‘Warzone 2.0’ review: here we go again…

The gaming phenomenon begins a promising new era in stunning Al Mazrah

Warzone 2.0 has some big combat boots to fill. How do you follow up Call of Duty’s big, brash offering to the battle royale space? From Warzone’s launch back in 2020 during a nearly worldwide Covid-19 lockdown, it’s hard to describe the launch as anything but seismic. Now, as we emerge blinking from gaming chairs, sofas and blanket forts around the world, Warzone 2 has an audience to recapture.

It’s hard to truly encapsulate what Warzone meant for so many during that time. A true cultural reference point for a period of time that will go down in history. At the height of its popularity, Warzone had amassed around 100million registered players and it wasn’t just an online game – it was a way to keep in touch with friends, family and loved ones that were so cruelly out of reach.

Now, there’s Warzone 2.0 with Infinity Ward back in the driver’s seat and the question is, how do you top something that’s etched in our memories with such joy and fondness? Perhaps the more important question is, can you? The answer is, well, it’s too early to say, but generally, the signs are pointing in the right direction.

Warzone 2. Credit: Actision Blizzard.
Warzone 2. Credit: Activsion Blizzard.

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Off the bat, Warzone‘s new battleground of Al Mazrah, is a sight to behold. It’s a vast, beautiful play area that glistens as you hurl yourself out of a plane and float over it. It’s certainly the biggest Warzone map to date and on current-gen, it’s hard not to feel a tingle when you plummet down to ground level.

The points of interest feel far more expansive and considered than in Caldera: there’s more to explore, and there’s a continuity to the areas rather than main sections being plonked somewhere out of the place on the map (we’re looking at you Capital). The overall map design is fantastic because of this.

There are clear nods to the battle royale’s original map, Verdansk, in the way it’s laid out. The city area is the main event, incorporating High Rise in the mix with Dome visible in the distance from its highest rooftops, not to mention Terminal making a return. Villages, deserts, quarries, harbours, cave systems and functional train line give you plenty to work through and there’s not as much of a worry when darting across open areas like there was in Caldera, in which long runs outside practically guaranteed a beaming from somewhere far away.

Al Mazrah, to put it simply, is a joy to behold, it’s like Verdansk’s towering older brother, but still retains some of the magic we had when we first started playing Warzone…and let’s face it, it’s miles better than Caldera.

Warzone 2.0 Credit: Activision Blizzard.
Warzone 2.0 Credit: Activision Blizzard.

Mechanically, things start to drift away from its predecessors. The looting system has had a complete overhaul and so has the way you carry your treasure. You’re now presented with a backpack and unless you find a bigger one, every slot counts. The idea of dropping in and grabbing everything in sight has essentially been eradicated, you won’t want to have those random shotgun shells taking up room in your bag when it could be crammed with armour plates or more useful ammo, while every item you come across, be it in toolboxes, duffel bags or supply crates can be singularly selected to go in your stash.

This takes some time getting used to, ultimately – it’s a slower process and accessing your bag mid-run or fight is a whole new challenge. It has split popular opinion but after a few hours of gaming it starts to sink into muscle memory and essentially it’s an addition that requires more headspace than before, which some love and naturally, some hate. Personally, we think it starts off feeling weird to use, but improves over time – and after several hours scrapping in Al Mazrah, the system even starts to feel intuitive.

Your beloved loadout is gathered in a new way too. Sure, there are the standard drops during the game, however this time they’re distributed in an airstrike-style line of deployment across the map, rather than based on your personal location but you can no longer buy your loadouts at the buy station. This time around, you can buy your primary weapons for $5000, meaning you’re somewhat equipped for the battle ahead but perks, secondary weapons and attachments aren’t accessible at will. To be frank, it doesn’t make a great deal of sense to only allow you to buy one gun at a time – you might as well be able to buy the whole thing. It doesn’t make for a more positive experience to remove the option to purchase your loadout, it feels pointless and we reckon this will be changed over the coming months, we hope so anyway.

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Warzone 2. Credit: Activision Blizzard.
Warzone 2. Credit: Activision Blizzard.

Another way to get your loadout early on is by breaching and taking over a Stronghold, fortresses guarded by AI that vary in degree of difficulty, before defusing a bomb that finally gives you the goods. You’ll need to avoid enemy teams doing the same thing, which makes for some interesting firefights and overall make for a solid addition to each match.

