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DMR 14, FFAR, and now the Sykov pistols: Call of Duty: Warzone needs to get its weapon balance under control

Warzone
(Image credit: Activision)

There's a problem with the weapons in Call of Duty: Warzone. Specifically, the battle royale appears to be dealing with perpetual complaints against its balance, with barely a week going by without minor changes to an attachment or weapon's base statistics causing unintended consequences elsewhere across the loot pool. The Sykov Pistols aren't the first guns in the game to have their viability nuked just days after their introduction or an update, but are now the 160-round face of an issue that developers Raven Software, Infinity Ward, and Treyarch just can't seem to get a handle on.  

There was a moment this past weekend where I stepped into the lower level of Rebirth Island's Decon Zone and felt as if I had been cast as a background extra in a bad '90s action movie. Scores of players took position on the upper walkways to escape the constricting circle, each taking aim at the other with dual Skyov pistols; the new killer weapon configuration passed down from TikTok creators to the loadouts of the sweatiest of players in record time, as if it were some ancient secret designed to annoy those who aren't able (or willing) to equip the CDL tracksuit or Roze Rook skin. The firing began, a constant buzz of 140mm full-auto fire from two 80-round drum magazines; the screen filling with dancing lines denoting death, each bearing the distinctive green hue of the 5mW Laser. All I could do was duck, sprint, and pray. 

By the time the circle had started to push players out to the street by Bioweapons, I was already dead. And from the looks of it, I don't even think my death was intentional. My assailant unloaded ammunition into the ether wildly, all in the hope of hitting something, anything – such is the raw power, accuracy, and firing rate of weapons like the Sykov pistols. This is the state of Call of Duty in the days before the launch of Warzone Season 3, and something needs to change. 

Shoot to thrill

Call of Duty: Warzone

(Image credit: Activision)

I don't envy the challenge facing Activision and Raven, thought to be the current stewards of Warzone. The game has gone through quite the expansion in the last 12 months, hosting tens of millions of players on Verdansk and Rebirth Island. While it originally launched with around 35 primary and 10 secondary weapons; a year later, Warzone has struggled to integrate with Black Ops Cold War and accommodate that game's vast arsenal of weapons, designed in a different engine and balanced to be fired in entirely different circumstances. By my count, Warzone is now home to 75 primary and 25 secondary weapons, each of which need to be appropriately balanced against one another to keep the teetering game meta in check, while still authentically reflecting their functionality in Black Ops Cold War. It's frustrating for us, as players, and it must be frustrating for the studios too, working from home and trying to do the best that they can in difficult circumstances. 

Perhaps it's an impossible task. That would go some way to explaining why Warzone seems to encounter more problems with weapon balance than any of its contemporaries. Fortnite, Apex Legends, and PUBG have certainly dealt with their fair share of meta imbalances in the past, but none so flagrant as what Call of Duty players have experienced since the Black Ops Cold War integration in December. Because if it isn't the Sykov pistols, then it's the FFAR; and if it isn't the FFAR, it's the AUG; and if it isn't the AUG, it's the DMR 14; and if it isn't the… I could go on like this, but with the Warzone Nuke Event just hours away I fear I'd never reach the end of the list. 

Weapon balance is one of the most important factors in the success and ongoing viability of any multiplayer shooter. There will always be some guns that vocal corners of the community take umbrage with; it's been that way for as long as I can remember, dating back to my time playing Quake 3: Arena on PC and SOCOM 2 on the PS2. The discourse differs with Warzone because, with many of these weapons, we aren't arguing about a little bit of iffy recoil here or a little added headshot damage there, but weapons that seem so clearly and obviously overpowered from the second they're introduced to the loot pool. Say what you will about the skill ceiling in games like Call of Duty and Warzone, but guns that allow you to effectively point, click, and kill over all effective damage ranges (I'm looking at you, DMR 14 and FFAR) should have no place in a shooter that is competitive by design. 

What's worse is that this type of imbalance can make cynics of us all. I try to give the developers of Warzone the benefit of the doubt with imbalances; the studios are usually (fairly) quick to issue patches to course correct the smallest indiscretions and, as I've said before, I appreciate the challenge inherent to making a game like this even work. But when I encounter something like the Sykov pistols on the live servers, so soon after the controversy of the akimbo Diamatti, I found myself uttering a sentence aloud that I'm not particularly proud of: "It's almost like they didn't test this thing before they put it in the game." 

Play to kill

New Warzone map

(Image credit: Activision)

That's almost certainly not the case. Perhaps the Sykov pistol seems particularly egregious because we all saw it coming. This pistol has been in Modern Warfare's Survival Mode for over a year, and I wrote back in February (after the weapon accidentally appeared in Plunder playlists, and rumors began to circulate of its appearance in Warzone proper) about how potent the akimbo and 80-round drum magazine combination would be. We've all known that the pistol would be overpowered if it arrived without change from Modern Warfare, so how was it able to land in Warzone, perform as ridiculously as we suspected it would, and completely eradicate any variation in play for an entire weekend? Every player with the time or inclination had already leveled them, assembled identical loadouts circulating on social media, and absolutely dominated players with little recourse or opposition.

I spoke to a handful of developers off-the-record this week as I was chewing this feature over, and many echoed the same sentiment: that there is no way that these weapons were introduced into the live game without being stress tested on servers that replicate the live server experience, and by players internal and external to Activision. Sometimes, in multiplayer games with a lot of moving pieces, these things can just happen. It's a reasonable assessment that pulled me back from the brink of cynicism, but it doesn't get us any closer to understanding why Warzone continues to struggle, broadly, with weapon balance. But it's something the studios will need to get a handle on as we transition into season 3 and, as it has been reported, onto a new map. The next few weeks will show us whether Warzone is capable of holding its momentum into a second year, and that will be made or broken by balance of the weapon meta.


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Hello there! I'm the Features Editor here at GamesRadar and have been known to moonlight as the Assistant Producer of the Future Games Show. I'm probably best known for the various hills I've been willing to die on.