Five Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Positives (and Four Negatives)
After spending several hours with Treyarch’s latest, we have a handful of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 positives we really like, and a few negatives as well.
The Call of Duty franchise is in a constant battle between keeping things fresh and sticking to the formula that made it a multi-billion dollar franchise and an annual must-have for millions of gamers. And each year, the new COD gets some things right and some things wrong. The successful iterations are the ones that get more right than wrong. And Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 definitely gets more right than wrong.
After spending several hours playing 2018’s Call of Duty, we have a few things that we really like about Black Ops 4. These are all things that make for a better game and a better overall experience. Hopefully, the next developer in line for the 2019 release (Infinity Ward) will build on these lessons and make the series stronger going forward. But there were also a few things we didn’t like, and hope to see those change either in future iterations or, with luck, through patches.
Black Ops 4 Pros
A lot has already been made about Black Ops 4’s new Battle Royale mode, “Blackout.” It’s entering a crowded field filled with games that are already runaway hits, and it keeps very much within its COD-style lane. Black Ops 4’s take on the genre is nearly identical to several other versions in many ways, but that’s not a bad thing. Sometimes copying something that is proven to work is exactly the right thing to do.
As with most Battle Royales, Blackout is incredibly addictive. The leveling system is a little stingy and the map feels like a clone of other Battle Royale games, but there’s a reason this mode has become so popular. And when you factor in COD’s controls and huge selection of weapons, it’s a great take on a familiar offering.
It will be interesting to see what happens to Blackout in the future. Will later titles use the mode or will it be a one-off? Will Activision split it off and offer it as a standalone mode like its competitors? We’ll see.
The Campaign is Gone, But…
There has been a fair amount of coverage regarding the decision to nix the campaign in Black Ops 4, but not much outrage. It was always seen very much as a secondary component of the game, with the various multiplayer modes being the primary. It will be interesting to see if this is the new norm or just a decision unique to Treyarch.
But even though the single-player offering is gone, there are traces of the campaign if you’re willing to work for it.
Found in the Specialist HQ section, there are several videos that give a little bit of backstory to each of the characters you can choose to play. It doesn’t necessarily inform the overall plot, but it is an interesting bit of narrative in the vein of a game like Tekken 7. There are also several unlockable videos that explain a bit of the world and offer a story.
The clips are short and it isn’t a traditional narrative by any means, but it’s really not all that much different from the 5-6 hour shooting gallery that made up previous games. Plus, the easiest way to unlock the story videos is by playing the individual specialist sections, so there’s a tutorial slant to it as well. If future Call of Duty developers want to really beef up the campaign and offer something that is worth paying for, we’re onboard. But better more multiplayer content than a story-mode created more out of obligation than determination.
When Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare first arrived and helped usher the franchise into the pole position for online shooters, one of the things that really sold it for the multiplayer set was that the weapons all had a place. Sure, an AK-47 is going to deliver more damage than a Mini-Uzi, but both appealed to a certain type of playstyle.
In more recent COD titles, it felt more and more like there were certain weapons you pretty much had to use and others you should avoid. There are always going to be players that can adapt and succeed with any weapon, but for the average player, there was a significant problem with the balance of the arsenal.
To put that in perspective, a poll conducted by IGN asking readers to pick the best primary weapon in Black Ops 3 showed that 64.11-percent of the 45,000 responders favored just four weapons. To take it even further, only 10 of the 25 primary weapons even had enough responses to register.
Black Ops 4 doesn’t fully correct all of the past problems, but it does a much better job than most of the recent COD titles. You’ll still see a clear preference for certain primaries, but it is far more varied than in years past. Factor in the inevitable patches that will continue to tweak the weapons and it’s more fun to experiment with new weapons than it has been in years.
That alone makes Black Ops 4 appealing, but the balance goes further.
Gameplay for the Masses
If you really want to scare away casual COD players and fans that have been dormant for years, overloading the game with killstreaks is a great way to do it. There are few things more frustrating in gaming than a competitive multiplayer where you feel like you don’t have a chance. There have been COD titles where it wasn’t uncommon to spawn, die instantly from a killstreak like a missile, spawn again, and die again from a different killstreak. Expand that over multiple games and it’s enough to make you throw a controller.
Black Ops 4 still has plenty of killstreaks (not to mention the specialist abilities), but they aren’t as oppressive as they have been. There are also fewer explosives to choose from (there are still plenty, you just won’t see an endless barrage of grenades), and there are several ways to negate the effects of killstreaks in general. Overall, it helps to balance the gameplay.
That isn’t to say that Black Ops 4 doesn’t have its flaws – spawning can still be a pain, there are occasional issues with cover, certain abilities need nerfing, etc. – but overall it feels like a huge step in the right direction. It also makes it more accessible than some of the previous games and open to more playstyles.
