For a two-week limited-time seasonal event, it’s staggering how much effort went into Call of Duty Modern Warfare and Warzone’s Haunting of Verdansk. And it’s not just the new modes, scarily good premium bundles, or the trick-or-treat scavenger hunt. It’s the “hauntification” of the entire map of Verdansk; the small spooky details tucked into every corner of the new nighttime version of the map that make everything feel fresh and new, giving players a reason to explore off the beaten path. In a year when we can’t (or rather, shouldn’t) be going to haunted houses to get our Halloween spook on, Infinity Ward is bringing the haunted house to the game you love to play.
Reportedly more than 1400 visual effect assets were deployed around the Verdansk map, including blood pools dripping upward in certain locations, specters wandering various areas, and ghost trains roaring through the subway system. Visual effects artists were given a bit of freedom to embrace their favorite horror imagery, which led to the Ghostbusters-like swirling of spirits near the Gulag, the ghost of Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s Leatherface appropriately hiding in Farmland, and SAW-themed rooms in the subway areas, complete with a freshly sawed off and bloody leg (an excellent callback to Cary Elwes’ fate in the original film). It’s not just visual effects, either. Spooky sounds accompany the visuals—children laughing, chainsaw noises, etc.—really selling the “Haunting of Verdansk” feel and increasing the tension as you try to survive to the end.
The official licensing of both Texas Chainsaw Massacre and SAW is a nice touch too. The fantastic and creepy premium bundles bring Billy the Puppet and Leatherface into the game as Operators, and give players a bunch of cool blueprints (with bloody dismemberment effects) and cosmetics to go along with them. Being where that Call of Duty money is made for the free-to-play Warzone, the bundles accompanying the Haunting of Verdansk are quality packs, even if it’s a little weird to equip Billy the Puppet and hear Morte’s silly voice go along with it (I would have loved to have heard Tobin Bell’s calm yet gravelly Jigsaw voice used here). And that quality goes for the original characters too. Dr. Karlov is an imposing character and his weapons include electrical effects themed around his in-game lore. Even more bundles will be dropping before the two-week event is up too.
But, of course, you don’t have to drop cash in order to enjoy the Haunting. Limited-time modes give players new ways to engage with the battle royale, most prominently Zombie Royale. Once killed, players become Zombies with super powers like night vision, a super jump, and immunity to the gas. Zombies can either pick up two syringes from dead players to respawn as a human, or continue to try and support their team as the undead, but once you die as a Zombie, you’re done until your team buys you back in.
Zombie Royale entirely changes the dynamic of the survival game. The nighttime Verdansk map lights up interior spaces, making them less safe with higher visibility. But being out on the open with zombies prowling about isn’t exactly fixing to keep you alive either. Killing a player or a team could just create a bunch of vengeance-fueled corpses who know exactly where you are hiding. Or they might run off to try and pick off other unsuspecting players. While part of me wishes that there were also AI zombie enemies wandering the map to shake things up (just like a haunted house attraction, none of the “Haunting” effects can actually hurt you), Zombie Royale is still a really cool twist on the Warzone formula.
Haunting of Verdansk – Tricks and Treats
And layered on top of everything is a trick-or-treat scavenger hunt metagame, 17 rewards that can be earned by opening loot chests scattered around Verdansk. The menu has been updated with UI to support this new scavenger hunt, checking off boxes for the 16 locations needed to earn the final reward for finding them all. Rewards include cosmetic trinkets like calling cards, emblems, sprays, and weapon charms, but there are a few bigger rewards like weapon blueprints and a cool new watch to wear. Be warned though. The treats come with tricks. Sometimes opening a box as you hunt down these rewards will result in a bit of a jump scare, even on the daytime version of the maps. It’s not super often though. I played for hours yesterday and didn’t run into a single one.
Even the Modern Warfare multiplayer side of things got a few spooky additions, even if most of the focus for this event is on Warzone’s Verdansk. Killstreaks make players have a flaming jack-o-lantern head. Control point flags are replaced with scarecrows. And of course the spooky Operators and weapons can be taken into MP too. Yet what Haunting of Verdansk really does it show where Activision wants to take Warzone in the future. It proves without a doubt that they see the free-to-play battle royale as a live game worthy of consistent updates and events to keep it feeling fresh. After all, with well over 75 million players and a wealth of opportunity under the free-to-play banner, it would be foolish not to keep players coming back.
Warzone is no stranger to limited-time twists on its formula—temporary modes like Armored Royale, Kingslayer Trios, and others pop up for a couple weeks at a time, shaking up the game, never to return again. But it’s within these limited-time twists that live games find renewed interest and a resurgence of players, or perhaps even pick up new ones for the first time. The next Season, event, update, or content drop is the carrot that keeps us all coming back.
Haunting of Verdansk is the biggest limited-time live seasonal event the game has ever had—I’d argue even bigger in scope than the Black Ops Cold War reveal. And yet, in less than two weeks, it will all be gone, minus the people still running around as the horror icons. The ghosts and spirits will fade as daylight once again overtakes Verdansk. Players will be sent to the Gulag instead of becoming an undead super power. For Infinity Ward and Activision to put this kind of effort—and licensing—into a limited-time event shows the long term plans for Warzone as a live-service platform.
And considering the exceptional response to Haunting of Verdansk, expect that Activision is paying attention. I’d like to think they’ll double down on efforts like this in the future. Warzone’s been a fascinating Call of Duty experiment to watch firsthand since its launch back in March of this year. Its very existence—alongside Call of Duty Mobile—has shaken up the established Call of Duty formula in ways we couldn’t have even predicted last year when Modern Warfare came out, painting success for the entire franchise through its free ticket to entry and inherent ties to the main yearly title. And when it becomes entangled with Cold War later this year, expect another surge of success as the Warzone continues to evolve to support both next-gen and the new game from Treyarch.
For now though, simply enjoy the tricks and treats in the Haunting of Verdansk. Become a Zombie. Discover Verdansk’s many spooky urban legends brought to life. Maybe finally drop some cash on a premium Operator bundle. And get the living daylights scared out of you just by looting chests. Warzone is just kicking off its strongest limited-time event yet (available until November 3rd), but this is just a harbinger of things yet to come.