As a new season for Call of Duty: Warzone 2 and Modern Warfare 2 arrives, I find myself re-living the same feelings I had with the 2019 game and its battle royale spin-off.
My plight is that of any discerning shooter fan; I continue to expect more from Call of Duty, as the series remains happy providing, more or less, what it has been known for since the original Modern Warfare. But where it’s always been easy to write CoD off as a franchise that’s never really been challenged or needed to alter its winning formula, its industry-leading tech and production values make that much harder today.
Consider, if you will, this analogy. Imagine getting a powerful PC or the latest iPhone, only for you to use it just for word processing and playing the occasional Tetris clone: there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but many would question the need to spend that much money every year on hardware for tasks that use maybe 5% of its power.
This is what it feels like to be enthralled by Call of Duty’s ever-evolving tech, and its increasingly grounded gameplay and aesthetics, only to find that it’s all in the service of: Shipment 24/7 and camo grinds – the same exact thing we’ve been doing for a decade.
It’s not so much this rigid adherence to a dated formula that frustrates me, it’s when Call of Duty ventures into other genres and proceeds to bring its existing baggage along with it, like they’re joined at the hip.
It would be disingenuous to say Call of Duty hasn’t changed in a decade, what with all the battle royale iterations, Tarkov-lite DMZ mode, open-world co-op, and so on. But the moment you dig deeper and start actually playing all that, you’ll find that all these experimental spokes are simply different pockets in which more of the same Call of Duty gameplay exists. It’s like using a pan without washing it, over and over again; sure, you’re cooking a steak now, but it smells and tastes like orange syrup and caramel from the morning’s pancake cookout.
Call of Duty is not interested in charting a new direction for the many modes it adapts. It stops at finding a way for its existing makeup to work within its already loosely-defined parameters.
This season brings a major new update to Warzone 2 battle royale. The mode’s initial release was divisive for introducing a backpack system that slowed down looting considerably, and offered players greater freedom when gearing up.
Sure, it could’ve been a little less clunky, and less forgiving of players who (predictably) went on to stack multiples of the rarest and most powerful items to overpower opponents. But it only needed balance tweaks and smoothing of the UI flow. Not for the whole system to be thrown away.
The “new” looting system is simply the one from Warzone, where items pop up out of boxes like candy out of a pinata, scattered around the floor in a manner that never looked authentic to the grounded and gritty game that Warzone is.
Infinity Ward wanted floor loot to matter, particularly weapons. Its solution was admittedly half-hearted already, but it reduced how often players attained their perfectly-tuned weapons and loadouts.
Loadouts could be acquired by taking part in server-wide events that all-but-guaranteed players will have to fight over them. Those looking to avoid that risk still had the option to be the first to clear an AI-guarded Stronghold. Though that too carries its own risks, they might have been more manageable. Or predictable.
Then, there was the option to simply buy a primary weapon outright – not an entire loadout – from any of the Buy Stations around the map. Even those shops had varying inventories and limited quantities of items, all decisions intended to push players to explore and engage with the random nature of battle royale rather than sidestep it completely.
Season Two does not build on any of that, and instead scraps the entire thing to make it work just like it did in the original Warzone. The goal, once again, is to amass enough cash as quickly as possible to get fully equipped for the fight, bringing us back to the mind-numbing predictability of the original Warzone.
It is quite telling that those changes, which I never felt went far enough to making Warzone 2 an interesting a battle royale mode anyway, only lasted a few brief months before they got removed completely.
There’s even a new smaller map for players who miss the chaos of Warzone’s Resurgence, ensuring that Warzone 2 operates as mere facelift of the old Warzone. Sure, you can swim now and lean out of cars, but Infinity Ward and Raven needed to find ways for all those new mechanics and cool tech to be relevant, not simply throw up their hands and set back the clock.
And that’s really the travesty of it all. Imagine if DMZ created a more accessible Tarkov that didn’t also have killstreaks, or any of Call of Duty’s unnecessary baggage. There’s a version of battle royale that’s true to the mode’s nature, more unforgiving and less predictable, one that isn’t just content with providing the same damn CoD experience on a larger map. Maybe breaking the yearly release cadence will get us there.