Although Call of Duty: Warzone 2 introduces the new Al Mazrah map, it integrates both new and iconic locations together to serve as a crucible for the battle royale's big overhaul to a lot of core features and the introduction of Modern Warfare 2's mechanics and movement. The end result is mixed, with some of Warzone 2.0's new additions making the moment-to-moment action feel fresh, while updates to other classic Warzone features feel like a step back for the battle royale title.
Warzone 2's 150-player skirmishes of solo, duo, trio, and quad combatants are played out on the new Al Mazrah map. The fictional desert region in Western Asia does a great job of combining new Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer maps with several nostalgic locations that longtime Call of Duty fans will recognize. Your adventures in Al Mazrah will take you through Rust, Terminal, Highrise, Afghan, and Quarry from the original Modern Warfare 2, and every location--old or new--blends together to create a vibrant and beautiful environment.
In comparison to Modern Warfare's Verdansk map, Al Mazrah feels more diverse, with its mixture of arid desert, large bodies of water, tight cities, and exposed small towns. Water was very limited in the original Warzone because Modern Warfare lacked swimming mechanics, but the sequel brings over all the features and mechanics of Modern Warfare 2, which means that large bodies of water, boats and swimming are now added to the mix, and they're meaningful additions that give you fresh ways to take on fights in Warzone 2. Being able to dive away from a bad gunfight or use it for stealth to flank an opponent in particular adds a new kind of dynamism to engagements.
There's also a much better balance with how the map is designed. Although vast, Verdansk's Stadium and Caldera's Peak weighted the focus to those massive landmarks, making them choke points of sorts. Al Mazrah, however, doesn't have a similar focal point that's hard to traverse around like the aforementioned locations. Instead there's a great mix of environments with buildings for close-quarters action, but also a lot of open sight lines for sniping. Thankfully, the spacious areas don't leave you too vulnerable when passing through them, as there are plenty of large rocks and other things to use as cover, so rotating from point to point doesn't always feel like a struggle.
Vanguard's Caldera wasn't a very popular map, as it launched with tons of visibility issues and bugs. I haven't encountered any Caldera-like texture bugs or demon gun glitches on PS5 in Al Mazrah--the map is vibrant and doesn't seem to suffer from any glaring lighting or visibility issues. While I think it's going to be hard to top the nostalgia of the original Verdansk map, I do think Al Mazrah is a strong and well-balanced map for Warzone's sequel.
One of the major gameplay changes Warzone 2 introduces is a brand-new circle mechanic. Instead of one large circle, there are multiple "micro-circles" appearing at once. There can be up to three of these smaller circles active in any given match, but, eventually, these all merge back together for the final circle.
Although unconventional for the battle royale genre, this approach does add a bit more spice to the mid-game action of Warzone matches. On Verdansk or Caldera, matches could quickly turn into players camping, to wait out further circle collapses. Al Mazrah's micro-circles force players together into condensed locations earlier to offer you more engagements leading up to the final circle collapse. This simple change ensures matches feel engaging and like something is always happening.
While micro-circles are a smart and welcome change, the same can't be said of Warzone 2's revamped Gulag. Sadly, Al Mazrah comes with an overly-complex and much larger Gulag arena, which often puts your fate in someone else's hands. The Gulag is no longer a simple 1v1 arena and, instead, your first death will transport you to a multi-level arena where you fight in 2v2 matches while temporarily paired up with another random player. The original Gulag was an exciting way to give you a second chance, provided you had the skills to win a 1v1 fight. But this new 2v2 twist leaves your fate partially in a random player's hands. Although this Gulag does utilize the game's proximity chat feature, someone like me who sits in party chats with friends or squadmates will find themselves struggling to communicate with a temporary duo partner. And if they--or you--die, the odds of survival become much more grim for the surviving player.
There's also the addition of an AI opponent known as the Jailer,'' who lurks around the arena with a minigun. He'll drop into the fight if the match is taking too long, but defeat him and he'll drop a key that allows you and any other surviving players to exit the Gulag. This means you can choose to avoid him and fight your opponents as intended, or you can choose to fight the Jailer and hope for an alternate escape. However, the Jailer is a bullet sponge and it will likely take at least one other person to help you defeat him, which in turn can actually drag out the length of the matches. The risk versus reward proposition with this mechanic feels unbalanced right now.
