It turns out the rumors were true: Call of Duty: Vanguard is the next entry in the first-person shooter series, and developer Sledgehammer is again setting its turn on the franchise in World War II. Vanguard's release date is set for November 5, and while it'll have a similar setting to the last Sledgehammer outing, 2017's Call of Duty: WWII, it sounds like it'll be pretty vastly different--and may well be combining World War II elements with some of the ideas that were part of the 2019 Call of Duty: Modern Warfare reboot.
We got an early, hands-off look at Call of Duty: Vanguard, which is slated to come to PC, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 4, and PlayStation 5. Sledgehammer showed a presentation that explained a number of aspects of what we can expect from the game. From the sound of it, Vanguard is both broader than past CoD games set during World War II, and more specific. It follows four different characters, each from a different nation among the Allied forces and fighting on a different front of the war, as they come together to form a unique team near the conflict's end. World War II saw the creation of the concept of "special forces," which would go on to define our current idea of modern warfare. Game director Josh Bridge explained the single-player campaign focuses on the "birth" of the concept of special forces, while the multiplayer experience centers on what it's like to fight as one of those elite soldiers.
It sounds very much like WWII by way of Modern Warfare--and in fact, Sledgehammer says it's using an upgraded version of the Modern Warfare engine for the game. You play as elite soldiers, but they're not yet the tier one operators present in modern-day warzones. As Bridge described it, the "down the barrel" experience of fighting in Vanguard will have you feeling like a hammer, using automatic weapons and a high degree of force, rather than the more precise scalpel we might consider tier one operators to be. Don't expect the house-clearing moments of Modern Warfare--Vanguard seems like it'll be less controlled and a little more chaotic.
What that means in practical terms is that the campaign bounces between four characters, each in different major, tide-turning battles in World War II's later stages where a single soldier or a small group made all the difference. That's the kind of experience you can expect throughout the story, although don't expect a historically accurate retelling--the game's tale is "rooted" in history, Bridge said, but not "beholden" to it.
Though Sledgehammer was there to give the lowdown about Vanguard, the studio didn't ignore the state of California's recent discrimination lawsuit against Activision/Blizzard. At the start of the presentation, Sledgehammer studio head Aaron Halon addressed the situation.
"The stories and the pain that have been shared are simply devastating. We love making games, it's what we do, it's our life's work, and we love it, but more importantly, we're humans. We're here for each other, working side-by-side, and looking out for one another in good times and in bad. So on behalf of Sledgehammer games, and all of the teams supporting Call of Duty: Vanguard, harassment of any kind goes against everything we stand for as a studio."
Halon said Sledgehammer couldn't comment on the lawsuit, but said the studio is "committed to making sure all team members feel safe, welcome, and respected."
Fighting On All Fronts
We saw a bit of the campaign in action, in which the player took on the role of Sgt. Arthur Kingsley, the eventual leader of your special forces team. Kingsley is a paratrooper in the British 6th Airborne Division who takes part in Operation Tonga, in which soldiers jumped into Normandy the night before the Allied invasion on D-Day. His jump goes badly as German anti-aircraft guns pummel the British planes, with his chute catching fire. Kingsley manages to pull his reserve chute just as he lands--and nearly drowns as he crashes into a pond, losing his rifle.
From there, Kingsley has to avoid German patrols, sneaking through the darkened French countryside. We saw the usual Call of Duty blending of hands-off cinematics and gameplay, with Kingsley eventually finding a weapon and fighting off German soldiers in a farmhouse in some intense, harrowing close-range battles. At one point, he ran up to stab a soldier; another he shot when he saw a shadow play across a billowing sheet on a clothesline. After that, Kingsley scrambled into an open cellar, wrenching the door shut with a button prompt just before being overwhelmed by German soldiers. As he made his way through the farm house, he shot through the cellar ceiling at one soldier searching for him and killed another by plowing through a closed door inside the house to knock the man back and disorient him.
The whole portion highlighted the chaotic, high-stakes feel it seems we can expect from Vanguard's campaign. There also appears to be the usual blend of stealth and tactical play, but these are turning points in the war, and Sledgehammer wants to get across the stakes and fear, as well as the feeling that you can also smash through the enemy forces.
Bridge said Sledgehammer is going for a "filmic blockbuster" feel with Vanguard, and the Operation Tonga level certainly gave that impression. The entire level was fast and intense, with Kingsley spending most of it on the run, hiding from enemies, and with very little ammo. It's worth noting that, unlike with CoD: World War II, your character's health will regenerate as you play--health packs are gone this time.
