When the long-awaited Counter-Strike 2 closed beta launched and its features were announced, Warzone 2 players watched in envy. While Infinity Ward reinvented the wheel by giving it corners, Valve has rounded its wheel and strapped an engine to it.
Warzone 2 was an opportunity for Call of Duty’s battle royale to return to its dizzying pandemic popularity after a steady decline towards the end of its life. The original came at a time when people needed it more than ever, as friends that hadn’t seen each other for months reconnected in Verdansk. With a spruced-up sequel, fans of the game hoped to experience some nostalgia and a vastly-improved BR experience through the release of Warzone 2.
However, the original Warzone’s popularity was a product of not just the pandemic, but of its fast-paced gameplay too, with slide cancelling, light guns, one-shot snipers, and a tight map. So what did the sequel decide to do? Remove slide cancelling, make guns feel sluggish, remove one-shot snipers, and add large baron areas to its new Al Mazrah map. The game felt completely different, and it was worse off because of it.
Despite an initial large spike in players at launch, things quickly began to slide. It seemed the popularity of the game could only hold for so long unless Infinity Ward listened to the community and brought back elements from the first Warzone. Multiple underwhelming updates later, and the community had enough of the state of the game – it felt like they weren’t being listened to. By January 2023, the Steam player count of both Warzone 2 and Modern Warfare 2 had sliced almost in half and that number only continued to trend down.
In March, the Steam player count hit an all-time low. To compound this disappointing statistic, this low point coincided with the Counter-Strike 2 limited test beta launch, and fans started to make comparisons.
On a gameplay level, Valve clearly understood what players wanted and needed from CS2. Counter-Strike has a tried and tested format that only needs polishing, and doesn’t require heaps of new features or overcomplication.
This is why the smoke update received such an overwhelmingly positive response – despite not being as glitzy and glamorous as some of Warzone 2’s attempts at new innovations. One-way and inconsistent smokes were the bane of a hardcore Counter-Strike player’s existence, so rather than reinvent the wheel, Valve decided to fix it.
Counter-Strike is a tactical, hardcore shooter so Valve realised it should knuckle down on this side of the game. Focusing CS2 on improving smokes, fixing the tick rate issue, and upgrading lighting and graphics is where it won over its community.
Many of Warzone’s issues were just as glaringly obvious as one-way smokes and tick rate issues were in CS:GO, and the answers to many of the problems we’re seeing in Warzone 2 were already addressed in the original game.
One of the most obvious pain points was not being able to plate up while sprinting, a key gameplay feature in the original Warzone. It took Infinity Ward until February to add this into the game – that’s over three months of having to essentially stand still if you wanted to plate up.
This being added to the game saw an immediate positive reaction from the community, but there was (and still is) so much to be fixed or added.
The time to kill (TTK) being very fast was one of the player base’s biggest issues as — with the slower movement — it was harder than ever to wiggle your way out of a situation if someone had the jump on you. Many defined this as making the skill gap smaller as unskilled players could luck their way into an advantageous position, killing another player before they can even react.This was a result of the devs deciding to reduce the base player health by 50 at the launch of the game. But Infinity Ward refused to go back on this.
For many, including myself, the TTK in the original Warzone was near perfect — outside of the overpowered meta weapons that would eventually get patched. So why change it?
It’d be like if the release of CS2 made an AWP headshot no longer a one-shot kill, completely changing the feel of the game. The difference is that Valve knows its users and wouldn’t change such an integral part of the game.
Not only has Valve made all the right moves in the gameplay department, it is also allowing players to carry their skins from CS:GO into CS2. In contrast, Warzone 2 had the slate wiped clean, and while this may have been done for technical reasons, fans have been unhappy to see skins appearing in the store that look strikingly similar to those found in the original Warzone.
In fact, this was even a smart business move with CS:GO cases being opened at a record-breaking rate. It’d be ludicrous to suggest that Valve is a noble, non-capitalistic developer that is set out to create the best game with no financial gain – of course, it’s out to make money. But at least Valve’s making money by serving the Counter-Strike community what it wants.
That’s the most frustrating thing about the whole Warzone 2 debacle. Players weren’t asking for the moon – most just wanted a refined and improved Warzone experience. There were very obvious and seemingly fixable issues that any hardcore Warzone player could identify, yet a plethora of new features were prioritised instead.
Comparing how Infinity Ward and Valve approached their respective sequels, there’s a clear, stark difference. Warzone 2 turned one of the most popular Call of Duty games of all time and one of the best battle royales into a disappointing example of why listening to your community is the most important thing a studio can do. Meanwhile, Counter-Strike 2 has taken that lesson and run with it.