Call of Duty: Black Ops 4's Blackout mode took the world by storm in the last few months of 2018, and it almost seemed like it could possibly topple Fortnite from its battle royale thrown. Then it suddenly vanished from the public radar. Sure, changes to the map, special events and other tweaks have made sure that you'll still find a new match fairly quickly, but it's safe to say that the launch of Apex Legends and Fortnite Chapter 2 reminded players that it's possible to get incredible quality and fun completely free. Blackout lived up to its name and vanished from the general public's collective consciousness. The solution? Introduce Call of Duty: Warzone, a free-to-play Battle Royale-inspired shooter set in the Modern Warfare universe. Is this what the world has been looking for? Not quite.
Don't get us wrong, the fundamental gameplay is just as polished and fun as the multiplayer in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. The controls are (mostly) responsive and finely tuned, most weapons feel fantastic, and the sound design continues to give us goosebumps every time an explosion goes off or a bullet slices through the air right next to our head. Top it off with a map far more diverse than the one in Blackout, and you have yourself a game well-worth downloading. You'll find far less copy/pasted buildings and it's nice to see so many interactive computers and closed doors hiding secrets or teasing upcoming changes. It's safe to say that Warzone has taken a lot of inspiration from its competitors in certain areas, while at the same time introducing a few cool improvements and changes to the now well-known formula.
The most noteworthy change is without a doubt the Gulag. Where both Fortnite and Apex Legends leave your fate in your partner's hands if you die, Warzone gives you another chance to show that you belong among the 149 other players (they're expecting to add 200-player-rounds in the future) on the map by throwing you into a 1v1 fight in the showers in Alcatraz. Okay, that last part is just our imagination having watched The Rock too many times, but you'll have to fight another player in one of three shower rooms for a chance to get dropped back into the island again. Basically being a mini Gunfight match, you have forty seconds to kill the other player with the random loadout. Take longer than that and the victory goes to the player who manages to capture the middle of the room by controlling the spawned flag for a few seconds. Having such a small amount of time and random loadouts make sure that your heart is still pounding like crazy after being thrown in there, which makes your potential return to the island all the better. Fail though, and you have to rely on your surviving squadmates to spend 4,500 in-game cash in one of the map's Buy Stations.
Yes, that's right. Call of Duty: Warzone has a currency system which allows you to spend the cash you earn by killing people, opening gear stashes and completing optional objectives to get killstreaks, a self-revive kit, ammunition crates, or revive squadmates. It's an interesting system that discourages camping and rewards you for killing other players and generally taking your chances. One of the few drawbacks to this is that dead partners can spam a button that shows where the nearest Buy Station is, so we suggest you team up with someone you trust and like if you can't stand a short beeping sound and a small icon popping up on the screen every few seconds.
Another option is to play the other mode called Plunder, where the goal is to get 1,000,000 dollars and respawn is turned on. We didn't find this especially interesting or noteworthy, however, as it's basically a more cash-focused battle royale with respawns. Some of the tactics will be different because there are different ways to save your money, but some of Modern Warfare's multiplayer modes do a better job of giving us that rush of excitement.
It's nice to have options though, and Plunder is a great way to learn the map and core mechanics. Not that there's too much to learn, as many parts of Warzone have been streamlined compared to Blackout. Attachments have been removed from the loot pool because the new loot system is rarity-based where the rarest weapons have more attachments. Having fewer options will definitely ruin the game for those of you who love to customise your weapons to suit your playstyle, but it also has a few upsides. You won't have to spend time in cluttered menus evaluating which loot is better, for example. Accessibility seems to be more important in Warzone, and we can appreciate that even if our optimising-itch doesn't get scratched.
Then why aren't gushing all over this? Call us jaded, but even these changes and innovations aren't enough to remove the sense that we've played this several times before over the last three to four years. Where Fortnite has its building-mechanic and cartoony aesthetic and Apex Legends has its unique abilities, Warzone basically just has the Gulag and the currency system. When the latter sometimes lessens the fun by removing some of the purity we like in these games, we're left with one noteworthy new feature among a plethora of borrowed ideas.
Speaking of borrowed mechanics, we really don't like having the ping on a directional arrow on console, as it'll force most players to stop moving or aiming down sight. The DualShock 4's Back Button Attachment saved us, but few players have something similar to solve the bad button-mapping. We also have some things that Infinity Ward has promised will come in the future and/or we consider likely to be fixed in the coming days, weeks and months. These include the lack of solo and duo modes, a few technical hiccups in lobbies, kill steals, and stuff like that.
Overall, the franchise's accomplished controls, the great feeling/sounding weapons, and the intense gameplay are still very much present. What's more, being able to return yourself to the fray by winning a 1v1 fight after your first death is a fresh and interesting take on the genre. Including a currency system means a bit of give and take, however, as it's nice to be rewarded for exploring or doing well, but it can also lead to some weird pacing and make the experience less pure.
We're mostly positive about the changes, though; along with the streamlined loot system, they make the game far more accessible for players of different skill levels. Our main concern right now is the lack of innovation, limited squad-sizes, and a general lack of polish, but we're hopeful that the beta tag really means something and that Infinity Ward will continue to improve and iterate upon what it already has achieved. If the team does that, Call of Duty: Warzone might become a real force to be reckoned with.