Releasing worldwide on March 10th of 2020, Call of Duty: Warzone was the perfect storm for many gamers, at a time that a lot of us had no idea what to do with ourselves, other than play games all day. Now I’m not saying that the folks at Activision could have pre-conceived the notion that most of their player-base was about to be placed into a lockdown when they were planning the release of Warzone, but I am also not saying that didn’t pre-conceive it, it is Activision after all. What can be said is that thanks to a long lockdown period, I put a hell of a lot of hours into Warzone over the last year.
After nearly 700 hours with the game, it is easy to say that Warzone grabbed me like no other Battle Royale title has ever managed to do. The mode built upon the already solid gun-play mechanics of Modern Warfare, which allowed them to transition incredibly well into the open-map style featured in the new location Verdansk. The format isn’t genre-defying by any means. The core loop here comes back to the basics of you and your squad dropping into a vast map that closes in on you and fighting to be the last alive. There are so many other reasons why Warzone kept me engaged all those months, yet there’s also a reason I have heavily dropped off the game these past few months as well. The trouble is finding when and what caused this drop.
As is par for the course with Call of Duty and Battle Royale games more generally, every couple of months brought about a new slew of content via the transition into a new season, some bringing incredible additions to the mode, others seeming destined to drag the mode down.
Warzone was released mid-way through Modern Warfare’s second season and was quickly included in the familiar seasonal breakdowns used to promote the upcoming content haul from the game. From Season Three onwards, the inclusions went from a small footnote in the corner to commanding a huge portion of the breakdown. Warzone seemed to be becoming increasingly more popular than the game it had spawned from. That is odd for the Call of Duty franchise to begin with, as most games that released in the yearly model were often forgotten about by players come March time, as the hype for the next title began to ensure. Yet here, Call of Duty had made it to March and the hype was only increasing exponentially, with little interest in the next title being revealed, fans were joyful to see their game being supported in a way that felt almost out of character for Activision at this point.
Once Season Four had rolled around in June, the number of additions being placed into Warzone was an absolute treat. Season Four brought us Captain Price as a playable character, a bunch of new weapons, a new 50v50 mode, different contracts, and much more. While some of these did not land quite as well as we had hoped, with the 50v50 being far too chaotic to really find it enjoyable, it had seemed that Warzone had found itself the trick with these seasonal drops, drip-feed content that only slightly shakes up the game, rather than completely altering it.
At this point in the history of Warzone, the weapon classes were becoming an increasingly exciting topic of debate too. The Grau had remained at the top of the meta for some time now ranking as the best weapon for any type of player, questions were being asked of the game’s lack of balance in weaponry, or just simply how best to set-up your classes for your playstyle. As a result of this race to unlock all the attachments for your weapon, it resulted in something that I don’t even think Activision were fully aware of, players such as myself were returning to the main Modern Warfare game to grind their classes.
Of course, this wasn’t exactly out of choice, ranking weapons in Warzone just takes far too long in the scheme of things, so hopping onto Shipment 24/7 with a double XP token is a sure way to blast through a weapon in an afternoon. Yet still, it was allowing me and other players to not miss out on all the other content that was being added to Modern Warfare outside of Warzone, as new maps and other modes were being added every single season. Maybe Activision was aware of this, perhaps that is why it was so slow to level up your guns outside of Team Deathmatch and so on. Yet this was something that no other Battle Royale game could capitalise on, bringing a player-base into two different games at once. Perhaps that is why having the title on your hard-drive took up enough space to take every other game prisoner, you can only play COD, and you better like it.
As we entered August, Season Five presented the biggest content drop yet for Warzone at the time, with changes being brought to the map in the form of a brand-new train that could be hopped on to traverse the map, as well as the central stadium finally being opened up after months of speculation. In comparison with the vast changes seen in a game like Fortnite, these changes could certainly be argued to be minute, and somewhat meaningless, yet in the scheme of things these additions made for a small yet fun attraction within the massive map.
