I’ve been playing a lot of the Call of Duty: Vanguard beta recently. There are a lot of problems on the technical side, but the ebb and flow of its multiplayer maps, the snappiness of its shooting, and the constant drip feed of weapon upgrades and class unlocks – that’s all great. After a few hours however, something occurred to me: I had yet to encounter a shotgun. I hadn’t died to buckshot from some corner-camping degenerate, nor had I spun away from a tiny room reloading my own boomstick, several dubious kills to my name and a shit-eating grin on my face.
I had to go into the menu and check that shotguns were definitely among Vanguard’s weapons. They are; they’re even primary weapons. So why is nobody using them? Well, I tried both the semi-auto revolver shotgun and its full-auto sibling for a few matches, and it turns out they’re both terrible. The former is wildly inconsistent and hampered by an agonisingly slow reload, while the latter feels like you’re just breathing on your enemies. It’s odd that Vanguard has a relatively fast time to kill across its arsenal, and yet its two shotguns aren’t even close to competitive, even in extremely close quarters.
Of course, this is only the Vanguard beta. More shotguns will inevitably be available in the full game, and hopefully a powerful pump-action trench gun will be among them. So, what if – hypothetically – Call of Duty: Vanguard’s shotguns didn’t suck? How might Sledgehammer’s third COD entry play if its shotguns had a little more bite?
If past Call of Duty games are anything to go by, then the most likely outcome is that rather than the STG44 or MP40 dominating the killfeed we’d have a double-barrel shotgun like Modern Warfare’s 725 tearing up multiplayer.
Call of Duty’s relationship with shotguns is complicated, you see. We’ve had roughly 70 shotguns in the series to date, many of which are just different outings of the same model. In the vast majority of cases this is a weapon category that you want to avoid if you hope to turn in a positive KD at the end of a match. Most shotguns in the series have a slower time to kill than SMGs and assault rifles, and come with the added slap in the face of leaving you helpless when facing an enemy over a range of more than five metres.
Call of Duty's problem isn't always that its best shotguns are overpowered, it's that they come with very little risk
But when a shotgun is good in Call of Duty, it’s usually a little too good. See Modern Warfare 2’s akimbo Model 1887s, Modern Warfare 3’s Striker, Blackout’s MOG 12, and the 205 Brecci from Black Ops 2. These weapons were all great equalisers on their respective multiplayer battlefields; even if you were going up against Scump you’d feel confident with one of these in your loadout. It took four nerfs for Infinity Ward to finally wrestle the 725 out of the meta.
For whatever reason, whether that’s down to map design, time to kill changes, or tweaks to perks and equipment, there doesn’t appear to be such a thing as a balanced Call of Duty shotgun – they’re either godless killing machines or they’re useless. The past few Call of Duty entries have each featured a range of shotgun archetypes, so given we’ve already seen Vanguard’s semi- and full-auto models, if we are to see a shottie worth using then it will likely be either a pump-action or double-barrel. There’s usually a gimmicky shotgun in the mix, too. Something that fires slugs or a blunderbuss. Surely one of those will be capable of dumpstering people at obscene ranges.
The same inconsistency goes for most other FPS games. Destiny 1 and 2 have both been plagued by over-dominant shotgun metas at many points in their lives, but Battlefield’s scattergun options always feel at odds with its sprawling maps, and they’re pretty much absent from Halo multiplayer. Maybe this isn’t a Call of Duty problem. Has there ever been an FPS to get them right?
Actually, yes. Many, in fact. In Rainbow Six Siege they’re vital for carrying out specific team strategies. They’re only overpowered in extremely close-quarters fights, and your team needs to invest a lot of utility to keep the shotgunner safe from grenades. Escape From Tarkov treats shotguns more realistically, ensuring that they’re powerful all the way up to medium range, but balances them out with different ammo and armour interactions. CS:GO and Valorant use their economies to make shotguns tempting situational picks. Even a battle royale game like Apex Legends has managed to squeeze shotguns into its meta, offering massive damage up close provided you can keep your cool and aim for centre mass – miss or only manage to land a few pellets and you’re almost certainly getting eliminated.
Call of Duty’s problem isn’t always that its best shotguns are overpowered, it’s that they come with very little risk. Shotguns should decimate up close, but they should come with enough drawbacks that they have to be played with restraint. So hopefully Vanguard’s trench gun will dish out plenty of punishment, but require skill and composure to use properly.