Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is by all accounts a success for both Treyarch and Activision. Not only did it continue its revenue stream with strong sales, but it felt as though it continued the franchise well and brought enough to the table to satisfy long-term fans. While in my review I lamented the fact that the title’s multiplayer felt like more of the same, I found myself indulging in its gameplay loop all the same, which was a tall order given one less year of development time. That extra year was instead given to Sledgehammer Games with their upcoming Call of Duty: Vanguard. As the beta is in its final days, does its multiplayer truly live up to past entries in the series? Find out in my beta impressions of Call of Duty: Vanguard!
Out With the Old, in With the “New”
Kicking things off, a few new modes were shown off during the beta. On one hand is Patrol, which essentially acts as Hardpoint only with a moving capture point. Nothing exciting, but something new regardless. On the other hand though is Champion Hill, which is a serious shakeup from the standard Gunfight mode you’ve grown accustomed to. Instead of simple round-based fights, Champion Hill runs a round-robin-based setup where you can purchase upgrades with the money you gather. Each team has a set amount of lives, and the last team standing wins.
This was by far the standout of the beta, as it offers a formidable improvement upon the previous iterations. Having a set amount of lives brings an interesting dynamic that gives some breathing room to be a little more reckless, even if you still must be careful. Not to mention the choice of purchasing weapons makes a fine home, as different tools offer up rewards for short-term performance. As a large portion of my time was spent here, it ended up being one of the most enjoyable parts of the entire beta.
Outside of the core modes, the Call of Duty: Vanguard beta now lets you choose which type of play you’re most comfortable with and run it exclusively if you wish. This ranges from Tactical, which is your standard Modern Warfare-style 6v6 battle, all the way to Blitz, which includes more players and is much more hectic as a result. While this may as well act as a stand-in for the classic Moshpit mode, it’s nice to see a Call of Duty let players pick a playstyle that suits their interest, rather than satisfying just one party. Though with that being said, on certain maps such as Hotel Royal, it may lean into territory that’s a tad too chaotic.
There is also the new level of destruction in environments, a page ripped straight out of Battlefield’s playbook. Thin walls can now be run and shot through, causing damage to surfaces that open new doors for players to experiment with. On paper, this sounds like an excellent addition. In practice though, the level at which walls can be shot through is a tad extreme. At one point, I was even blasted through a brick wall and killed. An adapting map adds variety to an otherwise linear match, but when there’s such little cover to work with, it makes engagements far less enjoyable.
The final major change, and unfortunately the weakest of these changes, is the addition of ammo types. These range from subsonic, which provides a quieter and more discreet way of firing, all the way to incendiary rounds, which burn targets as they land. While this does bring some much-needed variety to the recycled Gunsmith system, I felt that some of the ammo types often caused a lot more headache than good. While it’s fun to let some of these new bullet types go at your leisure, they often impeded visibility more than anything (which became a theme of my time with Vanguard). With such major smoke clouds, bullet types such as Frangible may as well be packed with miniature smoke bombs.
While some fresh content hit the bar, my impressions of the fresh content added to Vanguard’s beta are mediocre at best. Some areas need serious refinement, as the “eye candy” aspect of fights is a little overbearing.
Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Flattery
It’s no secret at this point that Modern Warfare 2019 is considered the best and most successful modern Call of Duty game available. Not only does it hold a gripping campaign, but its gameplay innovations are just incredibly fun and enjoyable. As such, you’d expect Call of Duty’s other development studios to follow suit as Cold War did. Though with that being said, Cold War did a fair amount to stand apart from its predecessor. Through my impressions of Vanguard’s beta, it’s much harder to tell the difference. Sure, there’s a new coat of paint and the weapons are from a completely different time, but the feel and mechanics are replicated piece by piece. Even armor plates are reintroduced, though with them in multiplayer now, it makes time to kill considerably more complicated.
On the bright side, I can say that the replication of weapon handling in Vanguard was a great choice from Sledgehammer Games. Each gun feels smooth and lasers targets with the precision you’d hope for. Admittedly some things still feel a little out of place (high accuracy on LMGs, sniper ADS time, etc.) but the fluidity makes your shots fly out with high power. Part of this is thanks to some clean animation work, but the power of each gun helps in this department too.
As far as the maps go, it genuinely feels like there was thought put into each level to make it distinct. There’s a lot of opportunity and various lanes of battle and verticality depending on your preferred playstyle. That, and with so many maps on the way at launch, that’s sure to not get tiring. What needs fixing more though is spawns, with it being far too sporadic. I couldn’t tell you how many times I died, respawned, then died to enemies spawning a few feet behind me. Of course, the Call of Duty franchise is infamous for this sort of thing, but it feels worse in Vanguard. Much, much worse.
While some of the areas that Vanguard has replicated from Modern Warfare 2019 in the beta do feel quite solid, I can’t help but feel from my impressions that with the increased development time and help from Treyarch on the upcoming Zombies mode, there could’ve been more done to freshen up the core gameplay. It didn’t have to feel like an entirely new game, but it would’ve benefited from more innovations upon Modern Warfare 2019. Playing safe is fine to an extent, but when you play too safe, you lose that sense of identity.
A Sense of Style
I may have had a lot of rough things to say regarding the gameplay itself, but for what it’s worth, the presentation is as strong as it’s been in the previous Call of Duty entries. The model and texture detail of Vanguard in its beta and my impressions of it is of the highest quality we’ve seen in the series history. Everything from the front lines of battle, grand hotel rooftops, and war-torn buildings all appear stunning. While I wasn’t originally planning to mention this though, the lens flare makes this near impossible to see on both Gavutu and Eagle’s Nest. There’s no way to turn it off which I’m sure will change, but needless to say on those two maps, you’ll easily go blind if the sun dares to enter your peripheral vision.
The visual quality shares its prowess with animations, thanks in part to the reusing of the Modern Warfare engine. Each action on screen is incredibly smooth and fluid, especially between the use of tactical sprint and regular sprint. While flinch does cause an odd animation admittedly, that’s both minor and not entirely at the fault of the balance team. In complimenting with the visuals, this is some of the cleanest work a Call of Duty development team has put out so far.
As to be expected, rounding Call of Duty: Vanguard off nicely is some clean, powerful audio. Everything about it feels so well-tuned, with the difference between LMGs and snipers versus pistols being the difference between the Prius and a trailer truck. Admittedly in my experience, the audio channels were completely out of whack due to bugs. There were also constantly repeated voice lines from characters which, while hilarious at first, quickly become mind-numbing. Though thankfully, many of these problems will likely correct themselves with the full release.
I find myself torn on my impressions of the Call of Duty: Vanguard beta. There are a few things that it does right, in reinvigorating the Champion Hill mode and continuing the excellence of the series’ visual/audio suite. But it gets quite a bit wrong as well. It feels as though, in tandem with how clean the Modern Warfare engine can be, that the team seems to have gone for visual fidelity over practicality. And while that’s great for building up hype in gameplay footage, it harms the hands-on experience. While long-time fans will likely find themselves dropping $60 regardless, I fail to see much reason to play this year’s multiplayer over previous installments (let alone the free-to-play Warzone).