Call of Duty Vanguard review: Beautiful, cinematic & fast – but Warzone awaits

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Call of Duty Vanguard is out on Friday – but is it any good?

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We’ve had a chance to play the full game before it’s out, and it’s everything we expected.

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Call of Duty Vanguard is the blockbuster game of the seasoncredit: Activision / Sledgehammer Games
Prepare for all-out World War 2 action

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Prepare for all-out World War 2 actioncredit: Activision / Sledgehammer Games

Be warned: this review may contain some story spoilers.

call of duty vanguard campaign

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If you’ve followed Vanguard News at all, you’ll know that we are returning to World War II.

This is a tried-and-tested theater of war for the Call of Duty series, so Sledgehammer Games took the risk of treading on overly familiar ground.

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Thankfully, the story has been refreshed somewhat by focusing on the birth of Special Forces in WW2.

It lets you see key parts of the battle from a slightly different perspective – and makes you feel very important. For any campaign that is getting closer to the film sector, this is important.

It also means that we get to spend time on all major conflict fronts, including North Africa, the Pacific, and the Western and Eastern Fronts.

It follows four operators, all inspired by real people.

First is the sergeant. Arthur Kingsley of the 9th Parachute Battalion, inspired by Sidney Cornell, a real soldier from Portsmouth, England, whose father was African American.

This is followed by Lieutenant Polina Petrova of the 138th Rifle Division.

He is inspired by Lyudmila Pavlichenko, an expert sniper who is renowned for being the most successful shooter in World War 2 – a staggering 309 kills.

Lyudmila began her military career as a nurse, and this story is replicated in the game, where she becomes a leader during the Battle of Stalingrad.

Third is Captain Wade Jackson of Scouting Squadron Six, inspired by Vernon Michael of Canada – a distinguished airman.

And finally here is Second Lieutenant Lucas Riggs of Australia’s 20th Battalion.

He is inspired by New Zealand soldier Charles Upham, who received the Victoria Cross not once but twice.

They are all introduced with a lot of color and conflict in the very first mission.

You are tasked with hijacking a train, and then soon after sneaking into a Nazi U-boat base.

Visually, the environments are gorgeous – the rain effects during the train sequence are spectacular, and the lighting is impressive on the PS5 version I tried.

It’s stunning (and very smooth) on PC in 4K at max settings, which shouldn’t be surprising.

We also meet attack dogs that are pretty insta-kill even on regular difficulty. Be ready for them. They are scary as hell.

It’s all very factual as a Call of Duty intro, and does a great job of introducing the main characters — and a major villain.

Importantly, it also teases a major plot point: Project Phoenix.

It’s a fictional Nazi campaign to identify Hitler’s successor, and it’s your job to uncover and eventually eliminate it.

The campaign then goes out of its way to feature different characters.

First we go to Sgt. Arthur Kingsley, falling behind enemy lines in France on June 5 – the night before D-Day.

In a possible nod to Warzone, you fall from the air – passing through an airfield of war and dogfighting.

You descend into the water, surrounded by burning corpses and drowning people, before sinking into the woods.

It is an astonishing and truly terrifying sight, which works well to allay the fear felt by the soldiers on the ground.

As you crawl through the forest, you can hear the sound of anti-aircraft guns firing in the sky.

The next few minutes are very cryptic, reminiscent of Modern Warfare’s beloved All Gilded Up.

Eventually you make your way to a settlement, and enter battle with soldiers – before finding yourself escaping into the fields again.

Lots of shooting happens through floorboards and windows, which is fantastic.

It also ties in with multiplayer, where the destructible environment is a significant new change for Vanguard.

It’s a great and powerful start to the campaign, and bodes well for the rest of the mission.

The game is also very cinematic, even during parts where the player is in control – again, very on-brand and highly effective.

Sledgehammer told us they were going to have that kind of experience, and they clearly haven’t failed.

call of duty vanguard multiplayer

As always, multiplayer borrows a lot from the campaign.

The maps are inspired by missions (and in some cases, previous Call of Duty games).

And you’ll find that operators are also featured in the campaign – so you can actually snipe as Polina, a Soviet sharpshooter, in multiplayer.

In many ways, it’s the same Call of Duty multiplayer we’ve always known.

You engage in fast-paced combat with a range of era-specific guns, including the Kar98k, STG44 and MP40.