It seems likely we can expect a similar approach from the rest of the campaign as what we saw in Kingsley's Operation Tonga mission. You'll play as each member of the team as they fight through battles on different fronts of the war before they finally come together. As American fighter pilot Jack Wade, you'll fly in the battle of Midway before being shot down over the Solomon Islands and joining the 93rd Infantry Division. Polina Petrova is a Russian sniper who you'll play during the Battle of Stalingrad, they're not just a deadly sharpshooter, but also an inspiration to the Russian people. Finally, Australian Lucas Riggs fights in the North African battle of El Alamein, disrupting the supply lines to stop the German tank division there.
Campaign creative director David Swenson explained that Vanguard is driven by the team wanting to tell stories of tide-turning battles that occurred in locations all over the world, as well as by the stories of the soldiers who fought them. Each of the game's four characters is inspired by a real soldier, he said.
"As we talked to [historical adviser] Marty Morgan, there was another aspect of the stories that he told that really caught our attention, and that was the human story," Swenson said. "There were all these individuals who participated in World War II, and they were often ordinary, but there was something about the war that pulled extraordinary out of them. So we're telling this story against the backdrop of these epic battles in incredible, diverse locations, but also focusing on the individuals, the personal stories of those who fought in World War II--that was impactful to us and that was a story that we wanted to tell."
Eventually, the team will come together for a mission in Berlin near the end of the war. The Allies have picked up intelligence about something called Operation Phoenix. The team, led by Kingsley, are sent to infiltrate Berlin, find out what Operation Phoenix is, and try to stop it.
Changing The Speed Of Multiplayer
Sledgehammer also gave us some quick facts about Vanguard's multiplayer offerings, which sound like they include some significant shifts from other Call of Duty games. The biggest new addition is Champion Hill mode, which Sledgehammer described as being a bit of a mix of battle royale and Modern Warfare's Gunfight mode. Eight teams face off on a single map to be the last team standing. How that works, exactly, is something Sledgehammer said it'll reveal more about as we get closer to Vanguard's release.
As Greg Reisdorf, Vanguard's multiplayer creative director, explained, the next Call of Duty will also include maps and game modes that will change up the combat pacing of your battles. Some modes will be considered "tactical," which slows down the speed of encounters, requiring you to be more methodical and careful--and where every bullet matters. On the other hand, "Blitz" games will pack as many players into a map as it can reasonably withstand, creating a faster, more chaotic game that's "high risk, high reward." There will also be "standard" game types, which sound like they'll have a more classic Call of Duty feel. Firing up multiplayer from quick play, you might play through all three experiences back to back. You'll also be able to set filters so you just get the types of matches you want, Reisdorf said.
Vanguard will launch with 20 multiplayer maps, 16 of which will be 6v6 maps, with the other four being 2v2 maps. They span all fronts of the war, so you'll be fighting in Europe, North Africa, and the Pacific. Expect these maps to feel different from other Call of Duty games, going back to the idea that you're a hammer, not a scalpel.
Maps are also much more reactive to your actions, Reisdorf said, and now include more destructibility.
"Across all maps and modes, what we've done is look at everything your bullet can hit, everything you can interact with, the penetration that it's doing, and making that world feel alive," he explained. "So we have several areas in our maps that are very deliberately placed, where you can shoot through walls, you can open up new sight lines, and you can really change the experience of the game as you're playing it."
It doesn't seem like you should expect destruction at the level of Battlefield games, but more like Rainbow Six Siege, where you can alter certain places on the map to create temporary advantages. Expect multiplayer matches to shift as maps get more and more destroyed.
We didn't get much else in the way of details about multiplayer, but we do know that elements like the Gunsmith are coming back, along with additional customizations like ballistics and ammo types. Reisdorf said Sledgehammer will share more details in an upcoming multiplayer showcase.
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A Future For Zombies And Warzone
In addition to the usual campaign and multiplayer, Sledgehammer studio head Aaron Halon said Vanguard will have its own Zombies mode, which Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War developer Treyarch is working on. The mode will act as a prequel to Black Ops Cold War's Zombies mode, so it'll operate in the same universe, with more Zombies lore and connections to the story. Halon said the mode will also include alterations and improvements to core Zombies gameplay, though.
Finally, Raven Software is developing a new Call of Duty: Warzone map for the release of Vanguard, along with new anti-cheat measures to further improve it. Halon said it uses the same tech as the rest of Vanguard, so guns and mechanics will feel the same when switching between all of Vanguard's offerings. All of Warzone's different iterations will be connected through a new metaverse, Halon said.
Expect the usual live game features to kick off when Vanguard launches as well. Sledgehammer said there's a huge calendar of free seasonal content planned, and while developers didn't give any specifics, it sounds like you can likely expect elements of the campaign narrative to carry forward with seasonal gameplay like with recent Call of Duty games, as well as new multiplayer offerings.
For everything Sledgehammer showed us, there's a whole lot more we don't know. Expect more information to make its way to us ahead of Vanguard's release in November through a number of channels--not the least of which will be Call of Duty: Warzone. We also know a Vanguard beta is coming, and Vanguard preorders are available now.
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