Low ammo, broken shields, and a chunk of cash was all we had to show for four gunfights part way into a Call of Duty: Warzone match. I marked the supply drop across the street from us, figuring we could gear up before the end of the game—but I'd forgotten something. We were playing Warzone's 200 player mode, and even though it felt like a full game had passed, there were still 104 players left. A squad was waiting for us outside, and we ate dirt halfway into the game.
In most other battle royale games, only 25 or so players are left after 15 minutes of fighting, looting, and hiding in bathrooms. But the game's only just begun after 15 minutes of Warzone. Matches were already bloated with 150 players and the gulag, and in the limited-time 200-player quads mode, gunfights are constant.
Battle royale games work best when there's a mix of action and quiet time. The downtime—whether it be spent behind the wheel or looting—builds tension until the moment you ambush or are ambushed by an enemy squad. Warzone's 200-player mode, which is only available for four-player squads, removes almost all of that downtime. Even if they don't actually take longer, the 200-player matches feel longer because they're so exhausting.
"Feels like it's harder to find those quiet spots with an extra 12 teams around," wrote Voyde in a Reddit thread about the 200-player mode. "I didn't think 12 teams was a lot at first, but that's 48 extra people, 12 less contracts, 24 people winning their gulag and possibly buying back teammates."
At the start of that 200-player match, my squad and I landed far off from the airplane path and immediately split between two buildings to loot. We were under fire seconds later. As soon as we disposed of one team another would show up. Most matches saw us take care of three or four squads before falling to a third party. It felt like the only way to win was to hunker down and avoid conflict—which is a boring way to play.
"I'm finding that the last 2 to 3 zones end up having way more players in them causing a lot of camping," wrote Reddit poster Ditdr. "My squad was in 2nd to last circle and there were still 56 players alive with a farmland rotation. Pretty much every building had teams sitting in them not moving. We had like 15 kills too. But I think it's OK they just need to adjust contract density a bit because jumping on contracts is super risky now."
Ditdr's experience isn't that different from mine in standard, 150-player Warzone quads. Just the other night a squad of random players and I dropped at the same location outside the TV station three times in a row. We weren't at a named location or near any contracts and yet we got sandwiched by multiple squads each time.
Instantly getting into fights can be enjoyable, but it's not so fun when another squad rolls in at the end to clean up thanks to Warzone's radar blips, which show the exact location a gun is fired.
And after fighting through 12 players, we didn't get any downtime to reload, re-armor, and prepare for another fight. Finding a spot in which to put ourselves back together feels near impossible in Warzone's 150 player lobbies, and the way 200 player lobbies exacerbate the problem helped me identify it as one of my primary criticisms of the battle royale game (which I nevertheless enjoy).
The realization became even clearer after I dropped into a match that had only 85 players because the server didn't fill up for some reason. The lack of a full lobby gave my team more downtime than I've ever had in a Warzone match. Bullets could still be heard flying in the distance, but because they weren't constantly flying directly at us, tension had a chance to develop. Every fight felt significant, and my heart jumped out of my chest the first time we saw and exchanged fire with another team. That's a feeling common to other battle royale games, but I've rarely experienced in Warzone.
There's a player count sweet spot for a good battle royale experience and, for my tastes, Warzone was already above it at 150, never mind 200. If Activision tried an event that reduces the player count instead of increasing it, my bet is that it would be savored.