The Call of Duty: Warzone beta takes a vastly different approach than most other battle royales. Death is an inconvenience rather than the end, top-tier weapons are consistently easy to come by, and skill will only get you so far when there are no more armor plates to loot. While that means it excels at being accessible and easy to pick up, it pays a high cost where depth is concerned. Solos manage to get all of the good without very much of the bad from these trade offs, but the same can’t be said when you squad up. Still, the impressive 150 player count, tried and tested arsenal from Modern Warfare, and well-crafted, massive map consistently deliver excellent firefights even if they sometimes lack the genre’s high stakes and endless variety.
World of Warzone
Like Blackout before it, Warzone’s Verdansk battle royale map mashes up several familiar locations from Call of Duty’s past, albeit on a much larger scale. Verdansk is massive, dwarfing its predecessor and then some. And for a space this vast with a 150-player capacity, Warzone’s performance on PC impressed me as I rarely experienced frame drops or connectivity problems, which feels like a triumph in this context. I did have some trouble with mantling onto ledges in certain areas and the ping system just stops working if you try to use it at too long a range, not to mention that it isn’t nearly as intuitive or robust as the one found in Apex Legends. But these annoyances are very much the exception rather than the rule. You’ll be hard pressed to find an area devoid of well-crafted explorable structures brimming with weapons, supplies, and cash which can be redeemed at randomly placed buy stations for things like killstreaks, armor plates, or weaponry in loadout drops
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Like the name suggests, the loadout drop lets you equip the guns, gadgets, and perks of your custom Modern Warfare multiplayer loadouts in the middle of a Warzone match. And when I say middle, I really mean beginning. Acquiring the requisite $6,000 to purchase a drop can be done within the first minute of the round if all three players in a squad chip in. While you’ll still need to come by ammo and armor elsewhere, using a loadout drop to scratch two weapons, throwables, and perks off your shopping list in the first 60 seconds of a match is just too easy to make hunting for the randomly placed guns feel worth it.
As a result, the stellar weapon variety that fuels other battle royales’ replayability, creates exciting asymmetrical firefights, and incentivizes combat isn’t really a part of Warzone’s main squad-based battle royale mode. I never jumped with joy when scoring a rare gun from a chest or slain enemy since I knew my prefered kit was only moments away, if not already in hand. I also didn’t see the appeal of straying away from the Overkill perk or my favorite weapons from Modern Warfare’s multiplayer (like the M4 and HDR sniper rifle with a thermal optic), especially since trying something new would have effectively meant spending several hours unlocking attachments I didn’t already have – and I’m evidently not the only one who feels this way since the aforementioned combination (or some similar variation) are ubiquitous in Warzone.
Being an offshoot of Modern Warfare, every weapon in the arsenal feels sublime, so it’s a shame that I wasn’t tempted to use more of them. I loved that Modern Warfare’s Gunfight mode exposed me to a wide variety of weapons thanks to its randomized loadouts and I had hoped Warzone would scratch that same itch. But even the high rarity weapons found in special orange chests around Verdansk and come pre-equipped with several attachments are a distant second to the guns I have literally dozens of hours of experience with. Loadout drops are a messy solution to a problem that didn’t exist in the first place, but they are less of an issue in solo battle royale where gathering the necessary cash is harder and the risk of calling in a conspicuous package at a hotly contested buy station is more perilous.
The prospect of earning cash itself is at least a fun one thanks to contracts visible on the minimap that task your squad with scavenging supplies, capturing a zone-revealing recon station, or hunting a specific player. The bounty hunt contract reveals the enemy’s approximate location but doesn’t feel unfair since the prey are given ample warning and receive a cash bonus if the hunter fails to seal the deal in the allotted time. These novel mini-missions did a great job of breaking up duller moments and incentivizing movement.
