I got nuked last week. It burned, like, really bad—would not recommend. Like many Call of Duty: Warzone players who watched Verdansk turn to ash that day, I was excited for what the next day would bring as Warzone Season 3 kicked off and Activision unleashed the long-rumored new map.
As it turns out, developer Raven Software wasn't working on an entirely new map, but instead reworking the old one into a 1984 Cold War-themed remix with new locations and a different coat of paint. There are cable cars where the Dam used to be, but Verdansk '84 is still very much Verdansk. And after four days exploring the new digs, I'm surprised Activision spent months building hype for what ultimately feels like an ordinary map update.
It's not that Verdansk '84 hasn't changed for the better—springtime suits the region well and I'm glad to see all that ice finally melt away into a flowing river. It's clear a lot of time went into improving the map's flow, with more roads for easier vehicle access to Verdansk's remote corners. Raven has also filled in spots that were mostly empty space with loot-filled points of interest. The new Airplane Factory is a great example of this, sandwiched between the Superstore and airport where there used to be a bunch of cylinders that nobody cared about.
I guess I was hoping for a bigger change of scenery. Large swaths of Verdansk '84 are virtually untouched outside of new textures that make everything look older (and not always better). Speaking of, when I heard "Verdansk in 1984," I expected Activision to use the opportunity to inject more color into the game—maybe some neon lights on Downtown skyscrapers or a more vibrant color palette to counter old Verdansk's washed-out greys and beiges. Some buildings have red on them now (neat), but new Verdansk has the same muted color grading that's now less attractive thanks to more clouds and an ugly wall of toxic gas always that becomes more prominent as the match progresses. I really miss the old clear skies. The south end of the map looks dark and depressing now.
Activision could have set expectations better here. The publisher spent months teasing the nuclear destruction of Verdansk, a message that naturally led players to believe the map would be replaced entirely. It felt like Warzone was on the same trajectory as Apex Legends, a free-to-play battle royale game that regularly cycles between three distinct maps and updates them individually to keep things fresh.
Warzone dipped its toes into this idea with Rebirth Island (a smaller island map suited for lower player counts) by regularly changing when the map is available and what modes you can play on it. Rebirth Island has proven so popular that there's almost always a playlist running it nowadays. But post-Season 3, it's clear that Activision is sticking closer to the Fortnite model of map remodels—the nuking of Verdansk drew obvious parallels to Epic's black hole event that ushered in Fortnite Chapter 2.
The difference is that when players emerged from Fortnite's black hole in 2019, the game meaningfully changed. Chapter 2 introduced an all-new map with an updated art style. You could now properly swim, catch fish, carry allies to safety, and upgrade weapons! It was a beautiful way to press reset while making engine upgrades that moved the game forward. Activision tried something similar here and failed to stick the landing. The Warzone of this week is the Warzone of last week, just with better weapon balancing and a remixed map.
Raven told me that it also paid close attention to common glitch spots in the old map to prevent the same exploitation in Verdansk '84, but players have already figured out new ways to clip under the map and ruin the game for everyone else. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
New sights certainly made for an exciting first few drops, but the more of Verdansk '84 I explore, the more I realize that Warzone is the battle royale game with the least going on. We're on a cycle of getting a few new weapons each season (which usually prove to be irrelevant or incredibly broken), a new mode that can disappear within weeks, and more cosmetic packs than anyone can keep up with. I like turning my SMG into a tape deck as much as the next guy, but meaty gameplay additions are what will ultimately keep me around and Verdansk '84 isn't that.
If the novelty of that big Grid Array in the sky is supposed to hold us over for an entire season, then it's probably time to start setting expectations lower for Warzone Season 4.