What is it? Modern Warfare 2’s standalone F2P battle royale
Expect to pay: Free to play
Developer: Infinity Ward/Raven software
Publisher: Activision Blizzard
Judged by: Windows 10, Ryzen R7 5700g, 16GB DDR4 Ram, Radeon RX 5700
multiplayer? Up to 150 players
Clutch: www.callofduty.com (opens in new tab)
Despite being bogged down by technical glitches and an excruciatingly clunky UI, Call of Duty: Warzone 2 is a huge step up from its predecessor, with clever implementation of AI soldiers, social features that push the mayhem to new heights, and perhaps most importantly, a fantastic new map.
After all, a battle royale game is only as good as its card, and Al Mazrah is one of the best I’ve played to date. The fictional nation of Udal, a jewel of the Islamic Golden Age, has been crushed by internal strife and foreign intervention. A buffet of associative imagery is available here, with the rolling dunes and rocky outcrops of Al Mazrah reminiscent of the Gulf War, and the devastated neighborhoods of the urban centers evoking the Battle of Mosul. Half-finished financial districts contrast beautifully with battle-torn mosques, crusader castles and bazaars, resulting in a map that feels less artificial and, eerily enough, more inhabited than its Verdansk and Caldera predecessors.
Vehicles are now vital to traverse those wide open spaces. They still drive like giant RC cars (why was PUBG the only battle royale game that could drive well?), but vehicle-to-vehicle combat is way more fun. One of my favorite new features is the ability to go from the car seat to the roof at the touch of a button. It’s a lot of fun getting into a chase with another crew and watching soldiers crawl out of the windows, desperately trying to quickscope the other driver from the roof.
Cars aren’t the only star: Al-Mazrah has been carved up not only by foreign capital, but also by climate change, creating a network of man-made waterways that can be easily traversed by boat. The city of Al-Mazrah is intersected by a canal, which flows into a village that is being devoured by encroaching swamps. God help you if the circle chooses Mawizeh as the end area of the game. The war-torn district is a rat’s nest of underwater caverns perfect for stealthy ambushes, and when combined with obscuring swamp foliage and the vision-obscuring poison gas cloud, fighting there is the stuff of nightmares.
Meet me in Al-Mazrah
Warzone 2’s mechanics aren’t significantly different from Warzone 1. It’s Call of Duty combat in a battle royale map, but it’s how Warzone 2 pushes and pulls players in and out of its responsive, punishing firefights that make it stand out. A tweak to the standard battle royale format in Warzone 2 is the inclusion of Strongholds, semi-scripted encounters with surprisingly vicious AI that shake up gear progression in an engaging way. Strongholds serve as a great warm-up in the early to mid-game, but are not trivial. Gunfights with these guys are relentless, and I never felt I could approach a Stronghold with the assurance that I wouldn’t get my ass kicked. I’ve even had a few sieges interrupted by other squads, and those were easily some of the most gripping, teeth-grinding combat experiences I’ve had in a battle royale game.
Those brutal PvEvP shootouts are the main draw of the confusingly named sidemode DMZ (the zone is, in fact, heavily militarized), a mission-focused Escape From Tarkov-esque that drops you and two squads into Al-Mazrah with a bomb-defused to-do list and record information. DMZ has isolated progression – if you want a cheated AK-47, you’ll need to earn it by hitting strongholds, black locations, and exfiltrating off the map intact. Setting up traps for infantry convoys and doing experiments to determine which of the DMZ gadgets were best suited to taking down the heavily armored juggernauts lit up a part of my brain that’s been dormant since I pre-ordered Metal Gear Solid V. used 100 percent. The implementation of killstreaks is great – my first match involved attacking a stronghold and cracking a safe, troops landing en masse just outside the perimeter of the village. A precision airstrike I picked up earlier in the game proved vital here, the A-10 squadron destroying the helicopters and their passengers.
DMZ really shines when other players get into the mix and spread chaotic multi-squad shootouts over a wider area with AI reinforcements. It’s like MW2’s Ground War mode with the freedom of Warzone, as Rich recently said (opens in new tab)the mode feels like the future of CoD.
The player agency increase isn’t just limited to AI strongholds: there are vaults full of cash and bounty boards with targets scattered around the map. Warzone 2 offers an overwhelming number of choices, and none of the decisions are easy to make. Storm a Stronghold for fear of missing a legendary sniper or upgraded plate carrier, and you might miss out on a dangerous bounty contract, which always pays out huge sums of money, enough to buy your favorite gear or buy back a dead one. teammate. Every BR has some level of risk management, but Warzone 2 excels at making it sweat. My team often broke into heated arguments about what to do, if we have enough equipment, if we are close enough to the circle, who had heard or seen the tracks of another team nearby. Sometimes nearby squads heard our quarrel and moved in for the kill.
