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Is Call of Duty: Warzone worth playing in 2021?

Call of Duty: Warzone was destined for success. After all, Call of Duty is arguably the most popular first-person shooter series of all time, so a free-to-play battle royale mashup only made sense. It takes the familiar gameplay we all know and love and ups the ante in almost every way — sending players into a complex, yet satisfying battle of survival.

Since its launch in March 2020, Warzone has evolved and gone through a hefty number of changes — most of which are for the better. But over a year later, how does Warzone stack up? Is it worth playing in 2021? Here’s what it’s like to hop into the shooter today.

A major barrier to entry

Operator in truck in Warzone.

On the surface, Warzone seems like a run-of-the-mill shooter. You run around, shoot some bad buys, and pick up loot along the way. Sounds simple, right?

Not quite. If you want to pull off a victory and be the last person (or squad) standing, you have to know the ins and outs of the game. And even still, the odds aren’t in your favor. As someone who has been playing Call of Duty for nearly 15 years, even I struggle competing against other players. So, it’s tough to imagine a new player jumping in for the first time. Sure, the skill-based matchmaking (SBMM) should work to pair newcomers against other players of a similar skill bracket, but that isn’t always the case.

In Warzone, players have to pay attention to several things. For instance, weapons are a major factor that determine performance throughout any given match. Currently, there are over 80 primary weapons with dozens of attachments for each — it’s overwhelming to know which to pick. To make matters more complicated, the weapons and attachments are updated frequently, adding another wrinkle into the mix.

Aside from that, players have to manage perks, equipment, and in-game settings — and these are all things that happen before jumping into a match. You can spend hours tinkering away in the menus to make sure everything is perfect, only to die a few minutes into a match. All of these nuances become second nature with time, but it’s easy to see why Warzone would feel daunting for newcomers to get into without someone showing them the ropes.

The complexities don’t let up once a match starts. You have to know the map layout (including the best routes to get in and out of buildings), how to manage money in-game, smart rotation tactics, and little strategies that veterans have picked up over time. For example, did you know you can plop a trophy system onto the hood of a vehicle to negate explosive damage?

But once it clicks …

Operator using the OTs SMG in Warzone.

Despite the complexity, it hasn’t stopped so many people from getting invested in Warzone — and there’s a good reason for that. Once everything clicks and you know how to play, Warzone becomes one of the most satisfying experiences out there. The rush of making an effective callout, outplaying another team, and escaping from the deadly gas is unrivaled, and it’s those little moments that make it worth playing.

Although Warzone only has two maps, it rarely ever gets old. Chasing the win, experimenting with new class setups, and striving to improve are all driving forces that keep players coming back. Since the weapons have so many nuances and feel different from one another, there’s a variety of ways to play a round. In one match, you could aim to be more aggressive with a more run and gun approach, while in the next game you could sit back and snipe enemies from afar. There’s so much versatility in the way you can play and approach situations. Even when things don’t work out the way you had hoped, the experience is often satisfying.

How's this for an entrance? #Warzone pic.twitter.com/0XddHeFcaU

— Joseph Yaden (@JosephYaden) May 3, 2021

The feeling of executing a well-planned strategy is enough to stomp out most of the game’s flaws — which is saying something, considering just how flawed Warzone is. The tight controls, fluid movement, and everything about the way it feels are unlike anything else. Even the weapons all have their own weights, sounds, and little quirks that make them feel distinct.

For instance, try using the Milano 821 SMG and you might notice its “open-bolt delay,” which basically means there’s around a 40ms delay from when you pull the trigger and when the bullet actually comes out. Or if you use the Royal & Kross 4x optic on the FARA 83, it greatly improves the weapon’s recoil. These quirks might not always be beneficial, but it helps distinguish the weapons from one another.

