Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty PC Demo Impressions – Satisfying Rhythm-Based Combat

In today’s gaming climate, releasing a free demo is emblematic of a developer’s utmost confidence — even more so on PC, a platform that has consistently received the short end of the stick in terms of optimisation. Team Ninja’s latest, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, shows some promise — it’s a theatrical dark-fantasy getaway that feels like a lovechild born of Nioh and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. The short demo gives us a peek into its China-set lore and showcases its flashy combat as well as new features that will ease your journey inoto the intimidating Souls-like experience. However, for a game that’s merely days away from launch, it also exposes some microstutters and a major issue with keyboard and mouse controls.

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Demo impressions: PC controls and camera

As a Koei Tecmo-published title, control issues on PC were somewhat expected, but I commend Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty’s controls for being far less complicated than those of the Nioh series of games from which it feels descended. Keyboard + mouse button prompts can be enabled, which is a major step up from 2021’s Nioh 2 PC port, which only showed controller button icons no matter what scheme you used. Sure, this was fixed in a patch, but until that happened, players were forced to spend time acquainting themselves with the mapping.

Camera controls in the Wo Long demo also aren’t up to par, and fail to respond well when using a mouse. Even after maxing the in-game sensitivity setting, I couldn’t shake the feeling of moving through sludge, as the camera would slow down at points and then a sudden jerk would turn it around. This was fairly common with vertical movement and when running around the map. Switching to a DualSense controller made the experience smooth and snappy. As someone who has played every Souls-like on a KB+M setup, the switch wasn’t easy, so I constantly swapped between low and high mouse DPI settings based on the situation. Thankfully, this didn’t pose a big problem during combat, as I could simply lock on to enemies.

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Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Demo impressions: Premise and character creation

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty throws you into a fictionalised version of the later Han Dynasty in China, plagued with demonic forces. Meanwhile, a mysterious Taoist in Black clings to the ideal of the Elixir — a rare substance that seemingly grants immortality. Amidst the madness and eternal bloodshed of the times, a hero rises, who we build in the character creation screen. I’d suggest going all-out with the customisation here since free demo progress carries over to the full game. You might as well save yourself some time after launch. The creation options here, while in-depth, are subtle, so any major changes to your character’s appearance won’t be evident unless you drag a slider to its extreme ends. Unlike Dark Souls, you can’t really mess around with crazy skin colour to create a pasty green Grinch or a blue Smurf, either. The most you can get is a light olive tone.

After selecting a base figure — male or female — you can mess around with their facial structure, hairstyle, and makeup; even including some dashing scars. Each eye can be edited to look a distinct colour, with adjustments to pupil sizes and shapes. You can even stretch ears to resemble those of an elf. Pick an ideal physique, decorate your body with tattoos, add an elongated neck for effect — those are just some of your options. None of this has any effect on your stats, though.

There’s a limit to how absurdly creative you can get with your characters
Photo Credit: Screenshot/ Rahul Chettiyar

You start out as a nameless soldier fighting the Yellow Turban Rebellion and eventually grow into a legend. If you’re short on time, pick a model from the numerous character templates, one of whom is a spitting image of William Adams, the protagonist from Nioh. Cool easter egg!

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Demo impressions: Gameplay and combat

The latest free demo consists of two key Chapters, the first of which places you in a village engulfed in flames with sparks flying about. The framerate is a little rough and choppy here, partly thanks to smoke and particle effects, though these remained consistent even in combat, in my experience. Enabling V-sync and motion blur barely had an effect on performance, which was disappointing. Things got smoother in the boss area and beyond, but I can see this opening segment leaving a bad impression on many people. The second area ran near buttery smooth at a consistent 60fps, but with minor hiccups.

Sekiro veterans will feel right at home here, as Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty’s gameplay relies on perfectly timed parries. You can try evading or blocking enemy attacks, but that will lead lead to needlessly long and drawn-out fights. Foes are smarter here, so they will stay en garde as long as you keep spamming attacks. And so, you remain patient. You wait until the very last second — when they’re just about to hit you — and then quickly deflect the assault, throwing them off balance to get a couple of strikes in. Repeat the process once the enemy reassumes their defensive stance, and you’ve basically mastered the core gameplay loop. However, depleting their health bars isn’t the only way to achieve victory.