The game’s philosophy seems to be focused on keeping the action on face-to-face battles where everyone can feel like they at least have a chance. The maps encourage that as well by offering fewer chokepoints, fewer opportunities to camp behind cover, and generally keep everyone moving.
Again, it’s not perfect, but Black Ops 4 is one of the most balanced COD games in years.
Plenty of Gamemodes
If you’ve played more than a few COD games, you’ll probably feel right at home with the selection of multiplayer offerings. But there are some new options as well.
In total, there are 13 game modes to choose from, including both core and hardcore modes. Team Deathmatch, Domination, Kill Confirmed, etc. are all present, alongside new modes like “Heist,” which is sort of a twist on Capture the Flag, and “Control,” where you balance capturing areas with a limited number of collective respawns. There aren’t too many surprises, but there is a lot to choose from.
And that’s just the multiplayer. The Blackout mode will keep people addicted for a long time to come. And then there’s the latest Zombies mode.
Zombies used to be exclusive to the Treyarch games, but it has grown in popularity to the point where it is a staple of all recent COD games. In Black Ops 4, the latest Zombies offering is huge, and it is made for both hardcore returning fans and people looking to try it out for the first time. The learning curve was always fairly steep, and the new versions are created with that in mind. Factor in DLC and this is the biggest Zombies mode yet.
Given COD’s love of DLC, there’s always a chance we’ll see new modes introduced in the future, but for now there’s a lot to try.
Black Ops 4 Cons
We mentioned above that the maps in Black Ops 4 are fairly balanced, and that’s true. They are also very familiar – both to other COD maps and to each other. That makes them feel somewhat unremarkable. They all blur together.
The good news is that they are well designed, and there are generally multiple paths from one side of the map to another. Black Ops 4 still uses the three path philosophy for the most part, with two outside paths and a center route. It expands on that with a few additional routes, but it’s still a familiar COD tactic – almost too familiar.
There are plenty of additional maps on the way via DLC that will hopefully shake things up, and it’s nice to see the number of maps supplemented with remastered versions from the previous Black Ops games. A few experimental maps would be nice though.
Microtransactions and Additional Costs
Microtransactions and Season Passes are a way of life for many games these days, and Call of Duty is no exception. In fact, they may be leading the way.
The good news is that the in-game COD microtransactions are for things you don’t need. Most of it is cosmetic, but if you play enough COD eventually you will probably want some bling. The bad news is that the only way to unlock most of the add-ons is with real-world money. Is it profitable? Yes. Does it alienate fans who feel they are being squeezed by a franchise that is already milking them with annual releases that could be released as DLC? Also yes.
On top of that, you also need the Season Pass if you want to keep playing COD over the coming months. Sure, you can argue that the additional maps aren’t necessary, and that’s true, but you’ll have a harder and harder time finding matches if you are shunted to lobbies specifically for people that don’t have the new maps.
On top of that, the Season Pass is changing things up a bit this year. Instead of releasing packs that feature a handful of new maps and features several months after the game’s initial release, they will be coming out on a semi-regular schedule. That may appeal to some fans that were happy to buy the Season Pass and/or the special editions of the game, but it means there won’t be a big event-feel surrounding the releases. It also means that players will be separated between DLC and non-DLC players sooner than with previous COD titles.
To take it even a step further, at the moment there are no confirmed plans to release the add-on content separately. With previous games, players could purchase the individual map packs ala carte, but now releases seem to be exclusive to the Season Pass. That could change, but if not it will probably further split the community.
Seasons and Frequent Updates
While the Blackout mode is one of the highlights of Black Ops 4, if it wants to compete with games like Fortnite it will need to keep things fresh. That means new content beyond paid DLC – including new challenges and looks for the game – and timed events (Fortnite calls them seasons), even if they are little more than cosmetic changes.
There is a good chance that this will actually happen in the near future, and we’re already seeing it a bit with the Halloween event that launched soon after the game. But COD hasn’t really been a series that is proactive. With the new Blackout mode and the potential to win back fans that deserted the series, Treyarch has the opportunity to keep those fans – as long as it can keep introducing new reasons for them to stick around.
It would be nice to have big Blackout events like the introduction of Thanos and the Infinity Gauntlet to Fortnite. That might be a bit further than Activision is willing to go, but there’s a lot of room to grow.
Staying in its Lane
While the game modes that are present in Black Ops 4 give players a lot of options, none of them feel particularly new. Blackout is a clone of several other Battle Royale games with a COD coating, the new multiplayer modes are more of the same, and even Zombies is familiar.
For the most part, it all works. Part of the reason Black Ops 4 for that is that it takes what has worked well in the past (for both COD games and others), and polishes it. That makes for one of the best COD games in a few years, but it also comes at the cost of innovation.
The COD series continues to sell very well – not as well as it used to, but still well enough to bring in hundreds of millions. In its first three days, Black Ops 4 brought in over $500 million and that number will grow, so it’s profitable to keep things as they are. Sooner or later though, the franchise will need to change things up significantly.