Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Changes the Formula, But Only Slightly
Activision and Treyarch released details on the Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 changes and the long-running series is nixing the campaign and adding a Battle Royale.
After teasing this year’s Call of Duty title, thanks in part to James Harden and his hat, Activision and Treyarch today unveiled what Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is all about, at least in broad strokes. And while the game offers a few key changes, it also is going to offer more of the same. Whether that’s a good or bad thing is very much open to debate, and it will probably be discussed ad nauseam leading up to the game’s October 12 release.
To start with, the biggest change to this year’s edition over previous installments is that Black Ops 4 will do away with the single-player (and/or co-op campaign). Given that most – if not all – users play COD for the multiplayer, this isn’t really much of a loss, but it does leave the series without a unifying theme to latch on to. That hasn’t hurt Call of Duty Online, the multiplayer- only free-to-play Chinese version of the game, but if it affects the annual release remains to be seen.
There are reasons for optimism though. In theory, doing away with the campaign should free up the developers to spend more time fine-tuning the multiplayer mode. That could lead to more modes and a few surprises to the formula that has been mostly successful for 15 years.
The second change is the introduction of a Battle Royale mode, something that was indirectly teased through Call of Duty Online. The game mode, known as “Blackout,” will pit “the most players ever in franchise history against each other, in the biggest map in Call of Duty history.” Locations will be inspired by fan-favorite maps, including “Nuketown” and “Firing Range.”
Black Ops 4 will also feature the return of the co-op Zombies mode, a feature that has morphed into a staple of COD games, regardless of the developer. This version of Zombies marks its 10-year anniversary, and to celebrate Treyarch will launch with three complete modes and an all-new cast.
Beyond that, according to the official announcement, the game will feature “gritty, grounded, combat, along with new levels of customization and tactical gameplay, and a variety of new weaponry, maps, and modes for the ultimate Black Ops multiplayer experience. The game features the return of the iconic Pick 10 system, along with a series of innovations in weapon controls, combat flow, health regeneration, and player movement.”
So basically, more of the same.
In terms of sales, the COD series peaked in 2011 with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. The series has seen the series continues to see slightly diminishing returns since, but in general, sales have remained strong. As of January 2018, last year’s Call of Duty: WWII sold a very respectable 12.19 million units, but that makes it the lowest-selling COD game since 2006’s Call of Duty 3, but still a huge hit. The previous year’s edition, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, is only slightly ahead of WWII with 12.69 million units, making it the second lowest-selling COD game in 12 years, but also a massive hit. The Black Ops franchise-within-the-franchise has seen stronger results than some of the other COD titles, with Black Ops III selling 26.46 million copies, although each Black Ops game has sold slightly less than the previous Black Ops title.
But despite slowing sales, compared to most games these numbers are still huge. To put this in perspective, the best-selling PS4 exclusive to date is 2016’s Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, which sold 8.7 million copies in its first year. Despite not hitting previous COD highs, COD: WWII was the best-selling game of 2017 (when you factor in PS4, Xbox One, and PC sales), so maybe more of the same isn’t a bad thing.
As for Black Ops 4, you can safely assume that even if it is closer to WWII than Black Ops III in sales, it is going to be a huge hit. Most players probably won’t miss the campaign, and the inclusion of a Battle Royale mode will help Black Ops 4 compete with hugely popular shooters like Fortnite and PlayerUnknown Battlegrounds. The series is going to need to prove to fans that it isn’t just more of the same if it wants to reverse the sales trend, but the numbers will probably look good regardless.
The COD multiplayer is tried and true, tested and fine-tuned by decades of titles and millions of players. It is the multiplayer format that has become something of the default for other multiplayer modes, which is both a good and a bad thing – good because it feels familiar and comfortable to play, bad because the series and the style in general have led to player exhaustion, which in turn led to the rise of games featuring modes like Battle Royale. Adding that mode may help retain fans of the COD franchise, but it probably won’t win back many that have given up on the series or win over many new fans. The “Black Ops” name still carries a lot of weight though, and fans that skipped the last few editions might be swayed back by that alone.
While you can expect a lot of familiarities, we still don’t know much about the multiplayer mode. If Treyarch can wow players with its gameplay like it did with the first two Black Ops games, if it can introduce new modes that make the old feel new, and if it can find a balance between creative weaponry and obnoxiously over-the-top gadgets, Black Ops 4 might have a chance of tasting at least a part of the series’ former glory.
The COD franchise may be showing its age, but the Black Ops name and the COD brand are going to carry it to hundreds of millions of dollars in sales. Hopefully, it will carry a good game with it.