Call of Duty: Vanguard’s PlayStation-exclusive multiplayer beta kicked off this past weekend, letting players get a taste of some of the guns, maps, and modes set to be featured in Sledgehammer Games’ return to World War II this fall. Here are some thoughts after a weekend with Vanguard left me with a mix of optimism and concern.
Visibility Is Still An Issue
Starting with the changes from the initial alpha test with Vanguard’s Champion Hill mode , the multiplayer beta definitely showed Sledgehammer Games partially delivered on the improvements promised for the game’s visibility. One major complaint was the dark visual effect when a player was taking damage. This effect has been drastically reduced for the beta, and players are no longer hindered by a dark screen in those crucial moments.
Unfortunately, Vanguard seems to still struggle with some significant visibility issues, which have been made even more apparent with the 6v6 maps during the beta. Players just seem to blend in with the background. And even at close-to-mid range, players often become invisible in doorways and windows. It seems like general visibility is good for most of the playable area, but in certain spots it just gets completely lost.
The map that did struggle with visibility issues the most was Red Star, a snowy map with a wintery haze that impacts your ability to see. I heard many complaints from PS4 players struggling to see on Red Star, and my visibility wasn’t much better on PS5.
There’s also a really intense visual effect that happens when firing some assault rifles and light machine guns, as extreme smoke and blurriness appear all around your line of sight. Hopefully this can be toned down before launch.
Developers Sledgehammer Games already responded on Twitter , letting players know it is aware of the feedback around the visibility and audio issues.
Footsteps And Audio Quality
I’m not sure if the footstep audio will remain the same for the release, but as it stands, footsteps are really quiet. This is something maybe not everyone will be happy about, but I think quiet footsteps are a good thing for Vanguard, as this upcoming Call of Duty will not include the Dead Silence perk to quiet footsteps. One downside to 2019’s Modern Warfare was the lack of a Dead Silence perk, especially as the game featured really loud footstep audio. Just like Modern Warfare, Dead Silence is instead going to be available as a Field Upgrade, which gives the user nearly silent footsteps for only a temporary time. This means a player can opt for brief ninja-like footwork, but with the footstep audio already being low, the Dead Silence field upgrade shouldn’t feel like an obligatory perk players need to rely on in Vanguard.
There have been some complaints over inconsistent audio. There were times for me that the footstep audio was the soft but audible footsteps, but then sometimes it seems like there were no footsteps at all. The overall audio could sound a bit muffled as well.
Destructible Environments And Doors
When destructible environments were first announced for Vanguard, there was some unease of how well this would work in a Call of Duty game. Destructible environments work great for games like Rainbow Six Siege and Battlefield, but I questioned if it would fit Call of Duty’s more arcade style.
But after getting hands-on with the beta, I think it’s going to be fine for Vanguard. These destructible environments were on all the maps featured for the weekend, but in terms of destructible cover, it’s still pretty mild. Players aren’t taking down a full-size wall or half of a building like in the Battlefield games. There are just conspicuously boarded-up windows and wall sections that players can shoot, melee, or sprint through to open up new routes or lines of sight. I’m not sure how frustrating this might be for competitive Call of Duty on a pro or amatuer level, but this new feature probably won’t have a big impact for the casual Call of Duty player. I’m surprised by how oddly satisfying it’s been to sprint through these walls like the Kool-Aid man.
In addition to Champion Hill’s arena maps, the beta introduced three standard 6v6 maps:
- Hotel Royal takes place at a large Paris hotel with interior and exterior fighting.
- Red Star is the snowy map with poor visibility, which is set at an urban plaza during the Battle of Stalingrad.
- Gavuta is a map based on Gavutu Island in Japan, with the island experiencing stormy weather.
Overall, I really enjoyed Hotel Royal. I think the map design fits with the traditional Call of Duty multiplayer feel with plenty of close-quarters interior space, which is where most of the chaotic action happens, and then there is an exterior flanking route on each side of the hotel. There is also plenty of rooftop space to fight. Hotel Royal definitely has the best lighting and visibility of all the beta maps.
Gavutu is also a nice map layout, and I mostly enjoyed my time on the island, but it does suffer some of the visibility issues. It’s just not nearly as hard to see as Red Star. The wind and rain effects on Gavuta aren’t an awful hindrance like Red Star’s winter weather, but it’s probably not helping much either. Call of Duty: Vanguard is set to launch with 16 core multiplayer maps , and hopefully many of them won’t share the weather elements and visibility issues. Hopefully more of them look and feel like Hotel Royal.
There were some spawn issues with the 6v6 maps, especially on Hotel Royal. I often found myself spawning with the enemy team, while my team was clearly spawning on the opposite side. However, I’m not too worried about spawns in the beta. Those are common issues that generally get tweaked by launch or shortly after.
In addition to the 2v2 and 3v3 Champion Hill mode from the alpha test, the beta also offered some of Call of Duty’s staple modes with Team Deathmatch, Domination, and Kill Confirmed.
Vanguard’s beta also introduced another new game mode with Patrol. Based on Hardpoint, this objective-based mode features a scoring zone in near-constant motion. Operators rack up points for their team by following and moving around the map within the Patrol point. I think this was a pretty fun mode.It really puts pressure on teamwork, and adds spice to the classic Hardpoint-playstyle. I can’t wait to see how it plays on some of the other maps.
