Some Weekend Writing about Battle Royale and Call of Duty Warzone.

Please note: This was written in April 2020 and reflected what the state of the game was like around launch. In the months since, the game has added events and such not mentioned here. I’m adding this disclaimer since I wrote about a live service game, and thus some things mentioned here may not reflect what Call of Duty: Warzone is currently. Thank you.

For a long time, I never really liked the battle royale game mode. There was some things about that mode that put me off in various ways. Over the years I’ve tried some of the notable ones, and even some of the off-shoots. Most of them were enjoyable for a pinch, but then I’d drop off of them for some reason or another. But then another battle royale game came out recently. And for some reason, this is the one that got me.

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I honestly found 2019’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare entertaining, yet rote. While I didn’t play the campaign, I did play the multiplayer beta before launch, and while I was having a blast like before, it just felt like I’ve been here before. To me, it seems like Infinity Ward has given up creatively, with this current effort trying to recapture that lightning in a bottle that they did with the original Modern Warfare.
There were still attachments, perks and killstreaks, many of the same game modes, even maps I’ve seen in past entries started cropping up. It seemed the biggest innovation the game had at the time was basically ripping off Battlefield’s long-standing Conquest mode. Yet despite the game being fairly derivative, it was still fun to play.
At this point, Call of Duty as a franchise has been a glimmer of nostalgia more than something I get incredibly hyped for. To me, Modern Warfare 3 was when it started going downhill, what with its busted multiplayer and ham-fisted conclusion of a campaign mode. I was so disappointed with it that I advised people shouldn’t play it way back when I played it on a Steam free weekend in 2012.

This is pretty much WWII‘s multiplayer in a nutshell: People randomly watching others open lootboxes. To think this was so common a few years ago.

The only Call of Duty game I played with regularity after that was, surprisingly, WWII. All the others might as well just exist in my mind, something where I play the campaign once, play through some of the multiplayer for a while, then move on to something else that catches my interest.

Love how this is front-and-center. Probably annoying to those who play the standard multiplayer.

In late March, Activision announced something I was worried they were gonna repeat: They were adding battle royale mode in Modern Warfare. I figured that with multiplayer, singleplayer and a zombies mode being in every yearly installment, that trying to make a yearly battle royale mode was the easiest way to kill battle royale’s popularity faster than something new taking its place. After all, this is Activision, a company that clearly sticks to what works until it stops making money.
I was not really interested, until they announced the surprise: Warzone was free to play for anyone, Modern Warfare was not required to play. Now they’ve caught my interest, as I wasn’t really interested in spending more than $20 on a Call of Duty game in 2020. So I tried it, and somehow… it all clicked. After playing several battle royale games, I found the one that worked for me.

Hey, this looks kinda familiar…

Warzone really doesn’t need much explanation if you’re familiar with other battle royale modes. You drop as a squad of 3-4 or play on your own and try to be the last one standing. Search buildings and areas for armor, weapons, grenades and some of the Call of Duty hallmarks like killstreaks and the new field upgrades. Kill, try not to die yourself, seems simple. So you’re probably wondering what makes this different from the others you’ve played. Well, it’s complicated.

Get a little deathmatch in before the match starts. Sure beats randomly beating up dudes for no damage.

There’s a few ideas that Warzone uses that were popular in other battle royale games and makes them work surprisingly well. Stuff like pinging items like in Apex Legends, A money system for buying things like in Radical Heights and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Allowing players to do bonus missions to get money and tactical advantages like in CS:GO. It still has the traditional “muck about in a random part of the map before go time” thing all the other battle royales do, but actually involves combat like a traditional deathmatch mode, which is pretty neat.
But there’s one thing that Warzone does that I haven’t seen others do: Give you a second chance.  
Getting knocked out the first time sends you to a gulag, where you do a one on one fight with another player for freedom. It works a lot like the Gunfight multiplayer mode, but with only one round. Frag the enemy, you’re parachuted back into the warzone to try again. Get fragged yourself, then you’re out for good.

