I don’t normally review betas of game, which is mostly because during the last couple of years betas have moved to being pre-order bonuses rather than actual open beta tests. However, the Call of Duty: Vanguard Open Beta surprised me, and not in a good way.
Firstly, I’ll give credit where its due. Vanguard does actually innovate beyond the typical COD gameplay thanks to its adjustable lobby size system (known as “Combat Pacing”). Instead of having specific small maps (or cut-down versions of maps) for 6v6 gameplay and large maps for big-team gameplay, each of the main maps can be played at different lobby sizes. Choosing the “Tactical” pacing creates a familiar 12-player (6v6) match, and the “Assault” pacing creates a 20-28 player match, while the “Blitz” pacing creates a match of between 28-48 players depending on the map. Players can choose to search just by mode, just by pace, or by mode and pace combined.
I think this idea is clever: firstly, it allows players to control how intense an experience they want in each individual gameplay session without fundamentally overhauling the entire game’s style and pace. Secondly, most COD games contain specific maps that are overplayed due to their chaotic and often-mindless nature (such as Shipment or any version of Nuketown) and other maps that are ignored or rejected by the playerbase due to being more open or only supporting slower-paced modes. In theory, allowing these larger maps to exist in a busier form, and these smaller maps to exist in a slower form, could be a great solution to this issue.
There are also a handful of new modes, such as Patrol (imagine Hardpoint but with a control zone that’s travelling around the map on a fixed path), VIP, and two-point Control, that add more variety. Of these, Patrol seems the most interesting because of how the moving point could limit the amount of both snipers and campers.
My remaining positive note is that the actual matchmaking worked well for a beta – in previous full COD releases, cross-gen Xbox parties were prone to crashing, having invitations/joining stop working, or even kicking players out mid-match. I didn’t have any of those issues with the Vanguard beta – matchmaking worked well across cross-gen and cross-play lobbies. (This faint praise is more of a damning for earlier COD games, to be honest).
However, I’ve now run out of nice things to say about Vanguard! Its flaws were so glaring that they massively outweighed the few positive developments and ideas.
The most important problem with the Vanguard beta was its graphical issues. Normally I’m not particularly fussy about graphical fidelity; I often find people’s complaints about games being “unplayable” due to minor graphical imperfections confusing. For me, the environments in Vanguard were generally good; they’re well-designed, they have nice skyboxes, and they seem to fit the WW2 timeframe. However, the poor quality of how the environments render, and their major visual glitches, mean that for once I’m using the unplayable label: for many people, this beta would have been difficult, or even unsafe, to play.
I’m surprised this beta build was even released, from a health and safety perspective as well as a marketing one. The visual glitches here go beyond ugly and into genuinely uncomfortable for me to watch; I wouldn’t be surprised if they caused issues for players who don’t normally experience photosensitivity during games.
I’m using an Xbox One S, and I mostly had these disco-light effects; I quickly nicknamed the Hotel Royal map as “Hotel Rave” because of how frequently the map was littered with flashing artifacts. (Players on next-gen consoles reported different forms of glitch, where objects turned into black spiky cubes, instead).
A video of some of the issues I experienced is below. If you aren’t a fan of strobe lights or have any kind of photosensitivity then don’t watch the clip – the images in this post will give you an idea of how pervasive the glitches were.
Players who tried Vanguard on its first beta weekend reported even more issues: excessive recoil and muzzle flash; distortion and smoke effects on firing that made using many weapons uncomfortable; and poor audio design that impeded players’ ability to hear moving enemies and gunfire. (By the time I installed the beta, the disortion effects had been switched off). So currently we have a COD game that managed to break shooting and hearing enemies, which feels as fundamentally wrong as a Mario game breaking its jumping.
After playing the Vanguard open beta, it seems like there are only two options to explain its unexpectedly poor state:
- The beta is a really old build that doesn’t show what Vanguard is like now.
- The beta is a recent build that does accurately show what Vanguard is like now.
Neither option bodes well for the dev teams, and I’m leaning towards option 2 being more likely. I think that if this was a very old build, then the dev teams would quickly have explained that in response to the complaints, and scrambled to show players photo/video evidence of a more recent build to prove that. The fact that players haven’t heard much beyond an acknowledgment of issues, and promises to solve those issues, suggests that the dev teams have given us the most recent stable build available despite its problems.
This means that I actually get to use my Failure tier! There some potentially good ideas inside Vanguard, including some map designs that could be great in a fully-finished game. I even put up with the headache-inducing visual glitches to keep trying some of these new modes and maps (and to put the video clips together). However, this beta just should not have been released in the state its in.
As a demonstration of a game that’s supposed to be released in six weeks, its a poor performance – the dev teams won’t have enough time to fix the issues the playerbase has highlighted, making their feedback of limited use. As a marketing beta (which so many betas unfortuntely are now), its likely to have put even long-term COD fans off from buying Vanguard either until its fixed or forever. The argument that the COD franchise needs to have a break from yearly releases is pretty common, and Vanguard might be game that amplifies that opinion to where Activision can’t ignore it.
To sum it up: COD: Vanguard is nowhere near ready yet, and I strongly doubt that it can be in a release-worthy state by November. If you’re interested in playing Vanguard because of the new ideas such as the pacing system, my recommendation is to wait and see how the dev teams get on after the game is released. There’s a pretty good game in there, but it needs months longer in the oven rather than weeks.