‘Hesitation is defeat,’ a quote from Sekiro, fits perfectly in the context of Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty’s combat
Photo Credit: Koei Tecmo

“Hesitation is defeat” is a quote from Sekiro that fits perfectly in this context. You see, the game has a Spirit Gauge that fills up as you successfully land hits or deflect incoming ones, granting you the ability to use martial arts, Spirit (heavy) attacks, and Wizardry Spells. The only way to ensure that its level stays up is to play aggressively, but beware, as getting hit by an enemy not only reduces your Spirit, but your health too. That said, it works the same way with baddies, so you could unload a barrage of attacks until their Spirit Gauges are drained, essentially staggering them and leaving them open to a fatal blow. It’s the same posture bar mechanic that Sekiro has, where your adversaries can have 100 percent health, but once you break their stance, it’s GGs.

There’s a steep learning curve to this combat style, especially when fighting demons with flailing movesets. But once it clicks, you realise that every fight is a dance, with the metallic clang of weapons serving as beats. There is a specific rhythm to it that you need to find.

The boss Zhang Liang has a terrifying second phase where he grows a flailing demonic arm
Photo Credit: Screenshot/ Rahul Chettiyar

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Demo Impressions: Exploration and looting

Compared to the Nioh games, exploration is more open, with a focus on verticality. You can jump onto huts to discover an opening in the roof that leads inside or search for loot elsewhere in the world. Who knows? You might come across handy shortcuts along the way. If you’re lucky enough, you can acquire better weapons, each catering to a different playstyle. The Polearm Podao that I found early in the game helped create some distance between myself and foes, whilst dealing swift piercing damage. On the other hand, the Great Club of Polaris, which I earned by defeating the first boss, Zhang Liang, dealt high damage numbers but was too heavy and slow for my liking. While you can beat the game with a single weapon, switching them based on enemy attack patterns is the ideal way to go. Additionally, if fighting a group head-on feels scary, simply whip out your bow and arrow, and shoot them from afar — one by one.

Weapons cater to different playstyles and scale with specific attributes
Photo Credit: Screenshot/ Rahul Chettiyar

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Demo Impressions: Morale system

Difficulty in Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty ties into a Morale system, which is indicated by a floating number above each enemy’s head, helping you gauge whether it’s safe to engage them in combat or not. Think of it as a secondary levelling, so the higher your Morale rank, the stronger you are. However, if you die to an opponent, you lose the XP you collected throughout your run, and your Morale resets. Death results in the enemy stealing your Morale, and the only way to get it back is to kill the being who beat you last time — only now, they are way stronger. Still, it’s nothing a few perfectly timed deflects can’t solve.

Some of this resetting can be mitigated via Fortitude, which can be raised by placing flags at designated posts, preventing your Morale from ever dropping to absolute zero. For instance, if you collected 8 Fortitude, no matter how many times you die, your Morale will not fall below 8. This guarantees you have a better chance at redemption. The free Wo Long demo also includes a quality-of-life indicator in the top-right corner — a radar of sorts and icons that denote any remaining flagposts you can collect.

Morale is indicated by a floating number above the enemy’s heads
Photo Credit: Screenshot/ Rahul Chettiyar

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Demo impressions: Levelling

Flagposts also serve as checkpoints — or bonfires, as they’re called in Dark Souls — for levelling up your character and resetting ailments. These are divided into five phases or virtues. Wood affects your HP, Fire determines Spirit build-up when attacking, and Earth indicates your equipment weight limit. The Metal attribute lessens Spirit consumption when casting spells, and Water helps with stealth. In the early stages of this game, Wood might seem like the best choice, but once you master the art of deflection, you’ll realise how much more potent the other phases are. Some of these help with weapon scaling, granting bonus damage depending on what armament you’re wielding. Furthermore, these posts also let you fast-travel to other checkpoints, summon AI or players online for co-op, and even learn Wizardry Spells.

