The more things change, the more they stay the same. The Call of Duty series has explored various battlegrounds beyond its humble origins as a shooter series set during World War II. Even as it’s gone from the modern era to future frontiers, Call of Duty has remained rooted to many of the foundational elements from its earliest days. Therefore, it does not come as a complete surprise that the series seems to be returning to familiar ground.
Per a leak from an industry insider, it’s now possible to begin piecing together a coherent picture of the next Call of Duty game. On that note, this is what we know so far about Activision’s upcoming blockbuster title.
Title and Setting
Among the various rumors, one detail that has stayed consistent is the notion that 2021’s Call of Duty is set during World War II. According to reputable source ModernWarzone, the game has been tentatively titled Call of Duty: WWII Vanguard. Whether or not this title changes in the future, it is certain that the studio in charge of its development is Sledgehammer Games.
As the series is developed in cycles between three different studios, it is Sledgehammer’s turn at the helm again after the developmental struggles they had with Black Ops Cold War. The studio had issues during that game’s production while working alongside Raven Software. While exact details remain scarce, the affair led to Treyarch taking over development of Cold War, breaking the typical cycle of studios. Under normal conditions, this might have raised concerns over Sledgehammer’s readiness to resume work on the series.
However, the onset of the pandemic has changed the entire situation. As their departure from Cold War’s development occurred in 2019, Sledgehammer has had ample time to structure and develop this new game. Thus, they won’t have to worry about rushing to rework an entire production, as seemed to be the case with Cold War. Based on details regarding the next Call of Duty’s premise, it would appear Sledgehammer has made the most of this troubling point in time.
Just as their peers have done, Sledgehammer Games seems intent on revisiting more than just a previous setting with this new game. Similar to the way Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and World at War were spun-off into their own sub-series, Sledgehammer is said to be continuing the storyline in their 2017 game Call of Duty: WWII. This would fit with the game’s aforementioned working title, never mind that it makes sense in terms of Call of Duty’s attachment to its own history as a franchise. That said, this has the downside of raising further questions about the specific focus of Sledgehammer’s upcoming title.
The leaks and rumours available to the public at this time are not clear about Vanguard’s exact ties to the Second World War, nor the perspective from which players can expect to experience the game. Eurogamer claims that Vanguard will adhere to a traditional World War II setting, while ModernWarzone states that the game will take place during the 1950s. Furthermore, nothing has been clarified regarding the possibility of familiar characters returning in Vanguard. This puts us in the difficult position of having to speculate based on limited information, though fortunately there are obvious angles we can see being implemented here.
Any history buff worth their salt would know World War II officially ended in September 1945, but having Vanguard take place in 1950 would be anachronous. This could mean a variety of things for the setting of the game:
- Clandestine operations taking place after the end of World War II to deal with the remaining Axis sympathizers, regardless of historical authenticity
- Exploring historical conflicts after the end of World War II, like the Korean War, to bring a fresh new setting to the series’ repertoire
- Venturing into an alternate version of history where World War II did not end in 1945 and instead continued into the 1950s, throwing legitimate history out the window
While each of these prospects are interesting and worth considering, one feels more plausible than the others in light of Call of Duty’s history. The likeliest scenario would be an alternate history game, as neither of the first two options align neatly with the rumors about the World War II setting. Of course, the leaks have not confirmed or denied a connection to the Korean War, so there’s still a possibility that Vanguard could surprise players in this way. Regardless, this potential creative direction for Vanguard represents a degree of boldness not seen from Call of Duty in ages.
If Vanguard does happen to be delivering some variation on that third possibility, it would technically be a first for the series in terms of dabbling in alternate history. Though Call of Duty has explored historical time periods since it started, it has never been so brazen as to outright change specific events and rewrite entire conflicts. Games like Modern Warfare have come close, but their roots in speculative fiction and outright science fiction mark them as a different breed of action game. Vanguard could be a pioneering title for the series, without question.
