How do you go about significantly improving a genre that exploded onto the scene a few years ago, and now includes some of the most populous video games of all-time? How do you do such a thing without either alienating your ongoing audience with too daring features, but also manage to introduce enough new content that veterans stick around and remain entertained? Well those are incredibly tough questions that have made for a major task for Epic Games with Fortnite, Respawn Entertainment with Apex Legends, and also Activision with Call of Duty: Warzone, with each of these titles generally favouring to buy into the frequent update cycle that live service offers. However Activision has decided that this isn't enough these days, and now we have a sequel to a battle royale that once supported 150 million active players.
Call of Duty: Warzone 2.0 is a sequel in the same sense that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II is a sequel to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. The games are all very similar in their gunplay and appearances, but these 2022 editions have extra features that just make them a little better. Be it the ability to swim, marginally different time to kill and gameplay pace, improved visuals and lighting effects, all the typical doodads that come with a game being a successor. And in Warzone 2.0, all the new additions from Modern Warfare II can be found, meaning you get an experience that is more tactical and tends towards realism, rather than simply being an arcade shooter in a 150-person lobby.
While these features have their benefits at times, for example in better traversal options, certain areas like the lower time-to-kill (TTK) does mean that Warzone 2.0 is a far more ruthless and punishing title, because a lot of the time, you'll die before getting a chance to fight back - as is the case in the regular multiplayer. Again, it's the argument of realism versus outright action. And this can be further seen in how the zone-closing gas also operates and now damages you more severely, and also in how fall damage now seems to work on more of an exponential curve.
But these more minor systems aren't all the new features that have been introduced in Warzone 2.0. Now zones work differently and you can have multiple unique areas that are safe instead of one big consistently shrinking one. Shops now allow you to buy specific guns or pieces of equipment, instead of just a Loadout Drop for a bucket load of cash. Armour plates now require Armor Vests to use a third plate, instead of being able to slap a third plate on the moment you get boots on the ground. The map, Al Mazrah, now has AI soldiers (similar to Fortnite) who will attack on sight but protect powerful loot or stacks of cash, and sometimes are even the subjects of objectives that can reward even more loot. There are a lot of extra things to do and ways to interact with the game.
While I do appreciate what Infinity Ward and Raven Software has done with these new additions and gameplay tweaks because they do make the battle royale gameplay feel fresh and new, I will say that Warzone 2.0 feels even more challenging from a solo perspective. Between the low TTKs, the fact that the Gulag is now 2v2 (regardless if you are playing solos, which baffles me), and considering that - as has been the case with Warzone for literally forever - the directional audio is still incredibly difficult to keep tabs on, it all makes for an experience that's rather stressful and often tough to enjoy. Sure, it's great that the inventory has been overhauled and now resembles something more akin to Apex Legends (even if the actual looting feels far too complex and a massive step backwards), but what good is that if I get shot in the back by someone I couldn't hear and had no indication they were coming, all before finishing to loot the enemy I just took down.
I will say that coming from Caldera, Al Mazrah is a step up. There are more exciting points of interest, many of which are former Call of Duty maps, a better variety of weapons, more impactful ground loot, and it's all handled in a very visually-striking manner. It feels very prestigious, even if there is the occasional bug here and there. To say that this will outdo Verdansk would be very, very bold, because that map is baked into Warzone veteran's minds as the golden child at this point, but after spending a year trapped in the Pacific, this is a nice change of pace and scenery.
But here's the real catch with Warzone 2.0, and this takes priority over literally every other change and improvement that has been introduced: the monetisation. Now the actual monetisation and the battle pass is fine, if you were able to carry forward all of the cosmetics and goodies that you purchased from the original Warzone. But that's not the case. This is a sequel with no progression carried forward whatsoever, which means anyone who bought an Operator bundle, or a weapon blueprint, and so forth in the now seemingly legacy Warzone, has no access to it in this modern yet very, very similar follow-up. Sure, it's free to play, but that's hardly a substitute for this kind of development decision.
Add to this the constant server hiccups that seem to kick you out of the game every 30 minutes or so, all so that a "playlist update" can be completed, and you get another game where Activision has slapped the number two at the end of its name and then marketed it as some fresh and exciting product, when it reality, this is just a glorified update.
Does it feel AAA? Yes. Is it flashy and pretty? Yes. Is the third-person mode a nice touch? Yes. Is proximity chat one of the best and most hilarious features added to Call of Duty ever, arguably better than death comms? Absolutely. But is Call of Duty: Warzone 2.0 a massive improvement and step forward for the Warzone formula? Not particularly, and if anything I would have preferred the former big updates approximately every 12 months instead of Activision just hitting the reset button as they have done here.