Call of Duty Vanguard Campaign Review: An unspectacular but solid ride
Campaigns are a big part of the overall Call of Duty package, and for many players, they are still must-play journeys. Vanguard’s does absolutely nothing to reinvent the wheel but relies on a safe formula to give players a good story that is over before it really gets going.
Sledgehammer Games have made sure not to repeat the mistakes made by Black Ops IIII, and have included a campaign. And it works out, for the most part.
Vanguard’s story goes in a slightly unfamiliar direction for World War II, and we’ll explain it all in our Call of Duty: Vanguard Review.
Tried and tested tropes
Ever since Call of Duty 4’s masterful solo ride changed campaigns, every CoD game since has shared many of the same characteristics: a stealth mission, a vehicle mission, a ‘survive’ mission, and an epic finale that sees you fighting through waves upon waves of enemies.
Call of Duty: Vanguard ticks off every one of these, and that’s not a bad thing. Anyone who’s played a CoD campaign in recent years knows to expect a four to six-hour experience of thrills and spills.
Again, there is nothing in this campaign that makes Vanguard stand out and be memorable, but you’ll enjoy the ride whilst you’re on it.
Welcome to Team Vanguard
The first two missions set up the rest of the campaign nicely as Hermann Freisinger is revealed as our fictional antagonist, with Jannick Richter backing him up as his secondary villain.
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We then go on an exploratory adventure through each of the four main character’s backstories as we find out who they are, their motives, and tell the player why they were chosen to be part of ‘Vanguard,’ a special task force team.
Lucas Riggs, a loud-mouth Aussie, Wade Jackson, a stereotypically confident, boisterous American, Polina Petrova, a silent but deadly Russian Sniper, and Arthur Kingsley, a well-spoken Englishman with strong leadership skills, represent this internationally diverse squad.
The game’s plot centers around “Operation Phoenix,” a mysterious plan that would ultimately lead to Germany taking over the world if they were successful. We never really find out too much about it as there’s little exposition to push the narrative on, and it never feels like a main point of the story, leaving the ending feeling a bit empty.
On the plus side, the game’s missions are fun, albeit quite cookie-cutter and by the numbers, but you begin to realize that Vanguard’s story might have been better just concentrating on one or two of the protagonists – or just Polina Petrova.
Anyone for a Polina party?
Her tale is comfortably the most compelling and the two main missions you get with her far exceed anything else you get in this campaign in terms of plot, emotional investment, and gameplay variety. A few hours with ‘Lady Nightgale’ might have negated the Vanguard name, but it would’ve resonated a lot deeper and lived long in the memory.
The opening moments of her first mission are about as powerful as any in the campaign, and her style of gameplay is so different that we can’t recall ever seeing anything like it before. Scurrying around rooms between holes in the wall and conveniently placed furniture is as close to a Ninja as you could wish to be.
But again, by only having two missions, and giving pretty much the same time to each character, it means that as soon as you’re caught up with everyone and you’re just starting to forge a bond with this Vanguard, it’s over after just nine missions.
There’s always the hope that a Call of Duty campaign will one day go all-in and make a 20-25 mission campaign with tons of character development and exposition.
Gorgeous and grandiose gameplay
Call of Duty’s shooting mechanics have always made its games a delight, and Vanguard feels great to play – helped by a large number of weapons and attachments made available throughout the campaign.
As we’ve already mentioned, in the space of nine missions Sledgehammer Games does its best to keep the game moving with a series of easily digestible chapters, all tailored towards each character’s special ability and personality.
Kingsley really encourages teamwork as you overcome huge odds in massive shootouts, Riggs is more an explosive solo project that complements his explosive specialties, Polina employs sniping and stealth over everything else, and Wade… is just kind of there with his focus ability.
Whereas Black Ops Cold War introduced puzzles and had some very open missions for you to explore and do what you want, Vanguard regresses slightly, doesn’t really do anything to innovate, and keeps it linear.
Again though, this isn’t a bad thing, and we get plenty of nice moments in the campaign such as Arthur leading his team over the top after surviving on his own, Polina’s epic sniping duels and literally cleaning house, and Lucas blowing up factories and planes.
But Wade’s horrific flying mission and boring jungle survival are a big sour point for the campaign.
Thankfully, all of this is boosted by Vanguard’s jaw-dropping visuals which feel like the first, truly ‘next-gen’ CoD title and are a promising sign of things to come. Ray Tracing and proper visuals bring fire, ash, and weather effects to life, making for more realistic and alive environments.
Call of Duty: Vanguard’s campaign is one that can easily be filed away under “fun, but won’t play again in a hurry.” It lacks some of the ingenuity and creativity that made last year’s Cold War campaign appealing and has missed a big opportunity with Polina Petrova.
Nevertheless, for what it is, a starter before the game’s other main courses, it’s definitely worth going through at least once. A few more missions could’ve really opened things up a bit more and made people care about Operation Phoenix and its potential consequences on the world, but we’re not complaining too much.
This is a great romp through an alternate-history Germany that has just-enough substance and character exploration to leave you feeling good after it’s over.
Final Verdict: 7/10
Image Credit: Activision / Sledgehammer Games