Call of Duty has an aggressive release schedule. There’s a game every single year, this can be overwhelming. It makes it tricky to pick between any two installments, with many just grabbing the most recent game. That’s not always the best pick though. Vanguard vs Cold War is a great example of how different CoD games can be. There’s a big variance in quality and it’s a good example of why the newest isn’t always the best.
These are both modern CoD games, so you can expect Gunsmith in the online, a zombies mode, and a campaign that not everyone bothers to touch. These are a lot of similarities but there’s a major difference in the end result. Even with similar base-level mechanics these two titles give you starkly different value for the AAA game price tag.
To many, Vanguard it failed to deliver a next-level experience and squandered the potential of the first next-gen CoD. The higher cost to players didn’t seem justified. If the game’s sales figures are anything to go by, players responded with apathy for CoD’s latest return to the Second World War. It highlights the differences between the separate teams working on CoD games.
While Vanguard went for familiarity, Cold War tried something different. It had expansive battles and faster gunplay. It doesn’t hit the mark every time. There are some clear misses here – the faster multiplayer in particular proved controversial with some fans still enamoured with Modern Warfare. Although, it at least it tries to stay fresh.
Cold War and Vanguard both had rough development. However, the disparity between the two finished titles is vast. More than ever, this disparity shows the differences between the various CoD development teams and their approaches to the franchise.
Reviews and player responses point toward one approach beating the other. Although, Vanguard vs Cold War isn’t quite as simple as “Vanguard bad, Cold War good” or as some long-time Call of Duty purists might put it “Cold War bad, Vanguard worse”. There’s more nuance.
One game definitely has the advantage, but you can break down how Vanguard vs Cold War compare in some key areas. Where they succeed and where they stumble, to find which is better.
Cold War vs Vanguard Multiplayer – The Tortoise and the Hare
The multiplayer is the real attraction of CoD. There’s no Call of Duty League for Zombies or story missions.
Cold War and Vanguard both take different approaches; one speeds things up and expands them outwards for heart-pounding action. While the other takes things back to basics and improves on the central mechanics.
Vanguard plays it safe, this is CoD as you remember it but polished. It feels more like an incremental improvement on past games, not a show-stopping next-gen entry for the biggest online shooter. Cold War on the other hand introduced new sprawling game modes and messed with the weapons to upset the balance of power. It stands out from MW, but not always in a good way.
Vanguard weapons aren’t as varied as in CW. It’s another Second World War game, with some limited options for guns, but what’s here can be exhilarating for a bit. That’s especially the case with mounting. You can’t escape the fact that this is the most basic Call of Duty kit though.
There’s no forced new mechanic or broken weapon that will have you throwing your controller at the screen in frustration. Although, there’s nothing particularly invigorating either. You likely won’t be on the edge of your seat unless this is your first Call of Duty.
It’s worth noting that Vanguard can’t really blame historical accuracy for its full weapons. The game is fast and loose with drum magazines and red-dot sights, not exactly limited by the period. More creativity could have made the game either fun and true to the period, or an exciting anachronistic blend.
The blame for Vanguard’s weapons is on bland design, not the setting.
In Cold War, the gunplay is swifter and can feel reckless. The SMG conquered all at launch. This balance hasn’t changed too much as the game progressed either, one style of play felt much more empowered here.
Cold War doesn’t have the most complicated meta in Call of Duty history. Aggressive gameplay is rewarded. Players move quickly, if you’re not going to get good at rushing you’ll be left behind.
Vanguard is a more standard Call of Duty, where Cold War changes things up. Although, Vanguard’s traditional approach feels less disjointed than Cold War’s brazen speed.
Both games have a grueling gameplay cycle for the weapons at first. You need to rack up weapon XP to unlock attachments. New players are at an instant disadvantage up against opponents in multiplayer as they have limited kit; you have a basic rifle and they have everything added over multiple seasons. In Vanguard vs Cold War both have this problem. Although, it’s still something to be aware of if you’re not buying at launch.
The Campaigns – Retreading Old Ground
Vanguard’s Fiery Return to the Second World War
Call of Duty Vanguard returns to familiar territory for the franchise with yet another Second World War game, but this time the end of the war. That’s a slight change but it’s hard to get too excited at that pitch.
The Vanguard campaign does a bit to set it apart. The story is mainly through flashbacks. It’s a narrative device that makes it more fun to progress through, but it doesn’t add much of substance. There are some nice additions here like the destructive map. Although, it just isn’t enough.