Kill Confirmed was the biggest disappointment, because it doesn’t really fit the killstreak-style reward system this year. This is a classic Call of Duty mode that requires players to collect enemy dog tags to score points. Players drop tags in death, so it’s important to “confirm” kills by collecting the enemy tags, but also collecting friendly tags to deny the enemy of the point. I honestly don’t think Kill Confirmed is the right mode for any Call of Duty game with a killstreak system instead of scorestreaks. I’d like to think players were just ignoring the tags because it was the beta, but this was an ongoing problem for Modern Warfare as well. Matches often went to time instead of score. This is definitely a mode that works better for Black Ops Cold War’s scorestreak system, but maybe the developers can tweak the mode to better incentivize the players to run out and collect the tags for Vanguard.
TTK And Pacing
As of right now, the time-to-kill in Call of Duty: Vanguard’s multiplayer sits somewhere between Black Ops Cold War and Modern Warfare, and the pacing of Vanguard’s matches can easily depend on the player’s choice of playlists. Vanguard introduces Combat Pacing, which changes up the experience across Vanguard’s map pool based on the amount of players on the map. For the beta, players could choose between three different Combat Pacing options, or choose to play a mix of them.
- Tactical: This is the standard 6v6 Call of Duty multiplayer experience.
- Assault: This combat pacing adds more players than the traditional 6v6, but it isn’t quite as chaotic as Blitz. The player count for the beta will vary between 20-28 players.
- Blitz: Blitz features hectic matches as 28-48 players are crammed on the 6v6 maps. This pacing might be best for fans of modes like Modern Warfare’s Ground War and Black Ops Cold War’s Combined Arms.
Weapons, Gunsmith, And Perks
Vanguard’s weapon selection for the beta was filled with many familiar guns from Call of Duty’s previous ventures into the World War II era. This included the popular STG44 assault rifle, MP-40 submachine gun, and the MG42 light machine gun.
The Gunsmith was a fantastic introduction in Modern Warfare that carried into Black Ops Cold War, but I do worry that Vanguard has overly complicated a good thing. Players can now equip 10 attachments to their weapons, which includes a new host of ammo types to choose from.
This new Gunsmith might not only overwhelm some players with trying to find the best attachments to make the most of their weapon, but it could prove to be a huge grind to unlock good attachments. However, some players may actually love nerding out and creating even more custom weapon builds.
Despite the more complex Gunsmith, most of the core elements of Call of Duty’s Create-a-Class system remain the same in Vanguard. Players are still able to equip a primary weapon, secondary weapon, lethal equipment, tactical equipment, and three perks. There are no Wildcard perks this year, so players can’t double down with extra perks or attachments. Everyone will have three perks and the choice of 10 attachments.
Players can expect plenty of classic perks such as Ghost, High Alert, and Double Time. There’s also a new Radar perk. Vanguard’s minimap is the same as Modern Warfare’s, meaning it won’t reveal players as red dots on the map when they fire with unsuppressed weapons. The new Radar perk gives that intel back, but at the cost of other useful perks.
The beta features pretty staple streaks: Spy planes, counter-spy planes, care packages, death machines. Attack dogs also make a return in Call of Duty: Vanguard.
Vanguard moves away from Cold War’s scorestreaks, and returns Call of Duty to a killstreak-based system. This might be a popular change, as many players felt Cold War’s scorestreak system made streaks way too abundant in matches. Vanguard definitely dials it back with streaks. Not only are they only earned for going on a killstreak without dying, but the streaks won’t overlap like Cold War’s multiplayer. Once a player uses all their killstreaks, they won’t earn anymore until death resets the streak.
The one downfall to Vanguard’s system is that it could entice players to camp for streaks and play it safe, while Cold War’s scorestreak system at least rewarded players for actually playing the objective. As stated earlier, my Kill Confirmed matches during the beta were littered with red and blue dog tags, as players on both teams just sat back and earned their killstreaks. Matches like this almost always went to the time limit. I’d love to see a Call of Duty game introduce a split system for streaks, with killstreaks awarded in Team Deathmatch modes, and a scorestreak system for objective modes like Kill Confirmed.
Call of Duty has seen many iterations with WWII settings, jetpacks, and the modern era of war, but the initial community response to returning to WWII was not exactly positive. Personally, I was also a little wary of returning to bolt-action rifles and the drab maps like we saw in Call of Duty: WWII, but I think there’s a decent multiplayer experience to be had with Vanguard. I love Champion Hill, and design-wise I think the maps are really good. I just wish the maps were a little more vibrant, and I hope the visibility issues can be better addressed before launch.
Early access to Vanguard’s beta went live on PlayStation for players who preordered, or anyone lucky enough to score a beta code. This PlayStation-exclusive beta ran from September 10-13, but there’s still another opportunity to play. Next weekend will feature a cross-play beta for PlayStation, Xbox, and PC players.
Call of Duty: Vanguard is releasing on Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, PS5, and PC on November 5. The release is still on schedule as Activision Blizzard faces a lawsuit from the state of California over harassment and discrimination against women .
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