‘Warzone 2.0’ impressions: Al Mazrah stirs memories of Verdansk

'Warzone 2.0' impressions: Al Mazrah stirs memories of Verdansk


When “Call of Duty: Warzone” debuted in March 2020, it marked the realization of what Call of Duty could finally be if it broke free from the close confines of its multiplayer maps. The map of Verdansk stretched before players as they stood at the rear door of their C-130, scanning far and wide for places to drop and explore. It felt boundless. It felt immersive. It radiated with realism in a way that Call of Duty never had before.

Over the following months, the map of Verdansk evolved, along with an in-game narrative — minimal, but enough to stitch the game’s six two-month seasons together. Then the map shifted, getting a retro look to conform with “Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War’s” 1984 timeline. Then Verdansk was gone for good, replaced roughly 11 months ago by the World War II-era Caldera, to sync with “Call of Duty: Vanguard.” And with Caldera, for many — including this reviewer — the game felt as if it had cratered.

Even as players had clamored for new maps and updates, they lamented what had happened to the original playground of Verdansk. Some felt Caldera was merely a pale reflection, despite its lovely and lush flora, which often housed campers, and its cinematic, volcanic peak, usually crested by sweaty players picking off the sorry souls exposed in the valleys below as they rotated away from the closing gas circle. It was, in short, not great.

Now comes Al Mazrah, a new map with an entirely new, open-world DMZ mode that builds on to the base battle royale. And for as breathtaking as the vistas of the new map are, it’s the good-old feeling of Verdansk that radiates from one corner of Al Mazrah to the other. For “Warzone” players, this feels like old times again.

But there are a host of new features that players will need to rapidly grow accustomed to, including the aforementioned DMZ mode. For now, let’s focus on the battle royale and what “Warzone 2.0” brings to the table.

Note: These impressions are based off the first several hours (four rounds) following the game’s launch and will be updated.

Perhaps the biggest downfall of Caldera was its namesake. The mountainous peak at the center of the map nearly always meant that the final zones would rotate in a way that required a risky maneuver if players weren’t fortunate enough to own the high ground. It inspired a sense of dread, because, at some point, in what could be a 30-minute round, you knew you were going to need to move either up or around it, and there would be enemies lying in wait while you sprinted through what felt like kilometers of open ground (or took a vehicle and alerted everyone nearby to your presence).

Al Mazrah has no such problem. As sprawling as the map may be, there’s plenty of “stuff” that connects the interior points of interest, such that you rarely feel compelled to risk a full sprint through an open space. Even the open ground features more undulating terrain, allowing players to take some measure of cover if they come under fire while patrolling one of the more sparse parts of the map.

Inside Al Mazrah, the new map for ‘Warzone 2.0’

Beyond simply looking amazing, the large and small POIs intersect well with one another. There are waterways throughout the map, not just the coastlines, which gives players a chance to make use of the game’s new swimming mechanics and water vehicles. There is also no shortage of vehicles, in either number or type. Ground vehicles include an ATV, a sedan and a Hummer EV, with various other four-wheeled machines as well.

Four rounds is hardly enough time to confidently say whether this is Call of Duty’s best BR map yet, but it feels and plays much more like Verdansk than Caldera, and it offers a number of ways players can interact with locations that further adds to the feeling of realism. For example, if you’re looking for money, check a store’s cash register. Need a medical stim or a self-revive kit? Check out the areas where there are medical equipment boxes hanging from the walls, such as the defibrillator station in an office building.

The most unmissable new element in “Warzone 2.0” is proximity chat, which allows you to hear the voices of nearby players outside of your party … and allows them to hear you.

This is the part of the game I’m most eager to see play out in the coming weeks. There is a real element of strategy now to your communication with teammates. If players ramble on about their day at work — or crunch Doritos into their microphones — opponents can hear them and track them down, even without tools such as a UAV, a heartbeat sensor or a snapshot grenade to help locate them.

