Call of Duty: Warzone 2.0 Review
By their very competitive, dog-eat-dog nature, battle royale games don’t tend to be about making friends with the people you meet. But with its big 2.0 revamp, Call of Duty: Warzone has made some admirable efforts toward inspiring us to work together, communicate, and socialize even as we fight to be the last ones standing. Some of its other new ideas don’t pay off quite as well, such as the relatively bland new map and its ill-advised backpack system. But even if you put all of that aside, the introduction of an excellent new PvPvE mode is more than reason enough to round up a squad and drop back into Warzone for a few matches. After all, the real victory screen might just be the friends we made along the way.
The first thought-provoking new social idea is that you can actually recruit enemy players to your team in squad-based lobbies if you end up losing a teammate at any point. This is a clever way to give weakened teams or solo stragglers a fighting chance, and to keep more people invested in a match for longer. It’s also just fun to make friends in a battle royale, though it’s an idea that might work better on paper than in practice. Most people still tend to open fire on sight, so I’ve yet to successfully convince anyone to join my team, but the fact that I can at least try is a fun addition on its own.
The Unhinged Trios mode even lets you invite up to six people to be on your team mid-match, living up to its name in the chaos that creates. Well, that it could create – a lot of people don’t really seem to want to play with six people on a team and would often just not work together. I guess we all took it to heart when our parents told us you can’t trust anyone on the internet, and you mostly see people playing Unhinged Trios as normal trios. I still liked it just fine in that context too, but the actual gameplay mechanic of it being a squad building simulator was a little disappointing when no one really wanted to participate in that aspect.
New Stomping Grounds
Our new battleground, Al Mazrah, is an interesting map to explore thanks to its many cities full of buildings to loot from and 18 points of interest, from a literal fortress to airports and even a mining city. That said, the vast stretches of terrain between those exciting locales aren’t quite as varied, and I felt like I was really just looking at a lot of sandy and beige backgrounds as I ran through the map. I understand Al Mazrah is a take on a realistic region with cities and industrial areas sprinkled throughout, but the fact that buildings and houses in those cities all look so similar and the same color palette is applied through the entire map makes it less pretty to look at than a lot of other current battle royale arenas. Apex Legends and Fortnite, by contrast, have extremely varied terrain (and even weather), particularly with Apex’s World’s Edge that contains snow, lava, and urban landscapes splayed out in one single map.
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However, Al Mazrah is the biggest map Warzone has seen to date, allowing it to comfortably accommodate 150 players, and it has some new cool water passageways throughout that let you travel via boat alongside land and air vehicles. I like that it opens up travel options to water because it means you’re not always forced to take a car or attempt to grab a helicopter from an extremely exposed location. It also gives us more options for escape routes, especially since the waterways take different turns through the map from roads.
The areas between each cluster of buildings are pretty open and really demonstrate how big the map is when you’re on foot and trying to run from one location to another. This could’ve been a problem, but with the way Warzone 2.0 has reworked the ever-tightening circle it’s not too big of a deal. The original Warzone had a traditional single safe circle; in 2.0, there’s a chance for that one circle to split into three that are spread across the map, forcing you to scramble to the closest one to survive. The three circles will then collapse back into one for the final minutes of a match, forcing the survivors among all three isolated groups to finally face off in one area. This is a fresh and unique approach to the battle royale format, and I’ve enjoyed the twist of having to constantly watch the map and pivot my movement in less predictable ways. Even better is when my team and I find good buildings to hunker down in and try and pick off stragglers who weren’t paying attention to the splits.
Warzone 2.0 also brought in a novel new take on the Gulag mode (where you go when you’re knocked out of the main match) in which you may be paired up with a random enemy in a temporary truce, so you have to make nice with a stranger to get a second chance at life. It’s clever, but it did get a little frustrating since communicating with your random teammate isn’t exactly consistent, sometimes leaving me feeling like I was really fighting a 1v2. Also, if you get sent to the Gulag and find there’s only one other player there, you often times can’t get into a full Gulag match – once the timer runs out you simply get kicked back onto the battlefield. So while this new system is interesting, I still prefer the old 1v1 Gulag because you could rely on yourself and match times were short.
Call of Duty: Warzone 2.0 Screenshots
However, one fun change in the Gulag is that you don’t necessarily have to beat all the enemy players to get back into the match. Instead, everyone can band together to take down an AI-controlled Juggernaut Jailer that jumps into the arena after a certain amount of time has passed; if you’re successful, everybody who is still alive can redeploy. Alternatively, you can continue to try for a full enemy team wipe as chaos ensues – and predictably, most of the time people have opted for the bloodthirsty option of killing each other in the hopes of a selfish revival. I also had a match where the Jailer actually ended up taking out the last enemy player for me and I got redeployed with my teammate, so the new variation of the Gulag certainly has some really fun moments when it works properly. Hopefully over time we’ll see people team up against the common foe more often.
Hold Your Friends Close, and Keep Your Enemies on Proximity Chat
One of the best new additions in Warzone 2.0 is proximity chat, which allows anybody who gets close enough to listen in on your voice coms. That’s a fun and sneaky experience that you don’t get very often in battle royales. I could, for example, hear a team in the building next door discussing how they could hear me and my teammate looting, giving away their location when they might otherwise have gotten the drop on me. Warzone has always had death comms where you’d hear the enemy player’s mic just after you’d killed them, which is a fun way to revel in their defeat, but proximity chat really changes that in an interesting way.
