FPS Standoff: Battlefield versus Halo versus Call of Duty
Which 2021 AAA shooter is most promising?
We’ve had several betas for 2021’s AAA shooters take place back to back. As a fan of shooters myself, I made sure to dedicate plenty of time to all three of them and give them a fair shake. These shooters include Battlefield 2042, Call of Duty: Vanguard, and Halo Infinite. I will preface this by saying that I believe all three are at least “fine” in their own right. None of them are inherently bad, and I enjoyed some of the time I had with them to varying degrees.
I’ll talk about each of them in the order their betas were opened up, beginning with Call of Duty Vanguard and ending with Battlefield 2042.
Call of Duty Vanguard
Call of Duty Vanguard sees a return to World War II for the franchise, the original setting the series began with. The franchise has only touched on World War II twice since 2007's Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare — in 2008’s World at War and 2017’s simply titled Call of Duty: WWII.
Call of Duty is known to leak prior to official announcements, and it had been rumored for a long period of time that 2021’s game would be a World War II game. When I heard this, I rolled my eyes. Although World War II is an awesome setting, I feel like it has been done to death over the years.
That “meh” feeling of yet another World War II setting carried over into the actual game.
I’ll point out prior — I’m more positive about Call of Duty than most. I always call COD my “junk food” game. Do most of these games have any real substance compared to others on the market? Not really. Are they simply fun to jump into and play a few rounds? Yeah, totally. At least for me.
The mindless chaos of a COD game holds true even in Vanguard. What I’m reminded of immediately after playing it is Modern Warfare 2019, a reboot of the Modern Warfare series of games. Most people also know it as the engine that Warzone is built off of.
So Vanguard essentially ends up fitting the “reskin” moniker people like to give COD more so than recent entries. Although 2019’s Modern Warfare pivoted gameplay wise with a new engine, 2020’s Cold War went for a different approach, and played similar to classic Call of Duty entries instead.
Vanguard feels more “samey” than any Call of Duty in recent memory. For me, that’s not a bad thing at face value. The snappy gunplay and chaotic nature of multiplayer is something I actually enjoy personally. There’s nothing special about this entry though, and I feel as if the World War II setting adds to that.
It’s not as if the World War II setting is portrayed entirely accurately either. Weapons in Vanguard have a multitude of attachments (up to 10 in fact) and need options to fill those different attachment categories. As a result, plenty of these attachments present themselves as being ahistorical — without any basis in reality.
To be fair, it is Call of Duty of all things. Expecting complete historical accuracy is a fool’s errand in regards to the franchise. Especially when the developers of these games don’t even bother to use the correct names of some modern weapons either.
Beyond the standard modes of Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed, and Domination, Vanguard interested two new modes in the form of “Patrol” and “Champion’s Hill”.
Patrol is much like the Headquarters game mode, where players have to stand inside a designated area on the map and capture it to earn points for their team. Patrol shakes that formula up by making the objective circular, and constantly moving through the map. This mode was chaotic fun, and I thought it was one of the better ones I played besides Domination. Having a moving objective like that brings constant conflict to an objective, and I think that’s a good thing.
Champion’s Hill is a new 2v2 mode. While the mode is good on paper, I’m not quite a fan of COD’s 2v2 modes, so I avoided this one beyond a few tries. Not for me, personally.
Maps included Gavutu, Red Star, Eagle’s Nest, and Hotel Royal. The game is a lot more colorful than Modern Warfare 2019 despite being on the same engine, and these maps made it evident. I noticed it the most on Gavutu, a coastal map fixated around a shipwreck in the center.
Hotel Royal was a mix of outdoor settings on the roof of the hotel itself, although plenty of engagements happen on the hotel’s top floor as well. The scenery of the Hotel Royal was excellent. As seen above, you can see Paris burning in the background, with dogfighting planes soaring overhead. Although you won’t be noticing it much in the chaos of a COD match, it’s still appreciated.
One major change Vanguard made to differ itself, at least just a tad, is the implementation of “combat pacing” options for multiplayer matches. There are three different pacings — Tactical, Assault, and Blitz. Tactical is the Call of Duty you’re used to. 6v6 gameplay, where everyone mainly guns for themselves. It is COD after all. You expect someone to play the objective?
Beyond Tactical, you have Assault. Assault turns up the pacing of the game a notch, while adding 20–28 players per match. I found myself enjoying Assault the most since it wasn’t as “weighty” as the Modern Warfare 2019 engine can be. Blitz, on the other hand, takes it even further by including up to 28–48 players for absolute chaos. Blitz performed best on Red Star in my experience — a winter map in the ruins of Stalingrad with a few ruined buildings. Blitz matches on Red Star inevitably amounted into firefights between buildings, and flankers trying to change the hand of the match.
