While the world began locking down, Call of Duty fans began dropping in. Verdansk became a playground in times where we needed an escape, but so much has changed since then.
The stats speak for themselves in many ways. The game hit over 6 million players in 24 hours, reaching over 85 million in the nine months that followed.
Despite being tied to both Modern Warfare and, later, Black Ops Cold War, the free-to-play Battle Royale has become very much a phenomenon of its own doing.
But what continues to make Warzone one of the most popular titles in the world, day in and day out?
365 Days In Verdansk
Despite arguably lacking in visual identity (greens and browns are so last generation), Verdansk is inviting for whole other reasons. Whereas King’s Canyon or even the Fortnite island have more interesting looks, Warzone draws on the history of a franchise two decades in the making.
We’ll never forget dropping into an area of Verdansk and stumbling upon a facsimile of a classic map, ready to hold an area as if we were playing Search and Destroy or another multiplayer mode. Stitching each of these maps together are rolling fields, hills, and woodland, breaking up the run-and-gun microcosmic arenas with long sight-lines for snipers to play with.
There’s something for everyone, and that accessibility extends to the game’s central mechanics, too.
We all die in Battle Royale titles, and while Apex Legends offers a way to respawn a lost comrade, Warzone empowers players to bring themselves back via the Gulag.
When pre-release leaks and rumours discussed what is essentially a prison brawl for success, some winced at the dilution of battle Royale’s “kill or be killed” mantra, while others simply assumed it was too surreal a concept to ever come to fruition.
And yet, here we are a year on with plenty of Gulag war stories to tell, like the time you triggered an explosive to save your friend in his fight by throwing a perfectly aimed rock, or when you killed your opponent with your last bullet. If anything, it’s a distillation of the “kill or be killed” mantra that means everyone has at least a chance of walking away from a match of Warzone with a kill – even if minutes earlier their match was ended by a sniper bullet from three miles away.
Of course, all of this is underpinned by Call of Duty’s classic gunplay. Very few games feel like CoD, and stripping away the need to swap attachments and stock up on a variety of healing items make Warzone feel refreshingly unencumbered with the usual inventory management.
Even dropping into Verdansk with a pistol, players know they can play aggressively, taking away some of the defensive tactics that plague other battle royales when you see another squad dropping alongside you.
I’d be remiss in this ode to Warzone not to mention some of its more prickly parts, of course. For one, hackers continue to be a problem, particularly on PC, and there’s nothing worse than being sent to the Gulag or eliminated entirely by a bullet that’s travelled through several walls, a couple of trees, and the floor of Verdansk before it hits you square between in the eyes.
Then there’s the awkward baton pass between Modern Warfare and Black Ops Cold War that saw an entirely new suite of weapons added and caused some significant imbalances in the game’s meta. This appears to be being ironed out over time, but it’s one of the growing pains Warzone will likely endure more than once in its lifetime.
Unlike Black Ops 4’s Blackout which was tied to a full-priced game, Warzone feels like an unbelievably fun time with friends that requires no barrier to entry. It’s easy to see how it became pure escapism from the year that was 2020, but it’s also clear that it’s just getting started.