When the development team at Infinity Ward rolled out the massive playing area of Verdansk for “Call of Duty: Warzone,” they viewed it as a starting point. After what game director at Infinity Ward Jack O’Hara describes as a short break, they turned their attention to building their next map — Al Mazrah, the sprawling environment that is Call of Duty’s biggest battle royale map to date, and serves as the battleground for “Warzone 2.0,” which releases Nov. 16.
“We started on this map straight after Verdansk,” O’Hara said. “We kind of rolled from that one to a little bit of a breather and then we started laying the foundations for the next map, which is Al Mazrah. It’s a chance to refine what we did last time and a chance to build on all the lessons.”
In the months and years that followed “Warzone’s” March 2020 debut, O’Hara and the teams at Infinity Ward and fellow Call of Duty developer Raven Software watched as players engaged in and around the fictional city of Verdansk, traversing from one end to the other, pushed by a lethal cloud of gas that simultaneously constricted the playing area and forced remaining players closer together.
Now those years of observation have manifested in Infinity Ward’s latest creation. O’Hara said Al Mazrah is a marriage of two elements. The first is the developers’ creativity as they stitched together 18 points of interest into a massive playscape, aiming to delight players with unique and unexpected environments. The second element is the information they’ve gathered, both on how players approach a battle royale map and how to deploy the mapmaking tools at their disposal.
“When we were first doing Verdansk, we were dealing with fresh technology and a fresh set of tools to make it,” O’Hara said. “And so there’s definitely things where we made Verdansk where we’re like, okay, we wish we could change that, but it all turned out okay.”
Al Mazrah will serve as the home for “Warzone 2.0’s” battle royale mode as well as the new open-world DMZ mode, in which players will attempt to complete mission objectives and successfully extract while battling opposing players and AI soldiers. As such, the city and its surrounding areas will tell a story while also serving as a kind of sandbox for players.
In a conversation with The Washington Post, O’Hara and Raven Software Associate Creative Director J.J. Williams detailed what players can expect from certain points of interest around the map, as well as Al Mazrah as a whole.
Observatory, originally a multiplayer map from “Modern Warfare 3” called Dome, serves as Al Mazrah’s high ground. From atop the peak, players can survey the ground below them, making it a choice perch for snipers while also making ascent from below the point of interest rather challenging.
But building a fan-favorite multiplayer map into the battle royale mega map isn’t as simple as it may seem. While O’Hara said that the multiplayer map’s familiarity will appeal to players, and that the developers know the area works as a battleground between two six-person teams, they then need to build out the surrounding area.
“It’s looking at how two teams would be fighting over it,” O’Hara said. “How would they be engaging each other? What are the things of combat … what are the ways they’re going to traverse that space? And then we look at a lot of real-world references to kind of see how a facility like this would be laid out. What makes sense? Obviously, you don’t want to cluster everything together. You want your logical, negative space between buildings, and you want it all to kind of fit in there. And then, of course, you have to, you know, make it run in frame and you have to make sure the art looks good and all the rest.”
Players who like to hold the high ground may not be able to stay there too long at Observatory, however. With “Warzone 2.0’s” new multi-circle mechanic — in which there could be multiple safe zones inside of the encroaching deadly gas — the game can push out players if they’re getting a little too cozy. Also, Williams said, the map makers have incentivized players to push out from powerful positions like Observatory by including nearby AI-populated areas called Strongholds, which reward players for completing a mission with top-tier loot and their loadouts.
“So you drop into the observatory and you can have a good knowledge base of where you’re at, but what we’re trying to do is be like, ‘Hey, go explore the rest of the play space,’ ” Williams said. “And we’re doing that with Stronghold spawning. There’s 77 in the map, but we spawn three at a time.”
While Observatory serves as the map’s highest point, there’s plenty of other high ground, including the hull of a wrecked ship near Sawah Village.
“I think downtown [with Al Mazrah City] and … with the ship, there are good counterpoints and good counterplay to that [high ground at the Observatory]. So it’s not just one point to rule them all,” Williams said. “There are definitely other vantage points. … You’re not totally safe up there.”
While high ground presents an advantage familiar to “Warzone” players, depth provides a new one. One of the other major enhancements of the “Warzone 2.0” engine is the inclusion of water features, through which players can wade or — if it’s deep enough — dive below the surface. Sawah Village is a partially flooded area, with water sloshing inside of buildings as well as through the streets.
In deeper water, players can swim and stealthily take out foes with a throwing knife or pistol (though the physics of the water will impact aim below the surface).
But the water will do more than just affect bullet speed and trajectory, according to O’Hara. Characters will look wet after they emerge from water, vehicles will slowly sink if the water is too deep and the river has its own current. (Interestingly, the depth of the water in Sawah Village allows players to utilize multiple vehicles to traverse it quickly with either a land or water vehicle.)
While the developers do want to show off the new water element, Williams noted they wanted to find a proper balance.
“Sooner or later there’s going to be a circle that might go above the water and there’ll be that,” he said. “But it gets to be very infrequent because we don’t want ‘Waterworld,’ where it’s just a bunch of people in the water, staring at each other with pistols.”
The downtown area of the map leans into verticality, providing strong positioning for snipers above while also producing close-quarter combat inside the buildings.
Another way to reach the top of the Al Mazrah City skyline is with a nifty new helicopter capable of carrying a whole squad and hovering on autopilot while the team shoots at targets below.
“Me and my friends, my co-workers, we do it all the time just because it’s just hysterical to watch people scatter when [the chopper] comes by,” Williams said, noting that it also makes for an appetizing target for snipers on the ground. “I’d say it’s like 50-50 that I usually get sniped by someone sooner or later.”
Terminal, another multiplayer map from the original “Modern Warfare 2,” serves as the location of Al Mazrah’s airport. Inside, players will find the usual array of shops and restaurants — including a local branch of the Call of Duty franchise’s familiar fast food joint, Burger Town — as well as security checkpoints and boarding areas. But the boundaries will extend beyond the familiar fighting ground of Terminal.
“Again it’s the logic of, ‘What’s the space?’ Right?” O’Hara said. “So there’s the runway and we wanted it in a place that geographically makes sense, which is why it’s on the coast near the ocean.”
The entrances are also big enough to support some rather unconventional playstyles as well.
“I’m that guy that likes to drive these vehicles through the doors of the airport, trying to go up the stairs, while the rest of my team is like ‘We’re going to die!’ ” O’Hara said.
In addition to the stories players will craft with the game’s emergent play, there will be a narrative underpinning both the battle royale and new DMZ modes that provide a connective tissue between “Warzone 2.0” and the events of “Modern Warfare II’s” campaign.
“There’s stuff coming that basically follows the story from the campaign, and then also brings up what happens in Al Mazrah and what is the story that links ‘Modern Warfare’ and ‘Warzone,’ over the course of the year, to kind of work up to some big things that are coming down the line,” O’Hara said. “So as the seasons go on, we mix a blend of the environmental storytelling for the people that like exploring the map and it’s like ‘What’s this thing over here? What’s that connected to?’ So there’s a bunch of things like that, that are kind of baked in and then there’s the kind of bigger beats that will come during the season that will have even more beautiful things to look at and play.”