If Call of Duty: Vanguard is anything like World at War, I'm excited

Call of Duty: World at War cover
(Image credit: Treyarch / Activision)

It’s official: the next Call of Duty game is called Vanguard, and will see players whisked back to the battlegrounds of World War II. 

Activision Blizzard lawsuit

Publisher Activision Blizzard, responsible for the game this article refers to, is currently embroiled in ongoing litigation in regards to claims reporting a workplace culture that allegedly enabled acts of sexual harassment, abuse and discrimination. Read our Activision Blizzard lawsuit timeline of events for ongoing coverage of the events.

While we were all-but certain of both those facts in the run-up to the game’s official reveal, a teaser trailer shared to Call of Duty’s official social channels confirmed a little more of what to expect when Vanguard releases – and I, for one, am excited. 

But that excitement doesn’t come from what Vanguard might introduce into the storied franchise by way of new features. Instead, I’m keen to see just how much the game harks back to the gritty realism of fan-favorite entry Call of Duty: World at War, released by developer Treyarch some 13 years ago. 

It’s worth noting that I am no huge Call of Duty fan. I’m much more of a story-driven gamer, with less of an interest in massive multiplayer modes like Warzone and more time for immersive narrative experiences à la Red Dead Redemption or The Last of Us.

And that’s why Call of Duty: World at War sticks in the mind. For all of Activision’s success in milking the first-person multiplayer machine over the last decade, 2008’s entry delivered what is still, for my money, the best Call of Duty campaign of them all, and the most accomplished realisation of WWII and its horrors ever seen in a video game. 

See more

Vanguard, then, would do well to lean on the successes of its forefather – in terms of authenticity, especially, but also in the way it conveys that authenticity into the game’s inevitably more popular multiplayer components.

It’s likely we’ll hear more about Vanguard’s premise during the game’s more substantial release on August 19, but for now, here’s why Sledgehammer should take inspiration from World at War with its next shoot-em-up.

Pacific promises

There is, of course, an elephant in the room. Since World at War, there’s already been a newer Call of Duty game set during World War II – the imaginatively-named Call of Duty: WW2.

Also developed by Sledgehammer games, WW2 was, in fairness, an authentic and visceral experience that placed story at the forefront of its single-player campaign. But its decision to focus entirely on the European theater of war, taking players through wintery forests and bombed-out cities, meant WW2 never boasted the scope of World at War, nor its sense of variety. 

Some of the best campaign missions in Call of Duty history took place in World at War’s chaotic Pacific battlegrounds. Little Resistance, Burn 'em Out and Breaking Point saw players traverse the beaches and palm trees of Peleliu and Okinawa with frightening realism. Kiefer Sutherland’s Sergeant Roebuck barked orders as Japanese soldiers descended from above and behind, while an unconventional soundtrack scored the mayhem to provide an altogether different experience to the game’s equally-good European missions.

Call of Duty: World at War

(Image credit: Treyarch / Activision)

How many times are we going to play through an increasingly-pretty version of the D-Day landings? As mentioned, Call of Duty: WW2 delivered a competent campaign awash with camaraderie and typically-bombastic Hollywood set-pieces, but it all felt a little, well, samey.

That sense of monotony seeped into the game’s multiplayer, too. WW2’s maps were either plucked straight from its Europe-based campaign or were re-hashed versions of modern sandboxes (an ever-so-slightly-changed version of Gibraltar, for instance, seems to appear in every Call of Duty game), which resulted in a complete absence of the open beaches and makeshift tunnel systems that World at War’s multiplayer, in comparison, so expertly adapted from its single-player.

Thankfully, judging by Vanguard’s first teaser trailer, proceedings are once again set to switch between hemispheres in the upcoming game, with some all-new desert combat also thrown in for good measure.

See more

With any luck, Sledgehammer will also opt for World at War’s split-narrative approach to the game’s campaign, rather than having us fill the boots of a single soldier unrealistically globe-trotting their way through the Second World War's very different conflicts. 

If they could bring Kiefer Sutherland back, too, that’d be great.

True grit

Another feather in World at War’s cap – and a surprising one, given its lack of graphical fidelity – was its reluctance to shy away from the horrors of war.

Again, Call of Duty: WW2 wasn’t exactly lacking in the violence department, but it never quite captured the sense of terror experienced by soldiers on the ground in the same way as its 2008 counterpart.

Of course, the question of whether that level of realism belongs in a video game is altogether larger, but World at War’s campaign is remembered for its shock value and commitment to faithfully portraying the bullet-laden chaos. 

Call of Duty: World at War

(Image credit: Treyarch / Activision)

Who could forget that Stalingrad mission, for instance? Or storming the Reichstag with an expletive-toting Gary Oldman (Viktor Reznov) at your side?

Call of Duty: Vanguard, especially, can utilize the power of the PS5 and Xbox Series X to create a truly visceral battlefield experience – and judging by the rumors we’ve heard so far surrounding the game's graphics, it looks primed to deliver just that.

See more

A forgotten hero

To be completely honest, I’m just bummed out that World at War didn’t get the next-gen (or old-gen, now) remaster it deserved, especially after the special treatment received by the entries either side of it (both Modern Warfare and Modern Warfare 2 have been remastered in recent years).

Whether that’s because Activision considers World at War a black sheep of the franchise or because it doubts the game’s enduring commercial appeal, we’ll never know, but the studio now has a chance to make Call of Duty: Vanguard a worthy successor to one of the best first-person-shooters of the noughties. 

Just no jetpacks, please...

Axel Metz
Senior Staff Writer

Axel is a London-based Senior Staff Writer at TechRadar, reporting on everything from the latest Apple developments to newest movies as part of the site's daily news output. Having previously written for publications including Esquire and FourFourTwo, Axel is well-versed in the applications of technology beyond the desktop, and his coverage extends from general reporting and analysis to in-depth interviews and opinion. 

Axel studied for a degree in English Literature at the University of Warwick before joining TechRadar in 2020, where he then earned an NCTJ qualification as part of the company’s inaugural digital training scheme.