Not long ago I watched my Warzone Legacy, a two-minute-long compilation of my best stats from the first game, which included my K/D ratio and hours played and the like. It was undoubtedly produced by AI to feed the social media machine, yet the cold, hard numbers transported me back to the warm embrace of Verdansk, a battle royale map my mates and escaped to almost every evening as the pandemic raged. The silly 120 second video shot me right in the feelings.
My history with the first game means that I enter Warzone 2 with an embarrassing tangle of emotional baggage and personal investment. It has a lot to live up to. And for the most part, it has been a joy to drop in again. Launch woes aside, the sequel iterates on the first in a way that feels like it'll last in the long run and confirms that there's still no battle royale that does it quite like Warzone.
PUBG, Apex Legends, Radical Heights (remember that one?), and so many more have I tried. Yet none of them ever came close to Warzone 1's pacing, which I'd considered the perfect balance of inaction and action. Those lulls are all-important! But not when they're marked by a seemingly endless stretch of looting with the occasional tumbleweed rolling past. For me, at least, too many battle royales have us pissing about in our inventories and just assume we like micro-managing our backpacks and our weapon attachments.
Warzone streamlined looting, so when enemies dropped dead their belongings would scatter on the floor and you, a hoover, would vacuum up the important stuff. If you wanted to swap your gun for theirs? A quick tap. Carefree. Snappy. Kept things moving. Combine this with no backpack/attachment palaver and a perfectly sized map, and you had battle royale games that interrupted your deep chats about Married At First Sight: Australia's most volatile couples with just the right amount of shot calling.
Much like its regular multiplayer modes, Warzone 2 is more deliberate than its predecessor. The new map Al Mazrah, an Arabian-inspired city, is larger than Verdansk and home to far more interesting locales. Fan favourite maps from Call Of Dutys past like Highrise and Terminal feature, while bespoke zones like Sattiq Cave Complex are a wonderful example of the mode's shift away from grey buildings to detailed locations with layers that encourage all sorts of interesting gun fights.
But one of the more deliberate changes has seen the mode's loot system tweaked in line with the competition, meaning that fallen enemies drop their backpacks, which act similarly to other games' loot boxes. This means there's now – quite literally - a barrier to entry; an obstacle to your pilfering and moving on. Sure, it's neater to package goods in boxes, and backpack management is nowhere near as complex as PUBG, but the whole system manages to be more finicky.
No matter if you're in a hurry when looting or taking your time, it never seems to go smoothly. There's something sticky about the whole affair now, as it's so easy to accidentally keep the menu open as you pull away in a hurry. Sometimes I've struggled to differentiate my inventory from the enemy's when I need to grab and go in a flash. Often weapons and items lay on top of each other outside of backpacks, making them either extremely difficult to pick up, or downright impossible.
Still, the stickiness of looting may change as patches roll out. And it's great that you're able to stow away ammo, killstreaks, and even weapons, which gives you greater freedom over how you're going to tackle each match, while ensuring that resources like ammo actually matter.
Another small tweak to Warzone's formula includes a faster time-to-kill, as players now start with two armour plates as opposed to three, with the elusive third plate exclusive to those who've found an armour vest. Combine this with the removal of the original Warzone's slide-cancelling (movement tech that let people super-sprint continuously), and it adds to the deliberate feel of the mode. Positioning supersedes everything in a gunfight now, as you're less likely to survive if you're caught slacking. While it makes matches more punishing if you're having a rough day, it's a more rewarding experience overall, as players of all skill ranges can secure the hallowed dub if they play smart.
Thankfully, the faster pace of Warzone has remained intact, even despite looting's stickiness, the TTK's quickness, and the map's bigness. After many, many drops into the Zone I'm still encountering plenty of gunfights at just the right moments, with late game circles providing the same level of high tension and panic you're after in a free evening.
And the ground loot (weapons found on the floor or in crates) is varied and interesting, which is more important than ever considering loadouts are harder to come by now. Before you could pile together $10,000, head to a Buy Station, and get access to your custom weapons and Perks, which would grant you a huge advantage over the competition. Not anymore! Now you're only allowed to buy one of your custom weapons from a Buy Station at a time without the benefit of perks. Want a loadout you prepared earlier? Either wait for a smattering of loadouts to drop in at certain points in the match, or complete Strongholds: AI-controlled buildings filled with armoured baddies.
With Loadouts not being quite so readily available, it means that players are funneled towards hotspots that can make for some exciting high points. So, yes, the AI might be dumb fodder, but it's the threat of other teams that provides the real thrill. Plus, less folks with their custom weapons means that everyone's challenged to use the guns they scavenge, making it seem much more like a battle for survival than before.
And with proximity chat in the mix (you can opt out, if you'd like), the threat of other players is hammered directly into your eardrums. Sometimes you'll hear "yournan_eatsplaster" blaring Jason Derulo's Watcha Say. Sometimes the most British lad you've ever heard will announce his arrival, as the loud buzzing of his mic indicates that he's on a landing strip about to board an Airbus A319 to Mykonos. Sometimes you'll mind your own business and a faint whisper of "I can smell you" rocks you to your core. Proximity chat might be a toxic cesspit, but it adds this extra unpredictability to the mix, which is both hilarious and awful in equal measure.
If you're not feeling Warzone, then DMZ comes bundled along with it as a mode that's in beta, whatever that means. Isn't Fortnite technically still in beta? Either way, it's a marked improvement from the original Warzone's Plunder, which was a bit naff all round. DMZ is a bit like Escape From Tarkov, in that you pick and choose some missions and guns before you drop into Warzone's map, which will be filled with mainly AI enemies and strongholds, as well as other teams of players. Your aim is to tick off your checklist and exfil successfully. If you die, you lose everything you took into battle.
I won't go into too much detail on DMZ as it's not technically Warzone 2, but I will say that it's a great deal of fun. A surprising amount of fun, to the point where it's a brilliant middle ground between PVE and PVP that lets you play at your own pace. Want to go hunt other players? Go ahead. Want to demolish some AI and do some missions for EXP and loot? Please, in your own time. Sure, DMZ isn't flawless and could use a few more in-game events or activities to cut through some of the silence that comes from roaming a slightly bare map. But these improvements will come, and I'm genuinely excited to see the mode evolve alongside Warzone.
Perhaps my biggest gripe with Warzone and DMZ are the many launch woes, which feel like the game's servers are teetering on an active tectonic plate. Some matches are stuttery, elastic messes. Small grievances only serve to back up my theory that the game's backend also slides over a molten layer of rock, like when I'm queuing up for a DMZ match but seeing the "Battle Royale Quads" matchmaking whirr away, or finishing a match of Warzone and not even seeing how much EXP I earned and what levelled up. I've had important AI enemies fall through the floor in DMZ and Strongholds not even work as intended. One time I queued up for Warzone duos but it placed us in a borked quads, so I went to revive my teammate and it wouldn't let me. Sigh.
But I can forgive Warzone for its launch woes because it's everything I'd hoped it would be. A reinvention that makes the mode feel fresh and more deliberate, while keeping the pace of the original. And alongside DMZ, multiplayer, and the campaign, it's arguably part of the most complete Call Of Duty package we've ever seen.
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