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Call of Duty: Warzone's Destruction of Verdansk showed the promise, power, and pitfalls of live service events

Call of Duty: Warzone
(Image credit: Activision)

The Destruction of Verdansk wasn't without its casualties. Call of Duty: Warzone players were ushered out of the second season of Black Ops Cold War and into a third with the largest live event that Activision has ever attempted. A multi-part incident took place over 24 hours; at first, it pushed players to survive against a growing horde of reanimated players and then, later, fight to destroy a battlefield that 100 million of us have called home throughout the pandemic. It was audacious, ambitious, and a little bit broken – such is the balance between risk and reward for studios attempting to create memorable, cinematic moments for us to enjoy in a live environment. 

As players across five platforms (and even more time zones) flocked to Warzone simultaneously, all to experience a cycle of events in real-time that would never be repeated, the servers buckled. While most players were trapped in a Mad Max meets World War Z crossover, scrambling to survive in vehicles against a mass of zombies across the final circles of gas that the Modern Warfare incarnation of Verdansk would ever produce, others were stuck in queues. Forced to view the action unfold from the outside, on YouTube and Twitch streams, and act as passive observers to an event they had otherwise been promised access to. 

Destruction of Verdansk Call of duty Warzone

(Image credit: Activision)

Have you ever scalped a ticket to a sold-out concert that all of your friends are going to, only to get to the door and find that it's counterfeit? Well, the feeling of disappointment and exclusion was similar here for many. To an extent, it was also to be expected. It doesn't matter how much planning or preparation is done in advance of content that will garner additional attention, studios will always struggle to appropriately simulate server surges on this scale. 

That doesn't excuse the problems Warzone has faced over the last 24 hours – free-to-play or not, there's an expectation of access that needs to be met. The problems are there, they are real, and they are something Activision can improve upon for the next time that it tries something like this. It can be easy for us as players to point to the success Epic Games has had in this space and wish that Warzone had done better, particularly for those that viewed Fortnite's massive events from afar. 

But the truth is, for players on the ground for the various map changes, narrative events, or live concerts hosted within Fortnite, they each have had problems of their own, with players encountering queues, getting kicked from lobbies part-way through, or finding themselves killed by disruptive players while trying to otherwise get lost in a spectacle. Epic has gotten better at managing these events over time – each an opportunity to collect data, learn, and grow – just as Activision and Raven will with Warzone. We're playing games in an era where the limitations and fidelity of software has not yet scaled to meet the rising ambition of developers in the live service space. 

Squad up

Destruction of Verdansk Call of duty Warzone

(Image credit: Activision)

Putting the server problems aside, there is an almost magical quality to the way that these events can bring communities together that I just love to see. Signing into Xbox Live on April 21 and 22 for The Destruction of Verdansk Part One and Two to find the majority of my friends list online and active in the same game made it feel like I had been swept back in time. In the twilight years of the original Xbox and early days of the 360, it was common to see entire communities rally around single game launches and, on occasion, crash the Xbox Live Network entirely. If it weren't for the fact that I now have a bad back and overdue bills, I may have believed it was 2010 again, all of us signing on for the release of the original Black Ops. 

11 years later, we're here to see fan-favorite Black Ops maps, weapons, and accoutrements be fed into the Warzone ecosystem. Where the initial integration between Warzone and Black Ops Cold War was haphazard and laboured, the introduction of a 1984 themed map in Warzone Season 3 has reduced much of the friction between Modern Warfare's pseudo-realism and Black Ops' pulpy-absurdity. The Modern Warfare weapons have been pulled from the general loot pool, the Black Ops Cold War weapons have been rebalanced, and Raven has been able to rework Verdansk to better suit the types of engagements and spaces Black Ops players are used to engaging in.

