Call of Duty: Vanguard Multiplayer Beta Hands-On: A Step Back in Time

Call of Duty: Vanguard multiplayer is bare and ruthless. It drops you right into the chaos of a simulated World War II battlefield without wasting anyone's time. The game mechanics are pretty much standard CoD, and you'll find your feet almost instantly if you are familiar with the franchise. Despite Activision choosing the hackneyed WWII theme for its new first-person shooter (FPS), the game feels starkly different from 2017's Call of Duty: WWII. Vanguard is 2020's Black Ops Cold War wrapped in a WWII skin with tweaks borrowed from 2019's Modern Warfare. The familiarity in gameplay is enticing for CoD fans to jump right in, but the theme is what makes it an alternative to Cold War — and the free-to-play Warzone — and not a natural next chapter in multiplayer gaming.


Section 1: Call of Duty: Vanguard's Multiplayer


Activision and Sledgehammer Games didn't tinker too much with the Call of Duty formula for Vanguard. It is still Call of Duty, but at the same time, Vanguard is a different type of Call of Duty altogether.


Unlike Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 and Call of Duty: Black Ops III, Vanguard is a single-player game with multiplayer elements. With this in mind, you can expect a fair amount of single-player action, but you don't have to play the game that way.


The story is rooted in real-life characters from WWII and immerses you into an alternate timeline. Vanguard's universe feels fully realized from the beginning of the game and ends when WWII ends.


Call of Duty: Vanguard's Theme


For those who are unfamiliar with the title, Vanguard is Black Ops 4's first post-Black Ops II shooter. Since its inception in 2013, CoD has usually followed either Modern Warfare's futuristic theme or Black Ops' Cold War storyline. With Activision's Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 — the title which is to follow up CoD: Black Ops III — we knew that the publisher will have to strike a balance between past and future. And from the looks of it, Call of Duty: Vanguard is the series' answer to Modern Warfare 4: Downfall. With Vanguard, Treyarch looks to offer more on-the-ground gameplay. This doesn't mean that its mechanics resemble Modern Warfare's, but the developers are attempting to make it feel more like Modern Warfare than their previous series' entry, Call of Duty: WWII.


And that's not all.


What does this mean for the franchise?


The genre is so deep that it demands multiple titles, which gives Infinity Ward an abundance of choices for how to evolve its combat experience. Activision chose the surest path: Return to its roots by changing the basics of multiplayer. Call of Duty: Vanguard breaks tradition with shooter design by opting for a faster, simpler multiplayer experience instead of the more complex and carefully crafted maps that comprise modern CoD. If this sounds like a step back in time, it most definitely is, but it is designed to push the series in the right direction for new and returning players.


The rules for both Vanguard and Cold War are straightforward and follow a straightforward format.


How was the beta?


The beta was available to players who preordered Call of Duty: Vanguard. I had never heard of CoD: Vanguard before, and I'm guessing most of you haven't either.


The trailer from May 2018 showed the game in its entirety, so most of what you need to know about Vanguard came from watching the trailer.


Vanguard is set in World War II, circa 1945, and the trailer shows a large scale bombing. But the rest of the gameplay doesn't seem all that much different from a standard CoD match. There's a great emphasis on mobility, including crossbows, grappling hooks, jetpacks, and grappling hooks on jetpacks. From what I've played, Vanguard doesn't take itself seriously, and it encourages a much less cerebral, gun-first approach to the game.


The weapons are largely the same as in CoD: WWII.


In-depth analysis of multiplayer gameplay


The game takes place in a sprawling, Japanese-inspired map called Colosseum. The Japanese Japanese series has historically featured some of the most iconic war-based settings in video games, so it's unsurprising that a Japanese-themed WWII map was picked. With over 50 different game modes to choose from, Colosseum has an impressive variety. On my first run through the game, I chose King of the Hill, a fast-paced top-down shooter with the typical CoD rules. The map is huge, allowing plenty of room to operate and jump around without waiting for a medic.


Unlike in Call of Duty, I only needed to move half my health bars to call in a super, which I did by quickly pressing X. Moving as fast as I could, I was able to move up to the front lines and gun down enemies in my path.




Call of Duty: Vanguard's free-to-play Warzone mode gives it the most bullet points in the title, but it seems to run away from the aesthetic that was central to CoD's franchise. The neon colors that have always lit up the screens of first-person shooters seem bland in an overcast, war-torn space with grimy pavement.


The original Call of Duty kicked off the modern FPS gaming genre, but it looks different to be in a warzone that feels uncannily reminiscent of Cold War Berlin. At its core, it is CoD, and there is nothing wrong with that. But to pack a combat mode onto a free-to-play game, and to make it pay for what amounts to Black Ops 2 downloadable content, is a significant and regrettable step away from what CoD is all about.



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