Developer: Infinity Ward
Platforms: PC, Xbox One, PS4
Version Reviewed: PC
After an embarrassingly short few rounds of Warzone, my team and I finally got the hang of Call of Duty’s new, free-to-play battle royale mode. By this I mean we acquired a helicopter. This might seem a suicidal way to play a battle royale game, like robbing a house wearing a sequin jacket and whoopee cushions for shoes. Yet although gadding about in a chopper has the trade-off of announcing your presence like a pro-wrestler, it also lets you avoid a huge amount of dangerous ground combat, and nest on top of one of the map’s many skyscrapers like a trio of predatory birds.
This advantage is doubled when you’re also equipped with a rocket launcher. Our finest moment in warzone came when the two were combined, and we intercepted a second helicopter while en-route to the centre of Battle Royale’s omnipresent ring of death. Our pilot chased it excitedly down while me and another squad member peppered its rotors with rifle fire. Then I remembered I had an RPG in my back pocket, and fired it just as the stricken enemy chopper attempted an emergency landing. Triple kill & Squad wipe. Glorious.
To some extent, helicopters and rocket launchers sum up Warzone. It has the same fundaments as any other battle royale game, the opening parachute drop, the initial loot rush, the gradually shrinking concentric circles. But it all comes with that Call of Duty slickness and bombast on top. It’s a battle royale that lets you call in airstrikes, where the accompanying music for levelling up is like being assaulted by a metal band. Yet beneath this extravagant exterior, Warzones boasts a couple of clever ideas that give it a slight edge over the majority of its competition.
Warzone ups the traditional battle royale player count from 100 to 150, who via the delivery-system of a large troop-transport plane, spread themselves out across a huge map that includes its own dockyards, stadium, and snowy mountain range. From here, you need to gather weapons and equipment while fighting your way to the centre of an ever-closing ring of toxic gas, with the ultimate aim of becoming King of Warzone’s sulphurous yellow hill.
One of the most intriguing evolutionary arcs of battle royale modes is their softening attitude toward death. Dying in PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds puts an instant end to your match. Apex Legends, on the other hand, gave players a chance to be knocked down before finally being killed, while also allowing your squad to revive you at specific respawn points. Warzone goes one step further, letting you to be the arbiter of your own fate via the Gulag.
Should you be killed early-doors during a Warzone match, you don’t actually die. Instead you’re “captured” and transported to a dank and dingy prison area called the Gulag. Here, players compete in lightning-fast 1 on 1 matches, much like those of seen in Modern Warfare’s “Gunfight” mode. If you win your mini deathmatch, you get a chance to respawn.
It’s a fantastic solution to the problem of dropping into a Battle Royale match and immediately being killed. And if you think this sounds awful because you’re rubbish at twitchy deathmatch and will almost certainly always die, then you’ll be pleased to know that as someone with the reaction speed of a tortoise on Valium, I won more fights than I lost.
Warzone’s death-related generosity doesn’t end there either. As well as picking up weapons in the game, you also pick up “cash”, and that cash can be spent on either respawning your dead squadmates, or on a regeneration pack that lets you get up after a knockdown. In theory, you can respawn two or three times in any given match. This adds a much more pleasing ebb and flow to a match of Warzone than most other games of its ilk.
Of course, it doesn’t safeguard you entirely from suffering a complete squad wipe moments after your boots touch the ground. Indeed, one could argue that these systems are necessary to prevent Warzone from being absolutely merciless. Gunfights in warzone tend to be extremely short, thanks to Call of Duty’s hyper-twitchy combat, and if you’re caught from behind (which is always a possibility when exploring Warzone’s huge map) there’s a good chance you’ll be dead before you’re able to turn around.
One other neat little feature is the “Contracts” mode, side-missions that appear randomly on the map. These include bounties to hunt down specific players, and resource collection that drops three loot crates over a small area and requires you to track them down. Completing any of these offers a cash reward, and they’re a fun way to get a little edge during the first half of a match – providing you’re able to complete the mission, of course.
Beyond this, Warzone’s battle royale doesn’t offer a huge amount that’s new. That said, what it does offer is all very well put together. Both movement and combat feel excellent. I particularly enjoy smashing doors and windows open with my melee attack, and using the parachute to base-jump from rooftops. Meanwhile, the game’s audio provides atmosphere and information simultaneously, as you can clearly determine potential enemy locations by the sound of nearby gunfights.
It’s also worth noting that, while Warzone’s battle royale isn’t revolutionary, it does offer more than one mode. Alongside the regular battle royale mode is Plunder, which uses the same large map but puts the emphasis on grabbing as much cash as possible and extracting it from the map via Metal Gear Solid V-style Fulton balloons. If you’re intimidated by the almost-permadeath nature of Battle Royale, Plunder’s respawning capabilities might be a good way to familiarise yourself with Warzone’s map and general mechanics.
Warzone comfortably lands on the better side of battle royale games I’ve played, and is a big improvement over the frankly mediocre Blackout that came packaged with Black Ops 4. It isn’t going to change the world, but frankly I’ve had enough of world-changing things lately. Since most of us are going to be stuck inside for a considerable while, a new, free, large-scale multiplayer game developed with this level of polish seems like something only a fool would complain about.