Call of Duty’s new free-to-play battle royale, called Warzone, arrived today. It’s a streamlined, fast-paced, no-fuss spin on the genre. Compared to Blackout, it feels much more like you’re still playing Call of Duty.
Available with cross-play on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC, Warzone features 150-player matches. If you already own last year’s game Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Warzone will appear as an option in the main menu. If not, you can download a free standalone version of the game that will allow you to play Warzone. It doesn’t require PS Plus on PS4, but does require Xbox Live Gold on Xbox One.
Call of Duty first dipped its toes into the battle royale space with Black Ops 4’s Blackout mode. Blackout was a well-crafted mode with smooth gameplay, but at times it definitely felt more like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds than Call of Duty. The armor system was far from perfect, and inventory management could be a hassle. Warzone, on the other hand, definitely feels designed to simplify the battle royale experience to play more like Call of Duty.
At its core, Warzone sticks to the basics of the genre. Players drop down onto a map with the goal of quickly looting for guns and equipment as a circle of gas closes in, forcing the survivors to meet and battle it out at the center.
Beyond the basics, Warzone goes bigger than Blackout, and builds its own unique feel.
Many battle royale games cap at 100 players per match, making Warzone’s 150-player ceiling quite ambitious. The expanded participant list feels fine, since Warzone’s battleground is enormous. It weaves maps from the classic Modern Warfare games right alongside last year’s rebooted Modern Warfare’s multiplayer maps and spec ops mission areas.
You shouldn’t feel too crowded at the beginning, depending on where to choose to land. But you’ll see some good action as the circle of gas collapses around you.
Instead of the common options of solo or four-player squads, Warzone matches team you up in trios, meaning a match will have 50 teams of three players each. I’m pretty disappointed that trios are the only offering. I think all battle royale games should have both solo and squad options. I love teaming up with my friends in Blackout, but solos are really fun too. There’s a different kind of adrenaline rush in an actual 99-vs-1 battle royale scenario that you don’t get with squads. You can choose not to team up with anyone, but you’ll still be going against trios of other players if you do.
The greatest simplifications of Warzone are the looting and armor systems. Looting is made much easier: Warzone doesn’t use a backpack system, so you don’t have to scramble to find a bag when you drop. You have two weapon slots, one tactical equipment slot, and another one for lethal equipment. There aren’t a whole lot of items to go and collect. Pressing Down on the D-pad will allow you to view what few inventory items you have, such as ammo and armor plates.
As to be expected in a battle royale, weapons are found both on the ground and in crates. Warzone has different levels of weapon rarity depending on the number of attachments provided. So a common gun would just be a stock version, while a legendary rarity would have a sweet set of attachments. The guns feel the same as they do in Modern Warfare’s standard multiplayer, with or without their attachments.
The only real game changer to weapons in Warzone are the Loadout Drops. You can customize Loadout Drops prior to your matches, just like a standard multiplayer loadout, but the only way to get the setup you’ve created is through collecting it as a care package that drops down on the map.
Collecting this customized package is pretty risky. It’s marked on the map for everyone to see, so enemies could be using the drops as bait. Grabbing your ideal loadout also means temporary vulnerability, as it takes time to choose and equip your new gear. It’s nothing terribly slow, but my advice is to choose your loadout quickly, and get back to the fight.
Collecting your Loadout Drops is the only way to obtain perks in Modern Warfare’s battle royale. Blackout was littered with perks that could be scooped off the ground or found in supply crates, but in Warzone you’ll need to equip your preferred perks as part of your Loadout Drop. Most perks work pretty similarly to their abilities in multiplayer. Ghost will keep you undetectable, if you want to stay off the enemy’s active UAV recon sweep. The E.O.D. perk will let you take less fire and explosive damage from lethal equipment.
Blackout had a complex armor system, with three tiers of armor grades that each required several additional armor plates to repair. Warzone only offers one standard armor type: armor plates, which each give you 50 extra health. Every player drops onto the map at 100 health and with two armor plates equipped. Additional armor plates can be found, but only three plates can be equipped, for a maximum total of 250 health. You can also replenish your armor much more easily in Warzone, because you can simply add fresh plates with a quick button press versus having to sit in your inventory and repair it.
A really nice touch within Warzone’s armor system is the audio and visual hitmarker cues in gunfights. A blue hitmarker symbol, accompanied by a cracking noise, indicates you’ve broken the enemy’s armor. A white symbol and a distinct audio cue will indicate that you’ve finally knocked your opponent into the downed state.
Healing is also simplified within Warzone. Blackout’s healing system cluttered your inventory with bandages, med kits, and trauma kits that were paired with the manual stim-shot healing used in Black Ops 4’s multiplayer. Warzone gets you back in the action faster with Call of Duty’s standard auto-regeneration. Warzone doesn’t require you to fill your pockets with bandages; you just need to take cover for a few seconds to recover from your gunfights.
