Returning to Call of Duty: Blackout after months of playing Call of Duty: Warzone (opens in new tab) night after night is a bit like downing a Bud Light to cap off a bougie weekend at a craft beer festival. Our tastes are fickle things, after all, susceptible to refinement the more they're exposed to, and they'll let you know when you've regressed back to something that they no longer have an appetite for.
I used to enjoy Blackout on a regular basis, for example, but earlier this week found myself having to muster up the willpower to push through just two or three matches, before deleting the game from my PS4 entirely. Set on a different map in a different game engine and built by a completely different developer, Blackout is a far cry from Infinity Ward's current battle royale hit, and - from my perspective - just doesn't compete with the silky smooth rigour and vertical scale of Warzone.
But a sizable portion of Call of Duty fans couldn't disagree more, as thousands still play Treyarch's replacement to Black Ops 4 (opens in new tab)'s scrapped campaign to this day, and not out of a refusal to give Warzone a fair shot, either. Many have tried Infinity Ward's free-to-play alternative, but simply prefer the unique combat rhythms of Blackout, even after Treyarch itself (now working on Call of Duty 2020 (opens in new tab)) has long abandoned support for the experience.
Back in Blackout
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"Warzone was clearly tailored to the lowest common denominator," one player, Soco_Colo, tells me over Reddit. "Anyone can kill anyone if you get the first shot, and there are dozens of impregnable power positions on buildings that can only be accessed by ladders. Blackout, on the other hand, rewards quick thinking and ingenuity. While it has its flaws, I think it’s a far superior experience to Warzone."
Those comments reflect the Blackout community's general sentiments for its appeal over Warzone. Whereas the latter's realistic grounding makes for more straight-played, unforgiving firefights, with a faster time-to-kill as the cherry on the cake, Blackout's futurist setting provides more opportunity for players to counter ambushes, circumvent enemy defenses, and devise some truly creative combat styles.
Another commonly cited point of praise for Blackout players is the map. Whereas Verdansk is a bleak and ashen depiction of Eastern Europe, Blackout's arena is a fantastical amalgam of the best bits of Call of Duty history stitched together, full of referential wonders and curios. Nuketown Island features a secret underground bunker, zombies stalk the corridors of Asylum on the eastern border, and a lopsided ship harboured at Cargo presents ample opportunities for breakneck, claustrophobic one-on-ones.
Bright, verdant grassland covers much of the map, presumably nourished by the giant river that runs through its centre, and the distinct lack of skyscrapers means players don't have to worry so much about sniper squads living it large from the safety of a near impregnable perch, unlike in downtown Verdansk.
"The map just feels like home to me," says suiswatchingyou. "It's far more pleasing to the eyes than Warzone. Even the fact that you can emote makes it more enjoyable, and less gloomy. Black Ops 2 is also my favourite Call of Duty game, so this map really hit home with its implementation of iconic settings."
I can understand where the Blackout community is coming from, even if, from my point of view, Verdansk's dense urban scale marks one of its most impressive qualities. That said, map design is the foundation that affects every other aspect of a battle royale, including its pace, and the difference between Warzone and Blackout in this regard is admittedly stark.
Verdansk is almost twice the size of Blackout's map, and thus hosts matches that usually last around thirty minutes in length, if not more, which many find to be too long for the speed of games they expect from Call of Duty, especially when you compound that with Warzone's afterlife mechances.
"I don't want to keep killing the same guy two or three times because he won the Gulag and his friends brought him back from the dead yet again," Jacybuls tells me. "I just want a clean squad wipe and move on to the endgame."
A victory in Blackout, on the other hand, can easily be achieved in around twenty minutes, and this rat-a-tat flow is just another thing that keeps players coming back for more over the battle royale matches that Infinity Ward is currently offering for free.
A warzone for everybody
Even for all of Blackout's comparative attractions, however, Warzone is undoubtedly the more proficient battle royale when it comes to the systems running under the hood. Infinity Ward's new game engine offers some of the finest gunplay of this generation, all running at a silky smooth frame rate across a map that offers incredible visual detail at great scale thanks to its unique "block streaming" technology.
Warzone's inventory management and loot systems are also arguably far better streamlined, ditching Blackout's swap-and-switch attachments for pre-built blueprint weapons that ensure players aren't spending too much of their precious game time in a backpack menu. Even some Blackout players will admit that Warzone holds the edge over their favourite battle royale in some regards.
"The ability to buy someone back makes sticking around and watching your teammates much more exhilarating, as you know you could return to the match at any second. I also appreciate how Warzone’s looting is way easier, even with little stuff like not needing to pick up ammo. The overall style of Warzone feels more befitting to Call of Duty in general, too. I remember playing Blackout and one of my friends watching asked 'Is that Fornite?'. It took me a while to explain that it was actually Call of Duty."
With the future of Call of Duty still uncertain, there are questions about how Warzone will tie into the series' next instalment, which is once again being developed by Treyarch. Does Infinity Ward hand over curation of the battle royale to that studio as part of its responsibilities for the next year of Call of Duty? If so, what might Treyarch do with it? Could that news be enough to bring lapsed Warzone players out of Blackout, and into its successor?
Whatever happens, it doesn't look like Blackout's community is dying out anytime soon. For a series that has always been too impatient to move on from one Call of Duty instalment to the next, refusing to allow any longer than 12 months for each to find its feet, Blackout's unmoving diaspora of players almost feels like poetic justice.
"That presumption that we should all switch to Warzone is the problem with consumerism, and how we're predisposed to move to the latest product," as Ghostnet puts it. "I play Blackout because I enjoy it and don't subscribe to the notion that come years end I have to upgrade to the next game, especially when it adds in things that aren't conducive to my enjoyment." I couldn't have put it better myself.
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