CoD Vanguard Zombies review: Empty experience sees series take giant step back

vanguard zombies text over zombies pic

Vanguard Zombies branches the Dark Aether story off into a darker, but sadly not deeper direction. The game’s debut map, Der Anfang, is a paltry offering devoid of life and content, getting CoD’s latest Zombies adventure off to a disappointing start.

We should prefix this whole review by saying that we understand Treyarch is battling on multiple fronts when it comes to Call of Duty.

They are overseeing the maintenance of Black Ops Cold War, it wasn’t long ago that they developed and released the final round-based map for the game – Forsaken, and they’ve also had to make brand new exciting content for Call of Duty: Vanguard.

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Something had to give, and it appears like Vanguard has taken the fall as the introduction of the new Der Anfang map has come with very little substance to keep hungry Zombies players entertained.

Not even a Ray Gun?

zombie apparoching the screen in cod vanguard

The most alarming thing about Der Anfang is how the more you play, the more you realize how much is actually missing from the experience. What’s the metric you ask to compare Der Anfang to? We’ll go with a very basic one – Black Ops Cold War.

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The world was in the midst of a serious pandemic, and it seemed like Cold War’s development was going to be hindered as a result. Yet, the game launched with the terrific Die Maschine round-based map, and also Dead Ops 3 as a bonus.

A ton of features included in Die Maschine are noticeably absent in Vanguard, and here’s a small sample of missing features: No round-based map, no Wonder Weapons (including Ray Guns), no Easter Eggs, no PAP camo, fewer Perks, no power to turn on, no Killstreaks, and no split-screen.

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There are many more things missing, but if stuff is missing, then the stuff that made the cut must be worth a dime, right? Not exactly.

Repetition. Repetition. Reptition.

group of zombies near perk fountain

It feels like the Zombies themselves have more life than Der Anfang as this bare-bones game mode genuinely has all the potential in the world, but not right now.

You start off in an enclosed version of Stalingrad with a choice of the game’s three objectives: Blitz, Harvest, and Transmit. Blitz wants you to survive in a small area for a set amount of time, Harvest is about killing enough Zombies to collect 15 runestones, and Transmit task you with guiding a floating head in a linear path.

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Aside from trying to find the odd chest or crystal to smash and get a tiny amount of Essence or free goodies, there’s not much else to Der Anfang.

The Pack-A-Punch machine is there, live, and already good-to-go. The workbench returns with a more limited selection, the Mystery Box is fixed to the same spot, and you’ll have to use it as wall buys are gone, and the Altar of Covenants is available too.

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der anfang art work

Cold War’s Outbreak was a breath of fresh air in our eyes and we loved it. When it was announced that we were going to get a hybrid of the classic game modes, we were excited.

But instead, all players get is the same three objectives over and over, in a handful of the same locations, with nothing to grind for – e.g the Aetherium Crystal system that Cold War had.

Is it worth playing?

Honestly, yes, at least a few games anyway. If you already own Vanguard, then you should have games of Zombies with friends to make the experience more enjoyable. There’s still some fun to be had after all.

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We alluded to the Altar of Covenants earlier, and despite it being a transparent RnG system with not much to it, it does change the dynamics of the gameplay, especially as you improve your upgrades using hearts.

Elite Sturmkrieger zombie in cod vanguard

After the sluggish nature of the first couple of rounds, the intensity does start to amp up with the introduction of exploding Boom Schreiers and minigun-wielding Elite Sturmkrieger enemies. However, these two enemy types pretty much cover the “special” enemy Zombie types and you’ll have seen everything by round five.

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Perks return in a slightly rejigged and reshuffled format with new names and all, and you can work towards upgrading them to Level IV, as well as getting any weapons you have to Level 3 via the Pack-A-Punch machine.

And that’s it really.

Boom Schreier up close in vanguard zombies

Call of Duty: Vanguard’s Zombies currently feels like a huge step back from everything that Black Ops Cold War achieved. The removal of so many cool systems and features becomes seriously detrimental to Der Anfang’s potential and already risks alienating the Zombies fanbase.

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Potential is the keyword as Treyarch’s new formula meshes a bit of round-based here and Outbreak there, sadly there’s nothing to sustain it. With Season 1 on the horizon and presumably plans for future content, Treyarch might need to inject Vanguard Zombies with a lot more content going forward to pick things back up.

Verdict: 4 / 10

For more Call of Duty: Vanguard content, take a look at our extensive ranking of every Vanguard weapon, and our top 10 too.

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Image Credit: Activision / Treyarch