In early games, the sounds from the opposing teams’ conversations are impossible to miss. It’s as if they’ve joined your party. That also makes hearing them less useful, though: Unlike ambient noise, such as footsteps or gunshots, which emanates from the exact spot in the game from which it originated, an opponent’s voice will sound the same if they’re standing next to you or in the building across from you. I’ll be interested to see whether the developers can better regulate how opponents sound when they’re nearby rather than two buildings away on a different floor. It would help a lot, based on the early rounds.

Discord is now on Xbox for everyone, but setup takes a few steps

The next major issue with proximity chat is that you can turn it off. The game’s settings do not make it clear what that means exactly, but it probably means that those disabling the feature will not be able to hear other players outside their party, nor be heard by anyone else. If players are somehow able to talk without their comms registering on proximity chat while still hearing other players, that would be a huge advantage for players disabling the feature. There’s also the possibility that some PC and Xbox players are using a third-party client such as Discord for their voice chat, which could allow them to eavesdrop without being heard themselves. Much like the third-person mode, which I haven’t sampled yet, this might be a feature that warrants its own playlist rather than serving as a toggle bar in the game settings menu.

And, of course, there’s the question of toxicity over voice chat. Anecdotally, Activision does seem to be responding to reports of players using insensitive language or usernames in the game, sending updates to players who report another in-game if action is taken (although those updates don’t include which player the report was about, nor what action was taken, specifically). During one of my hotter drops, the proximity chat produced the usual jabs between two other teams near us, but also crossed over into a sexual nature, which could definitely be unwelcome for some players. And although those players could disable the feature, it would probably prohibit them from playing certain modes that allow players to assimilate members of other teams into their own squad using proximity chat.

After removing loadouts completely from the alpha, Infinity Ward added them back as random drops near teams as the circle closes. They are not, however, available at shops, which is the (seemingly unnecessary) new term for “buy stations.”

I understand why some top players crave their customized weapons, equipment and perks, but playing without loadouts was pretty fun. Even base-level guns felt effective, and the option to purchase just your primary weapon from a shop for $5,000 seemed like a pretty good option. In my early matches, I was able to find a decent caliber of weaponry and gadgetry simply through looting.

‘Warzone 2.0’s’ new battle pass, explained

Whether this gets further changed down the line probably hinges on how responsive Activision wants to be to streamers/influencers who want to put on a show for their audiences (and can best do that with the weapons they use most regularly). But if the developer doesn’t tweak things beyond the current system, I wouldn’t mind (as an average player with middling aim).

The single biggest negative feedback you’ll probably see about the change from “Warzone” to “2.0” is the new looting system. Weapons and items are much harder to identify on the ground compared with the old version, and with the new ability to store extra ammo, armor and gear in your backpack, just running over every type of ammo won’t automatically add it to your stash.

Instead, you can “absorb” ammo for your primary and secondary weapons just by running over it, and the same goes for cash or any lethal or tactical item, if it’s the same type you either are carrying or just used. Beyond that, players are given an option to equip items, which puts them directly onto your person in the usual slots — gun you’re holding, lethals, tacticals — and will replace any existing items in those slots. Otherwise, you can stash something in your backpack, either by hitting the interact button or holding down on the D-pad when in a looting menu, which is a great concept but a bit tricky to get used to.

It’s hard to know and remember what the heck is in your backpack. In the opening moments of a round, players usually fly around trying to find whatever loot they can. I’d often find that I had several different backpack slots holding a stack of three armor plates and spare shotgun rounds for a weapon I wasn’t using. If you get a breather, sorting and thinking through your backpack items is a worthwhile exercise, particularly in conjunction with your squad. Just be sure your opponents aren’t listening in via prox chat when you’re discussing who’s taking what.

Buy stations Shops allow players to purchase weapons through one menu and equipment through another. It’s going to take “Warzone” veterans a little getting used to, but the menu is simple enough, and the pace of play in my matches wasn’t so sweaty that interfacing with the menu felt like it would get you killed.