Start with the new elements it introduces to the battle royale scene. For most fallen players, Warzone guarantees a second chance — and the possibility of even getting a third or fourth. This means more time playing, and less time spectating or waiting for the next game to begin. The fact that the second chance is earned by winning a 1v1 round of Gunfight, the single best mode introduced by 2019′s Modern Warfare, is even better. No longer are you forced to rely on the merits of your squadmates to bring you to a respawn beacon (as in Fortnite and Apex Legends). Now you can do it yourself by beating another fallen player in the Gulag while others watch you from above (and try to pelt you with rocks).
Fail at that and your team can pay for your return if they can scrounge up enough cash scattered around the map, and make their way to a Buy Station. The money can be used for other things as well, like a self-revive kit (another way to avoid death), or killstreaks that rain punishment from the skies. They can purchase ammunition or even splurge to secure a full loadout of personalized weapons, equipment and perks (Call of Duty’s equivalent of the passive abilities you’ll find in Apex Legends).
The loadout element also shows how smartly the game was implemented, brought to market both as a new mode playable in 2019′s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and a free-to-play stand-alone game. Modern Warfare players have spent nearly six months grinding to improve their weapons, unlocking new attachments to make them more accurate and powerful. Accessing those weapons in the battle royale mode is a big advantage. Free-game players don’t have that benefit from the drop, rewarding players who both spent money on Modern Warfare and time in that game ranking up. In the other BRs, the only thing you can really tinker with is the skins or accessories on your character, adding another layer of thought to Warzone.
The ability to bring personalized loadouts into Warzone’s battle royale mode also adds more value to the battlepass, which likewise is linked between Warzone and Modern Warfare. New players coming to Warzone would normally have to rely upon finding the limited types of weapons scattered across the map, since their loadouts would primarily consist only of low-level weapons. The battlepass, available for $10 and which pays for the next season’s pass if you complete most of the 100 tiers, includes weapon blueprints that come equipped with a variety of attachments. By adding those guns to a loadout, new players can upgrade their firepower a little quicker, another nice little wrinkle you won’t find in the cosmetic-only Fortnite Battlepass. (And if you don’t want to spend the money, you can still rank up your guns over time.)
Battle royale fans shouldn’t have any problem grinding to upgrade their loadouts though, given that Warzone’s replay value is so high thanks to its unique features. The ability for players to pick up contracts adds exciting minigames throughout each round as teams look to find specially marked loot chests, secure a specific location or hunt down opposing players marked by a bounty (and occasionally protecting one of their own, similarly targeted teammates).
A massive map accommodates 150 players, more than other battle royale titles on the market. The playable terrain varies from open fields to snow-covered peaks, farmland to urban high-rises, allowing for a wide array for combat styles. (Be sure to check out the beautifully rendered canyon near the top right of the map.) Vehicles, ranging from quads to dune buggies to helicopters, can be found at various points, helping players rapidly cover the game’s expansive landscape.
For as grand and nuanced as Warzone’s battle royale mode is, it does not feel overwhelming, nor does it drag on endlessly. Rounds take about 20-30 minutes from first dropping in to the final circle, and always last at least a few minutes given the opportunity to fight in the Gulag.
Longer still are rounds of Plunder, a second mode offered in Warzone. In this mode, which features unlimited respawns, players try to snatch up cash to become the first team to reach $1 million, looting chests and money dropped by killed players. You can stash your cash via balloon drops and helicopter pickups, the latter method almost always leads to a jaw-clenching firefight with nearby teams. The mode provides a nice respite from the battle royale, and is so enjoyable I could see some players preferring it as their main mode.
The best part of Warzone, across both battle royale and Plunder, is that it plays almost exactly like Modern Warfare (which we previously dubbed the best Call of Duty installment in years). The gun play is identical to Modern Warfare’s multiplayer modes, a departure from the previous Call of Duty BR, Blackout, which felt very different from Black Ops 4′s multiplayer mode. The biggest difference with Warzone is that it just adds layers of decision-making and scale to the core kill-or-be-killed dynamics of Modern Warfare. In this case, bigger definitely is better. It also feels sturdy so far — unlike, say, PUBG — with few glitches witnessed for all its elaborateness. Some infrequent lagging on two occasions was the only real bug I saw in the game’s first week-plus.
There are shortcomings with Warzone, but they are few. It is difficult to keep track of the action, for one. While a feed on the left side of the screen lists players leaving the game (why do we need to know this?), it does not show when an opposing player is downed or eliminated unless you downed them. Combined with self-revives, that can allow some downed players to elude elimination and surprise would-be victors. On a similar note, in-game notifications for awards or unlocks are extremely distracting and crowd the screen, occasionally mid-firefight. I don’t care that I just killed five players in a row if I need to kill a sixth. Tell me what I unlocked later.
The game also needs to introduce more options for party play. (It launched only with trios and introduced solo play a week later.) Most Blackout players rolled in squads of four players, so there are a number of Call of Duty regulars who keep coming up with an odd-person out in these early Warzone matches. But why stop at four? Given the scale of the game and its 150 players, that player pool divides just as evenly by five as it does by three. Quints, anyone?
The drop-in dynamic is also worth reevaluating. While the ability to parachute, cut your ‘chute to accelerate and redeploy another to slow your fall is fine, it isn’t as enjoyable as the wingsuit deployments of Blackout. A hybrid, where players can deploy a parachute in addition to gliding in wingsuit, would be pretty cool.
Ultimately, these are minor quibbles in what is a massively enjoyable game. What ultimately will determine Warzone’s long-term endurance will be the support the game receives from Infinity Ward going forward. The current Verdansk map is wonderful. It will eventually grow old for players dropping in hundreds of times a month. Blackout’s biggest shortcoming was its almost nonexistent changes to the map. Apex took similar heat before it finally introduced changes after several months of complaints. Hopefully that won’t be the case here.
There is plenty of potential already realized in Warzone, but long-term success for battle royale titles requires ongoing care and support. That’s how Epic has maintained Fortnite’s lead over its other competitors. If Infinity Ward supplies that to Warzone, there’s a very good chance this battle royale could be the best of the bunch.