For the first time in what feels like ages, Call of Duty is innovating again. Even bogged down by a rough launch and saddled with an excruciatingly clunky UI, Call of Duty: Warzone 2 is still a huge step up from its predecessor.
A battle royale game is only as good as its map(s), and Al Mazrah is one of the best I’ve played on to date. A jewel of the Islamic golden age, the fictional Syria-like has been crushed by internal strife and foreign intervention. Showy contemporary business districts contrast beautifully with the mosques and bazaars, creating a map that feels much more inhabited than its Verdansk and Caldera predecessors.
Al-Mazrah has been divided not only by foreign capital, but also by climate change, creating a network of artificial waterways that can be easily traversed by boat. Strongholds populated by surprisingly vicious AI goons dot the map. These encounters are heavy but predictable and serve as a great warm-up in the early to mid-game, making the Warzone 2 structure feel less like a strict battle royale and more like an MMO PvP area.
The art design is a welcome return to simplicity, and Warzone 2’s cohesive visual identity has so far been unencumbered by gaudy cosmetics and ridiculous operator skins. Even though Season 1’s Battle Pass rewards look like over-engineered airsoft guns, at least there’s a theme rather than a medley of styles. MW2’s awesome lineup of royalty-free weapon approaches integrate well with the near-future war aesthetic, even if some of the hypertactic weapons feel out of place. Visually, Warzone 2 is a big improvement over the bloated Warzone 1.0.
The sound design also remains incredible, thanks to some clever mixing and layering. Delivering a volley of 7.62mm rounds from an RPD at a passing vehicle gets all the better when you hear that creak of ceramic armor shatter. It feels great to be able to identify the pops and crackles of nearby gunfire as belonging to a specific bullet caliber. In a meta that favors the AK-74u, it’s saved me from melting down in CQC a few times.
The Gulag system received a major overhaul. It’s now a lobby that fills with prisoners and puts them in 2v2 deathmatches in a large arena littered with weapon pickups. If the match goes on too long, the Jailer, a minigun-wielding juggernaut, will drop down and speed things up. Being able to rely on a teammate is a welcome change from the sweaty 1v1s of Warzone 1.0, and the ability for both teams to team up and go after the jailer in search of freedom gives Warzone’s unique Gulag system much more depth.
Al Mazrah is huge, with hostile terrain perfect for ambushes strewn all over.
Vehicles are now vital to traverse those dangerous areas. One of my favorite new features is the ability to move from the car seat to the roof at the touch of a button, a change that feels like Infinity Ward acknowledging how cool it is to move freely in the back of trucks or on the hoods of cars while they are in motion. It’s a lot of fun getting into a chase with another crew and watching soldiers crawl out of the windows, desperately trying to quickscope the other driver from the roof.
Another great new addition is the proximity voice chat, which means a rowdy fourteen-year-old will never get the drop on you ever again. Every game so far has been made better by its inclusion (opens in new tab)– hearing a nearby voice has always led to frantic silence or frenzied war cries from my party. Remember the OG MW2 lobbies? Warzone 2 is less toxic, but just as much fun.
Unfortunately, it’s not all plain sailing: shaky performance, extreme stuttering when dropping at the start of the game, and frustrating inconsistencies in hit detection have soured the otherwise fantastic time in Al Mazrah. While the stutter has been fixed by a last-minute update, it remains to be seen if Infinity Ward can avoid the technical pitfalls that Warzone 1.0 constantly stumbled into. It’s worth noting that I haven’t seen any fishy killcams in my short time in Warzone 2 that make me wonder if my attackers are cheating.
Ultimately, I’m curious to see how Warzone 2’s battle royale suite compares to the Tarkov-esque DMZ mode. Our completed review of Call of Duty Warzone 2 is coming next week, but check out more War zone 2 coverage in the meantime.