Call of Duty: Warzone is far and away the most amount of hype the Battle Royale genre has seen since Apex Legends. After months of rumours and speculation, the standalone, free-to-play expansion to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare finally arrived on PlayStation 4 yesterday, bringing with it a gigantic map 150 players can call home and two modes to experience. It's a meaty package indeed that even brings its own selection of ideas to the table, and for that, it is completely competent. Fine, even. However, in a genre where the barrier to entry for the vast majority of its competition is quite literally zero, that simply isn't good enough anymore. Call of Duty: Warzone will gain popularity and recognition based on its name alone, but the experience it has to offer is steeped in simplicity.
And, depending on how much time you've spent playing various iterations of the Battle Royale concept, that could be a positive thing. Call of Duty: Warzone strips away much of the inventory management you'd have to deal with in Fortnite or Respawn Entertainment's genre masterclass -- opting instead for a set of options which would traditionally make up a single loadout in a multiplayer match. You've got two weapons, tactical and lethal equipment, and pieces of armour to boost your health. Ammo is looted separately and while it can be dropped and shared with other players on your team, that's as far as the game goes in terms of character-based complexities.
It makes for an undertaking which effectively kills the time you spend looting. Sure, you could search for rarer weapons equipped with better attachments, but then you're just as likely to source the same sort of loot from the enemy squads you run into and kill throughout the course of a match. The argument here is that it gets you into the thick of the action much faster. However, since the title is lacking in truly sought after loot, you never have much of a reason to actually return to searching for better equipment during quieter moments. Outside of ammo, which you'll feel like you either have too little or an abundance of, there's little to pull you back into scavenging after the opening few minutes of a match.
As such, Call of Duty: Warzone feels like the simplest take on Battle Royale for quite some time. When the core pillars of the genre are called into question, the title does little to iterate upon them -- actually taking a lot of it away in the case of looting. The shooting continues Call of Duty: Modern Warfare's hot streak of feeling phenomenal, but then the mode is based on those exact same foundations and mechanics. That all comes together to provide an experience reminiscent of PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds, in that it feels like the breakout hit which should lead to better takes on the genre further down the line. However, Warzone has arrived nearly four years after PUBG set the world alight. Newcomers will surely appreciate the simplicity, but we struggle to see how a hardcore following will form as competitors already on the market offer so much more depth.
One thing it does have going in its favour is the handful of cool, new ideas it brings to the table. Alongside looting weapons, equipment, and ammo, you'll also collect cash to spend at Buy Stations in exchange for killstreaks, armour, and a respawn for a deceased teammate. It's an interesting addition which gives you the chance to gain an advantage without ever having to engage in combat, with the likes of UAVs pinpointing nearby enemies on the map and airstrikes laying waste to anyone out in the open. Surprisingly, they don't feel too overpowered at the time of writing, but we all know how that can change.
Contracts spread throughout the map are another way of making money, providing you with objectives to complete. Whether it's simply locating three crates, securing a nearby point, or taking down a certain nearby player, they all come with a healthy cash prize. The idea works well in practice too, providing a constant money injection that can lead to bigger and better things should you save up for the more expensive items Buy Stations have to offer.
By far the coolest addition of all, however, is the Gulag. Taking the shape of the base game's Gunfight mode, players can fight for the right to respawn once per match across a single round, both equipped with the same loadout. If you get the kill, you'll re-join your teammates on the battlefield while the loser has to hope one of their buddies can accrue enough cash to bring them back at a Buy Station. Complete with a real-life audience and rocks which can be thrown from the stands, it's a fascinating take on the mechanic popularised by Apex Legends. You'll quickly begin to skip the introductory cutscene, but the idea behind the novel concept is one we can certainly appreciate -- at least giving Warzone something major to differentiate itself from the rest of the pack.
Plunder is the other 150-player mode you can participate in outside of traditional Battle Royale, tasking squads with collecting as much cash as possible. Infinite respawns and standard loadouts turn this offering into more of a normal multiplayer match than anything else, with the only things it borrows being the map and player count. It's fun enough for a couple of rounds, but we can't see it garnering much of a playerbase as teams aimlessly wander the battlefield in search of cash. Plunder attempts to create some chaotic action by marking those in first place on the map for all to see, which certainly puts those nearing victory on edge at least. It, however, cannot hold a candle to the usual intensity of a normal Battle Royale match when you're guaranteed to respawn after death.
Call of Duty: Warzone is more than likely going to do just fine for itself. It has the name Call of Duty in it, after all. However, in taking away much of what makes the Battle Royale genre the behemoth it is today, the game fails to provide much in the way of depth for players who have already mastered the likes of Fortnite and Apex Legends. It is so laser-focused on the shooting that looting appears to have fallen by the wayside. And then you can mitigate the entire process by being lucky enough to run into a loadout drop where you'll be able to pick up the customised weapons and perks you've been using in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare's multiplayer. The Gulag is a really, really cool idea, but this is not a Battle Royale offering we can see ourselves sticking with. At the end of it all, we couldn't help but wish we were playing Call of Duty: Black Ops 4's Blackout mode the entire time.
Have you had the chance to check out Call of Duty: Warzone yet? What do you make of it compared to other Battle Royale titles? Collect your loadout in the comments below.