CoD Vanguard Beta first impressions: Catering to casual players more than ever

Vanguard Beta previewActivision

While CoD Vanguard’s base mechanics feel as smooth as any year prior, an abundance of casual-friendly boosts in the new Sledgehammer Games title shrink the skill gap more noticeably than ever before.

After months of anticipation, we finally got our first hands-on session with Vanguard’s multiplayer ahead of the upcoming Beta. Although Champions Hill provided an initial taste, this playtest gave us two full hours with various maps and modes to see how things are shaping up as we draw nearer to November 5.

From the very first spawn, it became apparent that Vanguard is among the best-looking Call of Duty titles to date. Though the more we played, the more we stopped focusing on the flashy visuals, as gameplay frustrations seeped in and nagging issues bogged the experience down.

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Vanguard is undeniably a competent FPS title, there’s no discrediting that. But this early glimpse gave the impression that casual gamers are by and large the core focus for this year’s multiplayer offerings.

Everyone can be a winner in CoD Vanguard

Vanguard GunsmithActivision
You can now equip a ludicrous 10 attachments on any given weapon, far more than any previous CoD title and double that of Cold War.

Right from the jump, it’s impossible not to feel the overwhelming impact of Vanguard’s new additions if you’re well versed in the CoD franchise. All but gone are the days where gun skill and game sense were king. Now, it seems as if anyone can thrive as gameplay systems directly cater to the lowest common denominator.

Finding it too difficult to keep your aim straight? No need to work on improving accuracy over time. Instead, Vanguard ramps this year’s Gunsmith up a notch, offering a whopping 10 attachments per weapon, a considerable bump from anything we’ve seen in previous years.

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While some provide the minor statistical buffs you may expect, others afford game-changing benefits. Take Ammo Types as a key example. Why use standard bullets when you can level up your gun and equip exploding ammunition instead? 

Not only does it improve your gun’s lethality, but it even deals extra damage over time. If you lose your gunfight, there’s still a chance to claim revenge from the grave.

Vanguard GunsmithActivision
Various new attachment types afford game-changing benefits.

Weapon Proficiency further adds to this casual-friendly catering with more must-pick boosters. 

Vital is a specific option that stood out in our early session while testing SMGs. This Gunsmith selection alone breaks the fundamentals of CoD. By expanding critical hitboxes on opposing targets, headshots are no longer even necessary to deal the utmost damage in Vanguard.

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Multiply this issue a few times over and suddenly everyone is running around the map with ridiculous builds that essentially go against what makes CoD great. Similar can be found outside of particular weapon attachments as well.

Felt cheated in previous years as killstreaks were stripped away upon death? Now they carry over between respawns. If you’re a casual player, that’s probably music to your ears. If you’re an experienced CoD player, you probably just groaned. 

Firing unsilenced weapons no longer reveals your position on the map. This was an extremely controversial change in the Modern Warfare Beta that led to a wave of backlash and ultimately, a swift reversion from the devs. Two years later and Vanguard is making the exact same mistake.

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Rather than sticking to the norm, Radar now comes in as a dedicated Perk to reveal enemy icons on your minimap as they fire. It’s illogical that we’re once again in this position.

Sledgehammer Games confirms Lucas Riggs will be staying Australian.Activision
CoD now feels catered towards the casual player more than any year prior.

These seemingly innocuous changes to core gameplay systems have drastic, overarching effects on Vanguard’s multiplayer experience. Less and less does it feel as though your individual skill makes a difference in CoD. Instead, anyone and everyone can feel good about their performance thanks to these cheap buffs and fundamental adjustments that ensure all comers get their fair share of kills.

With 10 attachments at once, many of which are obscenely powerful, it’s also a head-scratcher as to how Sledgehammer might balance Vanguard’s weaponry when it comes time to expand into Warzone. 

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Vanguard’s style over substance

Vanguard is set to launch with 16 original maps this November. In comparison to recent years, that’s a fairly significant bump. But what exactly can we expect from this lengthy list? After diving through four of these designs, it certainly feels like a mixed bag.

For the most part, maps appear to follow a three-lane structure, a formula that’s historically served the CoD series well. While some designs like Hotel Royal feel like your classic CoD layouts, new elements have a major impact on the flow of any given match.

Vanguard gameplayActivision
Map design was a mixed bag in this early Vanguard session.

Breakable walls are one thing, but glass panels are present a great deal as well. Shooting these out lets you drop to a different level in the blink of an eye. Obviously, in time, everyone will grow wary of these particular spots, but when combined with a haphazard spawn system, it gets a little too chaotic.

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Perhaps it’s down to the number of players on any given map, but regardless of whether it was a smaller battlefield or a larger, open layout, spawns were all over the place in this early session. Regardless of which angle you controlled, opposing players could appear from all directions at any given moment. 

Problematic spawns felt especially painful in Vanguard’s new Patrol mode. With a single objective floating through the map, teams are constantly rotating as the fight goes on. There’s very little predictability, little to no control, and actually playing for the objective almost feels like a lost cause.

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While the usual suspects like Domination and Kill Confirmed are back as you’d expect, only time will tell what additional modes will pad out Vanguard’s experience.

CoD Vanguard GavutuActivision
If Patrol is outright replacing Hardpoint in this year’s release, the competitive scene may be in for a rough cycle.

One thing we do know for certain, however, is that Combat Pacing will shake up the multiplayer matchmaking system we’ve grown accustomed to. Rather than a single pool of players for each mode, Combat Pacing splits each playlist into four distinct groups.

These groups directly alter team sizes and thus, the madness of each match. For casual players looking to rack up easy killstreaks, Combat Pacing lets you play standard game types on standard maps with considerably larger teams. While more options are usually a good thing, this new feature in Vanguard is a little concerning for minor regions.

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Here in Australia, it can often be hard enough to find full lobbies a few weeks out from the launch of a new CoD. With the player base now divided more than ever before, matchmaking times could quickly become a huge issue for smaller communities.

Vanguard gameplayActivision
Splitting the matchmaking pools may sound neat on paper, but it could prove detrimental in smaller regions.

Ultimately, Vanguard may offer a fun time for you and a few friends to mess around in here and there. But for the dedicated CoD fans who actively want to grind and improve in the latest title, this early taste sorely misses the mark of what makes the franchise great.

If all you’re seeking is a mindless battleground to run amok in, more power to you. Fundamentally, it’s still one of the most coherent FPS titles on the market today, as you’d expect from the CoD franchise. But this early Vanguard session wrapped up with no desire to jump back in until some form of competitive structure takes shape.

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