Treyarch is mixing things up for this year's Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 multiplayer, and it's making things interesting.
The Call of Duty franchise has, for many years now, been a staple in the fall gaming lineup.Every year, studios clear the way for the juggernaut it has become, and yet people always rattle on about how the franchise is dying or has lost its spark. Treyarch takes this franchise seriously, putting effort and time to ensure the games they build are enjoyable and have things the fans will love. With Black Ops 3 they are hoping to build a game that the die-hard fans will love, but will also feature enough new additions that will draw new people to the fold.
Stepping into the preview event in LA I was not sure what to expect. Call of Duty has been a series I enjoy, but I have never been able to play multiplayer at any serious level. I always felt the barrier to entry was a bit too high. For someone that only ever plays off-and-on, I always felt outgunned, even at the best of times. That being said, all the videos and trailers for the game made this instalment look good enough. It seems it carried forward what the series is known for and pushed the story of Black Ops even further into the future.
Building a new game in a franchise is a difficult balancing act to manage, as there are always two very different groups of fans to appeal to. There are the fans that know and love the series, and the ones that don’t yet feel that way that you want to attract. When we managed to talk to David Vonderhaar, the Game Director for BlOpsIII, we asked if it was difficult building an instalment in a long-established franchise and he was very direct:
“No. Not at all. Not for that. It was difficult for all sorts of reasons, but not that. Look, if the game’s accessible to super core people and just normal people, who are maybe not super hardcore, good. It’s a big game. There’s a lot of game here. I mean, this is obviously about multiplayer, but this is not a game that has to be for just one type of person. There’s enough content in a game like this for all sorts of people. It’s what makes the game so popular.”
This year, the team at Treyarch are adding something special to the multiplayer experience. The new Specialists give players control of a character with a unique set of skills and a back story. Each character will act slightly different and can be customized to your unique style of play. This will make each multiplayer experience a more immersive endeavour, one where the player will slowly get to know how their specialist plays, what the weaknesses may be, and how to best utilize all their skills.
From all the details they revealed about the finished game, it is obvious that this is a much bigger experience that previous Black Ops titles. It did feel that some of the choices players could make early on with the choice of specialist could lead to balancing issues, but when asked about this David reassured:
“I worry about any time we put anything in the game. I’m the guy in the room going, “OMG what are we doing?!” We go to great lengths to keep the balance. We use metrics to do that, not just play-test feedback. So am I worried they’re gonna break the game? No. I mean they fit into a particular power-band between created class and score streaks. And if they break the game, I didn’t balance it right. I think you can fix it so that they don’t break the game.”
Now these were the things I like to hear. The real test of these statements would be once I got some time to sit down and play some matches. Throwing the headset on and gripping my controller in the dark, nightclub-like preview location, I could not help but think, “I have not played CoD in a while, how will this one stack up?” With this in mind, the match started. I selected a cyborg-style character codenamed Prophet with his default loadout. It felt like a good place to work up from. He came with his special weapon—the Tempest—that allows for a powerful charged shot. Gameplay-wise, the controls felt very similar to other first person shooters currently on the market. Everything felt smooth and well suited to the nature of the game.
It is clear the team worked to expand the roster of movement abilities the player has at their disposal. Not only did the game feel a bit faster than previous instalments, but the double jump and wall running make the overall experience very fluid.
Back in the match, things were not going so well for me. It was apparent that I would need a bit more time with the game to truly sort out how to dominate. I was going about things wrong; with the new set of skills and a variety of different opponents all with their own unique specialities, I would need to change up my gameplay style. I needed to be more active in my playstyle to hold any chance of survival. The new movement methods and the speed of combat need to be taken into account, as this is a much more vertical CoD experience, and every aspect of the battlefield needs to be taken into account.
With the first match out of the way, it was time to switch things up. This time I decided to go into the battle as a fully autonomous robot warrior codenamed Reaper. Reminiscent of the Geth from Mass Effect, this specialist felt much more my speed. Fully equipped with a powerful minigun, this seemed like I would have more chance of winning against my crack team of journalistic opponents.
These characters all sound like they are straight out of a future blockbuster or sci-fi novel. Everyone feels as though they’re a superhero with powers waiting to be unlocked. David assured everyone that this—again—would not mess with the core Call of Duty formula.
“We talk about them as superheroes, and when they have their weapon or ability, there’s definitely this brave spike of superheroeness, no question, but that doesn't mean that they have any more health than they had before they activated their weapon or ability. So when you play tonight, what you’re gonna see is, you’re like, “Great! I got the annihilat----*explosion noise*”
This second match went much more like I would have hoped: I managed to rack up some kills, and utilizing the unique specialist abilities made the overall experience more enjoyable. Each character you select has a set of specialties you can assign. These change the way you adapt to battle, and in my experience, can be devastating if played right. Finally, unlocking the minigun special weapon served as icing on the cake. The Scythe, a minigun that came out of my character’s arm, laid waste to the final opponent of that match. It was a bit harder to control and aim with, but the end result was fantastic.
It is hard to say that Call of Duty will brave any new trails in terms of design and core gameplay, but what Treyarch have built is a well-crafted instalment to the series. It looks great and plays great from what I managed to get my hands on. It is good to see the teams working on Call of Duty trying new things and expanding on the formula that has already been iterated on so many times in the past. I am far more excited for this instalment in the series then I have been for many of the past. Call of Duty Black Ops 3 hits store shelves November 6th 2015 for PC, PS4 and Xbox One.