Verdansk is one of the few video game apocalypses where turning into a zombie isn't so much an ever-present danger as it is an optional lifestyle choice. Right now, the players who stalk the battlefield of Call of Duty: Warzone as the undead are doing so intentionally, having entered one of the map's increasing number of Corruption Zones and succumbed to the gas, only to rise again as a wheezing husk of flesh and bone.
It's quite easy to avoid dying in these zones, at least right now, and you won't be demoted to zombie status if you die in any other manner – even if killed by another zombie, as was the case in Warzone's Haunting of Verdansk event last Halloween. No, players are becoming one with the horde as a deliberate act of terror, either to simply enjoy the heightened athleticism that comes with zombification, or griefing players with surprise encounters from above.
It lends a strange dynamic to Warzone's PvP battle royale as we near the end of season 2, with more opportunities for players to troll one another, or at least add an element of the unexpected to late-game firefights. Why Raven Software and Treyarch have implemented this feature is to, primarily, lay the seeds for Warzone season 3, but – like the rest of the zombies' strange pilgrimage across Verdansk over the course of the last few months – it's served little purpose beyond that.
Welcome to Zombieland
The zombies first arrived at Verdansk's shores at the start of Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War season 2, when a mysterious cargo ship crashed on the coast just outside Gulag, in the south eastern corner of the battle royale's map. Even then, however, there were signs that Warzone's current developer, Raven Software, hadn't quite thought everything through. Every match would begin with the same, deafeningly loud cutscene showing the undead emerging from the ship's hull; a new addition which got old, very fast.
Still, once that feature was hastily patched out, the undead's introduction felt like an exciting prospect. Could this be the start of a widespread outbreak across Verdansk, wherein players must not only contend with each other, but a growing horde of predatory shamblers? Unfortunately, Warzone's depiction of a real-time zombie outbreak seemed to fly in the face of everything pop culture and cryptozoology has taught us to expect from a pandemic of brain-eating monsters.
Instead of spreading in number and dispersion across Verdansk, the undead seemed to simply move from one area to the next over the course of several weeks, behaving more like a single unit of isolated enemies than a nightmarish epidemic of ever-accelerating strength. Not only did this make for a confusing development, as players tried to figure out what was going on, but it meant the zombies have never really felt like a threat throughout the entirety of season 2.
Don't want to deal with the undead? Not a problem. Land literally anywhere but the one place they happen to occupy at any one time. In fact, the zombies won't even show up until someone activates their spawn on the map, meaning several matches will take place absent of their appearance entirely.
Even to those that do venture towards the infection zone (usually motivated by the promise of unlocking a special Zombie loot chest), the undead are hardly a challenge, the act of wiping out their numbers more of a checkbox on the to-do list of your match than a genuine horror gauntlet.
I've been playing Warzone as regularly this season as I have every other (a.k.a. probably too much), and the zombies' presence has barely made a mark on my experience of the battle royale, or how I play it. That's changed in recent days with the addition of those aforementioned Corruption Zones, however, with player-controlled dead – no longer confined to a specific area – posing far more of a danger to the living than the AI zeds we've seen so far.
Dead to rights
Even then, however, this new iteration of the zombie outbreak has come with its own complications. In addition to the problem of players now voluntarily zombifying themselves specifically to harass other squads caught in traditional firefights, the radiation circles are causing havoc with Warzone's endgame, in which players are finding it impossible to navigate final circles without getting pushed into their contamination zones.
Some are enjoying the change-up more than others, but it's hardly made for a celebratory last hurrah of a season that has already struggled to keep players happy over the last few months. These Corruption Zones will, admittedly, only be around for a few more days until Call of Duty: Warzone season 3 officially begins, at which point Raven will hopefully win players back around with something a little more extravagant, assured, and universally enjoyed.
Indeed, the next era of Warzone is promising a huge shakeup to Activision's battle royale, but it's a shame that this final stretch of season 2 is petering out with the confusion and controversy that has now come to define it.