As soon as any new part of a map in any multiplayer games opens up, players flock to these areas for the first week or so to see what the deal is, eventually though elements such as the train become second nature to a Warzone player, working as something you can hop on if it happens to pass, rather than seeking it out. The same can be said for the stadium, which upon reflection added a great locale to Verdansk, with the area having multiple elevated levels, a massive open field area, and an expansive underground parking area that allowed teams to sneak under the arena undetected. These subtle yet brilliant changes are what became the bread and butter of Warzone, as it was clear that Activision did not want Thanos running around dabbing the night away, well, at least not in Season Five.
On September 29th Season Six landed in Warzone, bringing in many ways a very similar content drop to the previous one, with there now being a fully functioning underground subway system within the map. The tube allowed for fast travel around the map to several locations, with players having to locate the stations and use the maps to judge what would be the best course of action to take if they found themselves in a tight spot. Much like the last update, attempting to use the system in those first few weeks was about as hectic as the actual London Underground, with what seemed like the entire lobby trying to board a train at a single moment.
Yet once the chaos died down, these trains became one of the most effective elements of Warzone, as a team could use the fast travel to run away from the enemies that were dominating them, escape the closing circle quicker, or if you’re like me, use it to get your team killed for a laugh. Yet the Season Six roadmap also promised a mid-season drop too, under the mysterious guise of The Haunting of Verdansk, promising new modes, rewards, and more.
Arriving on October 20th, it was clear that whatever this event was, it was going to be revolving around the Halloween season. This was a new and intriguing step for the title, as it marked the first time since March that Warzone seemed to be embracing a real-world event as inspiration for an in-game one, something that Fortnite had been doing for a while now with the movie tie-in events as was seen with the Avengers crossover. Once the event finally rolled in, the number of new changes implemented for this limited event was pretty mind-blowing, with the promised new mode being unlike anything brought to the game before, bringing a Human vs Zombie style of gameplay to Warzone.
The concept of last person standing remained the same, yet upon death, you were not sent to the usual Gulag set up to be given a second chance at survival, you instead found yourself as a member of the un-dead. Equipped with a super-jump, a gas grenade, and a melee attack, you were tasked with killing the remaining humans to bring yourself back to human form and continue your fight for survival. The mode was far more hectic than the traditional Battle Royale, with a good run potentially nabbing you over thirty kills, (sorry to brag), as killing the zombie players was a far easier affair if you had the right set-up. The map was plunged into darkness, ghosts were placed throughout the map, oh, and there were also horrific jump-scares placed at random upon opening a loot chest. Worse yet, these jumps were brutally placed into the standard day-time mode too, meaning that for these few weeks nowhere was safe in Verdansk.
Despite taking some time to get accustomed to the change in gameplay, The Haunting of Verdansk ranked as a high in the last year of Warzone, seeming to be the point that the teams behind the game had clocked on how best to approach these more ‘special’ Seasons, as well as finally giving players a reason to nab some CODPoints once Leatherface and Jigsaw were featured in the store as new skins. Sadly, the limited event came to an end on November 3rd, yet the future was looking bright for Warzone. Would Christmas bring a new limited event? Could players run around the map as Santa? The options seemed limitless now that Warzone had allowed the restraint it had to loosen slightly.
The timer on the battle pass had hit zero, yet there was no news from Activision, with the focus now being completely shifted towards the newly released Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War. It had been discussed for a while how the new title would be eventually integrated into Warzone, with the level of this integration never truly being clarified by the developers. Yet eventually the roadmap was revealed on December 16th, as Warzone shifted from Modern Warfare: Warzone to Black Ops Cold War: Warzone, in what would be an update that changed the vision of Warzone for good, taking the game back to a new Season One.
Claiming what would be “the biggest black ops year” ever, the roadmap seemed typical enough at this point, with new weapons, new skins as well as new maps being implemented into the separate multiplayer aspects of Cold War. Along with these changes came something that was on the scale of the Zombie’s mode from Season Six, with the addition of the Rebirth Island mode. The mode was set on Alcatraz Island and opted for a far closer quarter combat experience, with games lasting a far shorter period of time due to the speed in which you could be killed if a game wasn’t going your way.
