“Call of Duty: Vanguard” first impressions and breakdown

Michael Tracey, General Assignment Reporter

The fall semester is here, and Starbucks is already selling pumpkin products, which means the holiday season is right around the corner, and with it comes another “Call of Duty” game. 

This year, the award-winning Sledgehammer Games returns to the franchise’s roots and delivers another harrowing WWII experience in “Call of Duty: Vanguard.” 

Every August before release, PlayStation players get an exclusive first look (Alpha) at the newest entry in the popular military shooter franchise. So, of course, as an aspiring games journalist with a PS5, I felt obligated to dedicate my Friday night to the occasion for the sake of providing feedback to the Osprey community.

Photo courtesy of Activision Blizzard. 

The annual “Call of Duty” Alpha is always an excellent opportunity for the developer to receive direct feedback from the PlayStation community while ironing out all the kinks. Whoever helms the current Call of Duty project (the franchise has an annual rotation between three developers: Infinity Ward, Treyarch, and Sledgehammer Games) can choose how they handle the Alpha. 

Sledgehammer decided to dedicate the weekend to their new Champion Hill mode. It shares many similarities to the 2v2 gunfight game introduced in 2019’s “Modern Warfare,” so returning players will feel some familiarity there. However, Champion Hill is different in its tournament format and allows the player to choose between solo, duos, or trios. In addition, eight teams within a match have 12 lives to share, with only two lives available each round individually.

New items are placed strategically on each map, so keep an eye out for extra lives to get the edge on the other team. The best way to win is to strategize and communicate clearly, so your team has the most lives and money until the final round. 

The survival aspect here is quite similar to battle royale and round-based games with an objective, such as “Valorant” and “CS: GO.” Another striking similarity to those games is the option to purchase weapons, armor, perks, and killstreaks with the cash you earned during each round. There’s also the option to upgrade every weapon you choose during the buy period, and it even lets you do the same during gameplay. Allowing the player to upgrade a gun freely is a huge plus. Still, the downside is there’s no personal customization of the weapons within the mode, so you can’t traditionally choose which attachments you prefer. Instead, each time you upgrade from green to gold, it automatically adds them for you. 

The approach in Champion Hill works and is a pleasant surprise (especially when playing with a friend), but for others, it fell flat. Always expect a hostile reception when “Call of Duty” tries out anything new. I can see how it may become stale after a few weeks of playing, but overall, “Call of Duty: Vanguard” looks and feels incredible to play. 

Photo courtesy of Activision Blizzard.

Sledgehammer Games has taken on a Call of Duty project before, and it’s apparent in“Vanguard.” Simply put, the game plays like a dream and undoubtedly nails the “Call of Duty” formula down to its science: gripping combat, hard-hitting weapons, and well-designed maps. 

There is a debate circulating amongst Call of Duty fans about which engine is superior between Infinity Ward’s “Modern Warfare” and Treyarch’s “Black Ops” franchises. In the end, it boils down to the eye of the beholder and personal preference. For “Vanguard,” the game runs on the engine from Infinity Ward and feels mechanically similar to 2019’s  “Modern Warfare” and their battle royale mode, Warzone. 

I believe this was the right move because the engine has a more realistic feel than “Black Ops,” which fits nicely for the return to WWII in “Vanguard.” Coming back to the previous engine also introduced small changes from 2020’s “Call of Duty: Cold War,” but they’re crucial, such as opening and closing doors and having the ability to mount and peek around a corner. 

I shouldn’t be surprised from my positive experience playing the Alpha, considering Sledgehammer Games is why I returned to the franchise after a long hiatus. Despite some of its flaws, I adored Sledgehammer’s “Call of Duty: WWII” in 2017, and returning to the boots-on-the-ground approach took the franchise out of a low point. 

First-person shooter WWII games aren’t a new endeavor for gamers in 2021. Almost all of the weapons, equipment, and killstreaks shown in the Alpha return from previous “Call of Duty” games. Considering this is only the Alpha, I’m sure Sledgehammer has some surprises up their sleeves for launch, but only time will tell if “Vanguard” tries anything different besides Champion Hill. 

Photo courtesy of Activision Blizzard. 

There’s no doubt “Vanguard” will be another successful title for Activision and Sledgehammer. But there’s a chance sales will be impacted negatively from the other significant FPS releases this year: “Battlefield 2042” and “Halo Infinite.” I can’t remember when the industry had all three franchises releasing a new title within the same holiday season. 

Are you excited for Call of Duty’s return to WWII in “Vanguard?” Or will you take a pass this year to play “Battlefield 2042” or “Halo Infinite” instead? Please feel free to drop a comment below and let us know!

“Call of Duty: Vanguard” releases worldwide on Friday, November 5, for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and PC on Battle.net. Check back to Spinnaker after launch for a deep-dive and complete review.


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