Call of Duty: Warzone Operator skins prove the battle royale has spent a year learning how to have fun

Call of Duty: Warzone skins
(Image credit: Activision)

Call of Duty: Warzone is a year old today, but the Warzone we have now isn't necessarily a more mature version of the one that dropped on March 10, 2020 – and that's a good thing, because it's fun as hell. 

Warzone launched as a gritty, grounded version of the battle royale, acting as the foil to the more colorful, playful worlds of Apex Legends and Fortnite. However, it has flexed those realism boundaries within the last year, and the result is a much more fun, fresh, and playful version of the game than the one we got last March. The integration of Call of Duty: Warzone with Black Ops Cold War has certainly helped move the free-to-play game into more playful and absurd territories, as the latter brings with it the ever-popular and often anachronistic Zombies modes. 

Warzone's Operator skins serve as a visual record of how it has shifted towards a faster, looser version of itself. While the first batch of Operator skins were heavily rooted in macho military realism, Activision and Treyarch have steadily interspersed these with some wild looks, many of which reference pop culture icons or bygone eras. Warzone has lightened up a bit and stopped taking itself so seriously, and it's all the better because of it. 

From realism to Ripley 

Call of Duty Warzone Ripley skin

(Image credit: Activision)

The launch trailer for Call of Duty: Warzone paints a clear picture of what kind of battle royale Activision was trying to sell back in March 2020 – one that was rooted in the practicality of the Modern Warfare game from which it spawns. The Operators in the trailer are almost entirely clad in tactical gear in various shades of camo. The most out-there characters are the heavily tattooed Minotaur sporting a tight tank top, and a briefly seen Operator wearing zebra striped pants and carrying a pastel AR. Even the official Call of Duty: Warzone Operators page features a roster of characters that are almost strictly wearing military garb, whether it's Ghillie suits, tactical headsets and helmets, or face coverings. 

I distinctly remember laughing my ass off whenever I encountered the tracksuit Yegor skin in multiplayer, simply because, back then, he stuck out like a sore thumb amongst a sea of brushstroke camo. His bright red zip up and matching pants always grabbed my attention, and I longed for a chance to unlock the look without buying the Season Pass. Unfortunately, I missed my opportunity, and was forced to stick with a boring Mil-Sim for quite some time. 

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Then, I was scrolling through Twitter one late July day when I stumbled across a Tweet from Eurogamer's Matthew Reynolds pointing to "a very Ripley-looking skin" in Warzone's store. The Bundle, called 'Earth Expeditionary Force' features a skin for the Scottish Operator Charly that is a dead ringer for Sigourney Weaver in 1979's Aliens. (Activision clearly knew what they were doing with this one – as I pointed out that Charly looked like Sigourney Weaver on day one).

Charly's hair, typically obfuscated by a variety of hats and helmets, is a collection of close-cropped brunette ringlets and she's wearing a beige jumpsuit that belongs in space. The Bundle includes a Colonial Standard weapon blueprint, and a calling card called 'Deadly Stowaway' – it is 100% Ripley in Aliens, and I immediately bought it. From then on, the creative floodgates were wide open and Warzone started to receive more and more colorful, zany, and referential Operator skins.

Work the Warzone runway 

Call of Duty: Warzone

(Image credit: Activision)

I bought the Ripley skin in July 2020. In August, the Warzone Season 5 trailer dropped, making it clear that the devs at Infinity Ward and Raven were having some fun in their brainstorming sessions. They blew up Stadium, added a train, and gave us some fun new cosmetics. Just look at the 'Executive Armorer' Mace skin that debuted in the trailer, which features a shiny gold face mask, dress shirt, and pants, and lets you fire golden tracers and spew golden blood. Military realism, who? 

Season 5 opened the floodgates, and the fun cosmetics never stopped flowing into Verdansk from there. In that same month, Black Operator Syd got a collection of skins that gave her an afro hairstyle and an assortment of graphic tees. A new Italian operator named Morte got a cowboy-inspired look that would make Ennio Morricone proud. In September, Mara got a Kawaii Cat Bundle, while October's Haunting of Verdansk brought two iconic horror movie characters into the mix – the puppet from SAW and Leatherface. Not to mention the game has steadily added a bevy of wild vehicle skins, executions, and war tracks (gotta love bumpin' 'Never Gonna Give You Up' while running over people in my pot leaf truck). 

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But it was the integration of Warzone and Black Ops Cold War in December 2020 that really upped the cosmetics game. Thanks to the colorful chaos that is Zombies mode, Black Ops has historically given us a neon-tinged take on the Call of Duty games, and this most recent game was no exception. When the two games integrated, a handful of Call of Duty: Warzone movie skins dropped, including a Tyler Durden-inspired skin for Garcia, a Kill Bill skin for Portnova, and a scary clown skin that is 100% a nod to The Dark Knight. And just recently, Black Ops Cold War Season 2 brought a delightfully vibrant throwback '80s 'Glam' skin for Park that just vomits color on the woman.

The addition of more playful and pedestrian-style Operator skins is great for those who play Warzone who feel like they aren't represented in the game. Even though Park looks nothing like me, her '80s mall rat skin embodies my everyday energy – she's got an absurdly large blonde blowout full of secrets, a bedazzled bubblegum pink leather jacket, bedazzled ripped jeans, and bright yellow hightops. She is loud, and she is proud.

Operators just wanna have fun

Call of Duty Warzone skins

(Image credit: Activision)

Call of Duty: Warzone hasn't just been having fun with its cosmetics, the game has steadily been switching up the battle royale formula and giving us plenty of opportunities to get into some mayhem. While it launched with just two modes: Battle Royale and Plunder, it has since gone through many iterations and map changes that have given players like me a chance to get some dubs. It's spent the last year loosening up, and I'm really enjoying the new, fun Warzone.

I am admittedly terrible in the large-scale Quads and Trios versions of Warzone – the long stretches of quiet and lack of action while I scramble for weapons means I panic as soon as I run into an enemy and can't hit any of my shots. And don't get me started on the Gulag – I can never make it out of that damn thing unless the weapons are fists (unsure what that says about me). But a game type like Resurgence on the new Rebirth Island map, which pits way less players against each other in a game type where you can respawn if your teammates stay alive? I've gotten several wins in a single play session on that, and I know many warzone players who say they love the frenzy of the Rebirth Resurgence game types.

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As of right now, for die-hard Warzone players who want to survive against over a hundred enemies, there's still the traditional gametype, and you can play it with three teammates, two teammates, or none. You can play Exfiltration Trios, or Plunder Trios, or other such variants that come and come as Limited Time Modes. There's just so much fun to be had for those of us who can't really compete in a traditional Warzone format, and it's great to see that I can drop onto Rebirth island in my Tactical Goth Portnova skin and absolutely wreck some people with floor weapons.

Call of Duty: Warzone is a year old, but it's sort of aging backwards, and getting more playful and fun as it goes, like a battle royale Benjamin Button. Thanks to the integration of the more playful Black Ops Cold War, Warzone has flexed into something more fun - but will it shift back towards military realism when the next Call of Duty title drops late this year? Stay tuned.

Alyssa Mercante

Alyssa Mercante is an editor and features writer at GamesRadar based out of Brooklyn, NY. Prior to entering the industry, she got her Masters's degree in Modern and Contemporary Literature at Newcastle University with a dissertation focusing on contemporary indie games. She spends most of her time playing competitive shooters and in-depth RPGs and was recently on a PAX Panel about the best bars in video games. In her spare time Alyssa rescues cats, practices her Italian, and plays soccer.