On the subject of looting, Warzone does away with the inventory entirely. Instead each player has a resource bar they can pull up to drop things like ammo, armor plates that effectively act as extra hit points, and cash for their teammates. Not having to manage an inventory in the middle of a firefight is nice, and automatically picking up any ammo you come across is even better. This system is a much better fit for the ease-of-use and fast pace synonymous with Call of Duty than Blackout’s somewhat clumsy inventory. The only place where it felt a little fidgety was looting specific equipment from dead players as their gear can sometimes explode around them in such a way that makes it hard to pick up any single item.
Warzone is teeming with new ideas, taking the default squad-based battle royale mode in a more casual direction than Black Ops 4’s Blackout. A large factor that contributes to this less than punishing change of pace is just how easy it is to respawn after dying in what is ultimately a last-man-standing mode. When you perish in battle your teammates can simply buy you back in at a buy station. This can occur as many times as their wallet allows, but it still feels fair since it gets harder to do as the round progresses, the respawning player is marked via a red flare, and, most importantly, it is a deliberate action that someone still in the game has to execute. None of the same can be said for the gulag.
The gulag is where you go when you die for the first time – not to the menu to queue for a new match, but rather to the shower room of a prison to take part in a gladiatorial scrap with another dead player for a shot at reincarnation. The weapons are randomized and you only get one chance to redeploy via the gulag. If it sounds fun, that’s because it absolutely is. Even better, while you’re waiting for your turn to fight for your life, you can hurl stones at the current combatants or feed your incarcerated teammate realtime information about their gulag opponent’s location. That last part is pretty scummy, but hey… that’s prison.
While the gulag itself is a blast, I’m definitely not a fan of the effect it has on the battle royale taking place outside. You never really know when, where, or if a player has been respawned via the gulag, so getting killed or even just damaged by an enemy that drops on top of you feels terrible, even more so if you were the one that killed them in the first place. On one occasion I died during a teamfight, won my gulag match, and respawned directly over the same firefight just in time to spoil what should have been a clear victory for the opposing squad. While that may have been epic from my perspective, being on the receiving end of such a comeback feels utterly unfair because you’re never sure whether enemies are gone for good or just on their way back in. As a result, kills are neither particularly gratifying or assuring in the squad-based battle royale. The good news is that Warzone’s solo mode completely skirts around this problem by deploying victorious gulag players far away from the location of their death – I wish the default team-based mode followed suit with every respawning player, not just fully-wiped squads.
My first win in Warzone came as a result of getting lucky as the gas ring closed directly onto a well-fortified hilltop that my squad and I were defending. It was a hollow victory though since I usually prefer to be aggressive in battle royales, but the more I played the more I realized Warzone’s mid-to-late game just doesn’t reward that behavior, which is disappointing. Unlike Blackout and Apex Legends, which guarantee that slain players drop at least some armor, Warzone has no problem leaving you on death’s door after successfully eliminating multiple squads. That’s because enemies only drop what they have on them, and armor plates and buy stations are naturally harder to come by as the round progresses. In a game like Call of Duty, it doesn’t feel good to walk away from a victorious firefight wishing you had avoided it all together.
Stockpiling armor for the end of the match isn’t an option either since you can only hold five armor plates in reserve and it takes three to effectively heal back to full. That means that if a single encounter towards the end of the game doesn’t yield armor plates you’re in trouble. As a result, aggressive players or those forced to fight their way into the circle are punished while campers and opportunistic third parties are rewarded, which just isn’t any fun.
Aside from the squad and solo battle royale modes, Verdansk also plays host to the Plunder mode, which sees about thirty teams of three players competing to collect the most cash in an allotted time. Unlike battle royale there is no circle, you spawn with your full multiplayer loadout, and upon dying you redeploy after a short delay. The goal is to earn cash by scavenging, competing contracts, and killing other squads and then bank it in a helicopter or cash-deposit balloon. I really like the idea of a more freeform objective-based mode on such a large scale, but in practice Plunder does absolutely nothing for me. The fast respawns mean that firefights with the same squad can drag on much longer than they should, and in one match where I was the top contributor on the winning team I hardly fought or came across anyone else. There are some cool concepts here, but in my experience they didn’t translate into fun gameplay.