The new proximity voice chat is a strong addition. On top of making sure that a rowdy fourteen-year-old will never never drop you again, voice chat makes Gulag shootouts hilarious. In every game, I loudly shout, “Okay, we both go right!” and then turn left instead. It should work nine times out of ten. It’s not just the Gulag either, every game so far has been made better by its inclusion (opens in new tab)– hearing a nearby voice has always led to frantic silence or frenzied war cries from my party. Do you remember the lobbies of OG Modern Warfare 2? Warzone 2 is less toxic, but just as much fun.
The gulag system has also undergone a major overhaul. Now it’s a lobby that fills with prisoners and puts them into random 2v2 deathmatches in a large arena littered with weapon pickups. If the match goes on too long, the Jailer, a minigun-wielding juggernaut, will jump down, eager to make you “food for the dogs.” The new gulag rules. Being able to rely on a teammate is a welcome change from the sweaty 1v1s of Warzone 1.0, and the ability for both teams to team up and go after the Jailer in search of freedom adds much more depth to the whole thing.
The art design is a welcome return to simplicity, and Warzone 2’s cohesive visual identity has so far been unencumbered by gaudy cosmetics and ridiculous operator skins. Even though Season 1’s Battle Pass rewards look like over-engineered airsoft guns, at least there’s a theme rather than a medley of styles. MW2’s stellar lineup of royalty-free weapon approaches integrate well with the near-future war aesthetic, though the hypertactic, matte plastic battle pass guns are often at odds with a map that bears an uncanny resemblance to conflict photography. Visually, Warzone 2 is a big improvement over the bloated Warzone 1.0.
The sound design is still incredible, thanks to some clever mixing and layering. Delivering a 7.62 round burst from an RPD at a passing vehicle gets all the better when you hear that creak of shattered ceramic armor plates. Reloading is accentuated by the clank of belt-fed bullets and the grinding of metal magazines on composite receivers. Gunfire is particularly distinctive – it feels great to be able to identify the pops and crackles of nearby gunfire as belonging to a specific bullet caliber. In a meta that favors the AK-74u, it’s saved me from melting down in CQC a few times.
One thing I’m not sold on is the user interface. Almost nothing about the inventory system is intuitive, responsive, or informative. Grabbing items is clumsy and invites death at tense moments. The minimap isn’t any better, a deluge of hard-to-read brown-grey-green icons and overly complex symbols that randomly change to primary colors. The Stronghold system, as much as I like it, is wildly unintuitive, and I still don’t quite understand why the icon changes from white to blue when you defuse the bomb. I suspect most other players won’t either.
Performance and stability leave a lot to be desired, the worst being extreme stuttering when dropping at the start of a round. It’s so bad that it’s a real problem for coordinating group drops – I can’t reliably jump to my favorite drop site if the game freezes for five to ten seconds.
Some early hit detection and netcode issues seem to have been rectified by a flurry of patches, but random crashes and frame stutters that only manifest themselves at the most inopportune times have soured what was a mostly fantastic time in Al Mazrah. Warzone 2’s rough launch is hardly surprising to veteran players, and marathons aren’t won in the first few minutes, but it’s still frustrating for now. It’s worth noting that in my short time in Warzone 2, I haven’t seen the suspicious killcams and downright obvious aimbotting that were so oh-so common in Warzone 1. Technical issues aside, it’s a huge improvement to the Warzone experience not to be left behind I wonder if your attackers are cheating.
Some of Warzone’s accessibility features also deserve praise. There’s the standard rate, motion sickness reduction, and all the color blindness options that players rightly expect, but there are also extremely in-depth mouse sensitivity tuning options. I’ve always had trouble playing FPS games on mouse and keyboard at a high level thanks to mild cerebral palsy, so I’ve increased the sensitivity to close-range weapons to give me an edge in CQC, and increased the sensitivity for rifles lowered to help with stability. Warzone 2’s incredibly deep input tuning is a blessing, making it one of the few games I don’t have to play with a brace.
Ultimately, Warzone 2 is a huge step in the right direction, even if its full potential is still limited by a host of technical issues. Al Mazrah is a more dangerous place than Verdansk or Caldera. In the long game, there are no safe choices, no style of play that guarantees you’ll make it to the last circle. It’s more intense than any other battle royale game out there right now. For the first time in what feels like ages, Call of Duty is innovating again.