Throwing rocks at your adversaries is oddly satisfying.

It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s the one thing I enjoy about this mode. One of the biggest problems I have with battle royale is how it’s entirely possible to get a bad run and be destroyed at the very beginning or the early game of the match. In all the others, if you’re out, you’re out. Here’s your XP, start up the queue again to join another match.
The second chance portion also benefits in a way. Sometimes in my experiences of playing battle royale, I’ll get unlucky in some matches. I didn’t check an area, I stupidly ran ahead without really observing my surroundings, or I get caught in a quick potshot match with someone, and I lose. That little mini-fight works because of how quick it is, and how it gives you a chance at redemption if you had a rough start.

Loadouts are randomized here, and I’m lucky I got this guy with the revolver.

And if you win the faceoff? You contributed to the match. You weren’t cannon fodder. You get a chance to redeem yourself, and in several matches I’d stupidly get eliminated early, win the faceoff battle, then come back to improve my ranks. I don’t win, but I feel like the match was not for naught, compared to other battle royale games where it feels like I lost even if I did some damage to an opponent.

Nothing sucks more than getting your ass kicked by someone this good.

The one-and-done system that a lot of battle royale games did was something I really didn’t like, and it punished players more than helped them. It’s demoralizing to jump in, try to make headway, only to be eliminated fairly halfway with little to show for it. The little addition of a second chance makes a difference more than I thought it would.
Granted, the faceoff can only be done once, as a second knockdown means the end. The gulag itself also closes after a period of time has elapsed, but if you’re in the top 20 out of 150, do you really need a second chance at that point? Getting there is just as good as getting the victory, honestly.
You may have noticed that most of my observations come from me playing battle royale solo. If you’re playing with a squad, it’s slightly different: if you lose in the gulag, you’re still out and spectating other players, but a squadmate can buy you back in if they have the cash, much akin to Apex Legends’ revival system. The match is only done when your whole squad is out, either through the arena or the gulag, so it’s entirely possible to mount a comeback in spite of a rough start.
You’d think that just battle royale would not hold my interest for very long. After all, I do need other game modes to mess around in. That’s where Infinity Ward and Raven Software threw a curveball in introducing another squad-driven mode for Warzone: Plunder.

Stashing the cash before someone frags us and steals it.

The objective is simple: Be the first squad to reach $1,000,000 in cash in the arena. Find cash around the arena and stash it. The cash bounties reappear in this mode, being one of the easier ways to get to the million-dollar goal. Eliminating enemies drops some of their money, while dying loses a portion of the cash on you. You can find balloons as well as helicopter landing zones where you can permanently stash your money without risking of losing a portion when dying. You also have unlimited respawns during this mode, your standard loadouts of weapons and perks are used here, and there’s no circle to worry about.

Once a squad hits the $1,000,000 target, the next 2-3 minutes are a free-for-all for bonus cash. All cash and bounties are worth 1.5 times their normal amount, and helicopters spawn in the arena which can be destroyed for some extra dough. It’s entirely possible to mount a comeback in this mode, though the game congratulates you even if you only got $100,000 and died a lot, there’s no “loser” in this mode.

Plunder reminds me a bit of Battlefield: Hardline’s heist mode, where in that mode you’d try to accumulate cash from fixed locations while trying to steal cash from enemies. While it’s not team versus team, it still has that sense of tension of trying to frag and steal from the competition to achieve victory. It still feels like Call of Duty even if it’s still cribbing from the competition.
When playing with a decent group of people, Plunder is fun as hell. Though much like any other game, playing with pubbies is a mixed bag, often times leading with random players that have no planning, no strategy, and no support. But when I joined a squad that understood what the hell we’re supposed to do, it can lead to great matches. At one point I ended up winning a Plunder match.

