Everyone knew it was coming, it was just a matter of when. Call of Duty’s second attempt at the Battle Royale genre, Warzone, released a few weeks ago and if you are anything like me you spent those few weeks arguing over drop points, sweating over the Gulag, and screaming at how quickly the circle kills you.
So, let’s get the big thing out of the way; Warzone is Free-To-Play, meaning the game is not locked behind a £50 paywall, much like Blackout or Firestorm have been in the past. Seemingly being the best and most strategic choice EA and Activision could have made, Warzone joins the likes of Fortnite and Apex Legends, both of which have carved out their own successful spaces in the free-to-play market. After the reported disappointing numbers from Blackout and the abysmal dismissal of Firestorm, players just don’t seem to want to shell out more than £20-25 for a Battle Royale game, and the fact that the infamously cash-grabbing franchise that is Call of Duty have went down this route only solidifies that fact.
Alas, onto the actual game, and there is a lot of game here. Warzone comes to players as the next natural evolution of Battle Royale, seemingly taking little elements from all the top contenders to create the most addictive and innovative iteration to date. Upping the player count to a whopping 150 helps increase the frequency of combat, considering the size of the enormous map, Verdansk, which again is a meshing of old maps from the Modern Warfare franchise, along with some newer areas.
The first time you load up the little cinematic – which I still find quite entertaining – it is impressive to look across the sprawling map with its handy floating text, letting you easily spot where you need to be going. The sheer scale of some of the locations is near-jaw-dropping the first few times you head into a game, with the likes of Gulag, Airport and Superstore having a degree of awe-inspiration which could only really be found in Blackout’s Construction Site before.
Swooping down into the map reveals a staggering level of detail to environments and buildings, allowing you to mount skyscrapers, sneak through airport hangers, and sprint through forest areas, each with their own level of individuality and uniqueness. Although, it has to be said the Verdansk sadly lacks some of the cartoonish charm that Blackout attained, with a more cohesive and wholly-grounded map, rather than the mish-mash of environments and interesting locales. From the limited amount of “exploring” I have done however, Verdansk seems to be packed with hidden secrets which more curious players will no doubt be dying to dissect in the coming months.
So, as you begin to dive straight towards danger, something becomes immediately clear; the gameplay is sleeker, more immersive and most importantly, more Modern Warfare. If you read my reviews for Modern Warfare’s campaign and multiplayer, you’ll know that I am a massive fan of the revamped, silky-smooth gameplay that is introduced, and I could not be happier with its implementation into its own BR mode.
Nosediving into the map at speed has never felt better in a BR, and switching weapons, traversing the map and managing inventory feels flawlessly accessible – although mounting rock ledges and cliff sides is in desperate need of a rework, and the ping system could be remapped to an easier-accessed button. Surprisingly taking the same approach to loot drops as Firestorm but showing that it can in fact work, hoarding loot is simple and lighting fast if you are in a tight spot; I have to recommend a controller change for those on console, to the contextual tap which make picking up loot that bit faster.
The aim of this game is speed, and while it doesn’t have any of the traversal slides like Apex, Warzone, wants to keep you on the move as you quickly loot buildings, plan out your route, and take the tightening circle of death as a rule rather than the guide – fifteen seconds outside the circle without a gas mask will ensure you’re left gasping for air and unable to move on.
You don’t even waste time building up your weapons, as similar to Fortnite, they come in pre-set rarities with unchangeable attachments. This approach meant experimenting with weapons you wouldn’t typically be accustomed to, and took a lot of the strain of weapons management away, to make a more streamlined survival experience. If however, you are looking for something more customisable, you can purchase or collect handy loudout drops, which allow your multiplayer classes to be used in Warzone – and is currently the only way to secure perks. With some perks translating differently in the mode, I found myself making up classes specifically for Warzone and mixing up my weapon choices for selections more suitable to Verdansk.
While I could spend most of this review talking about gameplay, the intuitive loot management, and the impressive map design, one of Warzone’s biggest takeaways is its introduction of a respawn system, and the anxiety-inducing Gulag. Upon an untimely demise, players will be dragged to the Gulag, where they are imprisoned with other fallen players, and forced to a one on one fight to the death for a chance to return to the game. However, don’t worry if you fall, surviving players can still bring you back for the small fee of $4500 at any given Buy Station.
Personally, and I’m sure for many other players, this tackled the issue of player drop-off which plagued Blackout, and to some extent other BR games. Too often would I find myself with an early death in the squad, prompting us to leave the lobby and start a fresh – so not to have any players sitting for what could potentially be twenty-plus minutes. The Gulag, while making next to no sense logically (or no more so than 150 people jumping from the same plane to kill each other), is an excellent way to keep players engaged after they have succumbed to incoming gunfire, and now more than ever my team and I stay until every last one of us is dead. The overall effect of this is that games are longer, feel fuller, and add a nice blend of risk-and-reward, as any surviving member is tasked with collecting money for their fallen comrades, other than solely surviving themselves.
With all this talk of Warzone, you wouldn’t be penalised if you forgot about its sister mode, Plunder. Plunder drops players in the same map, this time with the aim of collecting and securing the most amounts of cash. While, I spent nowhere near the same amount of time playing Plunder, what I did play I thoroughly enjoyed. Admittedly Plunder would be suited to a smaller map as it sometimes leads to longer quiet spells, however steadily approaching one of the bottleneck Cash Depot to secure your increasing funds is exhilarating and entirely heartbreaking when you are killed just a few steps away. It is a nice addition to beef out the free game, however it lacks the same addictiveness that Warzone achieved, and will more likely be used as a break from your extended stints at Battle Royale, rather than a mode you would genuinely chose over the other.
I’ve amounted a fair share on time wandering the streets of Verdansk, and while I found it to be one of the most innovative attempts at a Battle Royale, it is one that’s staying power will depend on the regularity of its content updates. Where Blackout felt like an experiment within a Call of Duty game, Warzone, not only highlighted by its free-to-play nature, feels like the franchise is branching off into new territory – and as one that has playing things safe for the last decade, this is incredibly exciting. I see Warzone as a signalling of the future to come, for both the Call of Duty franchise and any BR games thereafter, and I’m thrilled by the thought of Activision, Treyarch, or any other developer for that matter, rising up to the challenge and upping the game further than it already has been.