The latter sounds very powerful, but as any longtime Call of Duty player knows, gun balancing is in constant flux. It is too early to make a meaningful decision.

There are killers like UAV-esque “Intel”, Glide Bombs, and Attack Dogs.

And you have Gunsmith (with new custom ballistics) and perks, so you can customize your load out for maximum carnage – according to your own playing style.

You have to be a little distrustful of some gunsmith attachments (and perks, even). But it is easily done.

There are 20 maps available at launch, 16 of which are core 6v6 – with four 2v2 maps to boot.

And they are established on all four campaign fronts: Western, Eastern, North African and Pacific.

Every map and mode can be played in three modes, thanks to the new combat pacing system: Tactical, Standard, and Blitz.

Standard is regular 6v6 gameplay, while Blitz packs many more players into the map and mode for goal-rich, high-intensity gameplay.

And tactical smaller teams are making their way through the map more deliberately.

It’s too early to say which maps are the best – but I’ve enjoyed a few in particular.

The Eagle’s Nest is a gorgeous mountaintop used by the Nazis (making it, well, less grand).

There are some great sight lines for snipers, but also plenty of opportunities for close combat.

Numa Numa is a fantastic Pacific trench-and-sandbag map that looks downright chaotic—in a really good way.

The decoy is extremely destructive. You can stay hidden in a building for a minute, only for a grenade and a few well-placed shots to destroy almost all of your cover. Had great fun

Perhaps most exciting of all, the DOME – of World at War fame – is back, giving you the Richstag-blasting fun you missed in very high resolution.

The arms include mounting, and can be moved over and across surfaces.

You’ll also be able to fire indiscriminately at cover and some other elements of the map.

Perhaps the biggest change is the reactive environment – the one you’ve introduced in the campaign.

You can shoot through opaque windows, punch holes in walls, blast books off shelves and destroy doors.

This means the environment is very interactive, especially around domination points or hardpoints.

Maps start out new and ancient, but are quickly destroyed by battle.

Light is also reactive to environmental changes.

So if you blow a hole in the wall of a dark room, it will fill with light.

And when too many guns are fired in a space, a weapon fog will begin to thicken in the air.

It takes a long time to get used to it.

But once you start seeing the fact that an astonishing amount of stuff can be destroyed, you start to see huge tactical potential.

And that means you’ll have different map experiences in each game – more than ever.

After nearly two decades of Call of Duty multiplayer, it was in need of freshness. Reactive Maps provides some of them.

call of duty vanguard warzone

Sadly, we haven’t had a chance to play the new Warzone yet.

The Pacific version of Warzone won’t replace Vardansk until early December – so we’re still weeks away.

But we’ll update this story as soon as we get a chance to explore the new warzone.

Preliminary Call of Duty Vanguard Review Verdict

It’s always difficult to review Call of Duty.

After all, it’s generally pretty much the same as the previous game – with a few significant changes here and there.

But it’s a tried-and-tested format that clearly works, and is widely loved and played consistently.

Why fix what ain’t broke?

If you liked every other Call of Duty game, you’ll love this one. Don’t let the WW2 branding fool you – it’s as factual as any Modern Warfare title.

The addition of the destructible atmosphere is really welcome, and the weaponry feels great – although balance will always be an issue.

So far, the campaign looks compelling. You get invested in the main characters pretty quickly, and the settings are just as spectacular and cinematic as you’d expect.

It is very easy to see how you are getting your money’s worth here.

Warzone remains to be seen, but it is also a free add-on and does not require Vanguard.

And so while you’re sure to spend dozens of hours in Warzone this year, its quality shouldn’t really have a huge impact on whether you buy the main game.

Only you will know whether the pawn is worth the money.

If you plan on spending a significant amount of time in multiplayer and completing the campaign, then yes – you’ll enjoy the game.

For those who really only play Warzone, the argument is less compelling.

Ultimately, Vanguard is a strong return to Call of Duty roots with all the best bits of the modern franchise — and some brave new additions that work well. If you like Call of Duty, you’ll love Vanguard.

And it’s definitely something to do until the new Warzone Caldera map comes out…

They say: Call of Duty Vanguard is fast, beautiful and endlessly cinematic – with an engrossing campaign, sophisticated multiplayer, and Nazi zombies as a welcome bonus. 5/5

Where to buy Call of Duty Vanguard?

PS5

Xbox Series X|S

PS4

Xbox one

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