The CoD: Vanguard Alpha - A Complete Review

The Vanguard Alpha Review
We were playing in a mode called Champion Hill, on gunfight sized maps like the one pictured on the right | © Activision Blizzard

The Call of Duty: Vanguard alpha began on Friday, August 27, and lasted for 48 hours. We provided full coverage over the weekend for those who were either on Xbox, PC or didn’t prepare an excuse for their loved ones in time. There's a lot of good to be said about the core gameplay, but there are also a number of issues they can (and need to) fix in the coming weeks. Here's our complete review.

Before we start the review, let's make one thing absolutely clear: the map and mode they chose for the alpha were bad. Or at least, this wasn't the mode that they should have introduced the game with - they should have gone classic with a Domination or a Hardpoint. The map was a dusk map and these are never as popular as day maps, this has simply always been true of CoD.

But with both these issues, they aren't problems that reflect on the actual game, just the alpha weekend. So in this review, we're judging the core gameplay, and we're focusing on what the game promises for full release. We'll go through the good, the bad, and the ugly, before offering a conclusive verdict on how Vanguard is looking.

The Call of Duty: Vanguard Alpha - The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

The Good

  • MW 2019s IW8 engine makes the game look fantastic. Almost everyone agreed with this who we played with, we were testing on a PS5, so that helps obviously, but it's got to be said: it really is breathtaking, especially the explosive effects.
  • The gunplay is very nice; it's a slower TTK for Call of Duty, but with WWII weaponry it felt right. The increased recoil is also a great change, BOCW has far too many weapons that simply don't move.
  • They've struck a nice balance between historical accuracy and game design. All of the weapons were period-correct, but they could be equipped with historical attachments. This middle ground preserves the customization that gunsmith brought to the game a couple of years ago, and that's crucial.
  • The optics are fantastic. We'll go out on a limb here: Vanguard is set to introduce the best optics we've ever seen in CoD. The new Kar98k in particular is going to be an absolute pleasure to use when it hits Warzone.
  • Splitting Overkill and Ghost is a good idea, we liked that a lot. The perks, in general, seem well-balanced - Ghost doesn't work while standing still, for instance.

The Bad

  • They've tried to deliberately slow the game pace down - switching weapons makes you cock the second weapon for instance, and slide canceling is far less effective thanks to speed penalties from chain sliding. The ADS times were slow on even the SMGs too. If they wanted a more tactical game with slower TTK, fine, but fast movement is part of Call of Duty's identity, and they shouldn't fight that.
  • Minimap, Minimap, Minimap. This was the single issue raised more than any other during the weekend; Twitter, Reddit, YouTube, everyone was talking about the Minimap. What they've done is opt for the MW 2019 Minimap, but what people have asked for is the classic Minimap. On the classic Minimap, any unsuppressed gunfire shows up as a red dot. They shouldn't mess with that.
  • Wall bangs are too easy. Clearly, they wanted to show off destructible environments, and the system is working, but they really shoved it down our throats - damn near everything on the map was penetrable. This explains why LMGs were working so well over the weekend. You could easily tell someone's general direction and then all you needed to do was keep firing towards them, and you'd eventually get the kill.
  • The sound mixing was a problem area; guns and footsteps were way too quiet. I'm not saying we want the footstep volume of MW 2019, but people were basically silent this weekend.
  • There were some minor features that were not there that should have been: FOV slider on consoles, pinging, and persistent lobbies. These are small fixes, but we've already seen the features work in BOCW so just bring them back, please.

The Ugly

  • Look at Call of Duty: World at War or WWII, they weren't cartoonish, but they were a lot more vibrant, this is all so muddied. It's like everything has been filtered through a brown lens. This might simply have been a problem with the map they chose to show us, but it led to very poor overall visibility. For the beta, they need to choose a bright and vibrant map, this is really key to winning good faith with the community again.

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The Call of Duty: Vanguard Alpha - Our Verdict

This wasn't a good map or mode to choose for the alpha. A domination or team deathmatch playlist on one of the game's brighter urban maps would have been a far easier sell to the fanbase. Regardless, there was a solid core game on display this weekend, and it should be easy for them to make the relevant changes provided they listen to the community right now.

The most pressing concerns revolve around the minimap, the visibility issues, and the general sluggishness of gameplay (slow ADS, chain-sliding penalties, etc.). It will be very telling if Sledgehammer will address these concerns over the coming days and weeks, but they said they were open to feedback, so we'll give them the benefit of the doubt for now.

Call of Duty: Vanguard has huge potential and a great many people will already prefer it to BOCW, but we need to see how well Sledgehammer responds to feedback - there's still a lot of tweaking to be done.

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