You can level up your character at Flagposts
Photo Credit: Screenshot/ Rahul Chettiyar

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Demo impressions: Wizardry Spells

All spells in the Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty demo align directly with the five aforementioned elements. Fire is more offence-based, letting you hurl fireballs, summon pillars of flame, or imbue weapons with temporary buffs. Alternatively, opting for water-based magic can briefly turn you invisible, send out a blinding fog, teleport you short distances, or even let you throw sharp icicles that freeze and slow down enemies. Poison or curse purists can dump their points into the Metal class, while lighting attacks and the ability to heal yourself align with Wood. There’s a lot to experiment with here.

You can only hold four Wizardry Spells at a time, which I personally think is sufficient. On keyboard, they are assigned to the 1–4 number keys for quick access — no unnecessarily long combinations. My only gripe with spells is the casting time, which could be reduced. You can also summon Divine Beasts to come in and deal destructive damage, when you’re in a pickle.

By learning Wizardry Spells, you can summon bolts of lightning to rain down on enemies
Photo Credit: Koei Tecmo

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty Demo impressions: Closing thoughts

The PC demo for Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, much like other Koei Tecmo releases, certainly has issues with optimisation and keyboard + mouse controls. However, once you look past that, it offers a hard-to-master yet rewarding combat system, flexible exploration in an otherwise linear world, and tools to ease your playthrough. As an extension of the punishingly difficult Nioh games, the studio is clearly catering to a larger audience with its latest release, and this free demo serves as a great showcase to see if it suits you. Beneath all the mythology-inspired visual glamour, I suspect the narrative will involve some well-worn tropes, but as a video game, it shows deep promise. Plus, this game will be available for free to Xbox Game Pass members, which is always a positive!

Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty releases March 3 on PC, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series S/X. The demo is now available to download for free across all platforms, with progress carrying over to the full release.

Finishing the demo grants access to a Crouching Dragon Helmet DLC.

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Far Cry 6 Review: Unrevolutionary Caribbean Adventure Is Mighty Fun in Co-Op

Far Cry 6 — releasing Thursday worldwide — is not a great game. It often retreads what have become Ubisoft clichés. But at times, it’s a really fun game. Far Cry 6 has moments of genuine inspiration where its combination of tropical paradise, co-op support, and new ideas fuse together to deliver something memorable. But between those admittedly enjoyable adventures, Far Cry 6 will also make you do a series of things that aren’t too different from one another. That sameness is pervasive. It feels like padding, though it’s nowhere near as bad as on Ubisoft’s other major franchise, Assassin’s Creed. That said, the world of Far Cry 6, Yara — a fictional Caribbean island that is heavily based on Cuba in many aspects — is the biggest you’ll ever see in a Far Cry game.

Yara is ruled by Antón Castillo, played by Breaking Bad and The Mandalorian’s Giancarlo Esposito, who was essentially elected on the promise to “Make Yara Great Again”. Castillo believes sacrifices are necessary to achieve that dream, so he begins ruling Yara with an iron fist. His 300,000-strong armed force Fuerzas Nacionales de Defensa (FND) controls the land, the skies, and the waters. No can get out, no can get in. The protagonist, a former FND officer Dani Rojas — playable as a woman (Nisa Gunduz) or a man (Sean Rey) — wants to do exactly that in the beginning. They just want to leave Yara for good. But after witnessing Anton’s horrors first hand, Dani joins the guerrilla movement Libertad that is trying to free Yara. It’s time for a revolution.

This is where the new ideas start to come in. After being a support studio on previous entries, and co-developing Far Cry 5 with Ubisoft Montréal, Ubisoft Toronto finally takes the lead on a Far Cry game for the first time. And for the first time since the first-person shooter franchise began, the protagonist in Far Cry 6 has a face. Not only do you see them in cutscenes, you also see them in third-person view at friendly camps. Given that Ubisoft took the pain of designing third-person view, I would have loved it if they allowed you to switch between first and third-person view in combat and driving too.

