Call of Duty Black Ops 4 contains a lot of firsts. It’s the first time Treyarch has excluded a single player campaign. It is also the first time that a battle royale mode has been introduced. There is also no more regenerative health. Activision clearly realized that the true appeal of CoD is the multiplayer component. Whilst many also enjoy the single player, that is not the reason we buy the game. The omission of the single player campaign was absolutely the correct decision, and this has clearly paid off. The Blackout beta clearly paid off, as the launch of BLOPS4 has been smoother than any previous CoD to date. The multiplayer servers have run perfectly for me, matchmaking doesn’t seem entirely broken and partying up with friends is a breeze. Usually we had to wait weeks before these issues were fixed every year! I have heard of some issues on the PC, however if you’re playing on the PS4, rest assured that BLOPS4 runs smoothly.
BLOPS4 goes back to its roots. Whilst it focuses primarily on ‘boots on the ground’ combat, this simply means that the game isn’t littered with future-tech that has enemies flying from above you. You still have gadgets that give you special abilities, so this is not strictly speaking a traditional FPS that contains only modern guns and gadgets. However, it is very clear that BLOPS4 strikes the perfect balance between modern tech and special futuristic gadgets that aren’t overpowered. Infinite Warfare was incredibly fast-paced. Enemies could use their gadgets in ways that would have you killed from directions that you simply could not have anticipated. WW2 on the other hand, was a more traditional but slow-paced CoD title. BLOPS4 hits the sweet spot, and its pacing is exactly what the franchise needed.
BLOPS4 also features the return of the Specialists. These are operators that have unique abilities. Many of them return from BLOPS3 (including the likes of Seraph, Nomad and Prophet). Each one has a unique special weapon and ability that helps in certain situations. Some are better for attacking, whilst others are more useful in defending objectives. In game modes like TDM and Domination, most people go for the attacking operators, however in modes such as Search and Destroy, you’ll appreciate the effectiveness of the defensive operators.
The lack of auto-regenerative health is a game changer in BLOPS4. Call of Duty and regenerative health go hand in hand, however BLOPS4 completely changes this by ensuring that you need to manually heal yourself if you want that health back. Of course, it also means that you’re slightly exposed if you’re caught doing so. Luckily, you can re-heal as many times as required, but there is a short cooldown to prevent you from abusing it. The game was desperately crying out for such a system. I am personally not a fan of auto-regenerative health. I’m not even the biggest fan of the stim shots – I think it’s much better to simply not be allowed to regenerate your health unless you’re a medic operator. However, that perhaps would be too much of a change and would drastically change the speed of the game. On the other hand, imagine getting a 20 kill streak whist never regenerating your health! The health changes don’t just impact your own character. You can now also see the health bars of your friendlies. The benefit is that you’ll be able to decide who to protect and operate better as a unit. After a few games, you’ll realize that you’re spending almost just as much time healing as you are shooting!
You can tell that the focus on multiplayer has really paid off because BLOPS4 comes with 10 brand new maps, and 4 remastered maps from the original BLOPS games. By now, Treyarch have become masters at map design, and I have no doubt that BLOPS4 will contain maps that will become huge fan favourites. There are close-quarter maps like Icebreaker where you get almost no time to re-heal, and there are medium/large maps with more freedom but also more opportunities to snipe. As someone who likes sneaking up on people, Morocco ended up being one of my favourite maps, as I could use the rooftops to get around to enemy bases.
Activition and Treyarch are focusing on promoting eSports modes. This is evident because anything that isn’t a 5v5 mode, is labelled as a ‘Chaos’ mode. 6v6 TDM is called ‘Chaos TDM’ as an example. The maps and modes are designed with 5v5 in mind, which is the typical eSports setup. Of course, for those who compete on EGL (or any other competitive platform), this is great news, since even playing in public rooms will give you the closest experience to an eSports match. Whilst the traditional modes have returned, Treyarch have also introduced Heist and Control. Neither of these modes are innovative – they have been in other shooters before – but they translate brilliantly in BLOPS4. Heist requires you to steal a bag of cash. The catch is that the opponents are also trying to steal that bag. You need to retrieve the bag and bring it back for extraction. An additional kicker is that there is no respawning, and if you kill the opposition team, you will also win. Finally, you don’t get traditional weapons. Instead, you only have a pistol and some cash. As you earn cash through each round, you can use it to buy better weapons, attachments or even perks. You can even buy scorestreaks! This mode will prove to be extremely popular in the eSports domain – there are many tactical elements to Heist and different teams will have different approaches on how to win. My impression is that unlike other modes where if one player doesn’t perform, the team can still win if another person carries, that won’t work so well in Heist. Everyone needs the cash to contribute to the team. One player can be the guy who calls the UAVs and supports the shooters. The other can be the muscle who only focuses on weapons. There are so many ways to play Heist, and it will be very interesting to see how the big eSports teams adapt.
