The Best Part Of Call Of Duty: Warzone Is How Small It Can Feel
CoD's new free-to-play battle royale game ensures that things stay personal despite the 150-person player count.
The industry's newest free-to-play battle royale game, the Modern Warfare spin-off Call of Duty: Warzone, takes inspiration from games like Apex Legends in a variety of ways. However, it also introduces its own wrinkles to the formula, some which impact gameplay directly (like being able to complete "contracts" during the match), others that are more minor visual flourishes (like the names that adorn the map when you're choosing where to drop). While the things in the latter category aren't what's going to make or break the game, they can help to provide it with extra flavor, and so far I'm loving the way all of these new elements come together to ensure 150-player matches still have their intimate moments and stories.
Much like in a standard Call of Duty: Modern Warfare match, the beginning of a Warzone round sees a brief cutscene of sorts to set the stage, as you and your team assemble on a plane before dropping in. The end of a match is bookended by another scene where a helicopter arrives to extract the winning team members, who are able to show off their customization options during some close-up shots on the chopper. It provides a very light narrative wrapper to the whole affair.
During the helicopter sequence, the screen is also home to an In Memoriam list where each player from that round's name is displayed. These names are grouped into squads of three (no cause of death is displayed), and actually seeing nearly 150 names listed out in this way serves to hammer home just how many people you managed to overcome--assuming you did come out on top. The choice to focus solely on names and nothing related to their performance or placement distinguishes this from merely being a very long leaderboard.
Even if the overall story elements of Warzone are minor, there are other ways for narratives to develop within the course of a game. Any battle royale game might remind you of the name of the player who kills you, but here things are taken a bit further. Scattered around the map are contracts, which are essentially missions your squad can take on. There are a couple of different variations, but the most interesting is one that has you hunt down a specific player with some guidance as to their general location.
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By pairing off groups of players like this and giving the loose framework of a sudden-death Team Deathmatch game within the broader match, it gives you a way to more easily develop a personal story. Beyond that, even if you don't end up winning and making that helicopter escape, at least you have the opportunity to feel like you accomplished something within that match (other than checking off the box for one of the meta challenges that are also available to you). It's also particularly thrilling to kill players who have been specifically tasked with hunting you or one of your teammates down, as I can attest to with a sweet double-kill I pulled off by dropping an airstrike on some approaching enemies.
Another version of this comes in the Gulag, which you visit after your first death. Two players are given the same equipment in a small arena and fight to the death as other deceased players look on (and throw rocks at the participants or simply punch each other while they await their turn). It's an intense experience, with a win securing you a second chance at life back in the main game. Losing doesn't mean you're permanently out, but it puts pressure on your living teammates to both secure enough cash to buy your revival and to safely make it to a designated location where they can do so. After only a handful of matches, it might be my favorite revival system in a battle royale game yet.
150 players sounds like a lot for a battle royale game, particularly when Apex went sub-100 with its player count. After a handful of matches with Warzone so far, I'm most impressed with how it finds way to ensure that rivalries and more personal anecdotes still emerge.
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