Why Far Cry 6 Player Character Dani Rojas Has a Face, a First for Far Cry

Since I’m on the topic of bias, personally I would’ve also loved it if Ubisoft put a bigger emphasis on Spanish casting. There’s too much English here, clearly because Far Cry 6 is designed primarily for English-speaking audiences. Yes, there is a Spanish dub option in the settings, but it doesn’t involve any of the main cast, including Esposito. I spent some time with the Spanish version, and though it feels more authentic and immersive — as with Japanese on Ghost of Tsushima — I ended up reverting to English because a) lip-sync and b) I can’t spoil Esposito’s face and acting with a dubbed voice.

Far Cry 6 combat

The goal on Far Cry 6 is to overthrow Castillo and his friends who control various parts of Yara. Along the way, you will to have form alliances aka do the bidding of three major factions that have a lot of influence among the commoners of Yara. Far Cry 6 narrative director Navid Khavari noted that this was a deliberate story choice, how in a revolution every side doesn’t want the same thing and their approaches don’t always align.

As for your combat approach, Far Cry 6 allows you to choose between the quiet stealth way or go out all guns blazing. I’m glad that it allows the user to pick and doesn’t force you into one or the other. You can make your way into mission area in a variety of ways too. You can take a boat and sneak in from under a fort. Zip line and swing in from the sides. Rappel and climb from another front. Or just drive through the front gates.

Tanks can be deadly in Far Cry 6
Photo Credit: Ubisoft

That said, Far Cry 6 encourages you to scout from high ground before bursting in. Using your phone, you can mark enemies and get a sense of what you’re up against. There are new enemy types in Far Cry 6, drawn from the fact that you’re not dealing with rogues like before but a full-fledged armed force at Castillo’s disposal. In addition to the standard riflemen and snipers, there are FND officers with varying ranks who can boost morale (read: stats), bring in reinforcements, and even call in airstrikes. Medics can help injured soldiers and revive them if they are bleeding to death. And engineers will plant turrets or trigger EMPs that will disable your vehicle. You know, they work like a unit. The FND also use shields, animals, tanks, alarm systems, and trip wires — by scouting, you know what can be disabled.

Far Cry 6 weapons

To deal with all these threats, Far Cry 6 gives you access to special weapons in addition to a range of standard weapons. At any point, you can have four weapons in the weapon wheel: a sidearm and three primary weapons. For the latter, you can pick between rifles, snipers, shotguns, and Resolver weapons.

Drawn from Cuba’s make-do-with-what-you-have Resolver way of life, Far Cry 6 lets you unlock a bunch of unique handcrafted guns: a flamethrower, a crossbow, a riot shield, silent nail gun, and a poison gun that turns enemies on each other. On top of all that, Far Cry 6 has “Supremo” backpacks that are like an additional super weapon. They offer guided missiles, an explosive ring, EMP pulse generator, or a rage booster that turns you into a mini-Hulk. It all feels very Just Cause-y, though it’s going even further with the zaniness, I must admit.

Far Cry 6 Is All About Cuba, but Yara Is Not Cuba

When you use Supremos, Far Cry 6 briefly switches into third-person view to show you how the backpack functions. But that’s the only time you’ll see third-person during combat on Far Cry 6. More importantly, I would’ve appreciated a bit of manual control for Supremos. On one occasion, when there was a plane flying across in the sky, the backpack automatically locked onto the plane rather than the anti-aircraft installation that I was trying to target.

Gunplay is quite satisfying on Far Cry 6. You will grow into it, I believe, because you start off with weak weapons that give you the feeling you’re not entirely in control. But it gets better fairly quickly, as you unlock more powerful rifles with better scopes and other weapon mods.