Perhaps some of the biggest points of contention so far are the gunfights. Modern Warfare 2’s multiplayer experience features a very quick time to kill (TTK), which completely changes the pace of the game, and it’s the same when you take the fight to Al Mazrah. The TTK is still very quick, noticeably quicker than the previous editions and this can play in your favour if you have a nice high-ground spot camping out an open area, but gun fights are over quickly and it’s anyone’s game.

Whether you like this or not really depends on your skill level and how you play the game, although it does feel a little too speedy to knock someone or be knocked down. Miss one shot and you’re done, on the flip side it doesn’t take many bullets to take out an enemy. Somewhere in the middle between Warzone 1 and 2.0 would make sense and simply transferring multiplayer’s TTK feels a bit redundant as they’re completely different formats. The firefights are more often than not, over in a flash, the nuances of situations are more or less eliminated and you need to shoot and shoot quick. Taking your time over a gunfight tends to lead to a fatality. Having said that, these brawls still feel exhilarating and the battles take your breath away.

Warzone 2.0. Credit: Activision Blizzard.
Warzone 2.0. Credit: Activision Blizzard.

With the map becoming so sizeable, combining the scale with a rapid TTK changes the meta. Camping is back in, and slower play seems to be the done thing, but when coupled with such a quick time to kill, the experience can sometimes feel uneven. This also comes hand-in-hand with new gas circle splits that can see the circle fracturing, forcing players into two or three different safe zones before bringing teams back together for a final circle fight. You could be playing a considered and slow game with every rotation intelligently planned, but the moment you run into anyone at a weird angle, it’s all over in a heartbeat.

And in that heartbeat, you’re transported to the new Gulag, everyone’s favourite post-death hangout. You’re now paired with another player in a 2v2 showdown, simultaneously doubling your chances of getting out alive or being gunned down. It doesn’t have the same charm as a 1v1 showdown in the prison toilets but it’s definitely a fun change to the norm.

These showdowns (featuring a beefed-up AI jailer who breaks everyone out if killed) are either played with your party partner if they die at the same time as you, or a randomer, who you can chat to in real-time with the all-new proximity chat.

Warzone 2.0. Credit: Activision Blizzard.
Warzone 2.0. Credit: Activision Blizzard.

Now then, proximity chat, where to start with this one. Who’d have thought being able to hear enemy teams when they’re in your vicinity would be one of the biggest fundamental changes to Warzone?

“We come in peace, we’re friendly, we’re friendly” or “come out, come out wherever you are” are just some of the exchanges we’ve heard while playing Warzone 2.0. Negotiating safe passage with your enemy team or blaring out music so they can’t hear your footsteps are now very real parts of the game.

We’ve seen people singing along with each other and even streamers offering money to their enemies to let them live. Proximity chat is a wild new feature which, while distracting from the task at hand, can be a hilarious, often sadly toxic but at times an ingenious addition.

But what about playability over Warzone 2.0’s first few days of availability? Honestly, it’s not been great. Of course with a game of this size and magnitude, there are going to be early growing pains and some bugs, but here they have been rife. The lag at times renders the game completely unplayable and gamers have been experiencing dev errors, with several NME staffers getting punted from the game at inopportune times. If these technical issues are rectified, what we have on our hands is a genuinely great battle royale experience.

The new additions are going to take time to settle in until we can pass real judgement but they’re already becoming normal and they don’t detract from the experience, rather offer up a new one. Bugs aside, we’re excited to play Warzone 2.0 more and we’re excited to drop back in every day, that’s something worth getting your hopes up about.

Verdict

Can you top something like Warzone, what it represented and what it meant to so many people? No, but Warzone 2.0 is giving it a bloody good go and we’re here for the ride, even if that ride involves bartering for our lives on proximity chat while camping in a stairwell.

Pros

  • Bartering for your lives on proximity chat is…a new one
  • The beauty and grandeur of Al Mazrah gives us a tingle
  • Looting is a completely different beast but we’re into it

Cons

  • The general bugs and crashes are controller-breakingly bad
  • TTK is very quick, perhaps too quick
  • We’d like to buy loadouts at the buy station again please
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