Overall, Al Mazrah's home for second chances feels like it takes a few steps backwards. Out of all the changes that this sequel brings, this Gulag is one of the few I really hope gets some revisions.
Al Mazrah also features the addition of the new Stronghold and Black Site loot locations. At the end of the first circle collapse, Strongholds are activated on the map, and there are 77 random locations that the Strongholds can appear. However, there will only ever be three on the map at once. Strongholds are marked on the map as a large castle icon, and the first team to reach one must defuse a bomb there before a timer expires. Otherwise, the objective for the remaining Strongholds is to clear out a specific number of enemies. Completing these will reward you with items like your loadout, killstreaks, gas masks, and such.
You can go for an even greater challenge with Black Sites, which are basically an even more dangerous form of Strongholds. A Black Site is marked on the map with a skull icon and contains considerably tougher armored enemies, including a Juggernaut boss.
It's also an enticing place to conquer for the in-game loot you receive for use in the match itself. Tools like a minigun, durable gas mask, a loadout drop, Advanced UAV, or a permanent UAV to ping enemies in the area surrounding the Black Site can be critical to success. The UAV lasts until the area becomes lost to the circle collapse, which means it can turn this location into a major power point with all the high-end loot and intel it offers.
Strongholds and Black Sites are both a positive addition to Warzone. They are completely optional, but given how contested control of them can be, they serve as great locations for those who prefer a bit more action in their battle royale. These areas are tough to clear out with just the AI enemies, but you'll almost always find other human players there looking to either secure the items they offer or ambush you to capitalize on your efforts. Since their locations are randomized each match, they are a good way to keep players on their toes, too.
Looting feels more natural to the environment in Warzone 2. Cash can be looted from cash registers, while health supplies are found in places like first-aid kits in bathrooms and ambulances. It's much easier to find the item you need because you can look in specific places that make sense, instead of relying on the randomness of supply crates.
Warzone also adds a simplified backpack system that feels like a hybrid of Black Ops 4's Blackout battle royale and the original Warzone. You keep your typical Warzone loadout with a primary weapon, secondary, and tactical and lethal equipment, but now you have a backpack that allows you to carry extra items you couldn't tote around before. You start with a small pack that has six inventory slots, but you can loot or purchase a pack that has more.
At first, having a backpack to stow and pull items from seems like a hassle,because you can often find yourself hiding somewhere rummaging through your pack to drop or add items, feeling vulnerable in the process. However, it's actually really convenient to be able to carry more supplies. It's nice to know you can lug around an extra stack of armor plates for yourself or that one teammate who never loots well enough. However, this approach does pave the way for some potentially annoying situations too, such as having a backpack full of nothing but self-revives or a pack loaded with just UAVs or a specific killstreak. There are opportunities to spam certain items, if you're able to collect enough of them, and this could have a negative impact in late-game scenarios.
[Warzone 2.0] is mixed, with some of its new additions making the moment-to-moment action feel fresh, while updates to other classic Warzone features feel like a step back for the battle royale title
Just like Blackout, there is now a rare three-tier armor item. By default, you'll only be able to equip two armor plates and will now need to loot a three-plate vest to equip a third one. This is a bit disappointing because the original Warzone steered away from having the rarity levels of armor to keep everyone on an equal playing field, with the option for anyone to have three plates at any given time. Now, whether or not you can have three plates depends on your luck of looting or purchasing the three-tier upgrade at a Buy Station.
Loadout drops return for Warzone 2, and they can still drop at any time between the second and sixth circle collapses, but they are no longer specifically reserved for a specific player or squad. Anyone can grab any loadout drop that hits the map. On one hand, you can no longer see your specific loadout and gauge how many enemies might be in the area, as before you knew if your loadout drop was stacked near three or four others, you were in greater danger than if your loadout dropped alone. On the other hand, I think it's more important to have the freedom to pick and choose what drop you want to grab, especially when your specific loadout could drop in a location that wouldn't be safe or reachable.
Warzone's Buy Stations now have their own unique collection of items to purchase, as opposed to every station having the exact same items. You can even buy your custom primary weapon at a Buy Station, and while the purchase doesn't include a full loadout with a secondary weapon, lethals, and perks, it's nice to be able to at least get one reliable weapon in your hands.
