The Call of Duty: Vanguard multiplayer beta is already a vast improvement from last year – hands-on impressions

Call of Duty is back on track.

Image via Activision

The battles of World War 2 were reimagined exclusively on the PS5 last weekend with the open beta for Call of Duty: Vanguard, and so far, it has been a tour de force of FPS game design. The new Patrol mode is a riveting new way to play the tried-and-true Call of Duty formula, while the escalation of destructible environments is a welcome addition to that boots-on-the-ground gameplay. There are some annoyances spruced throughout, but overall, this might be the entry to bring lapsed Call of Duty fans back to the series they know and love.

Without a doubt, Call of Duty: Vanguard plays better than the prior entry Black Ops: Cold War. Thanks to the return of the Modern Warfare engine in Vanguard, aiming and shooting is much tighter compared to the looser feel of the prior title. You can open doors again and snap to mount onto surfaces easily. I also love the new blindfire mechanic which lets you shoot with less vision but gives you more cover. It feels natural, as if it’s been there for years.

Screenshot by Gamepur

With the excellent sound design, well-designed visual animations, and immersive vibrations of the controller, you can feel the heft of each weapon. Snipers and LMGs are heavy to wield while the submachine gun is snappy and quick. Each weapon has its own pluses and minuses as well. For example, the MG42 is terrible at long-range shots but in smaller-scale situations, it has a huge clip of ammo that you can utilize. You’ll be able to find a loadout that suits you in this game, and the weapons themselves don’t feel as restrictive as the less-developed guns from the World War 2 era.

The maps that were showcased in the beta (Hotel Royal, Red Star, and Gavutu) each provide unique combat scenarios that are welcome and a good sign of things to come for the full release this November. Hotel Royal is a grand showcase of what the destructible environments provide as two windows on each side can be broken to reveal cover against those in the bar area. The verticality is shown with a rooftop segment that offers a different route around the map and a way to drop down on unsuspecting opponents through breaking glass. Overlooking Paris at war, this is an exciting map that I hope to replay many times over.

Image via Activision

Red Star is a wintery landmark in a rough Russian war-torn neighborhood. This was mainly showcased to demonstrate the tactical modes on offer like Domination and Patrol. It’s a great map that, like Hotel Royal, provides a bunch of gameplay possibilities that any Call of Duty player can enjoy. You have the short-range, bombastic gunfights indoors as you capture the B point,  while A is an outdoor hot spot that snipers and long-range players can thrive in. With the scattering of cars spruced throughout, there are unexpected formations of cover for you to use. Even the indoor campers will be happy with some neat post up spots.

The patrol mode, however, does a great job of keeping the gameplay dynamic and makes campers think on their feet rather than sitting in one spot. The aim of the game is to stay in a small circle for long periods of time like Hardpoint and Overwatch’s Payload. In this mode, that white circle on the map is constantly moving, making for a more dynamic gameplay experience that constantly shifts the terrain you’re fighting on. This is by far my favorite game mode right now in Call of Duty: Vanguard as it requires you to make snap judgments and be strategic at the same time. It’s exhilarating.

Lastly, Gavutu is another standout map as it provides three completely different routes, making for an interesting location to play around in. To the left, you have a torn-apart battleship, in the middle is a runway where snipers will prosper, and to the right is a beach setting with tanks left stranded on the sand. Each provides an interesting gameplay element that will keep all Call of Duty players happy. If you like close-quarters shooting, go to the ship. If you like mid to long-range combat, head to the beach. There’s even a neat feature on the boat that lets you lower a platform up and down, drastically changing the protection of the B point with the push of a button.

Screenshot by Gamepur

From what I’ve played so far, developer Sledgehammer Games has shown a dedication to excellent first-person shooter level design. The art design is also fantastic, especially with Hotel Royal. These maps really pop. If the other 17 maps in the game are as good as these three, we’re on to a winner.

Unfortunately, there are some minor hang-ups I have with Call of Duty: Vanguard.  First, is the reintroduction of the dogs. Killstreaks have been a long-standing element of the series since Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. While some killstreaks are fair for the amount of effort and skill you need to get them, the dogs are an exception. They’re too powerful and completely derail the match for everyone. At just 10 kills, you can summon a pack of dogs that will take out anyone they see in one bite. It’s frustrating because they are usually out of your line of sight, and they can interrupt your plays during a strategic match. During my time with the Call of Duty: Vanguard beta, there have been matches when multiple dog pack killstreaks have been utilized. Given how disruptive those packs are, that seems like a bit much.

In addition, this beta had issues with spawning during patrol mode matches. Players were popping up in the same areas as each other rather than spawning in opposite sections of the map. Sledgehammer Games says this will be fixed, but it’s something to keep in mind when the full game releases. As this is a beta, I’ll cut it slack, but I should also mention that there were multiple times the game dropped frames due to packet loss and lag. I also can’t ignore the alleged behind-the-scenes reports of Activision employees being harassed at the workplace that will be in the back of my mind while playing the full release.

Image via Activision

This is a promising start for Call of Duty: Vanguard as each of the three maps present fun gameplay scenarios, and the weapons feel amazing to control. After the somewhat disappointing Black Ops: Cold War, the series seems to be on the right track with this World War 2 take.

This impressions article was written using a code provided by the publisher.