The new Warzone 2 DMZ mode has a totally different vibe than other extraction shooters I've played. DMZ is not like Escape From Tarkov, where other players are automatically enemies, or like Hunt: Showdown, where squad sizes are even and everyone's competing for one prize. It's sort of a micro MMO like GTA Online played in 30-minute chunks, where players (both grouped up and solo) roam a big map, usually traveling in different directions and mostly minding their own business until someone gets in their way.
That someone was me when I learned an important DMZ rule: If a man is sprinting straight toward you, bare fisted, with a desperate look in his eye, he probably isn't looking for a team up. I should have guessed that ol' Burnt_Toast575 had ill intentions when he didn't respond to my friendly remarks. The words "wanna team up" had barely left my lips before he'd already landed three punches to my gobsmacked face. Burny-T wasn't looking for friendship. He only had eyes for my shiny gun, and a few punches later he got it.
I can't really blame him. Like most MMOs, playing by yourself can be a struggle and it's hard to trust some rando who claims to be "chill." I've been trying to embrace the spirit of the mode by making friends before enemies (after all, killing players isn't the goal of DMZ like it is in battle royale). I've had a few successful uses of a neat new ping feature that lets me instantly invite nearby players to my squad, but I'm finding the DMZ community can be pretty cliquish.
My solo DMZ experience has so far been the part in every '90s movie where a band of spiky-haired bullies roll up on an unsuspecting nerd and stuff him in a locker. That's not to say the imbalance is unfun: it can be a thrill to hole up in an empty house until the roving APC outside passes. In fact, stealth has been an invaluable tactic for surviving a full round of DMZ.
Surprisingly, actual players have been the least of my problems during solo ventures into Al Mazrah. The real, constant threat of DMZ is the AI soldiers occupying darn near every square block of civilization. These are not your standard campaign grunts, nor are they as harmless as the fodder soldiers running around Modern Warfare 2's Invasion mode. DMZ soldiers are quick to spot players from far away and, once they have a lock, they will mercilessly hunt you down. Standing out in the open with three or four grunts in sight is a death wish. Even in cover, soldiers will move up to flank from several directions. I got properly destroyed by an AI armored guy yesterday, who kicked open a door while I was looting a box and blasted me back to the main menu.
After that, I started on this depressing loop where I'd take one of my few remaining guns into the next match, die to AI because I have crappy guns and no armor, and repeat until my contraband inventory was completely empty. Maybe that's how Burnt_Toast ended up Rocky IV-ing me with zero guns to his name.
The AI are so ruthless and deal so much damage that I can't help but think DMZ was balanced exclusively around teamplay. As a solo player with only one default armor slot, it's easy to die after less than two seconds of sustained damage. If you're in a squad this isn't a big deal, because even completely dead squadmates can be revived once the fight is over. Flying solo, your only lifeline is a self-revive kit, a semi-rare item that I cross my fingers to find every time I loot a medicine cabinet.
Right now, diving in solo is like opting into hard mode. That's not necessarily a bad thing—I actually think DMZ can be a little too easy with four or more in a squad—but I'm starting to agree with the fans on Reddit calling for some sort of "stay alive longer than two minutes" starter kit for solo players. Some have suggested that solos get a free self-revive kit (opens in new tab) at the start of the round.
To be fair, I could stick with teammates from the start. By default, the game matches you with at least one or two other players. This can be cool if you happen to match with nice, cooperative strangers, but playing with randos doesn't really gel with DMZ's one main progression track: faction missions. These are disconnected, chore-like tasks that you sign up for before the match, like destroying a certain number of vehicles or capturing a stronghold.
It's possible to synchronize these missions with friends and you might even get lucky asking a random squadmate to help out, but so many of the missions I've done so far are the sort of monotonous, level 2 World of Warcraft fetch quests that I'd be embarrassed to recruit others into. I spent several hours yesterday rummaging through every house on Al Mazrah, filling my backpack with bandages that'd only count toward my mission if I managed to extract them from the map without dying.
Here too, the first few weeks of Warzone DMZ are reminding me of the first few weeks of GTA Online. There isn't much structure, or much in the way of rewards, but the possibility space feels vast. If Infinity Ward/Raven Software/whoever else is actually making DMZ commits to expanding this exciting new piece of CoD canon, I can see the future where Al Mazrah is populated with side missions, boss battles, or even purely social areas.
For now I'd settle for little things, like AI baddies who don't magically shoot me through smoke clouds.