But auto-regenerating health won’t help you survive the toxic fumes closing in around you, as the gas will stop the regeneration. This gas circle feels much more potent than Blackout’s Nova gas. You do not want to be caught in this nasty haze.
Gas masks can be found around the map, and you’ll want to grab one. The mask sits in your inventory until a time when you find yourself caught in the fumes, and then your soldier will auto-equip it. This isn’t a permanent fix. You only get a very brief break from the gas exposure before your mask breaks. And you can only carry one mask at a time, so there’s no abusing them to survive the gas longer. You still need to run.
When you die in Warzone, it’s not a one-and-done scenario, but the revival process is probably the most complex part of the game. There are a few different ways for you to get a second chance at survival. Not everyone will be a fan of respawns, but I like that Warzone keeps fueling the action all the way to the end.
A squadmate can revive you if you’re just left in the “knocked” state, but your first actual death will likely send you to the Gulag, which is a small map from Modern Warfare’s 2v2 Gunfight mode. In Warzone, the Gulag is used as an opportunity to get you back into the fight. If you hate dying early just to spectate a long match with your squadmates, you might actually like this Warzone twist.
In the Gulag, you’ll play against another defeated player in a 1v1 gunfight. The winner gets deployed back into the match. While you await your chance at redemption, you’re spectating the ongoing Gulag matches from a second-story balcony, and you have the ability to throw rocks down at the competitors. It’s mildly entertaining.
The Gulag seems to close its doors after about the halfway point of the match, so you might not make a trip there if you die late in the game. The losers of the Gulag matches are considered perma-dead—unless they have a surviving squadmate that can pay a lot of money to revive them.
Yes, there’s a cash system in Warzone.
Warzone’s currency is only accrued in-game, and is not tied to any microtransactions. Every player drops into the match with empty pockets, but cash stacks can be looted around the map to build up savings towards some helpful gear. Cash can be found in small stacks, large stacks, on dead opponents, and in weapon caches. Money everywhere! You can technically win without collecting or using any cash, but just like in real life, money can be a game-changer.
There are several “Buy Stations” located on the map that let you purchase things like extra armor plates, a gas mask, teammate revive, or even killstreaks, the bonuses you earn for getting consecutive kills without dying. Killstreaks in standard multiplayer can include anything from recon support to vehicles that assist you with getting even more kills.
I enjoyed Blackout being a mostly killstreak-free zone, so starting up Warzone had me nervous. Fortunately, it limits killstreaks in such a way that they don’t overwhelm the action. It’s not a constant feed of airstrikes like you would experience in a 32v32 match of Modern Warfare’s Ground War. This is probably because you can only carry one killstreak at a time, and they cost $3,000 or more.
Killstreaks in Warzone are limited to a small selection. There’s a UAV aerial recon drone that pings enemies only within a small radius around you, cluster strikes, precision airstrikes, and shield turrets. Thankfully, you can’t buy any high-end nuisances like chopper gunners or juggernaut suits. A teammate revive is $4,500, though, so you better hope you’re not playing trios with Scrooges.
There are also in-game challenges that keep things spicy. You’ll earn cash bonuses for completing various objectives such as locating marked caches, securing a specific location on the map, or completing a successful assassination on a targeted squad.
There are a lot of other thoughtful touches in Warzone, such as being able to drop cash for your teammates, or being able to loot cash and ammo just by running over it. There’s also a ping system much like Apex Legends’, which lets you mark items, enemies, or locations on the map..
Warzone even launched with an additional mode called Plunder, which is all about accumulating as much cash as you can. The goal is to be the first trio to secure a million bucks, or have the most cash when the 30-minute timer ends. This triggers a final cash grab, where all the money you find is doubled. Secure as much moolah as you can, and the trio with the most money wins.
You need to constantly be looting and depositing cash in various cash deposit locations, or else you risk dying and losing your money. There’s no circle of gas collapsing in on you, and you do respawn in Plunder with no trip to the Gulag required. You even respawn with your customized loadout, as Plunder is all about getting back quickly into the looting action.
Plunder seems like it could be a lot of fun, but it definitely alienates solo players. Grabbing and depositing enough cash will almost surely require the efforts of a full trio.
Warzone is off to a positive start, and I’m curious to see what kinds of events and updates are planned for Modern Warfare’s battle royale. I played Warzone on a PlayStation 4 Pro, and my experience was mostly smooth. One of my only complaints is the amount of time I had to wait in lobbies for all 150 players to trickle in.
While I’m still a fan of Blackout, I appreciate the fresh features within this Modern Warfare battle royale. Everything here feels fast and very Call of Duty. I’ll definitely be making frequent drops into Warzone matches. I know battle royale isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but Warzone is worth a try even if you didn’t enjoy Blackout.