What does it mean to be a Call of Duty game? That definition has been slowly evolving over the years and even changes based on which of the three developers undertake a specific title. But never has a Call of Duty so radically shifted the dynamic while retaining its core identity as Call of Duty Warzone has.
Call of Duty Warzone is a new twist on battle royale, deftly combining the Call of Duty Modern Warfare gameplay you know and love with a massive and unprecedented 150-player fight to the last person (or squad) standing. It takes the last four or five years of battle royale games and dusts off many of the cumbersome elements that have driven players away, refining the experience into what is quite easily one of the best and most engaging experiences I’ve ever played.
“Battle royale” is just about as dirty a word as “Call of Duty” for many outspoken internet voices, and yet despite the ire that is often tossed their way, they are both clearly doing pretty well for themselves. Call of Duty explored battle royale with Blackout in Black Ops 4 a couple of years ago, though it faced two major roadblocks. Blackout was part of Black Ops 4, not a separate release. And even as part of Black Ops 4, it felt inherently separate from the rest of the game. It was a fun enough battle royale, but Modern Warfare needed something different; something more everlasting.
Warzone is not just a new Modern Warfare game mode. It’s a completely free-to-play game in itself. And that’s where, before you even start playing, the brilliance in Warzone’s release lies. For Modern Warfare players, the latest game update puts Warzone right in their faces, in the middle of the main menu. It lets them carry over progression, gun leveling, battle pass rewards and unlocks, and for all intents and purposes feels like it belongs right there in Modern Warfare as part of the complete experience. It’s also got the same cross-play systems in place that Modern Warfare does. And yet players who didn’t pick up Modern Warfare can still download the same game for free on any of its platforms, playing it in the same lobbies with everyone else without so much as a hiccup. It’s fundamentally the exact opposite of what Blackout is to Black Ops 4, a brilliant release execution that becomes the perfect way to engage new and existing players alike.
In my original Modern Warfare 2019 review, I was critical of the game’s Spec Ops modes, which felt tacked on and underdeveloped to me. For as good as the rest of the game was, Spec Ops really seemed like a step down. When rumors began swirling about a battle royale game mode for Modern Warfare, I was skeptical. My brain kept thinking it would inevitably just be Blackout 2.0 or Spec Ops Battle Royale; a tacked on experience that, while fun, wouldn’t do much to engage. Much to my delight, I would be proven wrong. Call of Duty Warzone is one of the most polished battle royale experiences you can get your hands on. Everything that impressed about Modern Warfare itself carries over to Warzone, from the gameplay to the graphics and sound. Warzone doesn’t feel like a different product. It feels like Modern Warfare scaled up. It is Modern Warfare scaled up.
Call of Duty Warzone Review – Battle Royale
Let’s talk battle royale. Last squad standing. You know the drill. That peak competition that whittles players down to just one. Warzone’s battle royale doesn’t try to reinvent the model, but it does refine it in a uniquely Call of Duty way. The map is enormous, and lobbies can load up to 150 people. At full squads of three, that’s 50 teams, but some people may choose to play non-filled solo or duos, which increases the squad count even more.
The map is filled with familiar Modern Warfare maps, both new and old. If you played Modern Warfare, you’re going to recognize quite a few familiar locations. Looting items around the map is quick and easy, with colors denoting tiers of weapons (higher tier weapons come with more attachments) and consumable items being picked up automatically when you run over them. One of my biggest gripes with the history of battle royale games has been in-match inventory management; the way Infinity Ward refined this system simplifies things and lets players focus on playing the game. You can also pre-specify loadouts and get them from crates. For Modern Warfare players, this means you can get access to all of your favorite and most used guns complete with their specific attachments, but it’s going to show up on the map when you call that crate in, so be ready to fight for it. (Standalone Warzone players can still specify loadouts, but the seamless integration with your Modern Warfare loadouts goes a long way in making it feel like a part of the full experience.)
The shrinking circles are a gas closing in on Verdansk, and the visuals are striking. The billowing greenish-yellow clouds can be seen looming ominously in the distance. As it engulfs the map, don’t expect a video-gamey looking line to tell you right where the edge of the gas is. More than a few times, I found myself caught on the edge of the circle as it closed in. Again, it’s not changing the formula. Still works like any other battle royale (get caught in the gas and it will slowly whittle your health away), but it feels like a much more dynamic presence than some holographic laser wall that closes in for no apparent reason.
Despite being 150 players, rounds move quickly. Perhaps it’s the simplified looting mechanics that let you get set up pretty early on in each match. Or maybe it’s the unique Gulag respawn mechanic, which gives defeated players the opportunity to 1v1 for a chance to respawn once. Squadmates can also spend Cash—found on the map and obtained from other objectives—to buy dead players back in. Maybe it’s the contracts scattered around the map that give alternate objectives like finding loot caches, capturing points, or hunting down a specific player. Where other battle royales have often felt like there was a lot of sitting around, Warzone keeps the action flowing with plenty to do and focus on throughout, and aside from some stuck lobbies with long load times on the first day, every match I’ve jumped into has always had a super-fast load in, with barely any time to skirmish in the pre-match lobby. (Fun fact, you can even gain experience and level up guns by skirmishing with players waiting in the lobby!)