It's great having a bigger selection of items to purchase with more lethal and tactical items, but be careful of your reliance on these items, as there is a limited quantity of items that can be bought at each station. This means someone could come along with tons of cash and buy all the UAVs or armor before you can get what you need. Even in early game situations I found myself at a Buy Station already sold out of UAVs. This definitely can make late-game scenarios a bit awkward, especially if a previously dead teammate just returned to the fight and wants to get geared up at a Buy Station.
There is also a new user interface for Al Mazrah's Buy Stations, as there are multiple menus to tab through now. Moving away from the more simplistic list of items and prices means it takes longer tabbing through a series of menus with large icons to find what you are looking for. And this is also a crucial time that leaves your character vulnerable on the map. The menus could definitely be streamlined to be more convenient and safer to use.
It's also worth noting that vehicle play is better than ever in Warzone, thanks to the addition of Modern Warfare 2's maneuverability options. It's so easy to squad up and hang on the sides of vehicles for a quick ride (you'll now need to refuel to keep using vehicles). Just like the fun of Ground War matches, you can hop on over to an enemy's ride and cause havoc, or just stand at a distance and toss a drill charge onto the vehicle's exterior. Drivers can be quick to panic when a shock stick or drill charge hits their ride making for some really interesting moments. Overall, vehicle combat feels less daunting and more exciting and situational here with these new ways to counter them.
Warzone 2 adds the brand-new Unhinged mode and completely changes squad dynamics by using the game's new assimilation feature, which allows players to join other squads in a match. This is an interesting trio mode unlike anything we've had in Warzone's past, but Unhinged will mostly cater to you if you're an aggressive player who likes to go for high-kill games and chaotic gunfights. It mostly functions as a standard battle royale, but with the opportunity to make temporary alliances. I didn't have a lot of luck getting paired up with other teams, and it can be awkward getting into a gunfight and realizing you're fighting more than just a trio. On one occasion, my trio ended up in a 3v6 situation, as a gunfight with two players ended with four others rolling up in a vehicle to assist them. There are definitely going to be players who want the chaos of this mode, but it'll be a certain kind of player that truly thrives in that environment and excels.
Getting into some granular changes with Warzone 2, Al Mazrah does undo some of the advancements Caldera made to Warzone's HUD. It was nice being able to see your teammates' killstreaks, armor plates, and the squad's total cash count, but we're back to the simplified squad information with just the ability to see things like how many plates your teammates are wearing and if they have a self-revive available, which could be another nudge to encourage communication between teammates. It also removed Caldera's popular redeploy balloons, which added an extra way to traverse the map.
Pinging is back, and it's always a helpful communication feature to have, but it's really hard to see your or your teammates' pinged locations as the marker is white and easily gets lost on the map. It would be great to have pings be the same color that is assigned to names, or at the very least give the pings a color that stands out. This is such an important tool in general, but especially for players like me who don't like to get chatty on the mic with strangers.
Finally, Warzone 2 also pairs Modern Warfare 2's movement with the same fast time-to-kill in multiplayer. I really enjoy the dialed-back and classic feel to the movement this year, but the quick time-to-kill means there's considerably less time to react to situations. It's so easy to peek your head out of a building or come around a corner and get deleted by an enemy. Warzone's gunfights often felt best after the health cap or armor was slightly raised to give players more of a fighting chance, when there could be a push and pull between combatants.
Thankfully, most of my complaints about Warzone 2 are things that could easily be adjusted in future updates. Al Mazrah comes out of the gate as a balanced and diversified map that feels like a huge step up from Caldera, and dare I say it, even from Verdansk. With the fresh circle mechanics and Strongholds being paired with the solid gunplay, mechanics, and movement from Modern Warfare 2, this could be a really great year for Warzone.
Another major addition for Warzone 2 is DMZ mode, which puts a Call of Duty-style spin on the extraction shooter genre. This mode has a max of 66 players in trios on Warzone's Al Mazrah map, where they're tasked with fighting, looting, and extracting. There are objectives you can complete for XP and cash but ultimately the fun of DMZ is getting to choose how you want to play. You can load into a match with the intent of looting cash and weapons, playing aggressively and seeking out gunfights, or you can try to complete specific objectives for extra XP and rewards.