Destruction of Verdansk Call of duty Warzone

(Image credit: Activision)

It's a welcome change, and the way we ultimately got there was exciting. Having Verdansk be lost in the shadow of a mushroom cloud, leaving players stranded on a redux Rebirth Island for half a day – left to wonder what will come next openly within in-game lobbies – was excellent. If you're reading this, there's a good chance you follow video game news closely and were already aware of what was coming because of the leaks, but it's worth remembering that for a good many of the 100 million Warzone players out there, they were discovering and experiencing all of this in real-time. The frustration, confusion, and joy of it all could be seen, felt, and heard in real-time in the game itself. 

Stranding players on a new nighttime variant of Rebirth Island for so long was a bold decision on Raven's part. Not only is it still dealing with controversy over the Roze Operator skin, which makes it near-impossible to spot players hiding in shadowy areas of an otherwise bright map, but restricting access to popular playlists can always create lines of division. For me, as somebody that's a giant fan of Rebirth Island and the Resurgence game type, this was a wonderful few hours of exploration and frantic combat – particularly with Construction (one of my favourite areas to contest) now replaced with the Command Center, which opens up new points of engagement with the Prison roof, the Headquarters radio tower, and the dreaded houses surrounding tents. 

Welcome to Verdansk 84

Destruction of Verdansk Call of duty Warzone

(Image credit: Activision)
The story so far...

Call of Duty: Warzone

(Image credit: Activision)

Call of Duty Warzone Timeline: How Call of Duty: Warzone season 3 takes its story back in time to synch up with Black Ops Cold War

Ultimately, as we found ourselves scrapping over the button that would send the nuke over to Verdansk, an act that hurtled the entire player base back to 1984 for a condensed game of battle royale on the new map – which, for many of you, may have been your only chance to experience it so far, given the server problems that continue to plague the game and its playlists. That's something the studios will need to fix quickly because, while server struggles during a live event can be excused, it's a little more challenging to fight back frustration when you can't access anything at all. That's something a great many of us struggled with long into the night and early hours of the morning, desperate to explore Verdansk 84 but unable to for long stretches of time. 

I have to say I found the Destruction of Verdansk events enjoyable. It was kind of a mess, and I think Activision would have benefited from running it over a single day for the sake of clarity and continuity, but it was surprising and enjoyable. It demonstrated strong growth from the first Warzone live event, which introduced players to Black Ops Cold War with an in-game cinematic event – numbers, time skips, and Woods hiding away as an NPC. This was big and bold, and I hope we see more of these events (perhaps on a smaller scale) in the months ahead, particularly as we seek resolutions to the Hunt for Adler and answers for what remains behind the mysterious Red Doors hidden across Verdansk 84. 

Warzone has endured a contentious couple of weeks in the build-up to this event. The Containment Event which headlined much of the action since February, gradually altering Verdansk with small shifts to familiar points-of-interest and the addition of expanding Corruption Zones, felt too small to headline an entire season. But The Destruction of Verdansk felt like a success; by bringing the entire community together to endure the same events, focusing them around the same objectives and modes, and throwing us into a new-look Verdansk in a fairly explosive and spectacular fashion, the showcase demonstrated that Warzone is on the right path. If you could access it, that is. 


Learn how Call of Duty: Warzone season 3 draws from the best of Black Ops history for Verdansk 84 as it brings classic maps like Summit and Standoff to the 1984-themed battle royale.


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Josh West
Josh West

Josh West is Features Editor of GamesRadar+. With over 10 years experience in both online and print journalism, Josh has written for a number of gaming, entertainment, music, and tech publications, including 3D Artist, Edge, gamesTM, iCreate, Metal Hammer, Play, Retro Gamer, and SFX. He holds a BA (Hons) in Journalism and Feature Writing, has appeared on the BBC and ITV to provide expert comment, written for Scholastic books, edited a book for Hachette, and worked as the Assistant Producer of the Future Games Show. In his spare time, Josh plays bass guitar and video games. Years ago, he was in movies and TV shows that you've definitely seen but will never be able to spot him in.