The gameplay lacks the creativity of the more iconic CoD campaigns. Even among World War 2 games, this is dull.
You’re not getting anything as entertaining as the Enemy at the Gates homage sniper battles from World at War or as startling as WWII’s suspenseful This is Liberation. No single mission here has that impact.
If you’re looking for a CoD World War 2 campaign, there are many better choices for a much smaller investment. Even for Sledgehammer Games, there’s better picks.
Cold War – Quieter Espionage
Call of Duty has visited the Cold War before, but Black Ops Cold War’s 80s theme feels a bit fresher.
You’re going to be playing a double agent infiltrating the KGB at times, at others you’re running louder operations with outright gunfights. That’s all without letting the Cold War get hot.
Black Ops Cold War has a lot of spy content. There are stealth-based missions throughout rather than all action. The title has enough impressive set pieces too. There are assassinations and high-stakes shootouts alongside the subterfuge.
This might not make a list of the best stealth games on PS5 or out-do Metal Gear. The settings actually pushes Call of Duty into less-conventional espionage territory, it’s a welcome change from the endless Second World War adaptations.
Some characters from past Black Ops games make appearances here but you create your own character. There are also multiple endings that reward your choices. It’s a level of personalization in the story that is striking compared to Vanguard.
Vanguard vs Cold War Zombies – Night and Day Efforts
Despite the two games coming from different developers, Zombies shares a source for both. Treyarch took care of Zombies mode for both games, a holdover from some earlier changes to which team took charge of which game. (We’ll go fully into these games’ development weirdness below) Strikingly though, one is an easy winner in Vanguard vs Cold War.
Vanguard has Zombie, but the content on offer only just qualifies. “Technically this exists” is never a great sign for one of a title’s most popular features.
There’s nothing new here, the content as a whole is servery lacking. It is a single game mode with an objective, without any of the flourishes that have made CoD Zombies so fun. If it doesn’t put you off the game mode entirely, you’ll only be left looking for a different CoD game that’s more than a demo.
This might be a result of it being developed alongside a newer title from Treyarch. If you’re looking for a comparison though, buying Vanguard for Zombies would be a waste of money.
Cold War on the other hand has a Zombies mode, both with the traditional gameplay and some new additions. Outbreak is a larger open-world area where players fight off the invading zombies while solving objectives. Larger maps help sell the horror on a grander scale and players are forced to step up their strategizing.
Cold War Zombies actually tried to be fun. Where Vanguard’s version might as well be an advert for future games from developers who can handle zombies.
Cold War Vs Vanguard – Which Game is More Popular?
We can go over which Call of Duty game is better balanced, or you could put it down to a simple popularity contest.
It’s reductive, sure, but popularity and reception are a clear indicator of how the Call of Duty fanbase found the titles. There’s an obvious winner here too. Vanguard was released with a whimper and it hasn’t grown much since. Cold War didn’t exactly surpass Modern Warfare, but it wasn’t a failure.
Call of Duty Vanguard reviews on release weren’t just bad, they were horrendous. Cold War got decent to passing grades. The sales figures clear things up too.
These figures show that Vanguard has been one of the worst-selling games in the entire franchise. That’s with the Call of Duty League and Warzone supporting the games now. The Call of Duty series continues to sell well compared to other franchises. This is still a major blow though. Especially coming right as Activision rolled otherwise successful teams like Toys for Bob into supporting CoD.
Vanguard also coincided with a dip in popularity for Warzone. Fortnite’s Chapter 3 improvements and missteps in Warzone definitely drew some focus away. However, it’s clear Vanguard’s better reviews being yawns had an impact on the game.
Vanguard’s poor figures might even have changed CoD forever. The series is ditching yearly releases. This is good news for fans of a quality Call of Duty and it shows Vanguard’s failure had real consequences. The end to the yearly schedule isn’t going to stop the hard monetization that’s infested the series lately though.
Slapdash iterations on the gameplay will no longer have CoD games just inexplicably flying off the shelves. If you’re thinking about CoD Vanguard vs Cold War in terms of what players thought, there’s one obvious winner here.
Vanguard and Cold War Developers
One Year Turn-Arounds and Squabbling Teams
Looking at Vanguard vs Cold War, it’s amazing these two came right after Modern Warfare. Activision’s approach to developers can help solve the mystery of how one year’s Call of Duty is revolutionary, and the next two gradually erase all goodwill.
