Call of Duty: Modern Warfare already made a noticeably big splash with shooter fans. Can the spin-off free-to-play battle royale mode Warzone achieve the same amount of praise? Well, yes and no. It’s quick paced but slow, derivative but unique, casual but deep and hilarious but frustrating.
It’s truly a mode of opposites, and a must-play for every fan of Call of Duty and/or battle royales out there. But as far as we can tell, it’s got that familiar love/hate duplicity of Call of Duty that leaves you enjoying a good game then 5 minutes later throw your headset! An absolute staple for any Call of Duty fan.
Warzone pits players (solo, or in teams of 3 players) against each other in a huge area and lets them fight to the death until one player (or team) is left standing. It takes all the beloved, highly polished Modern Warfare gunplay mechanics and uses them in a battle royale format. And we definitely liked Modern Warfare, but there’s something missing in Warzone. This inherent design philosophy clouds every aspect of the game. The developer made sure everyone can have a good time in Warzone, consequently make it harder for people to have a great time.
Not rocket science
An average game of Warzone consist of jumping in, picking up a gun or two, gathering enough cash for a load out drop and fighting your way through multiple engagements before winning or dying. It’s nothing more and that is by design, obviously. Infinity Ward made the gameplay loop as consistent and streamlined as possible. You’ll almost never be without a weapon and you are incentivised to keep on fighting. Warzone is inherently as simple as possible to ensure as many people as possible enjoy it.
The same goes for the looting. Ammo and armor automatically get picked up in Warzone. There is no in-game weapon modding and barely any inventory screen. Instead, all weapons have attachments based on their rarity level. Epic and legendary weapons are decked out, while common, uncommon, and rare guns usually lack any attachment; maybe just a sight. Armor is just equipped by bashing a button. The only reason an inventory menu exists at all, is to share ammo or armor with your teammates.
Depending on who you ask, these concepts are either testament of great design or a huge insult to the intelligence of the player. It either takes away all your freedom to control your kit, or gives you more time to actually play the game. And for us, it was pretty clear after just a few hours that we needed more depth to keep coming back. The Battle Royale mode ensures no two games are the same, but still, we were missing something. And it seems like the choice to make this game accessible for everyone made it turn out pretty flat for gamers that play other, more intricate games like Apex Legends, or Escape from Tarkov. But we can also see why many players love that they can just shoot people all the time instead of looking at their inventory screen for half an hour and then be killed by an unseen sniper.
There’s fun in looting too
And while you may land on one side of the argument or the other based on your personal preference, the lack of anything to adjust or mod becomes somewhat painful when you’re looting an entire town. You can switch out your weapons and grenades, but finding yet another, slightly different P90 isn’t going to be satisfying after a while. Moreover the huge variety of weapons makes it inherently inconsequential which one you pick; they’re all pretty solid.
In other BR’s, when there’s no action in your area, you can use that time to really get decked out. Better scope here, improved handling there; a bit of fun during downtime. In Warzone, these dull moments have nothing to alleviate them, save for action. And while there’s plenty of that to go around, the nature of battle royale’s is that sometimes, there are moments that get a bit boring.
What does help with the lack of action for us is the addition of Contracts. These mini-missions give the player an alternative goal that rewards them with better weapons or cash to buy stuff like their custom Modern Warfare-loadout. Or reviving a teammate, if you’re feeling friendly that day.
The huge map doesn’t help either. Don’t be mistaken, big maps are great for variety’s sake, but even with 150 players in a match sometimes you’re just not seeing anyone. So then you’re just clearing another similar looking building, not really finding anything of value. You could also choose to take a vehicle to traverse the huge map, but that gives away your position. So taking the slow, ‘scenic route’ is often strategically better. Sadly though (and we might be a bit spoiled by over-the-top games like Fortnite and Apex) the map is kind of monotone. It’s just a bunch of gray-ish towns and industrial areas.
