In March 2020, life for all of us was pretty bleak. The coronavirus pandemic had spread to pretty much every country on Earth. It trapped us inside. And for many of us, myself included, it created a period where anxiety became the norm.
I’ll always remember the anticipation and excitement for the release of Call of Duty Warzone that month, and being able to not only play but cover this new battle royale for this very website. I’ll also remember how those feelings quickly subsided when I was informed that I was being furloughed from my amazing job – the job I’d only had for about six months, and at a time where I felt I was just getting into my stride as a journalist.
While I could not write about Warzone, I did now, at least, have plenty of time to play it to take my mind off the uncertainty. The battle royale’s iconic first map, the fictional Eastern European city of Verdansk, became a welcome distraction to the worries of the real world. This is my first real memory and connection to Warzone.
While these days I’ll witter on about underwhelming in-game events or perk systems that need a rework, Warzone began as a true comfort game, and while everything turned out rosy in the end – job reinstated, vaccine created, etcetera – I’ll always look back on this game fondly for its companionship during the early COVID days, regardless of what I think of its current state.
Every memory is attached to a place, and while technically that place was a drafty living room in a one-bed flat above a furniture shop, Verdansk is what I see when I cast my mind back to those times.
Dropping in with other furloughed friends and affectionately naming two built up areas south of TV Station after towns in our home county of Cornwall; racking up what was, at the time, a genuinely impressive high-kill victory with The Loadout’s editor Jess in our very first Duos game; watching some of the biggest streamers slowly fall in love with this revolutionary battle royale – all of that is tied to Verdansk.
While I know that I will mainly reflect on Warzone’s first map (in both its Modern Warfare and 1980s guises) with fondness, Verdansk will also forever be tied to some of the most frustrating and unenjoyable periods of the game’s life.
Most of these low points were as a result of horrifically unbalanced weapons creating mind-numbing metas: the DMR, the Dragon’s Breath R9-0 shotgun, the dual-wield Snake Shot magnums. All of these weapons, among many others, have held the Warzone meta to ransom at some point since the game launched. We often joke about those times now, but there was certainly nothing funny at the time about being routinely “doof doofed” by a wildly overpowered shotgun.
While this is obviously not the fault of Verdansk itself (and current lead developer Raven Software has worked hard to balance Warzone’s ever-growing arsenal), this period of time will be remembered for those infuriating moments just as much as it will be for the positive memories.
Verdansk, despite its good qualities, quickly became a playground for cheaters and hackers
However, that’s not all – Verdansk, despite its good qualities, quickly became a playground for cheaters and hackers. And while Caldera will launch in tandem with more components of the new Ricochet anti-cheat system, the inaction of the developers to address Warzone’s long-standing and rampant cheating problem will always remain a sore spot.
That’s because, ultimately, it tarnished the experience of Verdansk for a vast majority of players. It led to widespread paranoia among the top level of players, leading to accusations and witch-hunting, and it marred several exciting tournaments. It will sadly always be remembered as the arena of the swindlers.
As we enter Verdansk’s final hours, it’s hard not to let the negative memories of haunting metas and encounters with hackers overcome those personal, positive ones.
However, hope is on the horizon. Caldera not only beckons in a new setting for Warzone, but a new era that is (fingers crossed) free of the gremlins of Verdansk. Hopefully players will create similarly powerful and enjoyable memories in the Pacific as I did in the early days of Warzone, but will be able to reflect on them down the line without them being tainted. Early promises of removing or nerfing frustrating weapons and mechanics for Warzone Pacific Season 1, plus the development of Ricochet, certainly suggests that that is the future we’re heading towards.
Verdansk is one of the most iconic videogame maps of recent times, and while it created some fond memories, it made some frustrating ones too. Caldera is technically taking Warzone back in time, but let’s hope that what we really see is the battle royale pushing forward. Farewell, Verdansk.