Call of Duty: Warzone is my favorite game of the year. I can’t imagine anything between now and December 31 dethroning it after spending hundreds of hours playing it. But it was surprising to find a limited-time Halloween game mode completely reshape my opinion on what makes for a good Warzone match. Warzone’s new Zombie Royale has not only solidified my best-of-the-year consideration for the base game, but it’s also the best the game has ever been.
Zombie Royale was added to Warzone back in late October as part of The Haunting of Verdansk update, bringing new Halloween-themed skins, cosmetics, and game modes. Largely, the update was fair to middling. Seeing the tiny Jigsaw puppet from the Saw movie series now the size of a full-grown man is very dumb looking; the night-time Warzone didn’t adopt the pitch-black night of the campaign and multiplayer modes, looking like a 6:00 p.m. dusk has settled over the map; and, worst of all, it added jump scares that randomly pop up when looting and opening boxes. I cannot stress how much I hate these cheap scares and their spooky screams that are easily two times louder than everything else in the game.
But then there’s Zombie Royale, which has become the go-to way to play Warzone for my friends and me.
This new mode fundamentally changes the Warzone formula in a few key ways. Most notably, the gulag is nonexistent here. If you die as a normal player, you become a zombie, and you’re given the opportunity to revive yourself by killing two human players and collecting the antivirus they drop. And in fact, this process repeats; until you die as a zombie or the game ends, you can continue to die and respawn. The game circle is also far more condensed than normal. The starting area of play is roughly the same size as the mid-to-late game circles of the standard game mode, forcing firefights from the jump.
Warzone has always had the speed and mobility of the Call of Duty series – specifically the most recent, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare – but it juxtaposes that range of movement with the need to carefully consider your actions. Compared to standard multiplayer matches, especially on maps like Shipment and Rust, Warzone is far more methodical and deliberate. Given the massive size of its Verdansk map, if you land in the right spot, you can spend a large majority of your gametime not running into an enemy team.
Zombie Royale throws a lot of that out the window, necessitating players be ready to loot and fight from the jump. It more closely resembles a standard multiplayer match, but with the battle-royale trappings of needing to find weapons, buy gear, and deal with more than 100 players all at once – as well as zombies in this case. Matches in Zombie Royale are inherently more frenetic, and as a result, far more fun. There’s a rush to landing, having to find gear in the world as soon as you can, and then fighting, knowing it’s only going to get more and more chaotic as the circle closes in. If you’re a more passive Warzone player like me, who enjoys playing stealthily and plotting every step, Zombie Royale will force you to adapt your playstyle. It’s a great way to flip the script on players, even if they have hundreds of hours with the game. Once the zombies start getting involved, that freneticism only gets higher.
I’ve never had more fun playing Warzone than dropping into the chaos of Zombie Royale, and the tension the condensed map creates is far more exhilarating than the base game. Zombie Royale feels like you’re constantly playing through a highlight reel of your friend’s best Warzone moments, those plays or firefights you rarely pull of, so you make sure to save gameplay clips when you do. Every time I hit the ground in Zombie Royale, I know my crew is going to pull off something awesome; the chaos necessitates quick action and aggressive play. Explosions, quick getaways, and smart plays begin immediately, and so does the video capture. It’s been hard for me to return to normal Warzone, its slower pace feeling cumbersome compared to the excitement of Zombie Royale.
The addition of zombies makes Zombie Royale feel more forgiving than Warzone, which is a welcome change. It’s very common in Warzone to land, die, die again in the gulag, and then have to sit and watch your team as they try and get the money to revive you, only for them to suffer a similar fate, ending the match. Switching to a zombie instantly puts you back on the battlefield, allowing you to fight from the grave with your team, and giving you the chance to come back. The zombie is also a really fun way to play. Their whisper quiet movement let’s you be stealthy when making your attack and their building-scaling super jump is a great defensive play when the going gets tough. I’ve had a lot of Zombie Warzone matches where my team got killed numerous times, only for us to come back and back and back. Warzone can be pretty demoralizing when you’re having a bad day dying early and often. Zombie Warzone soothes some of that pain.
Zombie Royale certainly isn’t perfect. There’s a good argument to be made that the zombies are too quiet, able to sneak up and kill you before you even realize they’re behind you, and you can definitely get caught in an unbreakable loop of instantly dying as a human, respawning, and then instantly dying again. But the way it changes the core loops and strategies of Warzone make it my favorite gameplay update the game has ever had, meeting somewhere in the middle of Call of Duty’s core multiplayer and its battle-royale spin-off. I’ll be sad to see the limited-time mode end, and I hope there is some plan to use its mechanics in later Warzone updates, but for now, Zombie Royale is the best way to play.