Resolver weapon in Far Cry 6
Photo Credit: Ubisoft

All this equipment and weapon variety is important to Far Cry 6 because Ubisoft Toronto has ditched the RPG-style skill trees that were present in some of its predecessors. Though you still earn XP and level up, you won’t get any points that unlock new abilities. Those buffs have been transferred to the armour and clothing you put on. As you make your way across Yara, you will find new gloves, trousers, masks, and chest pieces that will dictate what kind of benefits you get. Weapon modding allows you to pick between various ammo choices — some are good against others but poor elsewhere. You can discover this when you’re scouting. Of course, headshots are headshots as always though (I had a lot of fun with this). You can also insta-kill by using a bow, or sneaking up to them.

Far Cry 6 vehicles and amigos

You can also kill enemies using the vehicles available in Far Cry 6. You’ve tanks, helicopters, planes, and cars and boats with turrets. (You can use all of them to get from point A to point B as well, in addition to horses which are back in Far Cry 6 and quite enjoyable.) Though you’ve to be careful how and where you use them. The FND has anti-aircraft installations across Yara. Wade into an area with one and you will invariably be shot down. If you jump out in time, you can deploy a parachute or wingsuit — the latter is especially fun — to land safely.

You can destroy the anti-aircraft guns. But as you cause chaos in Far Cry 6, your “heat” meter will rise. The maximum heat level is “wanted”, which brings in the FND special forces. But during my playtime, they didn’t pose a bigger threat or anything weirdly. My Xbox game stats tell me I shot down a bunch of special forces, but I don’t recall anything different or tougher from the ones I was already killing.

All You Need to Know About Far Cry 6

To participate in the mayhem, you can also bring in an animal companion. The Fangs for Hire system returns as “Amigos” on Far Cry 6. Amigo choices include an alligator, dogs, and even a rooster. They will help you in combat by attacking or distracting enemies — this also feeds into the stealth or all-out approach. Amigos aren’t that helpful though honestly, and they seem like a thing that exists to sell toys and generate buzz on social media. I mean, that’s already happening with Chorizo, the wheelchair weiner dog that’s one of the Amigo options.

Since Amigos follow you everywhere, it results in hilarious scenarios at times. While dogs can get in alongside you in cars, alligators will follow your vehicle endlessly. They become weirdly inaccessible at times — not reappearing even after you try to call them back.

The alligator amigo Guapo in Far Cry 6
Photo Credit: Ubisoft

Far Cry 6 co-op

Far Cry 6 currencies

There are four in-game currencies in Far Cry 6: depleted uranium, Yaran pesos, Moneda, and Far Cry Credits.

Depleted uranium is found at army bases and anti-aircraft installations. It is needed to unlock more Supremo backpacks and Resolver weapons.

Yaran pesos is found on dead soldiers and in loot. You can use it to buy gear, weapons, and intel from double agents.

Moneda can be used to purchase unique weapons at a store.

Far Cry Credits come with pre-orders and special editions. You can also buy it with real money, an egregious practice that Ubisoft continues despite charging Rs. 4,000 or more for games upfront. Far Cry Credits can be used on the in-game store to buy cosmetics and more.

But dogs don’t fit in always too, depending on the vehicle and the number of amigos. That brings me to co-op.

Like previous entries, Far Cry 6 supports co-op across the entirety of its campaign. I wish Ubisoft also provided this opportunity with its other major franchises, Assassin’s Creed and Watch Dogs. Every game is more fun with friends, naturally. You get support during missions — I loved taking down a pair of soldiers at the same time with a friend — but you can also just have a good time around Yara. In a car, one can drive and the other can handle the turret. Jump into a helicopter, with one person flying and firing missiles, and the other as a gunner. Or heck, you can even get into a motorbike with a sidecar and have your own Sholay moment in Far Cry 6.

Playing co-op also helps you earn Moneda, an in-game currency that you can only get via co-op and special operations. There are a couple of niggles with co-op support though. You can’t access a vehicle’s additional controls like the radio or missiles. Additionally, you can’t go too far from your partner in co-op — unlike The Division 2 (also from Ubisoft) where there were no limitations. And sadly, there’s no support for cross-platform play. But it does offer cross-gen co-op support, on par with Watch Dogs: Legion and The Division 2.

