The Call Of Duty: Vanguard open beta ran all weekend and into this past week and thanks to the 48 hour extension I was able to hop in and play quite a bit on my gaming PC.
I had a lot more fun than I was expecting. The game still has problems, but it seems to be improving and there’s enough good stuff in there to keep me at least mostly happy. Let’s look at the good, the bad and the ugly of the Vanguard open beta. The full game launches on November 5th, so Sledgehammer and Activision still have time to make some much-needed improvements.
The game handles more like Modern Warfare 2019 / Warzone than it does Black Ops Cold War which personally I think is a bad thing—but!—it feels a bit faster than Modern Warfare and sort of falls between that game and Cold War in terms of speed and overall gunplay, which is a good thing.
When I first played Champion Hill mode during the alpha, I was deeply unimpressed. But playing during the open beta on PC felt way better, and I started to get a feel for the game’s rhythm. Some big changes were made that helped:
- The worst spawns were fixed so you couldn’t get sniped immediately during a later round.
- The breakable barriers were replaced after each round.
- Sound and visibility felt slightly improved, though it’s possible this had more to do with my PC than anything.
It also helped that I played with my brother who is excellent at gaming and who I play regularly with on Black Ops Cold War. You can watch us win a Champion Hill match in the video below (I also talk about my impressions of the open beta in the video and by the way please do subscribe to my YouTube channel!)
I like all four of the multiplayer maps on offer during the beta but I have some quibbles. Red Star is giant and doesn’t work in 6v6 or even really 8v8/10v10. You kind of need it to be at least 14v14 or more to work and even then it works better with objective modes like Patrol or Domination than in TDM simply because those modes focus where the action goes down.
Honestly, I think a Red Star Strike map—that takes a slice of the map and tweaks it to make a much smaller play area—would be great. Treyarch did this with Armada and Miami in Black Ops Cold War and I enjoyed the Strike maps much more than the big ones. But at least with 24v24 a big map like Red Star is viable.
Gavutu is my favorite map for sniping (yes, even more than the sniper-friendly Red Star) simply because there’s this one sniper corridor that I have a blast with. I like sniping other snipers. It feels like a Wild West duel. The map itself is also quite large and works best with larger team sizes and objective modes.
Other improvements I’ve noticed: When you get hurt the screen doesn’t go quite as dark and blurry (at least, I think not, or I didn’t notice it as much). I also had fewer technical issues, glitches, crashes and so forth this time around.
Neither Good Nor Bad
This brings us to the new “Combat Pacing” system which allows you to choose generally what type of team size you want. Do you want Tactical 6v6 gameplay? Or maybe you want Assault gameplay with 8v8, 10v10, 12v12 or 14v14 teams? Maybe Blitz is your thing with 14v14, 20v20 or 24v24 team sizes?
I do like how this works, though I think individual maps will be better suited for different sizes so I hope we can filter not just Combat Pacing and modes, but also which maps we want to play on—or at least have a vote.
As for the actual guns, I’m loathe to say too much. I think it’s downright goofy to allow up to 10 attachments on any gun (you have to unlock these as per usual, but still). The new ammo system is also a bit goofy, allowing silent rounds or fire bullets on I believe any weapon.
The guns seem fine, though I need more time to really say how they stack up to Cold War. I have some distinct favorites in that game—the Pellington sniper rifle, the XM4 assault rifle, the AK-74u and LC10 SMGs, both burst-fire tactical rifles, just to name a few—but nothing in Vanguard has leaped out at me as particularly good or bad.
I will say that they need to finetune the sounds/feel of the weapons. Put a silencer on your sniper rifle and it feels like you’re firing a nerf gun. The sound and impact of many guns feels muted or compressed in ways that make certain guns and attachments just feel off. I’ll withhold judgment for now.
So one thing I really noticed playing this weekend was just how much this doesn’t feel like a WWII game. It feels like Call Of Duty in a World War 2 skin. Maybe the campaign will make it feel more historically—not accurate or realistic, but just right. Call Of Duty: WWII felt like World War 2.
This game does not.
