding area. It's an interesting idea but poorly executed since it eliminates much of the tension from Zombies.

As for the weapons, you have 1 and can collect more from fallen mini-bosses, the loot crate, or hidden boxes in the area. The Pack-a-Punch is provided immediately with no need to locate it and the loot box does not disappear. There are also no exotic weapons like the Ray Gun and despite alluding to a finale the rounds just keep going. 

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Another change is that Potions are now given the first time. You instead upgrade them using points after the first drink and they can be upgraded up to 4 times. This was likely implemented to get players to spend points since you'll meet the maximum Pack-a-Punch very quickly.

The map itself is boring compared to other Zombie maps. There's really nothing interesting about it and the characters are just the Operators you've been playing as. Call of Duty World at War, the first game to introduce Zombies, surpasses this version of the popular mode in every way. There are no cutscenes or special encounters and the NPCs keep repeating the same dialogue over and over again. Even worse is that they hint at some grand finale but there's nothing, you either exit using the exfile or just keep going.

Where Call of Duty: Vanguard surpasses Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War is stability. Regardless of the flaws, Call of Duty: Vanguard did not crash whereas Black Ops Cold War had a notorious history of crashing entire systems. It also does not have the same server lag that Black Ops Cold War was also infamous for. 

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Call of Duty: Vanguard is more or less an expansion of Call of Duty WW2. The story doesn't have a lot of highs with the exception of the musical score and the cutscenes are incredible but the gameplay does not share the same quality. The ending is underwhelming and is classic sequel baiting in hopes that players will buy the next game if it happens or could end up like Call of Duty Ghosts. The multiplayer is barebones with most players currently using the STG44 or MP40 due to the overpowered nature of these weapons. Zombies have been stripped of all character and replaced with something wrong and uneventful. Call of Duty: Vanguard shows that this once great franchise is now a shell of its former self. But at least it doesn't crash consoles.

Adam Siddiqui,
Managing Editor, NoobFeed

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General Information

Platform(s): Xbox One, PS4, PC
Publisher(s): Activision
Developer(s): Sledgehammer Games
Genres: First Person Shooter
Themes: WW2, Action, Multiplayer
Release Date: 2021-11-05

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