Battle royale is still battle royale, but Warzone is distinctly Call of Duty battle royale without any compromises. It’s a fresh direction for both Call of Duty and battle royale while maintaining the heart and spirit of each.
Call of Duty Warzone – Plunder
When I first heard about Plunder, it didn’t really catch my attention. Get the most Cash? Eh. Sounds like a typical respawn multiplayer game mode. Boy, was I wrong. Plunder is the hidden treasure of Warzone and the mode that I gravitated towards the most, despite really enjoying the battle royale as well. Plunder takes place on the same massive Verdansk map, only this time there’s no gas closing in and players can respawn back into the fight. It features 102 players (34 three-man squads, for those keeping count at home, again more if people opt to play solos or duos and not fill).
While the ultimate goal is simple enough—get the most Cash—the strategies players employ to reach that goal make Plunder a frantic and fun mode. Will you simply loot everything and try to gain the most Cash? Do you risk banking it at one of the extraction helicopters marked on the map? Do you engage with other players and steal their Cash? There’s no “wrong” strategy, but there are safer and riskier strategies. If you die, you’ll lose half of the Cash you’re carrying. Do you drop back into where you died and try to take your Cash back? Can your team manage without you? Do you cut your losses and head elsewhere? These are all questions my teams have asked in the numerous Plunder matches we’ve played.
Each match lasts 30 minutes, though in the heat of the mode they consistently feel far shorter. Fortunately, you don’t have to spend time looting weapons in Plunder. You load in with your selected loadout so you can get right to collecting Cash. A meter in the bottom corner tells you how far along you are towards $1 million. If you’re in the top 10, your position will be displayed there too, along with a red line indicating where the number one team is at. This gives you something to chase. After about five minutes, the top three Cash leaders are marked on the map, indicated by a red circle that shows the general location of the squads. If that’s you, it puts an easy target on your back and players will be coming to steal your money. You can choose to bunker down, but sitting in one place isn’t a great way to collect more Cash, so it’s not likely you’ll be in first for long.
There’s a back and forth to Plunder that makes games thrilling. I’ve played matches where we maintained first place for the whole game and then been part of a massive firefight that sunk us all the way to seventh within minutes. There have been others where we spent much of the game below 10th place and rocketed up to second by the end (and we were INCHES away from netting a stack that would have put us in first too!). This kind of “it’s anyone’s game” mentality makes Plunder a lot of fun. Sure, a sniper can headshot you from across the way, but if he’s not there to pick up your latent Cash stack, it doesn’t do him much good. Likewise, you can stay out of firefights and then swoop in and clean up once everyone else is dead, netting a pretty profit while hardly putting forth any of the effort—though that’s going to quickly paint a target on your back.
Every match of Plunder is so different, and it’s the type of mode where my squadmates and I couldn’t help but continue to think of strategies and ways to win even when we weren’t playing the game. Of course, those strategies would immediately go awry when somebody came cruising into our hiding spot, guns blazing, or when one of us tapped the wrong button and sent our escape chopper plummeting to the ground with our squadmate in it. Just writing this has me itching to hop back in again. Infinity Ward produced something magic here with a relatively simple formula and a playground that lets players determine the outcome. It might not be the headlining feature of Warzone, but Plunder definitely shouldn’t slip under the radar. Even if you aren’t a battle royale fan, I think Warzone is worth checking out for Plunder alone.
Call of Duty Warzone Review – Let the Good Times Roll
Call of Duty Warzone redefines what it means to launch and play a Call of Duty game. Though it may tie deeply into the Modern Warfare experience, this is an entire Call of Duty game launch in the first quarter of the year, breaking the yearly cycle of Call of Duty releases. It’s also a free-to-play Call of Duty, something that—aside from Call of Duty Mobile—is unprecedented. It breaks from tradition and tells people that Call of Duty doesn’t have to be the October game with a campaign and multiplayer. It can be a free-to-play March release and battle royale. Now, that’s not to say that we shouldn’t expect a Call of Duty later this year. But Warzone sets a really interesting foundation for how future releases may happen and tie progression into past releases. We can probably still expect the expected from Call of Duty each year, but Warzone proves we can expect some surprises too.
With Call of Duty Warzone, Infinity Ward firmly took hold of battle royale and confidently said: “This is how you do it.” And then they kept going and made Plunder. And they wrapped it all in a package with a brilliant launch model, tearing down barriers of entry and making access to Warzone as seamless as possible for players new and old. Warzone blends Call of Duty and battle royale until you can’t find the lines between the two; familiar ideas polished to a new industry standard for both.
Call of Duty Warzone review done via free update to Modern Warfare. Modern Warfare review copy was provided by publisher for the original review. Reviewed on a launch PS4. For more information, please read our Review Policy.