It’s partly the lack of factions which could change in the full release. It’s partly the way the guns work. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly why, but it doesn’t feel like WWII it feels like Modern Warfare wearing a WWII costume with guns that, so far at least, don’t feel quite as good to use as either of the last two games.
I’ve noted above how guns aren’t honed in just yet and maps are often too big for traditional 6v6 gameplay. Beyond these issues the whole thing just feels a bit rough and buggy. That’s not a big deal. Sledgehammer should be able patch up spawn issues, overly quiet footsteps and other issues by launch, and whatever it doesn’t patch up it’ll be working post-launch just like every other COD game.
I’m more concerned with what’s missing. While Champion Hill has grown on me, I still prefer Gunfight. Gunfight is a terrific mode because it puts everyone on an even playing field. You don’t have perks or killstreaks. You don’t even pick your loadouts. Everyone goes into every match and every round as an equal. Skill and luck and teamwork determine the outcome.
In Champion Hill, you have to think about things differently. You need to consider your loadout, which perk to buy, which killstreak to purchase. Armor is a factor. Lots of different moving pieces.
Don’t get me wrong, that’s fun in its own way (and I have some tips in the above video on how to pick the best stuff to win). But I still prefer that even playing field that Gunfight offers.
In a way, the fact that there’s no War Mode is even more disappointing. Back when Sledgehammer released Call Of Duty: WWII I argued that War Mode should be in every single subsequent COD game. It has been in exactly zero. Many fans of WWII had their hopes pinned on its return in Vanguard and those hopes have been ruthlessly dashed.
War Mode is an objective-based mode that pits two teams against one another in a series of different maps, all with several attack-and-defend objective points. One team attacks while the other defends. The defending team wins if they stop the attacking team from completing all objectives before time runs out. The assaulting team wins by completing all the objectives before the time runs out. Then you switch sides.
It’s so fun! It really was one of the best modes in COD history as far as I’m concerned and it’s just been dropped like a hot rock by Activision and its various studios. That makes me sad and I know I’m not alone. Lots of Call of Duty players enjoyed War Mode as much as me and wish it would make a return. Hell, I’d love to see it in a new Modern Warfare or Black Ops game. Alas, neither War Mode nor Gunfight—the two best COD modes in years—will be in Vanguard.
What can I say about Vanguard’s graphics? They are perfectly fine and perfectly bland and I barely notice them if I’m being honest. The game is more colorful than Modern Warfare and less colorful than Cold War. It looks okay but it’s far from groundbreaking, at least in MP. Maybe the campaign will sport better-looking graphics. At least the new Warzone map looks pretty.
I don’t care that much about graphics, especially in MP. I care more about how the maps flow, visibility, etc.
And I think presentation is more important in general. Art style. The feel of the game. We can return to the discussion above about how this feels like Modern Warfare with a World War 2 skin but that’s been covered. It’s just all perfectly okay and nothing special, but it also doesn’t get in your way (except for the occasionally overly bright sun).
Don’t expect Battlefield graphics here. DICE’s engine is prettier, no doubt, and those games do a lot more with destructible environments than Vanguard, for all the game developer’s hype around these. But COD has better gunplay and Vanguard is no exception, though that’s entirely my opinion.
(Indeed, the Sledgehammer devs in this video are embarrassingly awkward—no, we don’t want “every match” to feel like Shipment for god’s sake. We want matches played in Shipment to feel like Shipment! If you want that in your game, make a small, square map with lots of corners and close quarters combat. It’s not that hard! Do you guys even play Call of Duty???)
In any case, I had fun with the open beta but I did not love it and I’m not exactly excited about the game at this point but I’m not as worried as I was before, either. I do think it’s a mistake to release one of these each year, effectively snuffing the last one. Modern Warfare could have used another year of TLC. Cold War could also.
And with no Gunfight or War Mode—and I’m not sure about the prospects for 4v4 League which is my other favorite way to play—I just have a hard time drumming up too much hype for this game. But I’m definitely looking forward to playing the new maps, of which there are many (16!), gunning my way through the campaign and winning some more Champion Hill matches.