The Call of Duty: Warzone map of Verdansk lays outstretched before me. The ring is ahead and I’ve got my loadout and armor from scavenging and a couple well-engaged gunfights. There are many ways to go forward through the sprawling landscape. I just need to figure out which way will put me the least in harm’s way against what remains of the 150-man match. As my squad and I get ready to move, suddenly I’m gunned down from behind nearly instantly. I didn’t hear anyone coming on my rather reliable Logitech PRO headset, but they were like seven feet away when they killed me. It's off to the Gulag to try to fight my way out or wait for my surviving squad to respawn me with enough cash and continue the fight to become champion of the match.
That’s the experience of Warzone: A fun mix of good ideas, beautiful environments, and second chances, marred by some glaring issues. And it makes for a great, if not sometimes frustrating offering to the battle royale genre. That said, as another free-to-play game separate of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s premium paid experience, is it worth the patience to stay and wait for it to be bettter?
The broad battlefield of Warzone
The set up of Call of Duty: Warzone is neat from the outset. It’s the standard fare of being dropped into a map, finding your way to equipment, fighting, hiding, and otherwise working your way to a closing ring to try to become the last squad standing. Verdansk is the map and it’s a gorgeous environment full of bits and pieces of Call of Duty Multiplayer maps and Spec Ops missions. The stadium and its nearby town from Headhunter are present, as are maps like Vacant in more explorable forms. These are mixed with original map design full of forests, towns, and attractions. The really cool part is that nearly every building in Call of Duty: Warzone’s map is unique and explorable. There are some similar variants, but generally speaking, the whole map allows a ton of different strategy for snipers, close-range combatants, and everything in between.
The general modes on offer are Battle Royale (survive to the end) and Plunder Mode (make the most money by game end). They both operate the same - kill all other teams or survive them - but Plunder Mode’s wrinkle is that there are tons of ways to make cash in the game, whether it’s searching boxes or taking contract. The latter comes in the form of Scavenger, Recon, and Bounty contracts existing in both Battle Royale and Plunder modes. Scavenger gives you three boxes to find and open, Recon gives you a location to lock down for a certain amount of time, and Bounty gives you a randomly marked player squad to hunt. Completing these contracts provide precious equipment and increasing amounts of cash, making Plunder a fun, aggressive mode that forces players to come out of hiding and get active if they’re going to claim the most cash at the end.
What I didn’t enjoy about any of Warzone’s setup was the design of teamplay. When Activision and Infinity Ward introduced Call of Duty: Warzone, they said you could play solo, duo, or trio with friends. What they didn’t say is that those are not separate modes. You can just queue up as solo or duo in a game where everyone else has the opportunity to be a trio at most. As cool as it is to have the option, it’s absolutely mind boggling that Activision and Infinity Ward thought a lot of people would like to play as a single soldier coming up against full squads regularly rather than engaging in a true every-man-for-themselves solo experience. This game needs actual solos and duos modes and it needs them stat. The whole queuing with an incomplete team thing is quite a lame way to let players go solo.
Another pain point is the sound. Sound is absolutely paramount in every battle royale game I’ve played and Call of Duty: Warzone is no different. We’re talking hearing enemies and listening carefully to where they’re coming from. You can definitely hear footsteps, but Call of Duty: Warzone feels enormously inconsistent with this. There were multitudes of situations where my squad and I got caught because we couldn’t hear an enemy approaching after a certain point, or at all. On one occasion while on a rooftop, I was watching to snipe enemies at distance, unaware that a full squad climbed a ladder five feet behind me. I turned around by chance to see all three of them standing there as they shot me. Inexcusable to say the least. This game’s audio needs work in a bad way. Especially for a game that will take up a whole 100GBs on your hard drive, which no other battle royale does right now (and that's if you just have Warzone and not the full Call of Duty: Modern Warfare installed).
Armed entry & second chances in the Warzone
As is true of every battle royale, the goal in Warzone is to arm up either through killing foes, getting cash, or opening boxes to acquire what you need. The more you survive and explore, the more good gear you’ll find to prepare for the final fracas in the ring. For its start, Call of Duty: Warzone offered a little something of which players have been begging for years. You start with a gun - a semi-auto pistol perfectly capable of successful early combat engagement. The equipment in boxes includes armor plates, various tiers of weapons, and lethal and non-lethal throwables - again, standard fare for a battle royale, but having that starting pistol is so refreshing.
What’s more, there are Buy Stations scattered across the environment. These are another spot cash comes into play. You can purchase everything from armor packs, ammo boxes, killstreaks like UAVs and Precision Strikes, and even loadout drops. These last ones are really cool because they let you call in a box where you can access your custom loadouts. Players who have been playing Spec Ops or Multiplayer in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare will find their leveled custom kits all intact, attachments, perks and all. It’s a great way to let those who paid for their CODMW experience bring a bonus over to the free-to-play Warzone, but Warzone players will be able to level up their weapons and build their own loadout kits with time as well. It’s almost absurdly easy to level up a weapon in Warzone.
That brings up an interesting qualm. Buy Stations are much, much too accessible and cheap in Call of Duty: Warzone. They’re spread out often like a block away from each other at most and most things can be bought off of one or two engagements, a couple contracts, a good loot area, or any mix of the above. Multiplayer loadout kits feel like they should be much more special since you get your perks and ideal gun kits out of them, but they’re just easy. Meanwhile, as long as you have $4500 (again, easy to get), you can revive your squadmates over and over. Don’t get us wrong, we like the second chances. But right now there’s just no risk or barrier to Buy Stations when there are so many of them and they’re so cheap.
That said, the second chance thing is extremely nice. It’s not just the Buy Stations. When you die the first time, you’re taken to a Gulag prison area where you’ll fight a one-on-one gunfight. If you win, you respawn. It’s just a one-time thing per match, but it’s really cool to have a chance to take back an opportunity to play after losing the first time you get caught.
A vast and beautiful Warzone with a few bumpy roads
Having played Fortnite, Apex Legends, PUBG, and other battle royales extensively, I can safely say Call of Duty: Warzone does a lot of things that really make me happy. The starting pistol is great, the custom loadouts are a cool way to reward longtime COD players, and the second chances make death extremely flexible. The map is vast. I don’t think we’ll be getting bored with it for a while and the 150-player cap makes matches a long and rich experience. That said, it’s not all sunshine in Verdansk. They need to fix the sound in this game stat. No excuses. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is too high quality to have an issue like that in battle royale. Meanwhile, the option to queue solo is a band-aid when other players can still queue full-squad against you. It needs proper solos and duos. If those two things were fixed, Buy Stations and things like that could just go for some rebalancing, but Activision and Infinity Ward could truly grab the brass ring of one of the best free-to-play battle royales around with Warzone.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 free-to-play edition of the game. Call of Duty: Warzone is available now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC via Battle.net.
Call of Duty: Warzone
- Huge varied and expansive map
- Starting pistol for instant engagement
- Second chances to fight in Gulag and Buy Stations
- Opportunity to bring in leveled multiplayer loadouts
- All of the positives of Call of Duty 2019 gunfighting
- Environmental sound design is atrociously spotty
- No true solos and duos
- Buy stations are much too accessible
- File size is thick at nearly 100GBs with Warzone alone