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The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘Call of Duty: Warzone Pacific’ feels like a whole new game. That’s both good and bad.

(The Washington Post)
8 min

Verdansk is no more. The map that propelled “Call of Duty: Warzone” (now “Call of Duty: Warzone Pacific”) past 100 million downloads, weathered overpowered DMR metas, frustrated players with hackers and glitches and time traveled to the 80s is finally being put to bed after a 21-month run.

Activision Blizzard, the game’s publisher, released its new map, a Pacific island named Caldera, on Wednesday at noon Eastern time to those who purchased and played at least one multiplayer game of “Call of Duty: Vanguard.” After 24 hours, the map will open up to everyone. With its wide open spaces, gunplay that incorporates more recoil (I’ve only had a chance to try Vanguard weapons so far), and a bright and colorful map with plenty of unique sightlines, Caldera might remind players of “PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.”

So far, I’ve played five matches of Vanguard Royale — netting one win — and it feels like the developers created a completely new game. As the only battle royale option available on Wednesday, Vanguard Royale forces you to use “Call of Duty: Vanguard” weapons. If you haven’t had a chance to play that game or level up your weapons there, you’ll be out of luck when the loadout box drops. And if one of your loadouts includes a lethal or tactical item from one of the other integrated games, like “Modern Warfare” or “Black Ops Cold War,” you will be restricted from using that class entirely.

Caldera brings a much needed facelift to “Warzone,” and adds balance changes that freshen up the pace of play, combat and interactions with the environment. Here are our six takeaways from the new “Call of Duty: Warzone Pacific” map.

You can actually see now

Seasoned “Warzone” players will groan thinking about the Roze operator skin in Verdansk. The all-black wetsuit she wore acted as camouflage in dimly lit corners. In some cases, even mottled gray and green military uniforms were functionally invisible at about 160 feet due to Verdansk’s color palette.

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It seems that the developers took feedback about visibility to heart. Caldera is drenched in color. The blues of the surrounding ocean and bright green palm trees make you feel like you’re on a tropical vacation. A varied color scheme paired with better lighting and higher contrast will help you see what you’re shooting at.

The only drawback is that the map can feel almost too bright at times. That was true to a degree in Verdansk as well; the glare from the sun was unbearable, making it nearly impossible to look up in the hills and spot enemies. The fix, for now, is to just adjust the brightness settings.

Minor tweaks bring big improvements

In a November blog post, the developers announced they would be making a few changes to “Warzone.” While they may seem negligible — from changes to the gas mask animation to the addition of new contracts — players will immediately feel their impact while running around Caldera.

The biggest change is the removal of the Stopping Power field upgrade, which allows you to load in higher damage rounds to your weapon. The community has been up in arms about Stopping Power for a while, saying it gives an unfair advantage in a gunfight.

Then there’s Dead Silence. Developers have said that they nerfed the perk, without going into specifics. Heartbeat sensors have been hit too, in an effort to get players who camp to move around a bit more and use their eyes. I wasn’t able to test this out though; that perk is disabled in Vanguard Royale.

Loadout crates also can’t be purchased until after the first free ones drop during the first zone collapse. It remains to be seen how that might affect gameplay: whether it causes people to play safe without their comfort weapons, or more aggressively, with early cash being spent on UAVs to spot enemy teams. So far, the latter approach has prevailed.

Cash seems a lot easier to come by too, allowing a team to regain ground quickly and get back in the fight. In one playthrough, after completing just two bounties, we had enough money to buy two loadouts, buy back a friend, and each have a UAV. And crates now seem to give money every time.

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Nothing feels overpowered… yet

As of the first few hours playing “Warzone” on Caldera, no gun seems laughably overpowered like the DMR from the “Cold War” integration. So far, the Kar98k from Vanguard has reigned supreme: Its scope can cut through distractions in the foreground and background and help pick out enemies in the distance. Pair that with the STG44 for close quarters, and we may have an early meta developing.

I initially used the Automaton assault rifle because the recoil is non-existent and is forgiving to average players like me. For my secondary, I equipped the PPSH-41 for its rapid fire rate and large magazine size. After a few drops, though, I leaned toward the M1928 submachine gun because of its high fire rate. If you can deal with more recoil, the NZ-41, AS44 and Bren might be right for you. In short, there are plenty of options.

The vehicles are realistic… in the worst way

Planes are the biggest addition to the new map. Once I figured out the keyboard and mouse controls to get it off the ground, flying went pretty smoothly. The only drawback — as it was for the helicopter in Verdansk — is that I had to swing my mouse hard to make a normal bank turn. While in the plane, the UI points out where enemies are, which makes it easier to obliterate your foes as they parachute in.

There’s also a slew of new land vehicles in “Warzone Pacific.” None of them are great. The basic World War II Jeep is the fastest, matching the speed of the Verdansk SUV, but it is completely open — an invitation for enemies to shoot you — and hard to maneuver.

I wouldn’t even get in the cargo truck, which now has two internal seats to offer a bit more protection than the truck bed. The anti-aircraft truck packs a punch with its rear-mounted cannons, but the lack of speed or maneuverability drags it down. This makes it difficult to get around the large map and push teams if you prefer an aggressive playstyle.

It’s a whole new world

I felt like a kid opening a new present on Christmas morning as I explored the 15 points of interest and hidden locations across Caldera. So far, my favorite has been the peak near the center of the map. The volcanic mountain is filled with abandoned mining tunnels and features a central cave where you can force mano a mano combat or rain down fire from the opening above. It offers all you could want in a first person shooter — ample places for cover, verticality and opportunities to outmaneuver your opponent.

Caldera is mostly made up of open palm fields. However, the capital city has its fair share of buildings for close quarters combat. Thankfully, it’s nothing like downtown Verdansk, where players lived in terror of getting sniped from the roof of a looming high-rise.

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And while in Verdansk, a lot of buildings felt cut and pasted throughout the map, on Caldera, the buildings are quite varied. The result is more strategic thinking and interesting gunfights. Even in the open areas, terraced hills allow you to get ahead and look down on your enemy, and increased foliage gives you plenty of places to hide and plate up when necessary.

It’s fun, but by no means perfect

There’s not a lot to dislike about Caldera or Vanguard Royale. After five games, I achieved a victory and was awarded with the new post-game animation. Me and my teammates evacuated on a truck and then drove onto a boat, escaping to a warship in the background.

The transition between the two maps has been pretty seamless, but I can imagine some “Warzone” fans won’t love all the new changes — especially not being able to use the heartbeat sensor. Personally, I was disappointed to see that the developers didn’t take advantage of the destructible environments found in “Vanguard.” You can still shoot through buildings, windows, and doors. You just can’t destroy them completely.

Console players will also be sad to learn the developers haven’t added the long-desired field of view (FOV) slider. If you don’t play on PC, you won’t be able to change how well you can see along your periphery, a real disadvantage for players on Xbox or PlayStation consoles.

Caldera has changed a lot about “Warzone,” and a scan of Twitter will tell you that players and content creators aren’t uniformly pleased with it. In a week, as people get used to Caldera and the new weapons, it will be interesting to see if that changes — or if the newness detracts from what got people excited about “Warzone” in the first place.