Black Ops is back. As what could be the capstone to the wildly popular Call of Duty subseries, Black Ops 4 impresses in its early stages.
That doesn’t mean everything’s perfect or that Treyarch doesn’t have a few wrinkles to iron out between now and release, but if this past weekend’s beta is any indication, Black Ops 4 will deliver the same visceral thrills fans of the series have come to love.
There is a lot going on here. Aside from the expected team deathmatch and control modes, there are trappings of gaming’s latest trends in this year’s multiplayer offerings. From MOBA shooters like Overwatch to battle royales like Fortnite and PUBG, Black Ops 4 takes cues from the titans of industry to craft “new” grooves into a familiar framework.
If you’ve jumped off the CoD bandwagon over the years, these changes may not be enough to bring you back to the fold. Black Ops 4 still holds tight to the series’ tedious grind towards better weapons, attachments, and perks. And as usual, it’s more noticeable if you happen to start playing “late” or don’t play for hours on end each and every day.
On top of that, the matchmaking in Black Ops 4, at least at this point, isn’t any better than its predecessors, meaning you’ll most certainly go toe to toe with prestige-level opponents even if you’re a lowly Level One.
However, even if you’re remotely interested in what Treyarch’s selling in Black Ops 4, I would suggest at least trying the game’s next beta period, which begins September 10 on PS4.
Here’s some of what we know so far from our hands-on time with the game.
Specialists Are Back in the Fight
Carrying over from Black Ops 3, the newest Call of Duty also has what are called Specialists. Akin to heroes in Overwatch and champions in Paladins, the Specialists in Black Ops 4 have unique abilities that make them (more) useful in certain situations on the battlefield.
Here’s a list of the Specialists in Black Ops 4, as well as their specific loadouts:
- War Machine: A highly explosive — and devastating — grenade launcher
- Cluster Grenade: A sticky grenade that releases a cluster of smaller explosives
- Ballistic Shield: A defensive riot shield that comes with a machine pistol
- 9-Bang: A flashbang on steroids that stuns and blinds enemies
- Barricade: A placeable barrier used for cover. Built-in microwaves damage enemies that approach it
- Razor Wire: A defensive structure that hurts enemies while slowing them down
- Grav Slam: A weapon that uses kinetic forces to displace and damage enemies
- Grapple Gun: Helps Ruin gain verticality and quickly escape encroaching enemies
- Annihilator: A revolver that uses bullet penetration to devastate enemies
- Tac-Deployer: A beacon that allows teammates to spawn near objectives
- Purifier: A flamethrower that damages enemies
- Reactor Core: A device that irradiates enemies; can penetrate through walls; compromises healing
- Vision Pulse: Goggles that allow Recon to see through walls and tag enemy players for teammates
- Sensor Dart: A dart that attaches to surfaces and shows enemies that come into its radius
- Tak-5: A device that buffs team members by healing them, increasing their health meters, and removing wounds
- Assault Pack: A pack of ammo that not only replenishes ammo stock but also gives buffs for subsequent kills
- K9 Unit: A tank of an attack dog that can follow the player or patrol a specific, attacking enemies on site
- Mesh Mine: A placeable explosive trap
- Tempest: A rifle that shoots shock rounds (yes, shock rounds)
- Seek Shock Mine: A moving device that electrocutes and paralyzes enemies on detonation
Players Have Lives In Control
One of the more obvious things that’s changed withBlack Ops 4 is that Control is more nuanced than before, adding lives and disallowing spawns near the end of matches. It’s not draconian by any measure, but instead makes combat feel more organic and, depending on the situation, more dramatic than Control and Capture modes of the past.
Each team begins with 30 lives, and each time a player goes down, a life is removed from the team’s overall scorecard. Get down to your team’s final five lives, and players won’t be able to respawn after they’ve been killed.
Teams can win the mode by capturing both objectives, contesting zones and letting timers run out, or depleting the other team’s pool of lives. In some ways, it’s a hybrid King of the Hill/Capture the Flag mode that franchise players will be mostly familiar with as soon as their boots hit the ground, but there are few wrinkles to keep it interesting.
Overall, it’s nice to Treyarch adding these ingredients to the formula, and aside from team deathmatch, I found Control to be the most interesting mode in the Black Ops 4 beta.
One of the bigger additions to the multiplayer in Black Ops 4 is Heist Mode, which is essentially exactly what it sounds like. Ten players are divided into two groups of five, each of which is tasked with securing a randomly-generated bag of money and getting it back to the extraction point.
The longer players take to get back to their respective extraction points with the money, the less cash they end up with at the end of each round. The more money a team makes, the more money they have to spend between rounds to get better weapons and upgrades.
Many players have already compared it to games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. While the similarities are rather striking, Call of Duty is much more fast-paced and chaotic than CS:GO.
Fog of War
If you’ve ever played a strategy game, you know that fog of war can make combat difficult. In Black Ops 4, fog of war doubles down by making combat more difficult and more stressful.
But it does so in some really great ways.
In other modern Call of Duty games, your minimap mostly acted as an all-seeing radar, which was able to pick out enemy movement and positions much more “accurately” than the minimap in Black Ops 4.
Here, the minimap in Black Ops 4 only shows you the action immediately around you. Unless you have a special attachment, which takes up one of your gear slots, you won’t be able to tell from which direction enemies are coming if they’re in the fog of war.
In my time with the beta, the reports I’ve seen saying this mechanic enhances the teamwork and communications aspects of the game were confirmed. Playing by myself was a completely different animal than playing with a well-coordinated team.
In other words, because of the game’s fog of war mechanic, the multiplayer in Black Ops 4 is going to be much more fun with a group of friends on comms.
Healing is Kind of Old-School
Really all you need to know is this: auto-healing is gone. Where you could once hide behind a barricade or duck into a side street to heal (as long as you didn’t get hit again),Black Ops 4 changes that. Now, each player gets an unlimited-use stimpak to heal their wounds in battle.
As of the most recent beta, the stimpak seemed to work fairly well. It healed any damage fairly quickly, and cancelling into it from another action was fluid. The only thing to keep in mind is that the stimpak isn’t an instant-heal — there’s a second-or-so delay between activating it and when the healing process starts.
The mechanic adds a nice subtlety to battle, where using the stimpak becomes a strategy in and of itself. It not only requires a full action to pull off (which can be cancelled if need be), but it also requires an additional hand-movement to activate, displacing your left hand (at least on PC) from its home at WASD.
MMR is Still Kind of … Blah
I mentioned it earlier, but the match-making in Black Ops 4 still leaves a lot to be desired. While other genre games have made strides to at least fashion their MMR into some semblance of logical sense, Black Ops 4 continues down the tried-and-true road of matching you with basically anyone that’s playing the game at any given time. Regardless of level.
Sure, I’m salty (#getgood), but after 14 games in the franchise, I would like to see something that doesn’t pair Level Ones with Prestige Levelers right out of the gate, especially when those Level Ones are woefully outmatchedjust in terms of perks and gear.
Can we please just not do that anymore? Thanks.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is set to release on October 12 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
On September 10, the Blackout Beta will begin on PS4. As of this writing, it is not known when the Blackout Beta will make it to the Xbox One and PC. However, it’s a safe bet the beta for those platforms will begin on September 17.
To get into the beta on PS4 and Xbox One, you’ll need to pre-order Black Ops 4. The Blackout Beta will be free for PC players.