Warzone 2 review: DMZ steals the show in Battle Royale revamp

Warzone 2 key art showing players about to jump into a matchActivision Blizzard

Warzone 2 is here, but can lightning strike twice for Call of Duty’s Battle Royale megahit? Here’s our Warzone 2 review.

Warzone may have been Call of Duty’s second stab at the Battle Royale formula, but there’s a reason so many players jumped into Verdansk. For one, the game was free-to-play, unlike its predecessor Blackout, and for another, it launched around the time much of the world was forced into lockdowns.

As a result, Warzone became the de facto way to play with friends in trying times. It wasn’t all perfect, though, with Activision Blizzard playing whack-a-mole with cheaters, and some technical issues (and huge storage requirements) making it a frustrating exercise at times.

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Activision Blizzard saw enough to give things another go, and has built Warzone 2.0 from the ground up. While many may have wondered just how the game would earn that big number in the title, Warzone 2 actually feels like it’s more easily justifiable as a sequel than Overwatch 2 right now thanks to a huge number of new features and an electrifying new DMZ mode.

Call of Duty Warzone 2: Key details

  • Price: Free-to-play
  • Developer: Infinity Ward/Raven Software
  • Release Date: November 16, 2022
  • Platforms: PS4, PS5, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, PC

Warzone 2 trailer

It’s Al in the Map

The most immediate change to Warzone 2 over its predecessor is its sprawling new Al Mazrah map. This sandy city is huge, but each area feels more carefully curated than the regions of Verdansk or Caldera.

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Rather than a hodgepodge of identical buildings, Al Mazrah is a city that feels plausible – like all the denizens were shipped out hastily (although in DMZ it’s clear that not everyone fled). That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of buildings with the same layout, but they at least feel a little more carefully laid out.

Warzone 2 Terminal gameplayActivision
Classic Modern Warfare maps can be found throughout Al Mazrah.

Between confined streets to wide-open spaces and everything in between, Al Mazrah is an ideal place to hone your skills whether playing solo or in a squad, because its rules of engagement are so varied. There’s a sense of danger around every corner that you’ll find in the best Battle Royale titles, as players crouch behind parked vehicles with ears tuned towards the footsteps of a would-be victim or killer.

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On that note, I’ve found Warzone 2’s sound design to be much more consistent than its predecessor, with more directionality to footsteps and gunfire rather than the blind panic of trying to work out whether another squad is above, below, or the other side of a wall. The way bullets crack off of surfaces feels like the best audio representation of being under fire since Battlefield 3 way back in 2011. It doesn’t hurt that weapons are throatier than their Warzone 1 counterparts, making them easier to distinguish at a distance.

Back to the Gulag

Warzone 2 Gulag gameplayActivision
Warzone 2’s Gulag has been completely redesigned.

One of Warzone’s biggest innovations was the second chance Gulag mechanic which saw players duke it out for a chance to redeploy. Honestly, I’d have been happy to see it returned wholesale but Infinity Ward and Raven Software have rejigged it considerably.

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The Gulag, at least at launch, is now a 2 vs 2 mode that offers an array of weapons to collect within the room. Adding yet another wrinkle is the new Jailer, a toughened enemy that appears after a time limit. If players team up to defeat him, they can all earn a redeployment. The feature leans on the proximity chat feature that’s been added this time around, and it can be exhilarating to turn the tables on your captor with a quick “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” speech in the heat of battle.

That proximity chat facilitates hushed tones when opening doors, and as you’d imagine given Modern Warfare 2’s maps, there are a lot of doors. The good news is that these make Warzone 2 feel more tactical than ever, as players stack up against a wall, toss a flashbang through the opening, and then burst in to clear a room.

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There are new ways to earn loadout drops, too, but each is fraught with danger. Drops will arrive via airdrop, but they’re more limited than Warzone 1. That means players are better served clearing a Stronghold, an AI-controlled area of the map. Hit the Stronghold first, and you can gain access to a Black Site, so it pays to be aggressive. The whole process is much more nuanced than in Warzone 1, and places an additional premium on setting objectives for your squad and creating yet more subplots within a match.

Loadout drop falling from the skyActivision
Loadouts can be earned through Loadout Drops, or by completing a Stronghold.

What Warzone 2 does that its predecessor didn’t is it layers a wealth of new layers onto itself, stacking a complex array of weapons, equipment, perks, and mechanics like the Gulag, Strongholds, or new vehicles that require repairing and refueling.

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All of this is backed up by some of the best-feeling FPS combat in the franchise, and while the short TTK is sure to make things pretty tense, armor plates are plentiful and can help turn a fight on its head, even if you’re ambushed.

That commitment to additional tactical options permeates every aspect of Warzone 2, with vehicles more important than ever but needing to be refueled and repaired, looting getting an overhaul to make better use of limited space, and the surprise star of the show – DMZ.

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DMZ is a blast

I enjoyed a brief dalliance with Escape from Tarkov a couple of years ago, but the game’s hardcore nature meant my nerves were shredded with every run. Loading the wrong bullets into a gun, having it jam on me, and then losing it anyway was a harsh series of lessons to learn, and I’ve been looking for a more approachable alternative since.

Thankfully, Warzone 2’s DMZ mode does for extraction shooters what Warzone 1 (and Apex Legends) did for the slow, plodding nature of Battle Royale. The mode, even in its beta form, is a triumph, and has had me returning to it more than the Battle Royale main course.

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DMZ gameplayActivision
DMZ offers an array of missions to complete across multiple runs.

The concept is simple – drop into Al Mazrah and complete a series of persistent objectives, all while aiming to extract at the end of a run. Complicating things are your limited weapons that will be lost if you die (although insurance will let you keep them, at a cost), and the fact that anything you find in a mission must be extracted to take it with you.

That makes DMZ antithetical to Call of Duty’s DNA, because you’re not necessarily going to want to grab your best, most impressive custom weapon to take into the map. It means you’re always managing your economy, whether that’s keys you’ve accrued to open new doors, working out when to save your cash, or making on-the-fly decisions about which objectives to complete for the three in-game factions.

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Along the way, you’ll be met with temptation at regular intervals. In one run, I surprised a group of AI enemies and ruthlessly eliminated them before drilling open a safe with loot inside. Doing so triggered a couple of waves of enemies while the drill was running, but another crafty player rounded the corner as I went to leave with my ill-gotten gains and put me down in a hail of gunfire. In another, I was ready to extract without firing a shot, before eliminating two players waiting for the helicopter and extracting with a much more impressive sniper rifle.

Thankfully, early objectives feel weighted to making you feel like you’ve accomplished something even if you end a level with nothing but bruised pride and an empty weapon slot, while tougher objectives add an additional white-knuckle rush to the race to extract. On the subject of progression, DMZ runs can be pretty lucrative when it comes to leveling your weapons in Modern Warfare 2 as well.

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The Verdict – 4/5

It appears Warzone 2 is off to a very solid start. It’s worth mentioning there are some technical issues, with Al Mazrah’s huge map taking a little while to load, and the occasional stuttering (mainly on PC), but all-in-all, it feels more stable than Warzone 1 did during its rougher periods.

Al Mazrah might just be 2023’s hottest destination if this early taste is anything to go by.

Reviewed on PS5 with time spent on PC

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