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Goodbye to Verdansk, Call of Duty: Warzone's world away from lockdown

Call of Duty Warzone
(Image credit: Activision)

There's an argument to be made that Call of Duty reached peak cultural crossover not when Makarov first stepped out of the airport lift in Modern Warfare 2's No Russian, but when Dave recreated the scene in the music video for his top five single, 'Verdansk' – an ode to the map that launched alongside Call of Duty: Warzone back in 2020. 

Standing with his back to the elevator's chrome doors and nursing an assault rifle, the UK's favorite socially conscious MC spit bars about Ghana's first prime minister, Fruit and Barley squash, and the 4K cost it takes to bring back a teammate in battle royale. He issued a warning to those who would come at his friends: "Man try beef with my dargy, Warzone ting how I come third party."

When a Mercury and Brit Award winning artist pays to be filmed driving a jeep across a Kastovian quarry in a flak jacket, you know your multiplayer map has lodged deep in the public imagination. Call of Duty: Warzone's Verdansk has somehow joined Ibiza and LA in the catalogue of destinations to reference when writing a chart hit – no matter the fact that it's fictional, and a deathtrap at that.

Warzone

(Image credit: Activision)

The primary reason for Verdansk's popularity is, like a flash grenade, so blindingly obvious you might not see it: there hasn't been anywhere else to go. Call of Duty: Warzone arrived in March 2020, as countries across the world announced lockdown measures to curb the spread of COVID-19. It was free, and unlike Fortnite, built around the squad – with a mates-against-the-world mentality that made it ripe for social escape. Evenings and weekends in Verdansk stood in for the city breaks and stag dos we were missing.

Even after lockdowns eased, safety concerns and the threat of cancelled flights meant most stayed home. In 2020, UK residents made only 23.8 million visits abroad, down 74% from the norm. It's a similar story in the other direction, with 73% fewer visitors arriving in the UK during the same period – just 11.1 million. By contrast, 100 million players had visited Warzone by April of this year.

It's not a perfect comparison, of course. But it's true to say that many of us holidayed in Verdansk when we had no better option available to us. For that reason alone, it'll always be uniquely special – more special than its imminent replacement, Caldera, no matter its qualities or improvements.

Home from homing missile

Warzone

(Image credit: Activision)

Which is not to say that Verdansk is lacking in good qualities. Its enormous sprawl not only accommodates 150 players, but several different playstyles. The combat hotbeds of Storage Town and the Hospital offer instant action for converts from Call of Duty deathmatch. The farmland of the periphery supports the belly-crawlers, with their thermal scopes and big-box copies of Operation Flashpoint. Downtown's closed-in corridors befit the headphone crowd, who listen for footsteps while waiting to pounce. The prison provides survival horror, for those who crave labyrinthine exploration made tense by the ever-present prospect of underground asphyxiation. And snipers find a ready haven in the airport, starkly reminiscent of the one Makarov once stood in, and Dave after him.

That's something else we'll miss when Verdansk disappears from playlists: the way COD history echoes around the map, bouncing off its concrete bunkers. It's not just the M1 Garands, or the strange doors that burble with numbers from Black Ops's brainwashing campaign. Right from the beginning, Infinity Ward and Raven set out to bake old levels into Verdansk. 

Killhouse, Vacant, Broadcast – all these Call of Duty 4 maps are secreted into Warzone's landscape in a lightly modified form. The Boneyard is recognisable as Modern Warfare 2's Scrapyard, and Burger Town restaurants line the streets, in reference to that game's invasion of Virginia. Even the Gulag's shower room is the same that Soap slid through on the way to jailbreak Captain Price. 

It's a trend that continues to this day; in the summer, Raven introduced the frantic fan-favourite Shipment to a football pitch north of Tavorsk District. The developer clearly recognises battle royale as an opportunity to memorialise old favourites in a way that allows them to stay relevant. Verdansk is a living museum, a tribute to Call of Duty's past.

It's also a rebuttal to the idea that nostalgia is empty. These faithful recreations of familiar layouts allow old guns to get the drop on kids with faster trigger fingers, using the spatial awareness provided by ancient map memory. Frankly, us old-timers need all the help we can get.

Cold war clichés

Call of Duty: Warzone

(Image credit: Activision)

More queasily, Verdansk has pulled from real-life history too. Kastovia may not be real – a fictional country introduced in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare – but it's designed to slot between the post-Soviet states of Eastern Europe as if it were. Its tall housing blocks recall the 'Khrushchev slums', cheap apartments thrown up around the USSR in the early '60s. The hills are pockmarked with Spomeniks, distinctively shaped war memorials based on those seen in former Yugoslavia. It's a compelling, brutalist backdrop. But I've argued elsewhere that Verdansk reinforces a Western idea of Eastern Europe as perpetually unstable, doomed to conflict. Maybe it won't be so bad for Warzone to leave that unhelpful stereotype behind, at least.

Also in the 'better forgotten' pile is the incomprehensible fiction tied to Verdansk – impossible to follow, and a misuse of characters from Call of Duty campaigns who deserved better. Not to mention the daft '80s movie crossovers – who decided that Rambo and Die Hard belonged to Warzone's genre of geopolitical thriller? Perhaps in the Pacific, we can enjoy a memory wipe, and dare to hope for a story that's a little more coherent.

Besides: it's past time for a change. There's no question that Warzone is stagnating without a new map. The Verdansk '84 update promised a refresh, but an opened-up stadium isn't quite so dramatic as the nuclear event that heralded it. Despite its best efforts, Raven hasn't managed to rival the fundamental and far-reaching alterations that Apex and Fortnite are famous for. It's the right moment to catch a different plane.

"Airport, we're going for bants," bragged Dave in his tribute to Call of Duty. "I hopped out the plane, I ain't going Verdansk." Nor are any of us – not anymore. Sleep well, concrete land. You were the unlikely holiday we so desperately needed.


The new Call of Duty Warzone map is set to launch later this week, with Warzone Pacific marking full integration with this year's Call of Duty: Vanguard

Jeremy Peel

Jeremy is a freelance editor and writer with a decade’s experience across publications like Play, GamesRadar, PC Gamer, and Edge. He specialises in features and interviews, and gets a special kick out of meeting the word count exactly. He missed the golden age of magazines, so is making up for lost time while maintaining a healthy modern guilt over the paper waste. Jeremy was once told off by the director of Dishonored 2 for not having played Dishonored 2. Has he played it now? "Some of it," he admits. Check back after Deathloop is out!