Activision needs a game a year, but a developer cannot make one a year. So multiple developers are needed.
As Call of Duty has grown even more demanding, Activision has continued a three-year development cycle. This has led to more and more developers getting sucked into Call of Duty. This isn’t new.
CoD has long had alternating developers, it gives them slightly longer to actually develop a game without sacrificing any holiday sales without a new game. At first, it was Infinity Ward and Treyarch that took turns developing CoD. Infinity War originated the series and Treyarch began the popular Black Ops offshoot.
That was until Activision and Infinity Ward’s relationship imploded.
Sledgehammer Games’ backstory in Call of Duty dates back to 2011. It was then that most of Infinity Ward left the studio, including its founders. Sledgehammer stepped in to assist on Modern Warfare 3, really just trying to get a product out the door after Activision had tanked it.
Since then, Sledgehammer has been one of the cyclical developers of Call of Duty. They’ve never quite had a hit though. Their most recent two games, WWII and Vanguard, aren’t the most popular.
Treyarch is fully responsible for Black Ops. They make Call of Duty games that most fans can quickly identify. They’ve had good games and bad games. However, most would agree that they have an identity in the series. They’ve left a mark, and contributed a tone and style that makes their work undeniably theirs. In Cold War vs Vanguard, most fans could probably have predicted the outcome from the devs credited.
Sledgehammer Games haven’t fared as well with their releases, but it’s difficult to blame them entirely. The hurried nature of their recent release points to problems with the entire process of making Call of Duty for modern hardware. This is one that’s shown by the horrendous development periods both Cold War and Vanguard had.
Vanguard and Cold War both likely had nowhere near the already inadequate 3 years with one team. Let’s take a look at the timeline here.
The Timeline of Two Rushed Games
Development of Cold War was not smooth. These games have to make a yearly release, and CoD 2020 was just not happening. It wasn’t Treyarch’s game in its early stage though.
Cold War was initially being worked on by Sledgehammer Games and Raven Software. However, leaks from the time show this wasn’t working, disgruntled employees branded the entire project a mess.
Treyarch was pulled off their own game and forced into the lead role on CoD 2020 just to keep the ship afloat. They had less time to make the game, and putting out the product that they did was an achievement. They had to hand off the campaign to another team but managed to meet Activision’s release window.
With Treyarch yanked forward to fix the problems with the 2020 game, Sledgehammer was moved to 2021. In theory, this should mean a longer development time. It didn’t though.
Cold War’s shorter cycle meant Vanguard did not get the resources it needed until much closer to release. Cold War took priority. It’s unlikely that Sledgehammer had three years to make this game. Even with the time they got, Treyarch once again had to step in to make Zombies.Activision’s had two Call of Duty games in a row that scarcely made their release dates. The franchise had become a train moving at break-neck speed with the tracks unconstructed ahead of it. Unsustainable and precariously balanced.
Vanguard’s Perfect Storm of Problems
This development cycle would have been a mess in any year. However, 2021 was a perfect storm. The Covid-19 pandemic hit both 2020 and 2021 developed. That’s along with new consoles releasing.
Vanguard had to impress on stronger hardware, still function with old consoles, continue on PC, and do this with even less time and resources.
This period also coincided with massive upheaval at Activision Blizzard. Details of working conditions went from a stream of whistleblowers to a mass movement calling for board resignation. On Vanguard’s eventual release, it minimized Activision branding.
This is no excuse for releasing sub-par content for the highest price ever in the series. It does give context on Vanguard’s shortcomings and Cold War’s strange disjointed features though.
These might all be reasons why Vanguard was the worst performing release for CoD.
Cold War had a bad time in development. Although, pumping out yet another yearly release in Vanguard was a nightmare all of Activision’s making.
Where Does CoD Go After Vanguard and Cold War?
In this context, ditching the yearly release schedule is the best move for the series.
These may be two of the messiest development cycles in Call of Duty history. Vanguard vs Cold War shows neither is the best game, but it’s easy to see how that happened.
Fans probably aren’t shaking in anticipation for Sledgehammer Games’ next release. Although, every developer has problems with Activision’s yearly grind.
But this isn’t the end.
Major changes are coming to CoD’s development cycle and ownership of the franchise. We don’t know where the series will go, but it has a brighter outlook than the last two games.