Far Cry 6 missions and more

Thanks to the largest Far Cry map ever, Far Cry 6 has a lot of story missions to offer. As I pointed out earlier, some feel repetitive: travel to a place, kill everyone there, and you’re done. Some missions also quickly fell behind my rank. Though initially my level seemed to be falling behind what was required, eventually it was ahead of the missions available to me. I would’ve liked a The Division-type mechanic that ensured some quests were always at my level. Being level 7 and doing a level 3 mission is not very appealing.

Co-op horseriding in Far Cry 6
Photo Credit: Ubisoft

But there are other missions in Far Cry 6 that put a smile on your face. An early mission called Fire and Fury is scored to the famous revolution song “Bella Ciao”. No, it’s not called ‘that Money Heist song’. There’s another mission that feels like it belongs in a Bond film, except it would have been perfect if Ubisoft had the right sense to make it take place at night.

If you’re not in the mood for missions, Far Cry 6 has side activities on offer too. You can spend your time and money fishing, buying bait and reeling in the cash with the fish you catch. You can go hunting for treasure or big game. There’s also time trial racing that involves everything from horses to hovercraft. Neither of them are particularly special though — and I ended up being drawn back into the story…


Call of Duty Vanguard Review: Big on Cinema, Short on Play

Call of Duty: Vanguard rubs and polishes the trite World War II theme to cinematic brilliance. What follows, though, is an epic story that never quite reaches a crescendo. The enigmatic heroes that knock your socks off in carefully imagined cutscenes render into one-trick-pony operatives for the most part. Call of Duty: Vanguard injects the biggest flights of World War II into a spin-off story about the mythical Fourth Reich, which is worthy of a big round of applause. But the 18th instalment of Activision’s priced series suffers from the consequences of its lofty intentions.

The single-player campaign developed by Sledgehammer Games spends so much time in defining its four prime characters — and two Nazi shmucks — that the story wraps up before it can get going. The gameplay is classic CoD: fast and dynamic like an elite obstacle course, with a few party tricks that make the experience less humdrum.

Call of Duty: Vanguard multiplayer mode gets more attention. The expansive mode has 20 maps at launch and a new ‘Combat Pacing’ matchmaking that lets you control the pace of the game — you can choose the number of players vis-à-vis the map size — and not be forced into a sniper contest or a bloodbath where you only survive for a few short breaths. While the game controls are the same, the experience is markedly different (not worse, not better) from Call of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War.

The Zombies mode in Call of Duty: Vanguard, though, is in its infancy compared to the last instalment. Treyarch Studios claims to have a clear roadmap, but one that is yet to take a formidable shape.

The gaming experience in all three formats begins with a lot of excitement — thanks to a great storyline, beautiful cinema, next-generation graphics, and steady marketing — but it becomes pretty obvious that something has gone amiss as the game progresses.

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Call of Duty: Vanguard single-player campaign review

Call of Duty: Vanguard campaign is roughly a six-hour run. For a hugely anticipated game that was advertised to capture the whole world at war, it’s unsettling. What’s worse, though, is that it’s pretty great. So, you’re left wanting more, but not in a good way.

My other major grouse is that the game’s difficulty setting is lopsided. There are four levels to it: Recruit, Regular, Hardened, and Veteran. And the six-hour run I mentioned was on Hardened. It’s uncanny how not hard it was to speed run through the campaign, especially if you have played other titles from CoD Black Ops or Modern Warfare series that are less forgiving. The storyline does not help either. Since all of our heroes get their own introductory missions before they come together as Task Force One to force the Nazis to skedaddle for good, the difficulty remains almost flat throughout.

A still from Call of Duty: Vanguard
Photo Credit: Activision

On the subject of heroes, you play as five characters. There’s the level-headed Brit leader Arthur Kingsley (voice of Chiké Okonkwo), the foul-mouthed Aussie Lucas Riggs (Martin Copping), the American show-off Wade Jackson (Derek Phillips), and the Russian straight-faced killer Polina Petrova (Laura Bailey). It’s a pleasure to watch and play such fleshed-out characters in a first-person shooter (FPS) campaign. Each has a back story, a specialty, and a special ability in combat.