Control is essentially a hybrid of Headquarters and Domination. There are two points in the map, and they do not move. The aim is for the teams to capture and then defend those points. The kicker is that each team only has a pool of thirty lives. Win by depleting the other team’s tickets, or by holding onto the control points for the longest. Again, I feel that this could be an interesting mode in the eSports domain, although Heist would be a lot more enjoyable to watch on a live stream.
One of the best decisions Activision has made is ensuring that you cannot all be the same specialist. Even if the other team is better, there is something extremely frustrating about competing against an army of the same specialists who all end up abusing the same abilities. BLOPS4 limits the number of same specialists in a team, ensuring that a) each match will be balanced even if one specialist is slightly more overpowered than another and b) you’re not going to be constantly killed by the same specialist’s ability.
Of course, one of the main appeals of BLOPS4 is Blackout. Initially, I found it laughable when I found out that Call of Duty would feature a battle royale mode. I couldn’t figure out how they would implement such a system, and whether gamers would even take kindly to it. I also believed (as I’m sure many others did) that the developers and Activision are simply putting together a rushed and unfinished mode of this type due to the popularity of Fortnite and PUBG. Blackout however, is a perfect Call of Duty battle royale experience. If you simply don’t like games like Fortnite or PUBG, chances are that you won’t enjoy Blackout. Blackout’s map is an amalgamation of many fan-favourite maps, perfectly stitched in a way that not only pays homage to some of the great maps in CoD history, but also makes the gamer feel that they’re playing a completely different map altogether. The sheer size of the map means that there are also vehicles at your disposal to travel from A to B. Despite the oversized map and 100 players all competing, the mode is as lag-free and as smooth as a standard 5v5 match. Regardless of whether you’re playing alone, in a group of two or four, the matches load up perfectly fine. Item drops are also frequent enough to ensure that you always have something to fight with (apart from the beginning where everyone is scavenging for a gun!). It is clear that the beta was not only just a way to help promote and market the mode, but also for the developers to really polish up the mode before the full game released.
Bizarrely, despite games like H1Z1 also containing vehicles, Blackout’s vehicle mechanics just feel a lot more fluid. As the vehicles are an important option to get away from your enemies, and vehicles are also not traditionally what feature in CoD titles, I was pleasantly surprised at how responsive the vehicles were. You can drift if needed be, turn sharply to avoid snipers and even perform some crazy jumps if you find a hill high enough. The nature of Blackout also lends itself extremely well to eSports. If you’re not the type of gamer who competes in 5v5 matches, perhaps you can excel in Blackout. Considering how well Fortnite has done on EGL, I expect Blackout to also be at the forefront of battle royale eSports over the next year.
BLOPS4 also contains a fully-fledged Zombies mode. It has its own menu system which isn’t as user friendly as the standard multiplayer, but this year focuses on allowing the gamers to experience Zombies the way they want to. There are three maps that have been released on day one, each one providing a different flavour of Zombies. Those who have the CoD pass will also have access to a fourth map. There are new stories told in each of the maps, and there are brand new characters that have also been introduced to keep things fresh. Blood of the Dead is actually one of the maps from BLOPS2. For those who have never played through Zombies, there is even a tutorial mode to help you learn the ropes and understand the best way of killing the undead. The major change in Zombies for BLOPS4 is that you can change the levels of difficulty, the modes (e.g. Rush mode, Classic Zombies) and even make your own rule-sets. Whilst this is a neat addition, most gamers will probably opt in for the classic mode.
Whilst Zombies is a fun, but casual mode for you to play when with friends, it isn’t something that I personally enjoy. I found it a little too repetitive and I’d rather spend my time on Call of Duty competing against real players. I appreciate that there is an entire community that dedicates itself to Zombies, and I am sure they will be very pleased with the Zombies mode. However, the mode is not going to appeal to the eSports community. Massive kudos to Treyarch for managing to incorporate Zombies from day one!
In true Call of Duty fashion, the Theatre mode also makes a comeback. This mode gives you the tools to make your very own montages of your best CoD moments in any mode, including Blackout. This is probably one of the most impressive Theatre modes in the game (along with what Bungie had created for Halo 3). You can manually adjust the camera to whatever point you want and record whatever moments you want. It’s a great mode for gamers who want to become aspiring content creators but do not have the tools to do so.
Call of Duty Black Ops 4 may not have a single player mode, but with the introduction of Blackout, Heist and Control modes and Zombies from day one, the game really doesn’t need a campaign. If anything, this feels like the most complete Call of Duty game that I have played for the past four years. Every single multiplayer mode has eSports entirely in mind, and despite Blackout being the first attempt at battle royale in CoD, it actually surpasses what Fortnite, H1Z1 and PUBG have to offer, primarily because Blackout provides a more realistic setting. Despite the countless multiplayer eSports games that have recently taken some of the CoD limelight, Activision and Treyarch once again have reminded us why Call of Duty is still the ultimate FPS eSports experience for console gaming.