CoD Vanguard exclusive: Sledgehammer Games explains how new weapons are tuned for Warzone

CoD Vanguard sniper gameplayActivision

Call of Duty Vanguard is now out in the wild meaning players can go hands-on with 38 new weapons. But with more attachments than ever before, unique traits baked in, and Warzone to keep in mind, what went into balancing the latest additions? We spoke with a number of key developers at Sledgehammer Games to gain some insight on the process.

Years prior, when a new CoD title dropped, the initial slate of weapons on offer were typically locked for the 12 months that followed. These guns were used in multiplayer modes alone before a new release cycled into the annual spotlight with its own weaponry warchest.

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Nowadays, the process is a little more complicated.

Not only do newer weapons offer more customization than their older counterparts, with dozens of attachments to pick from, but these exact same guns can also be used across multiple games. As a result, when each new CoD rolls around, developers now have to factor in a great deal more than they previously did. Namely, with more than 100 weapons soon to be in the mix in Warzone’s Pacific update, there are plenty of plates being juggled all at once.

So how exactly does it work? What goes into building new weapons for the CoD franchise in 2021? How do developers keep on top of the sheer amount of content that needs to be balanced across multiple titles?

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We spoke with developers at Sledgehammer Games to figure it all out ahead of Vanguard’s November 5 release.

How guns are balanced in Vanguard, Warzone

CoD Vanguard marks the entry of another 38 weapons in the franchise. This time around, each piece of equipment comes from the WWII era and while the set is currently available in multiplayer for now, it’s soon arriving in Warzone through the Season One update on December 2.

For the second year running, devs have had to keep the immensely popular battle royale in mind when building weapons. Rather than focusing exclusively on how it functions in multiplayer, Warzone also has to be factored in.

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Throughout the development of this year’s release, all weapons were “purpose-built for Vanguard,” Lead Designer Zach Hodson told us. The team at Sledgehammer has then been keeping a “separate balance sheet to track how things might work in Warzone.”

CoD Vanguard gameplaySledgehammer Games
Every new Vanguard weapon has to be manually tuned for Warzone.

Take weapon recoil, for instance. What feels good in Vanguard’s multiplayer modes may not feel the same when implemented in Warzone. As a result, specific adjustments need to be made by other dev teams.

“One bit of insight is that [Vanguard] guns have more recoil than you’ll have seen in previous CoD games. That doesn’t necessarily translate perfectly to Warzone,” Hodson explained. 

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“So there’s a bit of adaptation that needs to go in on the Warzone side to bring the guns over in a similar way to what’s been done before with Cold War and Modern Warfare.”

Settling on 10 upgrade slots for each Vanguard gun

Not only did Sledgehammer Games have to consider Warzone when building its new set of weapons, but the arsenal also had to balance around a first for the franchise: 10 customizable slots at once.

While some earlier titles maxed out with a Pick-10 system, including all guns, perks, and equipment under one allocation, Vanguard marks a huge step forward with a whopping 10 points of customization available with each individual weapon.

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Warning Track vanguard warzone blueprint stg 44Activision
Vanguard’s Gunsmith allows for more customization than any previous CoD.

“The reason why we went with 10 slots was really based on being able to change up the power of the attachments instead of having attachments compete,” Hodson said. In more recent CoD games, with only five slots available, “they’re all competing with each other.”

Bucking this trend and going all-out with personal choice, Vanguard was designed with the philosophy of letting players “do whatever they wanted with [their] guns.”

From Optics and Magazines to Ammo Types and Grips, it’s an unprecedented level of freedom for a CoD release. Naturally, that comes with its own set of hurdles throughout development.

“We did a couple of things to stay away from overwhelming the players,” Hodson outlined. “The slots unlock in a bit of a stagger, so you don’t immediately get to 10.”

Warzone Pacific's Vanguard playlists finally revealedActivision
Warzone players will have more options on their hands after the Vanguard integration on December 2.

Moreover, the team intentionally designed most attachments with significant “trade-offs” built-in. While a certain Magazine might boost your reload speed, for example, it may come at the cost of your Aim Down Sight Speed. Thus, not every slot is “mandatory to fill to get the most potential.”

“In some builds, we’ve found even leaving a slot on the default has been one of the better choices.”

“At this point, we’ve gotten great feedback for the 10 attachments,” Hodson added. “The way that you customize the weapon feels reasonable in terms of balance and just offer so much personalization on the gun.”

In contrast to the options available in Sledgehammer’s 2017 release set in the same era, customization is far greater than what it once was, Creative Director Greg Reisdorf chimed in.

“That was another thrilling piece about going back to World War II and having Gunsmith on top of that, now you’re able to truly personalize your loadout and make it yours. There’s so many combinations that you can create.”

call of duty vanguardActivision
Vanguard marks the third batch of new weapons to arrive in Warzone.

Expect to see plenty of variation over the coming weeks as the community comes to grips with Vanguard’s updated Gunsmith. Before long, Warzone will also be getting in on the action with 10 attachment builds for the new Caldera map.

There’s plenty happening in the CoD space to round out 2021 so be sure to keep up to speed with everything here and follow along at @DexertoIntel on Twitter.