Above all else, Warzone is simply a blast to play — even when things aren’t going as planned.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about the recent improvements to the game. Toward the beginning of 2021, Warzone was in rough shape. On top of a rampant cheating problem (I’ll get to that in a moment), the meta was awful. Only five or so weapons were even worth using and one in particular — the DMR 14 — plagued the entire game for months due to how overpowered it was.

Since March 2021, developer Raven and company have stepped up their game. The studios successfully rebalanced many of the weapons, including detailed patch notes alongside each update. The amount of progress the game has made in the last few months is promising, but there’s a lot more to do for Warzone to reach its full potential.

Cheaters everywhere

Operator holding handgun from Warzone season 2.

It’s hard to believe so many players are able to cheat one of the most successful battle royale games of all time. But it’s true — Warzone is notorious for its cheating problem. Players will use third-party software to see enemies through walls or “aimbots” to instantly lock onto their opponents’ heads. Oftentimes, it’s fairly obvious when this happens, as you can watch your untimely death back on the killcam. Other times, it’s not so apparent.

It’s not uncommon to run into several cheaters each game session, making it hard to justify playing Warzone again. The problem is so bad that players question every single death that happens — asking if the person who killed them is, in fact, using external software to gain an unfair advantage. It can take the fun out of the experience.

Twitter user Adis Bak shared a clip showing how egregious the problem can be. You can see Bak get shot from across the map through a building, resulting in one of the most extreme examples of cheating. Granted, it’s not always this obvious, but it’s a real example of what could happen.

GG´s @RavenSoftware yesterday 4 cheaters and today 8 👏 I stream Warzone for year and half and I never seen anything like this. Warzone is in bad state for now so do something because Czech community is losing patience 🙏 pic.twitter.com/mM721kQOpp

— Adis Bak (@adisbakofficial) July 8, 2021

And what has Raven Software done to mitigate this? Well, it has banned over half a million accounts to date.

Banned over 30,000 malicious accounts across Call of Duty yesterday… bringing us to over half a million accounts banned in #Warzone. 🚫

— Raven Software (@RavenSoftware) May 14, 2021

On the surface, that might seem like the best course of action, but it hasn’t made much of a dent in the overall problem. Since Warzone is a free-to-play game, players simply make new accounts. Cheaters have means of unlocking all the weapons and their attachments right away, so the cheating persists. That’s why the actual problem needs to be addressed; simply banning accounts does nothing long-term.

It has gotten to the point where some players cheat just to combat the other cheaters. Whether or not that is morally correct, the fact that players feel the need to cheat just to keep up shows how out of hand the overall situation is. Other battle royale games are much better about implementing strong anti-cheat software, so it’s confusing that Raven and Activision can’t do the same with Warzone. As of April 2021, the game reached over 100 million players. Surely the game has generated enough revenue to invest in keeping the game cheat-free, right?

After all that, you’d still recommend Warzone?

Well, sort of. The issues certainly need to be addressed, but it says a lot about the game that even with its cheaters, overall difficulty, and lack of accessibility to newcomers, it’s still hard to put down. Those little moments almost make up for all of the terrible things that come with the game — not to mention the toxic community members that’ll call you every name under the sun when you eliminate them from the match.

So, is Call of Duty: Warzone worth playing in 2021? If you’re a newcomer jumping into it for the first time, it’s tough to recommend unless you have a semi-experienced person to play with. Raven needs to implement a more beginner-friendly tutorial or rundown of all the intricacies to keep from scaring potential players away. Once you know how everything works, it’s easy to get sucked in, but I worry that it’s overcomplicated for new players.

If you want to give it a try, I highly recommend starting on Rebirth Island instead of Verdansk. Rebirth Resurgence has far fewer cheaters and lasts only 15 minutes compared to the nearly half-hour matches on Verdansk. Rebirth gets to the action quicker and still gives you those memorable, share-worthy moments. Until the cheating problem gets addressed, we can’t recommend playing on Verdansk.

Having to put so many caveats around the recommendation is rough, but if Warzone’s biggest problems are addressed, it could end up being one of the best first-person shooters of all time.

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