Going back to its boots.
Treyarch has big plans for the next entry in the Black Ops series. Along with revamped multiplayer, an expanded Zombies mode, and a series of solo missions centered around the Specialist characters, the developer plans to bring the battle royale craze to Call of Duty. During yesterday's Black Ops 4 reveal event, we got to play over an hour of multiplayer. We also spoke with studio design director David Vonderhaar about Treyarch's influence on the Call of Duty series and how the team is looking to make big changes with the next game.
Set between Black Ops 2 and 3, this fourth entry in the series re-examines the pace of combat, rebalancing many of the more established perks and weapons, while also slowing things down to offer a team-oriented and consistent combat loop. One of the biggest changes in Black Ops 4 is the move back to more traditional infantry-based multiplayer gameplay. Gone are the thruster-packs and wall-running antics of the future soldiers, and in their place is a more tactical take on engagement.
However, many of the more established features from the previous Black Ops games are still present. Along with the Pick 10 system, which allows you to customize your build with weapons, perks, and attachments, the Specialists from Black Ops 3 also make a return. In Black Ops 4, the Specialists--who include Ruin, Seraph, and Battery--and their dynamic with the other members of the team are far more important to winning matches, and there are many cases where the team will use their unique skills in tandem. My team used Recon's Vision Pulse ability to highlight all the enemies in a room, for example, and then relied on Ajax's riot shield to clear it out. This emphasis on teamwork and how to balance it with Call of Duty's gameplay took time to figure out, Vonderhaar said.
"It's really hard to make a tactical game if your character's not [on the ground], so that was the main motivation for us when looking at Black Ops 4. We looked at the thrust-packing and wall-running from the last game... but for the experience we wanted to make, it made the most sense to make things a little bit slower--and slower by Black Ops standards is not slow at all! To give it a more tactical experience, it was really about the [removal of] health regeneration and keeping you on the ground."
The general flow and movement of Black Ops 4 feels far more in line with Black Ops 2.
One thing I appreciated about playing Black Ops 4 is that the Specialists have a much stronger presence in-game. Compared to Black Ops 3, the unique characters were mostly about their special abilities, which were only activated every so often during a fight. But with each character having access to a particular set of gear in BO4, their place in the general flow of battle is much more identifiable. This goes great with the more tactical approach the game is going for, with players having to be a bit more reliant on their squad while also being more aware of which Specialists are on the other team. During our few games, I was more cognisant of which characters were in use by the enemy squad and how to best counter their skills. This was a nice change of pace from most other COD multiplayer games, where both sides just spam the same tactics ad nauseam.
While skilled players are still capable of taking on multiple enemies at once, there are a few changes in Black Ops 4 that they'll have to get used to first. Though players actually have more health than in previous COD games, Black Ops 4 also removes health regeneration in favor of a new healing button. This makes healing a conscious decision, as opposed to running for cover and waiting for the damage to pass over, that can also lead to some hairy moments where you have to pick a good time to heal. Also, the mini-map will only show a set distance ahead of you--meaning you're largely blind when navigating much of the map.
The more tactical flow of matches took some time for me to get used to, which meant a few failed games of multiplayer. Despite these changes, Black Ops 4's multiplayer still runs at an extremely brisk pace. The general flow and movement of Black Ops 4 feels far more in line with Black Ops 2, which was a favorite among fans. There were a number of thrilling moments during my matches in Hardpoint, Domination, and the new game type Control, which forces the teams to fight for specific territory with only a limited number of lives. Seeing the team gel together, as opposed to just running off and trying to be the hero, was exciting to be a part of.
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One of the new game types in Black Ops 4 is the long-rumored battle royale mode called Blackout. Set on a large map, where players can take control of characters and use any weapon from the Black Ops games, Treyarch aims to make a battle royale mode that is consistent with the style and tone of the series. While the team hasn't shared any more info regarding the specifics of player count--which according to Vonderhaar is still being decided--they're confident they're introducing a new take on the game mode that will feel unique to Call of Duty and to other games of the sub-genre.
"We love those types of games internally, and our fans love those types of games as well," said Vonderhaar. "I think there's a strong opportunity to create something special for the series, and specifically for Black Ops fans. There's a unique way to do that for Treyarch, and for Call of Duty. If we didn't believe that, then we wouldn't do it. This is a unique battle royale-experience for the Black Ops series... All we really want with [Blackout] is for Black Ops fans to have an experience to call their own. We're going to do it the Black Ops way."'
The new pace of combat felt fresh, and I'm already looking forward to getting into a few more matches with the Specialists, along with diving into the new battle royale mode.
Treyarch plans to launch Black Ops 4 on October 12 for PC as a Battle.net exclusive alongside a simultaneous console release on PS4 and Xbox One. Going hands-on with it took some adjustment--who knew that we'd be so used to using jetpacks and exo-suits--but these changes felt welcome after few matches. The new pace of combat felt fresh, and I'm already looking forward to getting into a few more matches with the Specialists, along with diving into the new battle royale mode.
For more info on Black Ops 4, check out our full list of written and video coverage, which includes the Zombies footage and the new Blackout mode trailer.