It is, however, full of familiar locations in their full beauty. It’s a trip down memory lane in that regard, passing through places like Terminal and Scrapyard. Besides that, the developer put great effort into making every part of the map unique. So no asset flipping or repeated building design. Huge plus. Yet the design philosophy of Warzone (and the most recent Call of Duty for that matter) is holding the map back a bit. Nothing really jumps out and everything just sort of flows together; not a bad thing from a design aspect, but from an experience aspect it isn’t really exciting.
Plunder steals the show
While we may have our complaints with Warzone, there’s another mode in Warzone that takes away many of these complaints: Plunder. Instead of having to be the last man (or squad) standing, Plunder tasks the player to earn the most cash. You have many ways of achieving this goal, which makes Plunder fantastic for squads and players that want something different from the battle royale format.
First, you have to work together to take out high-value targets, do Contracts, or just loot money from buildings. Then, you have to bank said money because when you die, you drop half of everything you have for the enemy to pick up (and the other half disappears). To bank cash, you get to ‘public’ helipad locations, but when you signal for a drop-off, everyone in the area gets alerted and might pay you a visit. You can also buy a ‘personal’ balloon where you can deposit up to $150k in cash. The first team that hits a million or gets closest to that amount when the timer runs out wins.
This mode, while ditching the tried and true battle royale concept, channels that energy into something spicy and new. If you have a squad you like to play with, we definitely recommend checking out Plunder. At Game Enthusiast we mostly play that mode because it’s tactical, in-depth, and less dependent on the randomness of loot, the circle, and spawns that plague any battle royale game. It also keeps respawning you when you die so firefights between teams can last a long time. And while dying is obviously a bad thing because you lose money, it’s also a great way to drop into the enemy position while they’re still engaged with the rest of your team. Or you could always reposition after dying too.
Downed, but never really out
Speaking about dying, one must not forget the best thing about Warzone: the Gulag. The first time you die in Battle Royale, you get sent to the Gulag. Here, you can fight another ‘dead’ player in a 1v1 matchup with random (mirrored) gear. If you win, you re-drop into the match. If you die, it’s up to your teammates to pay in-game cash at a Buy Station to get you revived.
This mechanic ensures that, even if you have a poor start and die because you couldn’t find a gun, you still have a chance to make it to the end game. It’s also a way to keep players engaged in a match. Yeah, you lost an engagement and the subsequent 1v1, but now your teammates still have the power to get you back. In other words, even when you’re out, you’re never really out.
Tricky business model
Lastly, we have to talk about the business model of Warzone. While there may be other plans for the distant future of this game, for now it’s really all about getting people to buy Modern Warfare. But that means that owners of the ‘base game’ have a slight advantage over gamers that haven’t got it. Modern Warfare-players already built their perfect kit, perfected their strategy with specific guns, and leveled all the weapons there are.
New players start from scratch (obviously). That wouldn’t be a problem were it not for the fact that you can get pre-made loadouts in Warzone by buying the in-game Loadout Drop. In fact, in Plunder you can even choose which kit to take in. So if you have the game, you’ve got an objective advantage with your modded gun versus a new player. And said new player also has no control over which weapon they level; if you don’t pick up a higher tier weapon, you won’t level it.
Deliberately simplified, but infinitely juicy
All in all, Warzone is a double edged sword. The Battely Royale mode is dumbed down to a point where some players may lose interest quickly, while others love the simplified mechanics that let them focus on actually playing. The Gulag ensures that people stay invested in a match and have a chance to redeem themselves. And of course, because of the inherent properties of BR, you’ve never seen it all. There’s always more fights to win, more guns to find, and more 1v1’s to screw up.
Especially, Plunder is a breath of fresh air. It’s definitely our favorite mode because it really does something new. It takes all the things we like about Battle Royale, but combines it with respawning and to give way to a really dynamic game mode.
Overall, we feel like Call of Duty: Warzone is a necessary part of any fan of battle royale but don’t expect to be blown away. It’s fun for the most part and if you’re looking to try something new, Warzone is definitely one to try.
So what are you waiting for? Give it a shot!