Kingsley is a natural leader and can direct troops to focus fire on a particular target when you play him. Riggs is a demolition expert who can lob grenades with a precise aim. Wade, the American dive bomber pilot, has a Max Payne-esque focus ability to slow time but also see enemies through walls and obstacles when on the ground. Lastly, the Russian sniper Petrova can climb walls, crawl through debris and tiny spaces, and whistle an enemy sniper into wasting a shot who will then probably die reloading.

This mix of eclectic characters, individual missions, and a non-linear storyline adds variety and dynamism to the gameplay that makes Call of Duty: Vanguard stand out. I just wish the gameplay was a little less predictable.

The abilities are heavily prescribed, which means you’ll still be following a linear path laid down for you. You as Kingsley, for instance, are given a maximum of two targets to choose from where others can focus fire on your command. What you choose makes little difference and it can get repetitive. Focus fire, subdue a sniper or an SMG bunker, gain some ground, and do it again. All windows Petrova can climb into are marked with a yellow cloth, and so on. You begin the story with a sense of control — playing different characters, making use of new controls like mounting weapons on flat surfaces or blind firing from cover — that eventually fades away. The world’s a stage, we’re all actors.

Call of Duty: Vanguard campaign is fresh. The writing is smart, the characters are defined — Petrova takes the cake here — and the cinema is worth the experience. It’s a little disappointing that it rushes into a heavily scripted climax before you can feel like you were challenged.

Call of Duty: Vanguard multiplayer review

More games each day are dropping the pretense of putting the single-player campaign at the centre of the experience when online multiplayer is where the big money lies. Call of Duty: Vanguard tries to balance the act by giving more attention to characters that accentuate both modes. Even the operators (or skins) that have nothing to do with the campaign get their own cutscenes in multiplayer. But with a short campaign, it’s largely the online multiplayer mode Activision hopes will keep the game alive beyond a year.

A shot from Call of Duty: Vanguard
Photo Credit: Activision

It’s the 1940s, the world’s at war, and the setting is mostly bathed in shades of green and brown. It’s not the most palatable choice of colours, but one that does justice to the combat of its time. Can’t be said the same about the pace though.

Call of Duty: Vanguard multiplayer gameplay feels a lot faster than CoD: Black Ops – Cold War as well as Call of Duty: Warzone that is set to discourage new or less-experienced players. It’s also heavily customisable — guns now have 10 attachments. Too much to do might also put some people off who are just trying to get into quick matches and learn things on the fly. There’s a bit more strategic thinking in terms of maps, pacing, and loadouts that are needed to survive CoD Vanguard than the other titles in the franchise.

Combat pacing basically allows you to pick how many players are in a match with you. Choosing Tactical gets you in 6v6 matches where you can hang back; Assault will have you in with up to 28 people in maps that can give you a little less breathing space and more to kill; Blitz is the madness a lot of us love with up to 48 players shooting in every direction.

In our experience on an Xbox Series S with crossplay enabled, the difference with pacing was not as pronounced, but it at least gives you the option to not be in certain situations — big map, way too less players and vice versa — which keeps things interesting. Destructible in-game environments, which are basically flimsy wood panels that you can shoot through is also a lot less menacing than it sounds.

It’s a little more wall-banging than the last CoD title and you can inflict more damage if you know the map well, but you won’t be killing people unawares. Then there’s blind fire (firing from cover without aiming) and weapon mounting (placing your gun on flat surfaces to reduce recoil) that can be put to good use in Tactical pacing, rarely in Assault and not so much in Blitz.

Another great feature of Call of Duty: Vanguard multiplayer is the new Champion Hill mode. It’s a game mode that puts Solos, Duos, and Trios against other teams in a round-robin (elimination) contest. It’s obviously more fun to win in a team but Solos is also a great way to test how good you are 1v1 on a level-playing field. It’s highly competitive and has made me consider ditching the Xbox controller for a keyboard and mouse to even the odds. Win or lose, Champion Hill is mighty fun.

