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‘Call of Duty: Vanguard’ is going (back) to World War II. Here’s what’s new.

(The Washington Post illustration; Activision)

“Call of Duty Vanguard,” the next mainline entry in the wildly popular Call of Duty franchise, will feature a totally new squad-based multiplayer mode, a campaign that will include major battles across the four main theaters of World War II, and environments that will react and change in response to bullets and explosions. Set to release Nov. 5, it is also the first major title launch for video game publisher Activision Blizzard since the state of California filed a bombshell sexual harassment and discrimination lawsuit against the company July 20.

Sledgehammer Games, the Activision-owned game development studio that created “Vanguard,” was not named in the suit. However, Sledgehammer studio head Aaron Halon addressed the lawsuit at the outset of a recent media preview for the game, calling news of its allegations “devastating.”

From there, the “Vanguard” briefing reverted to a more usual script as developers described details from the latest game and the features they believes will appeal to gamers.

The highlights from the preview revolved more around some of the game’s details rather than its unsurprising WW2-inspired plot premise. (The good guys fight Nazis.) The standout moment from the preview came when the developers showed gameplay footage illustrating how objects and set pieces of “Vanguard’s” maps would react when the shooting started. In one scene, gunfire from behind a bookcase knocked volumes from shelves and shredded their pages, creating a new, clear sightline and leaving the books scattered on the floor, riddled with bullet holes.

With windows shattering under a hail of bullets and explosions blasting holes through walls, “Vanguard” will introduce a dynamic that most war simulation fans have really only found in EA’s Battlefield series, where walls or buildings crumble under fire from tanks or rocket-propelled grenades. The game will feature a newer version of the game engine first introduced with 2019′s “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.” Players will again be able to mount their weapons on objects, for example a table or box, and now will be able to slide them along flat surfaces as well while maintaining cover.

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Also new to “Vanguard” will be a multiplayer mode called Champion Hill, pitting eight teams against one another in a round-robin style tournament. The mode can be played with solos, duos and trios, and will take place in “an arena consisting of four maps.” The developers, who promised additional details on the mode in the coming weeks, described it as a blend between battle royale and the 2v2 Gunfight mode introduced with 2019′s “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.” Gunfight will also be included as a mode for “Vanguard,” as will the franchise’s popular Zombies mode, which will be managed by Treyarch, another Activision-owned developer, and build on the lore found in last year’s game “Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War.”

Players will be able to customize their loadouts using the game’s Gunsmith feature, which will introduce “custom ballistics” for weapons.

Sledgehammer touted a total of 20 maps (including four 2v2 maps) playable at the game’s launch.

Like “Black Ops Cold War,” “Vanguard” will also link to Call of Duty’s battle royale game, “Warzone.” Most notably, “Vanguard’s” release will introduce an all-new map to “Warzone” this year from the developers at Raven Software, as well as anti-cheat software to help curb the hackers that have plagued “Warzone” for much of the past 17 months since its launch.

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This is the second time Sledgehammer has worked on a “Call of Duty” game set during World War II. The studio’s 2017 entry, the aptly titled “Call of Duty: World War II,” followed the trials of an American unit as it progressed from Normandy, France, into Germany. “Vanguard” will follow a multinational squad of the Allies’ standout soldiers across numerous battles. The soldiers will coalesce into the world’s first Special Forces unit and pursue information around “Project Phoenix,” the Nazis’ plan to reestablish the Third Reich after it became clear Germany would lose the war.

The squad will feature a British paratrooper, a hotshot American pilot from the Pacific theater, an Australian tanker who battled in North Africa and a Russian sniper who helped save Stalingrad. All characters are loosely based on actual soldiers from the war, Sledgehammer’s developers said, while noting they didn’t feel they were “beholden” to history. You probably won’t find mention of this unit’s exploits in a Ken Burns documentary.

There has been a new Call of Duty game released every fall for the past 16 years. The past two releases, “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” and “Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War,” were both the top-selling games overall in 2019 and 2020 respectively. Activision Blizzard has also reaped massive financial rewards from its free-to-play battle royale release, “Call of Duty: Warzone” and free-to-play mobile game, “Call of Duty: Mobile.” The former topped 100 million downloads earlier this year, according to the publisher; the latter boasts more than 500 million downloads worldwide. The franchise has played a significant role in Activision Blizzard’s soaring stock prices over the past year plus, growing from around $55 per share in mid-March of 2020 to a peak of almost $104 in February of 2021.

But all of that occurred before California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing filed its lawsuit. Now, “Vanguard’s” performance may serve as an indicator of whether the behavior outlined in the lawsuit will alter consumer behavior: the yearly reflex of purchasing the latest Call of Duty title.

“Harassment of any kind goes against everything we stand for,” Halon said at the media briefing, before stating that he could not comment further on the lawsuit.

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