While Vanguard was admittedly fun in the first few hours of playing, it lost its luster very quickly and failed to hold my interest. Despite telling myself that I’d play every day of the beta, I just couldn’t on the final day. I was tired of the game by that point, and it didn’t hold my interest like Modern Warfare 2019 did despite being on the same engine.
I debated for a while why that is. Vanguard has maps far superior to that of Infinity Ward and Treyarch’s recent entries in the series, but none of the luster that the other two have. Perhaps it’s because Modern Warfare and Cold War have recognizable characters like Ghost, Captain Price, and Woods? Vanguard just doesn’t feel like it has an identity beyond a World War II reskin, and that’s the main problem.
If even a COD game fails to have an identity (which it usually does, however straight-forward it is), you can likely imagine how dull it became to play. Combo this with the ongoing lawsuit against Activision, and I personally don’t see any reason to pick up Call of Duty this year.
My impressions may be a bit odd for some people because I want to start by saying — I’ve never played Halo multiplayer before, much less Halo singleplayer itself. After playing this beta, though, I’ve taken it upon myself to actually play through the series. At the time of writing, I’ve already completed Halo Wars, Halo: Reach and Halo: Combat Evolved, although it’s been a while since I finished the original Halo and I need to replay it.
All that said, I had a blast playing Halo Infinite and it is likely the best beta out of the AAA shooters present here. So much so that it made me want to play through the entire series in preparation.
Halo Infinite’s multiplayer is fast-paced and super enjoyable. It doesn’t try too much like Battlefield 2042 does, but it maintains a likeable identity that Halo fans can really appreciate, from what I’ve gathered.
I used one bot match to warm-up before jumping into the deep end with Arena. Admittedly, I got destroyed in the first match or two, despite holding my own decently. After a while of getting used to the game though, it felt really solid for me. Surprisingly, my favorite mode in Arena was Capture the Flag, believe it or not! CTF modes in shooters feel basic to me a lot of the time, but I feel like in Halo’s smaller map settings it brings a lot of fun engagements! You have to keep defense in mind as well, not just offense, which I really like.
Big Team Battle came a little later into the preview, and I liked it even more. To the point where I primarily played Big Team Battle over Arena in my time with the game. For Big Team Battle, I found Total Control to be the game mode that was most enjoyable, since it was similar to Domination or Conquest in other shooters I like. This allowed for more thrilling engagements.
The one criticism I will say — I didn’t enjoy the other modes of Big Team Battle at all in comparison. In CTF, it felt like nobody really cared about the objective, which can be typical for multiplayer shooters, to be fair. It still wasn’t really fun though. Slayer was a little better, but still not quite what I enjoyed about Big Team Battle. There were plenty periods of time during BTB Slayer where I felt like I couldn’t find anyone, or the pacing felt too slow.
Gameplay-wise, Halo Infinite is fantastic. I wasn’t disappointed with any of the weapons I picked up beyond the Commando, which I wasn’t particularly a fan of. Even the base MK50 Sidekick pistol felt fun to use, and I got quite a few kills with it during my time playing the preview.
I know sprinting is a bit of a controversial topic among Halo fans after the last few entries in the series, but it feels like they found a good compromise here. The sprinting isn’t that much faster than walking, which is a good thing. It doesn’t feel like sprinting is a requirement or adds significant changes to the gameplay in anyway. I think that’s a perfect way to go about it.
Other than that, there was apparently an aiming issue on consoles, mainly with the aim assist. Again, I’m new to Halo Infinite so I didn’t really notice this myself. They also tuned down the frequency of AI quips from the previous preview from what I’ve gathered, so that’s good to know as well. The quotes from the personal AI in this game aren’t too bad, but I could see how they’d get annoying if they were rattled off more often.
All in all, Halo Infinite is a fantastic game to play, and I had a lot of genuine fun playing it. I’m looking forward to it’s release this December.
Battlefield 2042 is the one I have the most thoughts on and the one I played most recently, so those thoughts are still sifting in my mind.
My initial impression with Battlefield 2042 was that I had no clue if I liked it or not. Sure, it felt solid, but was it good? I had no real idea. Even after several matches, I wasn’t sure what the game was.
That’s the main issue with Battlefield 2042. The game doesn’t really feel like it has an identity half the time. It has the encompass of Battlefield, sure. The gadgets. The vehicles. The standard Conquest mode. Plenty of players on the map at a time. Destruction of the environment. So why did something feel off the entire time I played it?
Battlefield 2042 retains the respawn system that Battlefield V had, but is much snappier in regards to “giving up”, and the button to do so could even be held as you go down. This is fine and all, but I can’t help missing the days where a specific class had a gadget for reviving other players, along with the days where you were just dead unless someone revived you. What happened to the “medics nearby” on the UI? That let me know if I should hang around or just respawn.
I wasn’t sure how to describe the gameplay at first, but it doesn’t feel like what you’d expect out of Battlefield. That’s because it feels arcadey. Adding a sliding mechanic is cool and all, but combo that with the time to kill, and the game ends up playing like a mix of Call of Duty and Battlefield. Which ends up being solid and fun in practice, but not quite what you want from a Battlefield game.