Proximity chat is one of those mechanics I didn’t think an FPS or battle royale needed but it’s made the whole experience of Warzone so much better. Because Warzone is crossplay, you can sometimes hear people unknowingly playing with their mics open on their controllers once you get near them. I’ve had some fun conversations with enemies too, just talking to them casually and butting into conversations, or throwing playful banter around as we try to hunt each other down. It’s also allowed for some really funny moments where people will get creative with it and, say, pose as taxi drivers for otherwise hostile players in a temporary truce and exchange money for rides around the map.
Proximity chat has really made Warzone feel like a lively battleground with the constant reminder that the players you’re fighting against for survival are other humans. Of course, this doesn’t always mean those interactions will be great – I’ve gotten some less-than-tasteful remarks and overheard certain conversations I’d rather not have. But most of the time it’s a fun option to turn on if you’re interested in being social or hearing when enemies are nearby to get a slight advantage.
Stilted Lootin’ then Shootin’
I’m less enthusiastic about Warzone 2.0’s new lootable backpacks, which allow you to carry more items without sacrificing ammo and armor plate space. It’s certainly a bold choice for Call of Duty because Apex Legends’ similar tiered backpack system has been a topic of contentious debate among that community – rather than having to find them as loot, should we just have bigger backpacks on drop or be able to craft one consistently?
After playing with it in Warzone 2.0, I have to side more with the latter camp. I’ve found myself frustrated when I’m running out of ammo or armor plates because I couldn’t carry enough with the standard backpack and wasn’t able to find an ammunition replenishment crate or armor supply crate to carry as backups. Previously, ammo and inventory management wasn’t really an issue since you could just collect the max amount for each type and auto-fill your tactical and lethal equipment as well. Having limited slots in a backpack is a bit annoying, especially now that in order to loot specific items you have to click on what you’re looting, say a box or an enemy’s dropped backpack, and individually click on what you want to take or swap. This slows down the looting process and can mean an aggravating death if you’re looking through an enemy’s backpack and suddenly need to swap guns or ammo. It’s just made gameplay more sluggish, and it feels like a step back from the original Warzone where you could simply run over things, loot quickly, and proceed with your game.
Additionally, the armor vests have been changed so that you only get slot-two armor plates on drop, forcing you to loot a higher value three-plate vest just to be protected at max capacity.
One nice thing about this change is that when you hit an enemy you get an indication as to what armor they’re wearing: blue hitmarkers reveal an enemy has the two-plate vest and purple indicates a three-plate. This gives you more information as you’re making the split-second decision on how you want to approach the enemy – if they have better gear than you, a hasty retreat might be a better idea.
Elsewhere, a revised ping system has finally caught Warzone up to other battle royales, which was long overdue. It gives you a whole wheel’s worth of options for how you’d like to point out enemies, allowing you to play without having to be on voice chat. Even when I am, though, I like to use it to point out specifically where I saw an enemy by Double-tapping the ping button. Highlighting an enemy with a live ping, where the ping moves with a tagged enemy for a short amount of time, is especially useful and nice to have. Also, if you wanted to avoid being overheard on proximity chat, this could double as a stealth tactic. It’s only improved the gameplay of Warzone 2.0.
Despite everything that’s been improved, the overall user interface of Warzone 2.0 has left a lot to be desired, especially since things seem to have been made complicated for no reason. The gunsmith’s unlocks work by progressing through a new gun family tree called Platforms. You have to hit specific weapon levels within a Platform to unlock new Receivers, weapons in its line. For example, if you unlock the M4, you can open the progression tab and see you’ve got two tracks to unlock the 556 Icarus or the FTAC Recon. It’s very visually confusing, though thankfully not a huge deal overall as you still unlock guns really quickly just by playing Warzone or the new DMZ mode. In fact, DMZ is the best option for unlocking and leveling guns since you can pick up any weapon and level them just by having them in your loadout.
DMZ pushes Warzone beyond the traditional battle royal crowd as Call of Duty’s take on an extraction mode. No doubt inspired by the success of games like Escape from Tarkov, DMZ has strongholds stocked with big groups of NPCs located throughout the map that you can infiltrate, which keeps rounds from ever feeling like they are lacking gunfights – and of course there’s a server of up to 66 players or 22 three-man human teams vying for the same targets. It’s a really fun and refreshing change of pace between rounds of battle royale.
Since it also takes place on Al Mazrah, I’ve found that DMZ is a great way to explore and get familiar with its locations. It also has its own set of faction missions you can complete for XP bundles and additional rewards like weapon blueprints, calling cards, operator skins, and others. You can select up to three missions at a time from the factions: Legion (the easiest difficulty to complete), White Lotus (medium difficulty), and Black Mous (hard difficulty). I thoroughly enjoyed strategizing with my teammates about which missions we could work to complete together since the entire team can help – if the mission calls for you to destroy six vehicles, anyone on your team could destroy a vehicle and it would count towards your completion. Mission systems like this are really nice for adding replayability and direction to a PvPvE mode since that format can sometimes get stale without any clearly stated goals.
I’ve kept coming back to DMZ over Warzone due to it being so easy to just queue into and play, without all the commitment of a full 25 to 30-minute battle royale match. You control the match length since you can opt to extract at any point, or try to hold out for the final extraction time at the end. Even if I don’t get an extraction and lose the items I had collected, I don’t feel discouraged because the experience of DMZ with your squad is just so fun on its own. Being able to run around, explore, and rampage through AI enemies on Al Mazrah is a fresh break from the battle royale survival tactics. You can breathe, have fun, and focus on completing missions for rewards you share across your Warzone account rather than always trying to be the last person standing. That shared progression in particular really encouraged me to put more time into DMZ without feeling like I was neglecting my Warzone unlocks.