Another still from the game Call of Duty: Vangaurd
Photo Credit: Activision

What’s off about Call of Duty: Vanguard multiplayer, though, is that despite it looking stellar on paper — expansive, customisable, and fresh — the game has quirks that severely alters the experience that Call of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War and Call of Duty: Warzone players have come to love. The colours, as mentioned before, don’t help the visibility. And keeping in mind that Vanguard’s multiplayer kicks the pace up a notch, the new, more animated hit marker sound and visual effects make it worse. You die sooner with less to learn from it.

Call of Duty: Vanguard multiplayer has a lot more content, plays faster, and is more challenging. You can customise the hell out of the weapons, choose your pace, study the maps, and dominate. The problem is that it’s a huge investment and there are plenty of FPS multiplayer games in the fray, including Call of Duty’s own accomplished titles in Black Ops – Cold War and Warzone, that might appeal better to casual gamers looking for quick matches where they don’t feel like cannon fodder.

Call of Duty: Vanguard Zombies review

Let’s keep this one short because that’s what Treyarch has done with it. Call of Duty: Vanguard Zombies has launched with just one mode for the pre-season (before Battle Pass seasons begin). It’s called Der Anfang. The mode is doom-sy enough as was expected from the studio behind CoD Black Ops – Cold War’s Zombies mode, but it’s not quite the Nazi slaughterhouse that I was expecting.

The melodrama is on point though. The Nazis were too proud to lose and went to the rotten ends of the Earth to look for an occult secret that would overwhelm the Axis forces. Enter ‘dark powers’ that manifest through an ancient relic and resurrect corpses to give the Nazi top-dog an army of the dead. And you can gleefully while away hours at it.

Zombies mode by definition is a Hold-style, repetitive game mode that thrives on our urge to be the ultimate apocalyptic survivors and our greed of upgrading weapons for the highly competitive CoD multiplayer. Killing undead Nazis is an altruistic bonus. But the game slips a bit here.

There are a lot of new elements in Call of Duty: Vanguard Zombies — like the new Covenant upgrades and the portal challenge of escorting a skull — but nothing can compensate for the lack of content at launch. Treyarch has alas just made small additions to the Call of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War Zombies mode instead of overhauling the experience to match the theme of CoD: Vanguard.

A still from Call of Duty; Vanguard
Photo Credit: Activision

I was expecting the Nazi zombies to be more exciting, but all I met were hordes of skeletons that were different to tell apart from any other league of rising corpses. Treyarch has announced a roadmap that should bring more game modes to make the non-stop killing more interesting. That said, Call of Duty: Vanguard Zombies mode was subjected to a rushed launch and is no match for its predecessor’s now superbly evolved Zombies mode that is entirely worth spending money on.

Call of Duty: Vanguard review verdict

The services of Swedish cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema (Tenet) have paid off. Call of Duty: Vanguard is beautiful to watch and has a story and characters that will leave an impression. The Russian sniper Petrova’s story and missions is a standout example. The cinematic cutscenes make for a gripping story and the in-game visuals and graphics back it up. Even the depiction of World War II is better than anything we have seen in the Call of Duty franchise — Vanguard is the sixth title on the subject.

All of this is precisely why Call of Duty: Vanguard is a missed opportunity for Sledgehammer Games, Treyarch, and Activision. The game suffers from an uncomfortable contradiction: the campaign and its visual cues favour newbies, while its multiplayer and its cranked-up pace is a veteran extravaganza. The single-player campaign is also unsatisfyingly short, while Zombies barely qualifies as a full game mode.

That said, Call of Duty: Vanguard campaign has an undeniable visual appeal that makes it worth a run, and its multiplayer has enough newness to hold its own. Its potential is what makes the experience slightly underwhelming.


  • Beautiful cinema
  • Well-written single-player…