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Call of Duty: Warzone's final circles are hell - and that's a good thing

Verdansk green.

There were desperate scenes at the end of our Sunday Warzone session, in one of those games where nothing goes quite right. Having burned through their gulag opportunities, my squadmates had died for good, leaving me the sole survivor - and also the one required to scrabble around for cash to buy them back. Easier said than done when everything's been stripped as bare as a supermarket toilet roll aisle.

With my squadmates watching, I had the weight of their expectations on my shoulders: and a previously-bombastic battle royale evolved into pure horror. I had minimal equipment cobbled together from whatever I could find on the floor. Outside, the ominous green gas circle had fallen on an area with no shop, ruling out the chance of backup. And there were people everywhere. Crowded into a tiny circle, my every movement was about avoiding detection, finding cover, listening for footsteps, or wedging myself in-between crates as two teams exchanged bullets down a corridor.

Eventually, the gas cloud forced me into the open: and with a small amount of screaming, I launched myself towards the next building, spotting other teams sprinting alongside me (prompting more screams) until I was finally caught out rounding a corner, ending our squad's dreams with a mighty yelp.

Thanks to my cowardly tactical approach, I landed our team a respectable third-place finish, one that also provided endless entertainment as my friends watched me panic my way through the final stages. Yet it seems most Warzone squad matches end up being almost nightmarishly intense in nature, whether the full team's there or not. And while it may not be everyone's cup of tea, I kind of love it.

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Part of the reason for this comes down to Warzone's pacing, which ramps up unlike any other battle royale I've experienced. Matches typically have a busy start due to everyone landing with pistols, with most teams choosing to drop straight down from the plane to avoid a slow parachute descent. Yet once the first squads are down, the matches evolve to a quieter stage where everyone sneaks around the vast map. These slower sections of sniping and maneuvering are somewhat similar to PUBG, but they're particularly eerie in Warzone - I frequently get spooked by wolf howls, creaking wood, or the sound of my team's footsteps (something that probably needs tweaking, actually). It's the calm before the storm, and when the storm does arrive, oh boy.

As the circles move in, the time between rounds shortens significantly, forcing squads into frantic skirmishes. Towards the end, the gas cloud feels almost relentless, giving players little breathing room and constantly pushing them forwards. But what makes Warzone particularly remarkable is the sheer number of people left in the game at this point. I've seen up to 40 players crammed into tight fifth circles, and often found myself asking my squad "how are there so many people still left alive at this point?". It's something probably only made possible by the many nooks and crannies in the map, the ease of camouflage, and the size of the lobby - which will inevitably get even more hectic when Infinity Ward bumps the player count from 150 to 200. The relative ease of buying back teammates and the fact nearly half the lobby can come back from the dead via the gulag (early on, at least) fuels this bustling atmosphere, making the game feel packed despite the epic scale of the Verdansk map.

Last night we had a game that looked a little like this, incredibly, complete with the parachuting teams.

Adding to the fear is the knowledge it only takes a brief mistake to end up dead - even with body armour, the time to die (TTD) remains fast and utterly brutal if you're taken unawares. Then there's the sheer chaos of the abilities everyone's saved for the finale: out come the airstrikes and cluster bombs, which suddenly start raining all around. Self-revives add an element of randomness which means you don't quite know whether that enemy you downed is going to stay there. And it's all too easy for a downed enemy to wriggle out of sight and be revived by a teammate. All in all, it's complete carnage.

Of course, this atmosphere may not be true for every game now that solos have been introduced , a mode which already feels decidedly more careful with less risk-taking, revives or general chaos. I initially found Warzone to verge a little on the slow side during quieter sections, but I've now come to appreciate these periods as a necessary breather, and that contrast is what makes the endings feel so intense. Despite its flaws, for me Warzone's secret ingredient is its pacing, where halfway through the game puts its foot on the accelerator and never lets up. It's a ride straight into hell - but one I'm all too happy to take. Unless there's an enemy with a PILA nearby.

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