Call of Duty: Vanguard multiplayer is predictably fun and unfortunately messy.
The collection of launch maps are versatile and incredibly detailed, offering you a beautiful Italian village in one match and the rooftop of a posh French hotel in another. There isn't a bad map in the bunch, which makes it easy to head into every match excited for how it will play out. The gunplay is pretty solid, with a refined customization system allowing for myriad ways to make each gun your own. The game modes offer a ton of variety that lets you tailor matchmaking to your particular playstyle. In short, it's a solid Call of Duty title that you can easily lose hours to.
But Vanguard is unfortunately messy. The near-perfectly designed maps are mired by glitches and crowded visual fields, and the fast and fun cadence to play is consistently upended by a broken spawn system and intense killstreak animations. Vanguard has some great ideas, but many feel like they could use some additional polish.
The broken spawn
Spawn placement was an issue during the Call of Duty: Vanguard beta, so it's surprising to see it resurface at launch. Looking back to the test over the summer, the issue of unpredictable and poorly-spaced spawn points was actually addressed by developer Sledgehammer Games – the studio took to Twitter (opens in new tab) to announce that it had deployed a fix to "adjust spawn logic." While the fix may have worked then, there's a persistent lack of respawn logic to Vanguard in its post-launch state.
At least once every several games, I respawn and immediately die to an enemy who I've clearly just appeared in front of. The first time it happened, I couldn't even figure out what had taken place: I spawned and within a second my Polina Operator was slumped over like a ragdoll. The second time, however, it became clear that there is an issue with the Call of Duty: Vanguard spawns. After dying to an enemy camped in the kitchen of the swanky Hotel Royal map, I respawned seconds later in nearly the exact spot I had just died in, directly in front of the player who had just killed me. Naturally, they got me again, with little fanfare.
I've taken advantage of the current spawn system, myself, don't get me wrong. I've gotten my fair share of multi-kills on Castle thanks to a team spawning directly in my iron sights while I'm perched on a rooftop – but it feels like a cheap get. It's always frustrating to be killed by an enemy that you aren't even given the chance of facing off against; multiplayer shooters need solid spawn logic, giving players a little room to breathe after getting killed and the game an opportunity to rotate action around a map.
I'm not the only person this is happening to – not by a long shot. Reddit forums and Twitter threads are littered with players lamenting the Vanguard spawn points, like this one where a player spawns less than a foot in front of an enemy (opens in new tab) or this one where multiple members of an enemy squad continue to spawn in next to their assailants (opens in new tab). Some players have pointed out that Modern Warfare and Black Ops Cold War spawns were an issue shortly after launch, which was seemingly fixed over time, but it's easy to wonder why this is a persistent problem with Call of Duty releases.
Rough around the edges
Aside from the broken spawns, Call of Duty: Vanguard's rough edges show in other areas too. The infamous dognado during the Vanguard beta saw the attack dog killstreak turn into a swirling mass of German Shepherds that skittered across the map like something out of The Thing. Sledgehammer removed the dognado, but the attack dogs still remain somewhat broken - I've seen them magically teleport inside rooms, eat an inordinate amount of bullets, and die but remain eerily upright for the remainder of the match.
The dogs aren't the only killstreak that suffers in Vanguard. A handful cause your screen to dramatically shake, or push so much debris and particles in front of your face that it makes it incredibly difficult to see or move. Most confusingly, it seems friendly killstreaks will have the same dizzying effect on you as enemy ones, as I noticed when a friendly bombing run shook my screen so intensely I froze in the middle of a chokepoint and died instantly.
Even when my screen isn't bucking like a bronco, I find myself struggling to see *anything* in Vanguard. The maps are visually dense, packed with foliage and breakable elements that leave heaps of debris everywhere. Certain maps have weather patterns that add lashing rain or swirling snow to the visibility equation. Considering Vanguard's rather flat color palette, this can make it difficult to pick out enemy operators unless you pay close attention to the nametags floating overhead. And with Call of Duty Vanguard bloom (or bullet spread) existing as a hidden mechanic, it's a helluva lot harder to hit enemies than ever before.
The post-match MVP screens are often hilariously rendered, with character models looking like something that rises from the depths of the uncanny valley. It doesn't help that you're forced to sit through these voting periods for at least 10 seconds after every match, which gives you ample time to notice that someone's hair has rendered like uncooked spaghetti. It's a great idea, giving players a chance to get some post-game commendations outside of topping the leaderboard, but you should have the option to back out and return to the lobby during them. At the moment, they needlessly lock you into watching these post-match MVP screens, so they quickly get tedious. And in the very, um, spicy world that is post-match comms, they're often just 15 seconds of discordant screaming.
Despite all of this, I still soldier on match after match in Vanguard, which is a testament to the core formula that Call of Duty titles return to year after year. It's fun to run around and gun down enemies, and Vanguard has a great selection of core maps that make it difficult to pick a bad one out of the bunch. It's a solid shooter that can definitely keep players occupied until the Call of Duty: Warzone integration in early December (if not next year's installment to the series), but unless a patch arrives to fix these issues quickly, I can't see it pulling me away from the consistently fun Apex Legends Escape season or the shiny new world of Battlefield 2042.