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Monday, December 4, 2023

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Warzone 2.0 is the latest battle royale game – but is it the best?

There are plenty of people whove had enough of battle royales by now, but I am not one of them. With neither teenage reaction speeds nor endless leisure time to devote to “gitting gud”, battle royales run-and-gun approach levels the playing field; Id rather lose a fight because of crap loot and bad luck than succumb to someone whos managed to unlock a fancy gadget because theyve clocked up 1000 more in-game hours than I have.

As the dust settled around the battle of the battle royales, Apex Legends was the last one standing for me, and – like many of us with jobs and kids – I simply didnt have the time to git gud at the rest of them, too. Consequently, although I did enjoy my time with Call of Dutys initial toe-dip into Battle Royale-flavoured waters, Blackout, I spent just enough time with Warzone to know I didnt like it quite as much as Apex and left it there. No offence, Infinity Ward; its not you, its me.

The problem with being a new – or even lapsed – player, though, is its impossible to know when the best time to return is. Occasionally Id pop my head over the hedge for a sneaky look – and it looked good over there! – but it was too late now, surely? I didnt know the map. I didnt know where people camped or sniped from, or where the top-tier loot spawned. I didnt know the shortcuts to help me escape the closing circle (or three; Warzone 2.0 bucks the trend and can offer multiple points of refuge, making the scramble for the final zone that much more dramatic). Apex Legends shrinking zone, for example, is fairly forgiving, which means you can sometimes use it to a tactical advantage when engaging in a fight; Warzone 2.0s gas cloud, however, is not, and I only learned that the hard way.

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Warzone 2.0s launch trailer.

However, with Warzone Two-Point-Oh comes a second bite at the cherry. With the alien sandscapes of new map Al Mazrah and a refreshed Gulag system – oh man, how quickly that place makes me feel bad about myself, even if I now have a partner at my side – it may feel like the perfect time to jump back in… well, if you can make peace with the server instabilities, anyway.

Sharing so much of its DNA with Modern Warfare 2, Warzone 2.0 is likely to feel more familiar to COD players than battle royale ones, and the couple of weeks headstart some have had to acclimatise to MW2s gunplay and progression system will no doubt come in handy here. For me, as someone whos yet to spend much time with MW2, the learning curve was sharper and longer, not least because Warzones looting feels peculiarly sluggish – and maybe less intuitive – than not only its predecessor but its peers, too.

I never escaped the feeling that Warzones new backpack system was slowing me down. Not only does it take an age to open and flick through your bag, but slowly looting the corpse of a downed foe is more precarious than ever thanks to the never-ending threat of a possible third-party attack and the endless glitches of items sitting near – or on top of – each other, making it maddeningly complicated to grab the one thing you want. Im further frustrated by my operator deciding for herself what is and is not in my best interest, as she will only auto-collect ammo for guns I currently have. If youre collecting additional ammo for an aspirational loadout (and arent we always?), its on you to pick it up manually.

COD Warzone
Warzone 2.0.

Talking of loadouts, one of Warzones more unique features, its loadout system, has been tweaked, too. Whereas before you could save your favourite weapons and perks as a loadout and unlock it via a Buy Station – instantly elevating your odds, of course – youll now find its harder than ever to do so. Warzone 2.0s Buy Stations are much more frugal, so if you want to access everything, including your perks, youll need to scramble for one of the infrequent Loadout drops or take on a Stronghold… if another team hasnt already beaten you to it, of course.

Consequently, by moving us away from loadout dependency, IW has had to revamp the ground loot and bolster gun diversity. Yes, its improved the meta – no longer does the killcam show me being executed by the same two guns over and over – but it makes gunplay (and your survival) much less predictable, too, as youll be forced to pick up and experiment with weapons you may have previously preferred to ignore.

All battle royales seek to shake up the formula a little to make them standout – Fortnite has building, Apex Legends has special abilities, Fall Guys has delightfully murderous jellybeans – and for Warzone, that USP is its gulag system and lobby size, welcoming in an eye-watering 150 players per lobby: 50 per cent more than most other BR titles. Al Mazrahs plenty big enough for it – youd think with 150 people youd be endlessly bouncing from one firefight to the next, but with 18 POIs that isnt the case; fights are intense (the de-facto time-to-kill has dropped by a third) but infrequent – and some locations will feel delightfully familiar to those whove spent time in the multiplayer lobbies of COD games of old.

COD Warzone

COD Warzone

COD Warzone

COD Warzone

Warzone 2.0.

The problem is, dissected further into squad preferences – Quads, Duos, third-person Trios, and “Unhinged” Trios (where you can recruit enemies and expand your squad) – getting 150 people on a server at once is seemingly a pretty big ask, and if I wasnt sitting around waiting for more players on the main start screen, I was waiting for servers to populate in the pre-lobby. So if youre new, or even just a bit rusty and you crash out of matches early rather than later, thats a hell of a lot of hanging around, which is particularly frustrating if your playtime is limited.

And then theres proximity chat. Setting aside the fact Im female and allergic to outing myself as such in a multiplayer lobby at the best of times… well, what value does it bring? Beyond indicating when enemy players are in your immediate vicinity, all it did for us was stifle the opportunity to talk tactics with your team (and usher forth the inevitable “jokes”; its astonishing how many non-English speakers know the words “sandwich” and “kitchen”). After half an hour of listening to other peoples dreadful music, screaming kids, and snack-eating – have we collectively forgotten that theres a mic built into the PS5s DualSense?! – I turned the feature off. I dont envisage ever turning it back on, either.

Perhaps most egregious of all, though, is that even a week on from launch, the servers remain woefully unstable. Yesterday, for instance, my battle pass unceremoniously reset all my progress – locking me out of the spoils, loadouts, and operators Id unlocked thus far – and some lobbies are laggy to the point of unplayable. Ive also been on the wrong end of that invisibility glitch, finding myself mowed down by unseen players (which is highly unfair given I barely have time to react to the ones I can see).

COD Warzone
Warzone 2.0.

And it is, of course, the latter issue that stings the most. Bugs, glitches, and server issues are so often par of the course now with triple-A launches – free-to-play or otherwise – making it hard to muster up the effort to invest your time and resources in a game so unstable, you can be locked out of your own gear at a moments notice. I suspect in a few weeks time, when casual players drop away and servers are less strained, Warzone 2.0 – which has undoubtedly improved upon Warzones formidable foundations – will grow in confidence once again. The question is: are you prepared to wait?

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