Call of Duty: Warzone vs Blackout: what's new, what's the same, and which battle royale is better?

(Image credit: Activision)

If you thought battle royale had reached its peak, Call of Duty: Warzone has arrived to remind us it still has new heights to climb to. While the earliest trendsetters like PUBG maintain a healthy community, major competitors have skillfully built on the foundation laid before them, and now there are several popular games helping the genre grow. Fortnite learned from PUBG, just as Apex Legends learned from Fortnite, and so on. 

But Call of Duty: Warzone is different from the other heavy hitters of the genre. It's the first major battle royale game which comes as a sequel of sorts. Following 2018's Blackout mode in Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, Warzone marks Activision's second attempt to cement itself in the competitive space of battle royale. Blackout was a big success, and Warzone is already off to a record-setting launch, boasting six million players in its first 24 hours. But the two modes, while forever linked by their franchise, aren't as similar as you might expect. After countless hours of Warzone and many more of Blackout, here's what you need to know about the current state of Call of Duty battle royale.

The biggest changes

(Image credit: Activision)

Right out of the gate, Blackout veterans will notice two major changes. The first is the size of the lobby. Warzone hosts up to 150 players at launch, which is much bigger than the 88 Blackout launched with two years ago and still much more than its 100-player rounds today. 100 players has become the unofficial benchmark most games try to hit, but Warzone towers over the competition with 150 now, and a plan to get to 200 in the weeks or months ahead.

The other major change is the map, of course. A brand new game means the Blackout map is left to Black Ops 4. In Warzone, the map is much more industrial, even urban at times, as compared to the often woodsy Blackout. Warzone also offers remarkable verticality – probably the most in the genre, in fact. With massive skyscrapers to scale and plenty of rooftops on which to perch, Warzone will have you watching for death from above much more than Backout. 

Warzone also manages to piece together its named locations better than Blackout. In the series' first try at battle royale, the Blackout map was made of clearly disparate parts, and sections felt modular and almost glued together. In Warzone, the map has a better flow to it, letting you move from one major hub to the next without it feeling like you crossed into another universe. There's more continuity overall.

Having said that, there are far fewer opportunities to get stealthy on Warzone than compared to Blackout. With less greenery and more players, you'll tend to get fewer chances to catch your breath or lie low in a bush on the edge of the circle, which in Warzone is a gas cloud for those curious. For the sneaky crowd, stealth on Warzone is less about going prone in some tall grass and more about creeping upstairs to ambush a team looting above you. 

Though that change will turn away some players, the sound design is fantastic, as it tends to be for Call of Duty, and the game smartly teases players with creaky doors and ambient sound that can confuse you or disguise an approaching enemy, guaranteeing stealth is still very much a part of Warzone. It just looks a bit different than it did in Blackout. 

Streamlining systems

(Image credit: Activision)

Surviving outside the storm is nearly impossible. You die very fast without a gas mask, and even those only give you an additional 12 seconds of fresh air. In Blackout and other battle royales, how you play the storm is a varying and vital strategy, and even sitting in it for a while can be a sound tactic, but in Warzone it feels like you have no choice but to stay ahead of it. 

Inventory management in Warzone has been further streamlined after Blackout worked to remove some of the unwieldy controls the genre has been known for. The best of these changes is how armor works. Everyone drops with two of a possible three armor plates intact. You can carry up to five as backups, and it's vital you do so as the time to kill is very fast if you're without any armor. It's a change that should be universally appreciated. Your underlying health bar refills with a few seconds of inaction too, which is a rare sight in battle royale. 

Weapon management, on the other hand, will be more controversial. Instead of scavenging for weapons and attachments separately, Warzone adopts a tiered system like we've seen in some other battle royales. Using the familiar color code of gray to orange rarities, players can loot supply boxes to find weapons already fitted with particular attachments (or none at all). Additionally, you can now call in supply drops that allow you to quickly acquire one of your ten custom loadouts.

How you feel about that system will likely come down to which battle royale you're coming to Warzone from. Players who prefer Blackout and PUBG may miss the more expansive, realistic customization options, while Apex and Fortnite players will probably appreciate the swiftness of the auto-tiered weapons. 

(Image credit: Activision)

"Contracts make for fun in-game challenges on top of the already deep challenge system itself"

Contracts make for fun in-game challenges on top of the already deep challenge system itself. Offering huge XP boons, contracts will have you locking down a specific area, moving point-to-point, or hunting an enemy player. They can be found scattered about the world and have unique audio cues so you'll never miss one nearby. Though more variety in these contracts would be appreciated - and is probably safe to expect later – even the early trio of contracts pushes you in fun ways to alter your decision-making. Every battle royale has challenges that run daily, weekly, or seasonally, but these contracts are more like emergent, timed dares to be bold and they really fit well in the genre. 

Above all else, the biggest change to the game mode between Blackout and Warzone is the Gulag. On your first death, provided it's not too late in the game, you can earn re-entry by winning a 1v1 match against another player. While it sort of betrays some of the unique appeal of battle royale, it does find a new way to be interesting in its own way. Even if you lose in the Gulag, you can now respawn from squadmates buying you at one of the abundant kiosks – probably too abundant right now, in fact. The Gulag is a smart play both for the player and for the developer as it's the kind of wrinkle that will add to its streaming appeal. The tension is wild in the Gulag.

Call of Duty: Warzone vs Blackout – Verdict 

(Image credit: Activision)

Ultimately, Warzone and Blackout are two game modes in the same series doing things quite a bit differently. It's likely most people will enjoy both, but everyone will also pick a favorite and that's going to come down mainly to whether you're a Call of Duty fan first or a battle royale fan first. Warzone's gameplay changes mostly focus on making the game faster, more team-focused, and more accessible, the way Call of Duty multiplayer is year after year. Add in the fact that you can snag your own loadouts with some ease, the mini-map is much more descriptive, kill streaks can be used, and you're given multiple ways to get back in the game, Warzone is more like a really big round of Call of Duty multiplayer. That means it's still a polished, exciting game in its own right, but it may not sufficiently scratch the battle royale itch as well as Blackout does for the genre diehards. 

With Warzone going free to play, it seems Activision is banking on this being one of three major franchise pillars for years to come, alongside Call of Duty Mobile and the standard annual releases. Surely it will look quite different in the months ahead as Infinity Ward continues to fine-tune and improve Warzone, so it remains to be seen how much influence it continues to take from its own past versus its counterparts. Today, Warzone is an exciting new game that no doubt will leave its mark on the genre in more ways than one, even as it will also leave some fans turning back to Blackout for a purer battle royale fix.

Call of Duty Warzone tips  | Call of Duty Warzone download | Call of Duty Warzone map | Call of Duty Warzone Combat Pack | Call of Duty Warzone Error codes | Is Call of Duty Warzone down? | Call of Duty Warzone crossplay | Call of Duty Warzone missions | Call of Duty Warzone gulag | Call of Duty Warzone contracts | Call of Duty Warzone best loadout | Best Call of Duty Warzone guns | Best Call of Duty Warzone perks

Freelance Journalist

Mark Delaney is a prolific copywriter and journalist. Having contributed to publications like GamesRadar+ and Official Xbox Magazine, writing news, features, reviews, and guides, he has since turned his eye to other adventures in the industry. In 2019, Mark became OpenCritic's first in-house staff writer, and in 2021 he became the guides editor over at GameSpot.