While DMZ doesn't have the overall tactical feel of other extraction shooters like Escape From Tarkov and Hunt: Showdown, it still has the thrills of a high-risk for high-reward game mode. You keep all the weapons and loot earned from a successful extraction, while also losing everything if you die before extracting. You're also limited to how many items you can carry, so it can quickly become a game of deciding what items to keep in your backpack and what loot should be left behind before extracting.
Al Mazrah is a solid Warzone map, and the design also makes a great diverse landscape for all of DMZ's objectives. At the end of the day, DMZ still feels much like playing objective-based Warzone matches, so don't expect the world to visually change outside of battle royale matches. Apart from the extra junk loot scattered about, this is still the same Al Mazrah with just more AI to fight.
DMZ utilizes many features and mechanics from Warzone 2, including the new Stronghold locations, Buy Stations, AI, and more. AI enemies are found all throughout the map, but they feel more appropriate here in this objective-style mode than they do in battle royale. There are recruit (easy)-level AIs that can be found scattered around in buildings and various locations, but the AI opponents at Strongholds or objective areas are often armored and much more challenging to fight for the high-tier loot. I don't think a battle royale needs AI outside of locations like Strongholds, but it really works well for DMZ, as the various levels of bots keep you engaged in the action from objective to objective, and they help fill out the world a bit more.
The Buy Stations generally look and work the same as they do in Warzone 2, but in DMZ you can sell items you scavenge for extra cash, with the onlycomplaint here being the Buy Station's new interface.
DMZ also utilizes Warzone's new Stronghold feature, but this one is a bit different than the battle royale version, as these require locating keycards to fit the questing nature of DMZ.
While most of DMZ's features and mechanics are from Warzone, one convenient addition that's exclusive to DMZ is an easier way to get your squadmates back into the fight. You can revive eliminated squadmates at their death location at any time in the match, meaning there are no trips to a Buy Station to purchase their return. Dead teammates are marked as a blue health icon, and there is no time limit or any additional steps needed to return teammates to the match.
DMZ also allows players to complete Contracts, Faction missions, and random activities that can happen through the match. Contracts are given by one of three factions in DMZ: Legion, White Lotus, and Black Mous. These faction missions have increasing levels of difficulty and a wide variety, so while a huge grind to complete them all, they're very rewarding and assure you always have plenty to do.
Regardless of whether you choose to complete faction missions or you have another goal planned for your time in DMZ, there will be random occurrences and activities happening during the match, and some of the mode's charm comes from these. For example, you can use drills to open safes to score tons of cash and useful items like UAVs, but it comes at the risk of making a ton of noise and alerting nearby enemies. Or you can trigger a SAM turret, which will shoot down a cargo crate claim, but again, it's at the cost of enemies hearing the action and wanting to fight you for the loot. Activities like these seem simple, but they can quickly turn dicey.
DMZ is definitely an interesting and enjoyable sandbox mode, and it gives you more ways to play, unlock guns, and level up with XP. Activision never marketed this as a Call of Duty take on Escape from Tarkov or any other extraction game, but those comparisons were quickly drawn by the community. However, you don't want to go into this mode with that expectation, as it doesn't quite have the same grittiness and tactical feel of those other games. DMZ plays more like an objective-based Warzone LTM with the option to exfil at any time.
The overall success of this mode depends on what future updates bring. As is, the world feels alive and objectives are mostly fun to complete, but I can see DMZ getting old unless we see seasonal updates add new missions, features, special events, and other layers to the experience and keep DMZ feeling fresh. This is definitely a mode that definitely leaves tons of room for expansion.
My time with both battle royale and DMZ was played on PlayStation 5, and this was a much smoother launch than I experienced with Modern Warfare 2's crashing and freezing. However, other players have reported experiencing crashes, freezes, and stuttering issues.
Warzone 2 comes out swinging with the strongest map yet, as Al Mazrah's design is both visually appealing and well-balanced to encourage more moment-to-moment action and player movement. The sequel tosses in enough new features and changes to make gameplay feel fresh and give a dramatic change to the game's pace to set Warzone 2 apart from the original, and these battle royale matches are still a blast, despite the setbacks to classic features. Packaged with DMZ, which feels like a sandbox hit, free-to-play Call of Duty players have so many more ways to jump into the action and level up this year.