Call of Duty Vanguard (PS5) Beta Impressions – A Champion Hill To Die On
Like clockwork, a new Call of Duty is nearly upon us, while some of us are still playing through what's now the fifth season of Black Ops Cold War and still going strong. As the series comes full circle once more, the latest battlefield isn't a modern day one but rather the return to the greatest hits of World War II. For those who pre-ordered Call of Duty Vanguard (or have special invitations received from Activision, such as those we gave away a few days ago), the Open Beta is available earlier on PlayStation consoles before opening up to more platforms. Taking advantage of those extra days of gameplay, we spent the last day taking a look at what's to come in Call of Duty Vanguard.
Across the available modes in Call of Duty Vanguard, players will have the option to dabble in Champion Hill, both in Duos and Trio team play, as well as one rotating mode and a bigger playlist that throws in all of the various team-based modes together into one big hopper. Since the option to filter and limit yourself to one or two modes is disabled, you might have to play through a few matches of Team Deathmatch and Domination before the new Patrol game type appears.
Three game maps are available in the Call of Duty Vanguard Open Beta: Hotel Royal, Red Star, and Gavutu. Each map falls back onto the three-lane methodology to keep players from being funneled into one specific route, and each has its own different layouts in terms of elevation and hidden corners. Depending on the game mode, I found myself most interested in Hotel Royal. This map offered a large diversity between wide open battlefields with two main buildings to snipe from in the center courtyard and two anterior buildings with plenty of hallways and corridors to practice surprise shotgun blitzes in.
On the other hand, Hotel Royal featured three asymmetrical lanes of play across the top of the building, from one long stretch on one side of the building that's perfect for sniping foes to the interior bar and ballroom that turn into an absolute meat grinder on higher capacity modes. The third map, Gavutu, is a beach assault themed map with a crashed boat in the center of the map that's routinely camped by snipers that like to pop out and take a quick shot or two before going prone to avoid enemy fire (which is nothing a well placed molotov cocktail can't fix).
All three maps have this strange issue where the population doesn't quite match up with the size and scope of these maps most of the time. The various modes in Call of Duty Vanguard so far come in variations of 6v6, 10v10, and 14v14 Blitz. For a larger map like Gavutu, you might barely find a player for minutes at a time if you are trying to sneak around behind enemy lines. On the other hand, the interior sections of Hotel Royal are utterly claustrophobic at 14v14 players all rushing around with Tommy Guns and full auto STG44's. Ten-player teams seem like the sweet spot for these larger maps, and I'm eager to see if more classic maps will be retrofitted to support higher player counts.
In terms of the moment-to-moment gunplay, it's tough to say whether the balance is tuned for the better. Time to kill feels extremely short in close-range encounters for many of the fully automatic weapons, whereas staples like shotguns (especially the new revolver shotgun weapon type) feel underwhelming in most instances. The main bolt action sniper rifle, the 3-line, remains a one-hit kill and simply outclasses other weapons like the M1 Garand at longer range encounters. As this is very much an Open Beta for Call of Duty Vanguard designed to field test and see what works and what doesn't, don't expect much of the weapon balance and tuning to match what will launch in the final release in less than two months from now.
Scorestreaks have once again been replaced with Killstreaks in a way to differentiate Call of Duty Vanguard from the still-supported Black Ops Cold War. In the Open Beta, players have a choice to pick three from a list of ten various Killstreaks, most of which players will already be intimately familiar with from prior entries: Deathmachine and Warmachine (which persist through death until you run out of ammo), Care Package, Counter-UAV, and others remain common staples while a wearable Flamethrower Suit and Attack Dogs are the highest tier of Killstreaks. The Attack Dogs return as a one-hit kill deployment that will seek out enemy forces, and with how quickly they strike, they're more than a minor annoyance for the unlucky team to be on the receiving end. Other Killstreaks like the Personal Radar (simply called Radar this time around) might be more effective in the final game, where every new player doesn't already come equipped with the Ghost perk as part of their starting loadout.
Call of Duty Vanguard's loadout system feels like an expanded version of last year's system, even with how few options are available to the player. Primary weapon, secondary weapon, tactical and lethal, plus three perks make up the majority of each loadout. What's most surprising is how much customization there is to each weapon. Rather than being limited to five attachments in total, players can kit out their primary weapon with up to ten attachments simultaneously. In addition to the usual attachments, players can also slot in a weapon perk and ammo type for each weapon. In the current Open Beta, Frangible rounds seem like the most reliable option as they do much to hinder your intended target.
Champion Hill and Patrol are the two main new modes present in the Call of Duty Vanguard Open Beta. Patrol is a variant on single-point Domination where the control point is constantly moving throughout each map. Unfortunately, the spawning system is fairly busted to the point where you'll constantly drop into the middle of a group of enemies before you even have the chance to draw your weapon. Champion Hill is a much different type of gameplay that builds upon the Gunfight mode in Black Ops Cold War. All players start with the same starting gear and earn cash as they progress for new gear and weapon upgrades. Each match pits your team of two or three against another team as you proceed to be the last team standing. What makes Champion Hill so interesting is that rather than playing each match to Win/Lose, each team is given a pool of lives that persist all the way up to the final bout. If you scrape through the earlier rounds at a 6-5 win, you might not have enough lives left to survive the final matches. Just because you lost more lives than the enemy team doesn't eliminate you from Champion Hill; it's only when your team runs out of respawns that you're finally eliminated.
I swore to myself that I'd only play a couple of matches here and there to come up with this preview. Instead, I've spent more than half a dozen hours maxing out my M1928 and trying out different attachments and loadouts to various effect. The framework is solid for a classic era Call of Duty that'll grab my attention much better than Call of Duty WWII did in the long term. Now that we're back to the era of trench and blitz warfare, I'm eager to get my boots back on the ground when Call of Duty Vanguard launches on November 5th.
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