The Call of Duty franchise is one that has eclipsed many other franchises in gaming. Its massive yearly releases stand out in the fall, forcing many other titles to move out from their release window. Yet, it is also a game that always tries to push new concepts with each new release, from bombastic stories to packed to the brim modes that ensure you are never at a loss should you buy the yearly release. Yet, this year, with Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, they are doing something different; they are leaving the story on the cutting room floor and focusing on what people love, the Multiplayer. While many may question this move, it honestly makes sense, and if the demo on display at the announcement event was anything to go on, they are on the right track.
Every year, there is a contingent of people who claim that no one actually buys Call of Duty for the story. The teams at Activision put a fair amount of time, effort and money into crafting complex, robust and deep story modes, but a fair majority do come to the franchise for the multiplayer, and why shouldn’t they. Call of Duty, since Modern Warfare, has managed to make some of the most well crafted multiplayer in a first-person shooter. The moment to moment action works to keep you on your toes, and if you are an experienced player, the things you can do within the game are mind-blowing. It is a mode that a team of people have worked for years to perfect, so why should people not be excited to see how it evolves.
The hour-long announcement further pushed this concept. The multiplayer, in all its iterations, works to draw people in. It is some of the best in the industry, yet it was not the ear blisteringly loud presentation that sold me on an all multiplayer Call of Duty. If anything that soured me on things. It was the near hour-long gameplay session of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 I managed to play while on site that made me not only a believer in the changes but made me excited for the future of Call of Duty.
The real question for this year’s release is whether or not it can stand on its own with no dedicated campaign mode. Yes, there will be some single-player content that will give you a taste at the backstory of each operative (hero character), but the meat and potatoes of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is multiplayer. While they are not groundbreaking, the changes the team made to the formula makes for a frantic, exciting and engaging multiplayer experience. And this is a statement coming from someone who did not love COD multiplayer in the past.
Picking up the PlayStation 4 controller as I get ready to go hands-on with the three modes on display at the event—Domination, Control, and Hardpoint—I was excited to see just what these modes had to offer. While they will all feel very familiar to anyone who plays multiplayer team shooters (think Overwatch), and all have a basic 5-vs-5 point-capture mechanics, they did work to show off what players should expect when it ships this October.
But before we can jump into the game, we need to first select our character. The eight heroes on offer give a range of gameplay styles, from quick attack, to support, and even a healer this time around. It seems Call of Duty is leaning from the Blizzard juggernaut, Overwatch, and that is not necessarily a bad thing.
While yes, they do have the heroes, and these will determine your specials, along with the role of your character, and the loadout can be customized to your heart’s content. If you want to play an attack character and only carry light weapons, you can. It is all up to you, and if done right, with a combination that matches your role and play style, you can be deadly on the battlefield.
The different classes can mix up things on the battlefield, and the game, at this time, will not let more than one person be a specific hero on a team at any one time. While I do feel this limits people, especially of a select play style, it also avoids the trouble of having everyone be the same person, lacking the variety that is necessary for a team to work as a unit.
Team powers range from offensive such as powerful weapons to defensive, a power shield, and everything in between. I was honestly impressed with the way it all felt. I tried a few roles, and each had strengths and weaknesses. It is a change for COD, but one that is necessary, especially if they want to draw new players while eliminating the single-player component.
The changes do not stop there; the waypoints awarded in a match have also gone through a revision. Yes, you still can gain accolades by scoring kills. Players who may not be as good at killing can achieve points via helping other players, or even securing points on the map. This works well and gives gamers reason to play, even if they are not playing as the front line fighter, and manages to even the playfield, especially when new players are expected to join the fight.
But perhaps the biggest change, for me at least, has to be the addition of the stempack. Gone are the days of endlessly refilling health that has been a staple of the series for years. You now have a dedicated button (L1/LB) that works to refill your life in a pinch. Life gain is now a tactical choice that must be weighed when jumping into action. Since you must wait for an animation and work against a timer, you now must choose when, during a fight, to pull the trigger (literally).
It changes the battlefield calculus in a major way, one that I did not think would have as major an impact as it does. During every firefight you have to choose if you should run, refill life, or keep fighting to prevent your opponent from doing the same. It made the moment-to-moment action of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 far more exciting then I would have expected, especially in a series this many games deep.
Now all this comes with a major caveat: I did only see an hour worth of gameplay, and three maps, so it is hard to tell how the final release will stack up. It is possible they will not capitalize on the potential they have with this game, leading to just another release in a series of releases. But, the changes all work, and are leading to a solid title, filled with potential.
Call of Duty was due for a shakeup. Up to this point, while they were good games, even if they never really pushed the envelope in a major way. The team at Treyarch are trying new ideas with this release, and so far I am impressed. The stempack concept could be a major change for players, and the hero classes, so far, are working well. Time will tell how the final release will fair, especially with the new Zombie mode and Battle Royal style mode called Blackout, but so far things look interesting. Activision has an uphill battle with Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, but one that they have solid footing on. Hopefully, the removal of Single Player will only lead to a richer end package but time will tell.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is slated for release this fall, on October 12, 2018 for the PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
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