Call of Duty's endless hunger for disk space must be stopped

(Image credit: Activision)

I hate that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, the best Call of Duty game ever, is so hard to recommend. To my friends who love FPSes, the pitch should be so easy: great gunplay, lots of modes, deep customization, frequent updates, and the best battle royale in the business. But as of August 2020, Modern Warfare is also a 200GB behemoth with frequent 30-80GB patches.

I’d like nothing more than to put together a squad for Warzone, but I can’t expect my friends to download 200GB for a game they might only play for a few days before going back to their mainstays. The game is so absurdly big that some players have a dedicated Modern Warfare hard drive

With a new Call of Duty out in a few months, I hope Treyarch and Raven Software aren’t expecting me to sign up for another year of 80GB updates. If that’s just what CoD is now, then I’m out for good.

Bloated royale

...At some point it becomes more leech than videogame.

It's not just Call of Duty: Games are bigger now. Red Dead Redemption 2 nearly crests 100GB with its majestic vistas and simulated horse genitalia. As long as a game is making good use of its bytes, I have no problem carving out room on my precious 1TB SSD. Arthur’s lovable beard and custom-engraved six shooters are worth it. Modern Warfare is also ridiculously pretty game, and it features the highest quality first-person animations and weapon sound effects I’ve ever witnessed. Captain Price’s fastidiously-groomed mustache really shines in the moonlight. The difference is that Red Dead 2 is a game with an end—a moment that I can set the controller down, right click Arthur’s handsome face, and uninstall.

Modern Warfare/Warzone, however, never ends. And when a game is eating up a literal fifth of my entire PC and growing larger by the month, at some point it becomes more leech than videogame. Maybe the line is different for you, but 200GB is pretty leechy to me.

Plenty of big budget games soar past 60-90GB nowadays, but Modern Warfare is uniquely colossal for a multiplayer shooter. For context, here’s a pile of other multiplayer FPSes that combined are the same size as a clean install of Modern Warfare.

  • Overwatch
  • Apex Legends
  • Rainbow Six Siege
  • Halo: The Master Chief Collection
  • Hyper Scape
  • Valorant
  • Counter-Strike: Global Offensive

Only Infinity Ward truly knows exactly how its game got so big, but I’d bet Modern Warfare's almost 50 multiplayer maps (plus the 150-player Warzone battle royale map Verdansk) have a lot to do with it. It wouldn’t be a new phenomenon. A rapidly expanding install size is, in part, what inspired Ubisoft to stop releasing new Rainbow Six Siege maps and rework existing ones instead. Meanwhile, Riot’s low-spec FPS Valorant has a thriving player base with a meager four maps and less than 10GB. When it comes to efficiency of assets, Valorant is the anti-Modern Warfare. 

Call Of Duty Modern Warfare Barakett Promenade map

One of Modern Warfare's many, many maps. (Image credit: Activision, Infinity Ward)

Storage war

It's not a perfect comparison. Valorant is an intimate tactical shooter and Call of Duty is military Disneyland. I appreciate that a theme park needs lots of attractions, but Modern Warfare’s current trajectory is unsustainable. Forget the total install, the size of individual patches alone is irresponsible for the large swaths of the world with monthly data caps. I’d eagerly give up two thirds of those 50 maps if it meant my PC could breathe again.

There's already a half-solution to Modern Warfare’s storage problem. It’s possible to uninstall the modes you don’t play to shrink its install size (like the co-op Spec Ops mode that flopped), but that feature only exists on the console versions. Even if you have no interest in battle royale and just play classic CoD multiplayer, you’re stuck with Warzone’s extra 80GB on PC. If you only want Warzone installed, you have to uninstall the full game, make a new account, then download the free-to-play Warzone-only edition.

Patches are a different mess altogether. It makes sense that big seasonal updates that drop new maps, weapons, and modes are pretty big, but even Modern Warfare’s routine bug fixes can sometimes require a download of tens of gigs, even if it doesn’t change the total install size. I can’t overstate how unsatisfying it is to install a 30GB patch just to launch the game and see that nothing has changed.

cod warzone stadium access codes

(Image credit: Infinity Ward)

If Call of Duty doesn't give my hard drive a break soon, I'm not sure how much longer I'll keep playing it.

Modern Warfare's monstrous footprint means that it's the first game on the chopping block when my SSD fills to the brim. It sucks, but I'll hardly shed a tear when my friends are playing other fantastic shooters that get similar seasonal updates at a fraction the storage cost. (Except for you, Siege. I see you creeping back up to 80GB. We’re still fine, but you need to chill.)

Win more with these Warzone loadouts

(Image credit: Infinity Ward)

Warzone loadouts: The gear to choose
Best M4A1 loadout Warzone: Top all-purpose AR builds
Best MP7 loadout Warzone: Effective SMG setups
Best Grau loadout Warzone: Strong AR builds
Best M13 loadout Warzone: The attachments to choose
Best Bruen Mk9 loadout Warzone: Boost the LMG

What’s especially worrying is what this could all mean for Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, a game with three names that was announced by a bag of Doritos. If Cold War is built with the same advanced engine tech as Modern Warfare and the same disregard for SSD space, it could exacerbate this problem. 

In addition to that whole new game, Warzone is still a massively popular free-to-play battle royale. It’s not fizzling out after a year like Black Ops 4’s Blackout mode. In fact, Activision has suggested that Warzone will exist alongside future CoD games as a vehicle for announcements and cross-game promotions. Just last week, Warzone players solved an in-game puzzle that revealed a countdown to (we assume) Cold War’s non-Doritos bag announcement. 

Is Activision really expecting Warzone players to keep that monster of a game installed while also carving out another slab of space for Cold War, and downloading 30GB updates every few weeks? My highest hopes are that Treyarch and Raven Software know what a huge burden the last year of patches have been on the CoD community and can steer Cold War away from the same fate.

If Call of Duty doesn't give my hard drive a break soon, I'm not sure how much longer I'll keep playing it. My friends don't want to join me, and at this rate, I'll have to uninstall the whole thing every time another big game comes around (what’s up Cyberpunk 2077). Every time I do that, it'll get harder to want to redownload it the next time. A Great Downsizing is definitely in order. 

Infinity Ward made a small stride in Season 5 by shrinking the overall size of the PS4 version. The PC version still grew, but by less than previous seasons. Baby steps.

Morgan Park
Staff Writer

Morgan has been writing for PC Gamer since 2018, first as a freelancer and currently as a staff writer. He has also appeared on Polygon, Kotaku, Fanbyte, and PCGamesN. Before freelancing, he spent most of high school and all of college writing at small gaming sites that didn't pay him. He's very happy to have a real job now. Morgan is a beat writer following the latest and greatest shooters and the communities that play them. He also writes general news, reviews, features, the occasional guide, and bad jokes in Slack. Twist his arm, and he'll even write about a boring strategy game. Please don't, though.