It's the first night of Warzone Ghosts of Verdansk and I'm playing with two random teammates, one of whom is a young kid. For the first few minutes, he's impressively stoic compared to me and the other adult teammate, who are gasping and cursing with every jump scare. "I already went to my town's haunted house, this can't scare me," the young man says with bravado.
A few minutes in, however, he's singing a different tune. "Uh, why are there spiders on my screen?" he asks, his voice beginning to waver. I hear him shout at another one of Ghosts of Verdansk's jump scares a moment later – probably the loot crate jump which was terrifying people last year, too. Before I can ask him if he's okay, he quits out of the game. "I guess it could scare him," my other teammate says, chuckling.
To be fair, Ghosts of Verdansk is pretty scary. It's a great example of how good Warzone can be when it's leaning into creativity instead of grasping at military realism. Ghosts of Verdansk takes a page out of Season 3 Reloaded's Die Hard and Rambo tie-ins and brings Scream's Ghostface into the battle as both a character skin and the creepy voice that haunts you while you play the Halloween-themed mode. Ghostface, ghostly enemies, and an absolutely brilliant Fear Meter make for a fantastically frightful experience that I wish lasted longer than just a few weeks.
Fear is the mind-killer
Warzone Ghosts of Verdansk drops you into a foggy, blue-hued version of the soon-to-be-eradicated Verdansk map. It's hard to see in front of you, but the bright blue circles of light dotted across the map act as beacons of hope: they're the only place where the ghosts can't get you. The 'ghosts' are actually dead players who need to collect three souls in order to come back to the land of the living, and endgame fights are full of the jumping, groaning bastards. Getting chased by a horde of ghosts can be especially frightening, as their ability to teleport swiftly behind you makes for a situation worthy of a Final Girl – but they aren't the scariest part of Ghosts of Verdansk. Not even close.
Last year's Haunting of Verdansk had loot box jump scares that petrified players. You'd be running around the map trying to find a viable weapon only to pop open a crate and lurch back in horror as a ghostly face flashed across your screen, a scream emanating from its undead lips. But this year, developer Raven Software has doubled down on the scares in Ghosts of Verdansk – it's not just the loot boxes that will scare you.
All of Verdansk is unsafe, as made clear by a new Fear Meter in the lower left-hand corner of your screen. As the Fear Meter ticks up, different marks along it will trigger hallucinations like spiders crawling across your screen, a Ghostface jump scare, or yellow slices of light that initially look like you're getting shot at. These scares are all super effective, but it's what causes you to get scared in the first place that is ingenious: your Fear Meter increases when you're shot at, when you see a dead body or a ghost, when your squadmates go down or are eliminated, and – best of all – when you camp.
Your actions can raise your Fear Meter, but they can also reduce it. Eliminate a player or a ghost, revive a squadmate, complete a contract, or remain within one of the blue Sacred Ground areas to drop your Fear Meter, all of which require players to play tactical and, in most cases, aggressive. As a result, Ghosts of Verdansk matches are much quicker than regular Warzone battles, as players are moving around more to try and drop those Fear Meters – the hallucinations will almost certainly cause you to lose a firefight. There's a frenetic nature to Ghosts of Verdansk matches that I haven't felt since I first played Resurgence on Rebirth Island - and I missed it.
Fear as a feature
The Fear Meter is so brilliant I want it to be a permanent feature, maybe in the form of an Adrenaline Meter. Don't get me wrong, I don't want Warzone to permanently have jump scares that require a content warning, but the behaviors that cause the Fear Meter to tick up are the same behaviors that make Warzone matches so tense.
Camping is a boon to anyone but the camper, but think about the tension in your body any time you've tried to tuck away in a corner for a brief reprieve, the way your heartbeat increases whenever you hear footsteps nearby – having some way to turn that into a tangible feature in your gameplay would be incredible.
Imagine you drop into a Warzone match, survive a firefight by running away to seek a weapon, then stumble upon the dead body of a fallen enemy. Your Adrenaline Meter ticks up, and you notice that your Operators' hands shake a bit while inserting an armor plate. This isn't something that happens in Ghost of Verdansk, but the game mode does mess with your FOV, so other changes to gameplay could be possible.
Or, picture this: you're lying down in a tower in the center of the circle, taking potshots at people with a sniper rifle, your Adrenaline Meter rapidly increases due to your camping cowardice, and your fingers struggle to reload the clip. Think of how much more fast-paced and fun Warzone matches could be if there were consequences for camping or added pressure for running solo?
This doesn't have to be a feature in the main Warzone battle royale, but perhaps a fun playlist that gets regularly rotated in. Adrenaline Meter Trios, perhaps? As many of us have already pointed out, Warzone Season 6 is proof that Verdansk has gone stale, and while there may be a new Pacific-themed map on the horizon with the Call of Duty Vanguard drop, the battle royale could always use routine shakeups.
I love the idea of a perpetual Warzone playlist that challenges players to stay mobile, to support their teammates, to avoid camping, and to deal with the added stress of incoming fire. Warzone is the best when it's fresh, fast-paced, and unpredictable, and the Fear Meter in Ghosts of Verdansk is the most exciting new feature Warzone has had in a long time.