Call of Duty finally found its footing in the battle royale genre with a cutting-edge war simulator in Warzone 2.0

Despite glaring technical difficulties, it is still hard to believe the sequel comes at no cost.

Image via Activision Blizzard

Call of Duty: Warzone 2.0 follows the lead of its multiplayer counterpart, Modern Warfare 2, in that it is full of realistic themes. Fans of its predecessor know this has not always been the case in the series. The original has essentially ended its run with a pixelated and graphically butchered map, out-of-place playable characters in the form of several 80s movie stars, and a myriad of game-breaking bugs.

Thankfully, Warzone 2.0 plants itself far from its disheveled forebear. This individualism comes in the form of a gritty experience that brilliantly emulates the feeling of being heavily armed, yet vulnerable in a wartorn territory. That said, some past problems are still hanging on by a thread. 

Al Mazrah packs in memorable locations and unexpected friends 

Image via Activision

Initially, the main draw of a Call of Duty battle royale had been the ability to drop and fight in 150-player matches with weapons and mechanics found in mainline titles. This basic concept is still present in Warzone 2.0, but the star of the show is none other than its Al Mazrah map. On the outskirts of this sandy Middle Eastern region, locations like Al Mazrah City and Al Malik Airport cover almost every foot with buildings of all shapes and sizes, promising a false comfort for campers. Meanwhile, smaller POIs such as Taraq Village and Al Samman Cemetery perfectly encapsulate the deathly mood of a deserted town, making players anxious that danger may be close — even if it is not. These two dramatically different atmospheres pump life into Al Mazrah and tosses everyone into a rollercoaster of excitement and anxiety as soon as they drop in.

However, the sequel also bulldozes some cliches of your standard battle royale, and proximity chat fuels this the most. In one match, I found myself propped up on a window sill sifting through buildings below with my sniper’s lens. An opposing voice then greeted me kindly out of nowhere and informed me that I may have an enemy nearby. Without hesitation, I asked for this perpetrator’s location in the hopes my reticle was not far from them. He followed by noting, “I think I see him sniping in the window. I’ve got a shot.” I immediately dashed out of my building’s back entrance, ran as if my actual life depended on it, and heard him cursing his missed shot on my way out. It was at times like these that it was clear Warzone 2.0 has changed the dynamic between players with proximity chat. Especially with the ability to invite and join opposing squads in most game modes, foes can now become friends and acquaintances can mistakenly become lifesavers.

When it comes to gameplay, Warzone 2.0 masterfully mirrors the smooth mechanics of Modern Warfare 2, which is not shocking considering the two share the same engine. Each weapon is lively with a collection of its own reloading and firing sound designs, while mantling and diving also make an appearance. The minor changes that set this game apart come from Warzone 2.0’s retooled ruleset. Armor Plates once again allow for prolonged times-to-kill from guns, though players only begin with a maximum of two plates and must find vests in order to hold three at a time. Developer Infinity Ward also made the last-second decision to allow for custom loadouts, but they cannot be bought directly from Buy Stations. Although these both seem to be insignificant adjustments, they greatly tighten the skill gap, pushing those who explore and loot for valuable weapon Blueprints and vests to success. 

One element from the original Warzone that has unfortunately come to plague its follow-up is the inability to hold a decent framerate. Running on Xbox Series S, the game occasionally slowed in performance in the opening minutes of matches. As a result, everything from moving forward to aiming-down-sights happened at a snail’s pace and affected the outcome of many of my battles. Recent patches have failed to fix these issues at large, so the graphically demanding Al Mazrah certainly needs a few more updates to keep those on weaker platforms entertained.

The title is also packaged with what is practically another game all its own: DMZ. The mode has long been compared to Escape from Tarkov, as it tasks players with surviving its deadly terrains and evacuating with valuable goods. Albeit a fair comparison, the mode’s defining quality is the freedom and benefits it loans Warzone 2.0 and Modern Warfare 2.0 players.

Stay for the exploration and exfil for big rewards

Image via Activision

Although set within the same map, DMZ is a wildly different adventure where players have 25 minutes to complete a range of objectives and then escape out of Al Mazrah before dying to AI or player-controlled combatants. Its quests span from hostage rescues and clearing out enemy strongholds, to driving vehicles through dangerous areas. All of these are challenging, yet thrilling as you are fending off the map’s powerful terrorist organization. However, the mode is questionably built around Faction Missions, which mostly task players with doing long-winded basic activities, such as searching for an exorbitant amount of thumb drives and gas cans. These can be ignored, but since finishing them allows you to use additional custom loadouts (or Insured Slots), these hunts for pointless items become forced and frustratingly time-consuming.

The missions may be extraordinarily bland, but the mode’s loot can be more rewarding than meets the eye. For instance, weapons and Blueprints that are exfiltrated will then be unlocked in Warzone 2.0 and MW2’s multiplayer. Plus, you get to bring along any cosmetics that are earned by completing contracts and missions. This makes it entirely possible to forgo weapon unlock challenges and level up your overall Rank in the other games to earn the very best guns and their attachments — ultimately keeping me hooked and coming back for more DMZ hours at a time.

A bright future

Image via Activision

As Call of Duty: Warzone 2.0 is a live-service game, it is still difficult to pinpoint where it will eventually settle in the heap of popular battle royales. The performance issues are severe enough to dampen and turn some players away from the sequel. I can also see DMZ needing more intriguing activities down the road to have me continuously coming back. That said, the amount of alluring content Warzone 2.0 currently offers is too great to pass up.

The game has already gone above and beyond to outmatch the original. This is largely in part of its expansive, diverse map that will likely take hundreds of matches to see in full. However, its focus on providing overwhelming realism should not be underestimated either. From its exceptional gunplay to how opposing players can interact with each other, Warzone 2.0’s exhilarating features make it well worth chasing after endless victories and taking on its sandbox’s herds of enemies.