Hello and welcome to the fifth and final write-up in our Clash of Fans series. This week we have been getting together in pairs (virtually) and forcing each other to play a beloved game. Then we chat about what we made of it all.
Here is Wesley Yin-Poole with new battle royale contender Call of Duty Warzone, and Tom Phillips with his teeth-rotting addiction to the colourful Fortnite.
Call of Duty Warzone
Tom: I knew I was getting the full Warzone experience when it's taken this long - until the very end of the week - to get both of our games downloaded and up to date with the latest 100GB+ version. What on earth is taking up all that space? How big are those bunkers? It feels like I have downloaded a full AAA game rather than a free-to-play battle royale, but I guess I also sort of have. The way Warzone has launched as a free part of Modern Warfare, and the way it feels like it will stick around with some longevity as opposed to... whatever that earlier COD battle royale was, is being well handled. Is that part of the reason you've stuck around with it?
Wes: I just think it's the best battle royale out at the moment. A lot of that has to do with the feel of the game. The feel of the shooting is superb. And some of the mechanics mean you're more invested in each match. The Gulag, for example, is a genius addition to the battle royale mode, not just because it gives you a second chance, but because it gives you this exciting 1v1 situation. Oh, and I love throwing rocks at players.
I'm curious, as a Fortnite player, do you think Warzone could potentially take you away from that game?
Tom: In a word no. But that's more for why I personally play Fortnite rather than anything Warzone does. It's really interesting to compare them - not least because all these battle royale games, Apex being another big example, crib each other constantly. One of the things I was thinking while playing today was - what ideas could I see Fortnite taking on? I don't know if I could see the Gulag mechanic there but it fits Warzone perfectly. It's much sweatier and calls back to those 1v1 COD matches Fortnite does not have any heritage with. I think that was the main surprise for me in Warzone's formula. I had definitely expected a good feel to the gunplay! Fortnite could learn there for sure.
Wes: Battle passes are key in free battle royales. Warzone is limited in that it can't sell any weapon skins or character outfits that are too outrageous. It's all supposed to be super serious Modern Warfare, right? And it's first-person, so you don't see your character as you're playing. I barely look at my weapon skin as I'm playing, I'm too busy aiming down the sights. And who has time to look at their watch?
This extends to the challenges, too, which are a bit boring. And there's no real lore, yet. Not in the same way Fortnite has. I expect Infinity Ward to change the map significantly soon, though, and then maybe people will tune in to events in the same way they play Fortnite to watch crazy stuff happen. I can't see a DJ turning up at the dam to spin some tunes, though.
Tom: Yes - this goes back to why I personally play Fortnite. Warzone is never going to let me play as a banana and use outrageous James Bond spy gadgets. On that level, the battle royale and season pass model still feels forced onto the Call of Duty aesthetic. But there is clearly a huge audience for a free-to-play COD, and the Battle Royale gameplay is still just as fun here despite that.
I think it's the most interesting thing to happen to the COD brand in such a long time, and could be the staging ground for it to explore some more future-thinking ideas in the long run. Could we eventually see the annual boxed COD disappear? I think we're still a little way from Activision's investors being keen on that. But it feels like Warzone is here to stay and as an ongoing place which brings together fans of all the sub-brands and teases what's coming up, that's really interesting.
Wes: I thought I'd grown out of Saturday morning cartoons. You were running around as a banana with man arms, I think. And we were bouncing around the map. And there were some spies to shoot. Did you do the Floss at one point? I'm going to assume you did.
Fortnite's map is much more fun than Warzone's. Warzone's map is pretty boring, really. It's very war-torn dusty brown, which I guess it kind of has to be because it's a military shooter. But I find it hard to love. Fortnite though, that map has some crazy stuff going on. Just loads of fun all around. I guess it's the star of the show, really.
What I thought was interesting is my instinct was to play Fortnite to win. But it felt like that wasn't really the point. Warzone is very much a play-to-win kind of game. It can be quite sweaty. Whereas Fortnite felt to me almost post-battle royale, like the kind of place we're all going to end up living when it becomes clear the real world is done and dusted.
Do you ever play to win Fortnite?
Tom: Again, in a word no. Haha!
That is ostensibly why you're supposed to be playing, of course, but I think Epic worked out before anyone else really that it has to be fulfilling and interesting for the 99 people who don't come first. A lot of that is the ever-changing map, or the characters you play as. I grew up on TimeSplitters and being able to play as a shoal of fish wielding a minigun, so Fortnite to me feels a lot like coming home.
It's not a great shooter, and there's an insanely high skill level for building. I mostly play to unlock cool things - and if it's not part of a challenge I probably won't load the solos queue at all. Warzone is dipping its toe into all this with its bunkers, though. And there's that big stadium lying in the middle of its map...
Wes: With any luck, Chelsea will play their first post-lockdown match in there. Playing Fortnite, I could feel the genius of it all, you know? I remember when no-one cared about Fortnite. When it was first announced as a PvE game, we thought it was... bad? And I remember how cynical the quick-fire battle royale mode felt when it came out. But everything Epic has done with Fortnite since then has been utter genius, from the battle pass to the evolution of the map, from the popular culture events to the lore skins. Fortnite has changed everything. I mean, it's changed Call of Duty, for the better, forever.
Call of Duty used to be riddled with loot boxes. It used to split the community by selling premium multiplayer maps. It used to be pay-to-win. Now it's ditched all that, added an aesthetics-only battle pass, and released a free-to-download battle royale, and Call of Duty feels like it's never been bigger. None of that would have happened, I don't think, without the pressure applied to the series by what Epic has done with Fortnite.
So while I don't play Fortnite, I kind of feel indebted to it. I think all gamers are at the moment, to be honest.
But clearly Warzone is better than Fortnite. I mean, you must see it.
Tom: It's a better shooter. It's not a better battle royale. Warzone has a huge amount of potential, I will give it that - and the audience it has attracted will hopefully only embolden Activision to be more creative with it. Or maybe it's kept as a relatively straightforward Call of Duty game that just lives forever and hypes the next box. That would be the safer option, though not one which would tempt me back. I feel like Fortnite has the ultimate level of flexibility to become whatever it thinks people will have fun with every few months - it is the ultimate battle royale until it finally decides it doesn't want to be one anymore.