Once again, the mode was a decent inclusion for a limited event, sure it wasn’t quite as exciting as the previous mode, yet it still offered a distraction from the original Battle Royale mode to keep things fresh. What wasn’t quite so welcoming was that aforementioned integration of Cold War. Every weapon from the Cold War title was forced into Warzone, a game that ran on Modern Warfare game mechanics, with what seemed to be no attempts to balance weaponry or make the additional weaponry make any sense. Players now have far too many weapons to keep track of, with each class of weapon now having a ludicrous number of guns to choose from, with some guns like the MP5 now having a variant for both Modern Warfare and Cold War, and nowhere else was this clearer than the dreaded DMR 14 rifle.
For me, this weapon marked an important point in my history with Warzone, the DMR was a gun so flat out broken within its implementation into Warzone that it made the game flat-out unplayable for many weeks, including me and my usual squad. A Semi-automatic rifle, the gun had quite literally zero recoil, ludicrous accuracy, and worst of all it did near-instant death damage. You could find yourself hopping the roofs of downtown, only to be taken out by someone all the way over at the stadium, end up in the gulag, get a dub, and then be shot out the sky by the same player once again.
To cut a long story short, it sucked, and it took far too long for the thing to get nerfed, with some even arguing that the gun still is too overpowered to be in the game. All of this isn’t to say that this integration was the first misstep in Warzone’s balancing, the game has always been plagued with issues in skill-based matchmaking as well as guns often being introduced at far too high a damage output, yet the DMR felt like the worst the issue had ever been.
Once you quit a game that you had put hundreds of hours into, getting back into the title is tricky. Warzone just did not feel the same after the integration, and to this day it is still incredibly difficult to work out why. Perhaps Warzone should have remained exclusively tied in with Modern Warfare, with Cold War being able to move off in its own direction, yet now everything that the last year had set up was just brought to a stand-still, with the story beginning to merge in an incredibly awkward way. Alas, it is unfair to condemn an entire game on a single seemingly bad season, and thus on February 25th, Season Two rolled around for the second time in a year.
After only being live for just a couple of weeks now, the second season certainly boasts a lot of content across all Call of Duty modes, with the fantastic Outbreak event taking place in Cold War being a real shining star of the season already. In terms of Warzone, there was a continuing tease of a ghost-ship slowly creeping towards the shores of Verdansk for the last few weeks, with speculation only taking wild guesses at what this could bring. It finally arrived and it brought Zombies, because of course it brought Zombies. The abandoned ship at first glance seems to be a completely vapid addition to the game, yet upon a closer inspection, it is still a completely vapid addition to the game. Once landed, there is a terminal that can be activated bringing a mini-wave of the un-dead to your team in an effort to take you all down, with survival yielding a small reward.
It is almost uncanny to the very same feature that was present in the Black Ops 4 Battle Royale game Blackout, which also worked as a function that players would check out once and never return to again. Like every other addition before it, the first week of the ghost-ship was chaos, as every team dropped down to see what the fuss was all about, yet unlike the previous features such as the two train systems, the ship is already completely barren. Sure, it remains to be seen if this ship will stay past the limited Outbreak event, and while it is unlikely that it will, it still proves to be a wasted opportunity here. We haven’t had any real shake-ups to the map since those tube stations were opened up, and even so many months on it is hard to imagine the map without them due to the way they can truly change a situation in your game.
Alas, we reach the present date, one year on from the first release of a title that took the world by storm in a way that no one could have ever predicted. Even being one of the most popular franchises in history, the sheer success of Warzone cannot be understated. It brought people into a competitive field of gaming that so many have often avoided, and just like Animal Crossing did that very same month, it allowed for friends and family to team up and have a blast of adrenaline-fuelled action, (I got my dad his first win if you must know). Despite having those hundreds of hours poured into the game, this all still comes from a player that is somewhat out of the loop with a lot of what goes on in the massive Warzone community, with there being some highs and very low lows that even I have missed out on. What is clear to anyone however is that Warzone is a strange place right now, with the feeling of dropping in with your mates just not seeming to hit the same as it once did, and it may take a huge change of events for it to feel the same ever again.
Happy one-year Warzone, it has been some ride.