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A battle in Call of Duty Vanguard Image: Sledgehammer Games/Activision

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Call of Duty returns to WWII with Vanguard

This year’s Call of Duty spans four fronts, with all-new multiplayer, Warzone and Zombies modes

Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

This year’s Call of Duty takes the conflict back to World War II, just as lead developer Sledgehammer Games’ previous title, Call of Duty: WWII, did in 2017. The studio’s new game, Call of Duty: Vanguard, which launches Nov. 5, will span WWII’s global conflict across four fronts and tell the story of what Sledgehammer calls the birth of special forces operators.

Publisher Activision and Sledgehammer Games officially revealed Call of Duty: Vanguard on Thursday, promising a different take on the well-mined second World War. In the game’s single-player campaign, players will experience the war through point of view of four soldiers: Sgt. Arthur Kingsley, of Britain’s 9th Parachute Battalion; Lt. Polina Petrova, of the Soviet 138th Rifle Division; Captain Wade Jackson, from the U.S.’s Scouting Squadron Six (Navy); and Second Lieutenant Lucas Riggs of Australia’s 20th Battalion.

Those four soldiers, teased in a trailer earlier this week, are based on real-world fighters, Sledgehammer Games campaign creative director David Swenson said during a preview of Call of Duty: Vanguard last week. Swenson and Vanguard game director Josh Bridge said that the studio, with the assistance of historical advisor Marty Morgan, wanted to focus on stories about epic, tide-turning battles in diverse locations for the follow-up to WWII.

Before Sledgehammer developers got into the details about their new game, however, studio head Aaron Halon addressed the lawsuit against owner-publisher Activision Blizzard. The company faces wide-ranging allegations that it maintains a toxic workplace environment that — particularly at Blizzard Entertainment — is hostile to women, pays them less, and subjects them to sexual harassment, and that perpetrators are not meaningfully punished, according to a lawsuit filed by California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing in July. Halon said that “harassment of any kind goes against everything we stand for as a studio,” and that Sledgehammer is “committed to make sure all team members feel safe [...] and respected” regardless of gender or ethnicity. During the presentation, many of Sledgehammer’s female developers (including former Polygon reporter Alexa Ray Corriea) appeared to discuss the game’s development.

Following that preamble, Sledgehammer chief operating officer Andy Wilson touched on the massive growth that the studio has seen since its formation in 2009. In addition to the main studio in Foster City, California, Sledgehammer has expanded to a location in Melbourne, Australia (with more than 150 employees) and another location in Toronto. More than 450 people work at Sledgehammer, but like other Call of Duty games, it’s not the only studio contributing. Developer Raven Software will oversee Call of Duty: Vanguard’s integration with Warzone, the free-to-play Call of Duty battle royale game, while Treyarch will develop a Zombies mode for Vanguard that will cross over with Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War’sZombies storyline.

Russian sniper Polina in Call of Duty: Vanguard Image: Sledgehammer Games/Activision

But Sledgehammer revealed little about multiplayer, zombies, or how Warzone will work with Vanguard, and vice versa, during its preview. Instead, it focused mainly on the game’s World War II-set single-player campaign. Players will fight in North Africa, on the Eastern and Western fronts, and in the Pacific, across four playable characters in a story that Sledgehammer calls “historically inspired” and “rooted but not beholden” to that real-world history.

Game director Josh Bridge described the campaign as driven by “human stories” told through “a contemporary lens” on history. “We want it to be relatable today,” Bridge said. but also be a blockbuster “filmic” story in the modern Call of Duty style.

A section of the game we were shown focused on British paratrooper Sgt. Arthur Kingsley — who is based on real-life Brit Sgt. Sidney Cornell — who parachutes into enemy territory. After flying in through rough weather, and nearly drowning after his parachute burns, Kingsley finds himself trapped behind enemy lines, without a rifle and fighting to survive. It’s sheer terror. Kingsley, armed only with a knife and hiding in darkness from German patrols, scrounged for supplies and ammunition, shooting his enemies through wooden planks and shattered windows. The nighttime scene ended on a cliffhanger, with Kingsley taking aim at a soldier silhouetted by the light of a flaming windmill, unsure if his target was friend or foe.

Call of Duty: Vanguard Image: Sledgehammer Games/Activision

The scene evoked the visceral tension of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s “Clean House” mission, with its limited views and threats around every corner. Vanguard employs that game’s next-gen graphics technology, lending the WWII game a highly believable and photorealistic look. In our short preview, running on PlayStation 5, Vanguard already looked like one of the most visually impressive Call of Duty games to date.

Beyond the single-player campaign, Sledgehammer and Activision promise a robust suite of cooperative and competitive multiplayer modes. In addition to the core Call of Duty multiplayer, across 20 multiplayer maps on day one, Vanguard will also feature a new mode called Champion Hill, a tournament style head-to-head arena mode with elements of battle royale and Gunfight. Sledgehammer promises more details on Champion Hill in the lead-up to launch.

Call of Duty: Vanguard will be released on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC via, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X on Friday, Nov. 5, 2021.

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