This alternate history route would allow the game to explore the hypothetical scenarios contemplated by many historians where World War II is concerned. For example, Vanguard could show what would have happened if Nazi Germany had won at the Battle of the Bulge, or speculate on the consequences of the British committing to Operation Unthinkable and turning on the Soviet Union after the fall of Berlin. There are countless paths the game could take, making the act of speculating all the more exciting.
Another enticing aspect to this angle is the prospect of innovation and variety coming to the existing technology and combat of the era. As players are certain to be familiar with the World War II setting by this point, this is a unique opportunity to break away from the expected guns, vehicles, and tactics associated with that particular war. Vanguard could introduce prototype weapons and gadgets without worrying about historical accuracy, instead focusing on ways to make the established locales more compelling and distinctive.
However, alternate history could bring with it controversy, an understandable issue considering the nature of World War II and its associated atrocities. Though Call of Duty is no stranger to controversy – the nuclear detonation from Call of Duty 4 and the No Russian mission from Modern Warfare 2 come to mind – those in-game events are fictitious. Altering real historical events involving real people is new territory for the franchise, with the potential to rile up disdain and contempt from a variety of sources. Should this be the actual plan for Vanguard, it is crucial that Sledgehammer exercise caution in how they proceed.
Still, all of this speculation hinges on whether or not the 1950s time period leak is true or not. The only things known with any certainty are the WWII setting and Sledgehammer’s involvement in the title. Because it is unlikely any developer would comment on the leaks, official confirmation is only possible once Sledgehammer begins Vanguard’s marketing. As such, we advise everyone to take all leaks and speculation with a grain of salt.
Details on the Multiplayer Side
To the dismay of many, the ever unpopular skill-based matchmaking (SBMM) will return in the upcoming game. On paper, the system is a great idea; it pits players against other players of similar skill levels to ensure that matches are competitive and not one-sided fights. The implementation of this system, however, doesn’t come close to addressing all of its other issues.
As the system stands in its Cold War incarnation, SBMM seems to operate based not on an arbitrary “skill level”, but instead on player kill-death performance. Players who perform well in this regard will be matched with opponents of similar statistics, regardless of their actual skill. Where this becomes a problem is that, aside from it clashing with the reality that players can go from blasting through opponents in one match to being dogpiled in the next, this approach also makes bogs down matchmaking with long queue times and connection issues. This would be enough of a hassle for players even if the team in charge of this system were clear in their communication and open about their process.
Alas, the situation is further exacerbated by how the developers have chosen to handle, or avoid handling, these problems spotlighted by the player base. The developers refuse to comment on or confirm what specific variable it is that matches players up with others while continuing to uphold the SBMM system. Though the system’s conditions may change for the upcoming game, it is likely to stay the same as players continue to be left in the dark.
On the Warzone side of things, Vanguard will be tied into the online battle royale in the same fashion as Cold War, as confirmed by both ModernWarzone and Eurogamer. This will mean Vanguard-related events for playable modes similar to how Cold War introduced Rebirth Island, operators, cosmetics, and weaponry. However, we’re obliged to point out that, while Cold War incorporated its entire arsenal with ease into Warzone, the same cannot be said for World War II equipment.
General George Patton may have proclaimed the M1 Garand as the greatest implement of battle ever devised, but as with most weaponry from the Second World War it hasn’t stood the test of time. World War II weapons don’t possess the same maneuverability, reliability, and potency as their more modern contemporaries. This complication could have bearing on any modes incorporated into Warzone, perhaps requiring the development team to rethink their integration into gameplay.
For sure, there are ways to handle this weapon design dilemma without compromising the core of the Warzone experience. One potential solution could involve Warzone tying World War II or Vanguard weaponry to exclusive maps in order to even the playing field. Sledgehammer could also go about the arduous task of balancing World War II-era weapons against modern firearms to ensure viability, or even bring those hypothetical alternate history weapons into the fold to counter the current day equipment. Whatever route is taken here, the tie-in between the games will be interesting to watch unfold.
Call of Duty 2021 will be releasing later this year. After everything we’ve heard, it is our hope that this next Call of Duty will be a memorable one, if nothing else.