Combat Roles and Specializations from previous entries in the series have been axed in favor of a Specialist system. Now, I don’t mind Specialists as a concept, since Call of Duty has gone with Specialists for a while now. However, Call of Duty is played in a much smaller setting so it works.
In Battlefield 2042’s Open Beta, there were only 4 Specialists available in the game. One that represented each class available with their own unique traits. Cool concept on paper. In-game though, I found myself shooting at teammates here and there because everybody is playing as these Specialists. A ton of players look the same and it’s annoying.
When I play Battlefield, I want to be immersed in a war-like setting. I want to be a foot soldier thrown into the thick of warfare. I don’t want to be x character or x hero. I just want to be a grunt. It feels like the developers or so out of touch with what makes Battlefield appealing.
As said earlier, this game feels like it’s going through an identity crisis. It maintains the large-scale warfare, huge map, and vehicular combat of previous Battlefield games. However, it takes features from Call of Duty like the aracdey gameplay, Specialists, and sliding mechanics.
What this all amounts to is a game that calls itself Battlefield 2042, but ends up feeling like a departure from the series as we know it.
I know this is a beta and all, but these are design decisions that have been made in advance and I don’t think they can be changed within a month before launch. As much as I’d love to believe they’d remove Specialists and give us Specializations or Field Upgrades back, I don’t think that’ll happen.
To be positive for a bit, I really love the new attachment system. Holding a button will allow players to bring up a menu where they can swap the attachments of their current weapon quickly on the fly. Except… you can’t change attachments on the spawn menu, at least not at the moment. And the game doesn’t tell you what the attachments actually do, so you just have to assume or use trial and error.
One of the consistent bugs I got while playing was with this new attachment system, actually. Every time I tried adding a grip to my weapon, it added a sight as well. So I had to pull the menu back up again and take the sights off. I’m sure that’ll be fixed, though.
One last thing I want to bring up is the extreme weather conditions. I played several matches of the lone map in the beta, Orbital, and the weather was indeed dynamic. I had matches were it was sunny the entire time, some where it rained the whole time, and a few where it began as sunny and transitioned into overcast.
The tornadoes and other extreme conditions got a little overblown in all honesty, since in my experience, I only encountered tornadoes in about 3 of my many matches across three days of playing the beta. That’s a good thing though, in my opinion. Having a tornado in every match would feel silly at a certain point and diminish the point of it.
When a tornado arrives in your game, it makes it’s presence known. It is definitely not just a gimmick, and is something significant in your gameplay that drives conflict away from a certain section of the map. It makes it so engaging within proximity of a tornado is a very high risk. I think it’s an awesome addition to the game, and I hope the appearances of these at the same rate as they are currently.
I can excuse the bugs since the game is a beta, but I’m not sure I buy the fact that this is a “months old build”. Do we really trust EA and DICE to tell the truth on that aspect? Even if we give them the benefit of the doubt, this game just does not seem ready, and I think it’ll disappoint people at launch — even if the core game is something with loads of potential.
Which shooter should you grab?
So which AAA shooter gave off the best impression? We can tackle them one by one and determine if they’re worth the money.
Call of Duty Vanguard is a solid game… for the first few hours. While the campaign looks like it’ll be decent, and I think Laura Bailey voicing a character based off Lyudmila Pavlichenko, the most successful female sniper in history, is an awesome idea for a character. However, Vanguard loses its luster extremely quickly. There’s nothing of substance here and it sums up to just being a reskin of Modern Warfare 2019. Is it bad? No… but that doesn’t mean it’s worth your time either.
Battlefield 2042 is something I really wanted to like. I want a multiplayer game that I can just jump into and relax with, and Battlefield has always been that for me. While Battlefield 2042 isn’t bad or even “meh” by any means and is actually pretty solid, I’m worried about the state this game will be in at launch. I feel like a lot of these mechanics and gameplay tweaks are gonna miss the mark for a lot of people. For a $70 multiplayer-only game, I’d recommend that people wait for some reviews on this one before sinking your money in.
Halo Infinite on the other hand is fantastic, and is something I’d gladly spend money on. Mind you, Halo Infinite is only a $60 game compared to the asking price of $70 for Battlefield 2042 and Call of Duty Vanguard. Not to mention that Halo Infinite’s multiplayer will be entirely free, while the campaign will be available via Game Pass, which is only a $10 (console only) or $15 (PC) subscription.
What do you get for that price? A solid and very enjoyable FPS experience, that’ll see consistent support post-launch. I think that alone is worth your time, even if you’ve never played Halo before. I haven’t, and I loved my time with it! So give Halo a try. Whether it be during the next preview, via Game Pass, etc…, I’m of the mindset that Halo Infinite will definitively be the best AAA shooter to releases in the second half of 2021.