See, I can win these things! Even if others did most of the work…

Had Plunder not been introduced alongside the standard battle royale, I would’ve gotten burnt out on Warzone much faster. But this gives a nice contrast between the two modes, and it can be fun in the right circumstances.
It’s really weird that after playing several different battle royale games and not finding one I enjoyed, this was the battle royale mode that clicked. But then I started thinking about the previous ones I played, and then I figured it out why.
Fortnite, the one all the kids are into, frustrated me with its building mechanic. It felt like it was obfuscating the combat, with combat encounters often being judged by some guy getting lucky to build a building around them or placing unexpected traps. Hell, for a long time it seemed to achieve Victory Royale revolved around how well your tower was built as you potshotted at enemies even as the circle collapsed. The other mode, Save the World, seemed more appealing to me from what my friends described, but I keep waiting for Epic to make it free like the battle royale mode, which at this rate is “probably never.”

If you wanted an idea on what Radical Heights was like, this screenshot should tell you everything you needed to know.

I tried some others. Apex Legends had brought some unique innovation with its pinging system, but the forced squads and character abilities bugged me along with the future Titanfall art style that didn’t really interest me. Radical Heights was a came-and-went effort that relied too much on the “80s game show” motif without really using it effectively, with BMX bikes being the only notable thing that game did. Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is a slow methodical game that’s ill-suited for battle royale, and even with a smaller player count it just wasn’t that fun to play.

For the record, I did win CS:GO‘s Battle Royale mode at least once, so difficulty winning in this game mode has nothing to do with it.

Even the last time Call of Duty did battle royale, Black Ops 4’s Blackout mode, had quirks in it that bothered me, combined with the dwindling PC userbase meant that even finding games that weren’t for the smaller Alcatraz map were outright impossible.  

Thank god Modern Warfare introduced crossplay, which means even on PC I can find games with Xbox One and PlayStation 4 players, which seem to stick around with games longer than the PC crowd does.

And since some of you may ask: No, I never tried Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds. It’s not worth the $30 to try it at this point.
Each and every battle royale I tried had a dumb quirk to it that didn’t click with me. Yet Warzone strikes a good balance of each, being fun without having some of the silly trappings that past battle royale games had. It finally clicked for me.
You wanna know how much I like this mode at the moment? Even after suffering a bizarre crash bug on the PC version, I tried my best to find workarounds just to play the game. That’s how much I enjoy this game, that I’m willing to get around crashes just so I can get back in and play.
For those who might stumble upon this post with similar crash-to-desktop with no error message:
The fix that worked reliably for me was to open the game, open Windows Explorer, go to the folder where your installation of Modern Warfare is, and rename the executable “ModernWarfare.exe” by adding a 1 at the end (“ModernWarfare.exe1”). This stopped my crash problems. Granted, you’ll have to do this each time you start the game, but until there’s a more reliable fix, I’m sticking with this one for now.
I didn’t have to do this anymore once I updated my video card drivers, so I’d suggest doing that first before going with my half-baked solution.
I don’t play a lot of games lately, but Warzone has been one of my quick and easy go-to games. While I may not be super into Call of Duty like I was 10 or so years ago, I still find some enjoyment in it sometimes. And I have to give Infinity Ward and Raven Software credit for making a pretty solid battle royale mode that I keep playing.

I know those are enemies, but we’re not even out of the plane yet, slow your roll!

All I hope for the mode at this point is more meatier content. More maps. More unique game modes involving squads. Hell, maybe rip Ground War out of the base game and make it free with Warzone. Stuff like that could keep me playing it for longer than any other battle royale game. Hopefully they don’t lock it away to their $10 battle pass like most games do these days. I’m not made of money.

B.J. Brown

B.J. Brown is the creator and sole writer on You Found a Secret Area. Casually writing since 2010, Fascinated by dumb things like game shows, music, and of course, video games. Also on Twitter. You can support their work on Ko-Fi or Patreon.

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