I always have to remind myself that once upon a time, I hated the idea of a battle royale. That was until I hit upon Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’s Blackout mode. 16 days of game time later, it’s clearly become an obsession, a detriment to sleep, social life, work, everything. Sadly, the Blackout experience was always going to come to an end. With support for the mode stopping, there isn’t much left for veteran players outside of retreading increasingly familiar ground.
Enter Call of Duty: Warzone. This is it. For the foreseeable future, Warzone is Activision and Call of Duty’s de facto battle royale, presented both as a separate free-to-play download, and as a simple update for those with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. But is it actually any good?
Well, yeah, of course it is. Firstly, it’s Modern Warfare but as a battle royale, so of course the shooting/gun-play is tight, of course each gun feels different to handle and choosing the right accessories makes a massive difference. I don’t really need to tell you the obvious.
What might take you by surprise, though, is that Warzone is aggressive. That much was apparent during my first few games. Blackout always felt slower paced, with landing safe and looting being a top priority. Getting a gun was never enough in that game, and you had to spend time looking for the right attachments to get a set up that you’re comfortable with. With the absence of on the fly gun customisation, I was worried that it would diminish the experience. A few games in and I haven’t missed it as much as I thought I would.
Guns now come in flavours of rarity and the higher the rarity, the more attachments a gun will have. If you’ve played Modern Warfare already, it’s akin to what you find in the armoury – custom gun setups that are predetermined and prenamed. This is one of the first things that edge the experience closer to a more aggressive style. Less time spent scavenging for parts means there’s more time for shooting.
Even better, finding a loadout drop means you can select one of your premade custom loadouts, which carries over from the rest of Modern Warfare’s multiplayer. Imagine my surprise when I stumbled across one of these drops after fighting my way out the Gulag. I suddenly went from having nothing but the shirt on my back to being kitted out with my trusty custom sniper and an AK built for destruction.
Speaking of the Gulag, this is a new feature I really like. Too often in battle royales, you land and get killed pretty quickly, kicking you back to the main menu. The Gulag offers one of two ways to give you a reprieve and a second chance in battle. Getting killed the first time in a match will see you captured and dragged off to prison where you are plonked in 1v1 fights against other prisoners. Win the duel and you’ll get dropped back in. Simple. Lose, and then it’s perma death unless a teammate brings you back via a buy station, similar to the respawns in other games.
Another neat twist is that, while you are duelling, any team mates that happen to be in the Gulag with you can throw rocks at the enemy, dealing small amounts of damage. They can also tell you where the enemy is going, which has certainly helped me only lose a single duel of the 15-20 times I’ve been in the Gulag!
Another integral part of the game is the contracts. Contracts exist as an easy way to net you some cash, beyond just finding bundles of money or killing enemies. So far, I’ve only seen three types of contract: securing intel, which entails heading to different supply caches, securing a particular area or bounty contracts which target certain players. Having been a target myself a few times, it really does pile the pressure on you, because your opponent knows where you are, but you cannot see them until it’s too late. In one match, my squad and I hunkered down in a room with a barricade and a trophy system, all eyes towards the exit waiting for our pursuers. As the target got closer, my heart was racing, I can tell you.
All that cash comes in handy when you find one of the Buy Stations dotted around the map. Here you can spend any cash you’ve earned on kill streaks and other goodies like packs of armour plates, self revive kits and bringing back dead teammates. You might be concerned that the feature would make the final circles a hell of air strikes coming in to ruin your day and win in the cheapest fashion possible, but so far, so good. Reaching the final circle a few times hasn’t ended up in the bombing zone I thought it was going to be, with people still having incredible skill at range and killing me as I climbed the hill towards them. I can take that kind of death. It’s fair.
So, the shooting is there, the guns feel and sound great, the gameplay is fast paced with little down time. The world itself, however, I’m not entirely convinced by yet. When you look at the Blackout map, it’s colourful, eccentric and playful. A lot of the named areas were adapted from classic multiplayer maps, each with their own character and reasons to visit. Warzone has a bigger map to support up to 150 player, but all of the locations feel a little drab. Nothing really sticks out and as a result, you are often running in one direction without a real sense of location.
Only the prison has so far felt like a fun and memorable area so far. It’s a small prison setting at the back of the map with a vast underground area ripe for exploring. Everything else kind of looks the same, which is fine for the super serious shooter that Modern Warfare is, but doesn’t say much for longevity. New content will come for Warzone, but its scope could be somewhat limited as a result of current aesthetic.
I certainly hope it isn’t, because I’m loving Warzone so far. It’s a lot of fun, and it feels like there’s a bright future with a long string of updates ahead. I’m sure I’ll be there every step of the way.