Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Multiplayer Hands-on Preview

Ned Jordan
In Short
Thoughts and observations on the Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 multiplayer modes after playing the game over its two private beta weekends.

I was lucky enough to be one of the people who had a chance to take Black Ops 4 out for a test drive during its two closed multiplayer beta weekends and will share a little of what I learned while playing the game here. Before I start, note that this was a beta build of the game with most of the content that will appear in the final game locked away and hidden from sight. The available maps and game modes were purposely limited, and anything about the game experience from this past weekend is subject to change by the time the game is released in October. In fact, Treyarch even implemented a few changes between the two beta weekends. By the end of the first weekend, bunny hopping was becoming a prevalent tactic, but between weekends the default jump height was reduced and reduced further on subsequent jumps.

The multiplayer gameplay in Black Ops 4 is somewhat like a combination of that in Black Ops 3 and WWII with a few new features of its own. The Specialist-based system returns from Black Ops 3, but all of the advanced maneuvering such as wall-running has been replaced with a 'boots on the ground' style of gameplay that the Call of Duty franchise returned to last year with WWII. Even though I have spent the past year playing WWII, I still found myself trying to wall-run or make a boost jump out of habit when I first started playing, but I was able to make the adjustment once I started to get into rhythm with Black Ops 4. Movement feels slower and more deliberate/tactical than in Black Ops 3 or Infinite Warfare. The lack of exosuit enhanced abilities seems to fit into the series' timeline, though, as the tech in Black Ops 4 looks to be more near-future than far-future.

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One of the other new things that you'll need to get used to in Black Ops 4 is the health system. Health no longer regenerates on its own and there are no health packs. Instead each player carries a health-injector. The injector has unlimited use and will restore your health completely, but must recharge between uses. You won't be able to fire your weapon or reload, so you'll be vulnerable while you're healing. You'll need to be smart about how you manage health as there will be many points in a match in which you must make the call whether to press forward or duck out for a moment to restore your health.

There were ten Specialists available for play in the beta, but the way that they were arranged on the selection screen makes me suspect that there may be at least a couple more added by the time the game launches. Each Specialist has a unique Special Issue piece of equipment and a unique Weapon. Both are limited use items that are useable for a short period of time before they are used up and are only powered-up again after a lengthy recharge period. You'll be able to use the Special Issue a small handful of times during a match, but the Weapon will be one-time use in all but the longer matches. Again, this was a beta so the recharge times could change before release. Also worth noting is that the Weapon isn't necessarily a weapon, and includes things such as Ajax's Ballistic Shield and Nomad's K-9 attack dog.

The Specialists aren't tied to a particular weapon class, and you can use any of your customized loadouts with any Specialist. If you'd like you can swap out the Specialist abilities for something else like frag grenades in the game's loadout editor. A cursory tour of the loadout screens didn't yield any major surprises or revelations. The standard primary and secondary weapon classes were there, each with attachment slots that unlock as you level the weapon. Slots for perks and wildcards are also available, although only a small handful of those were available in the beta.

The Specialist powers are not fundamental game-changers. The matches still play and feel like Call of Duty, but using the right power at the right time can certainly help swing the momentum of a match. While playing the beta things felt a bit like a free-for-all, but once the game is released I can see teams of gamers using different combinations of Specialists for different match types and coordinating the use of their Specialist Powers. It will be interesting to see how these tactics evolve after the game is released.

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During the beta's first weekend the match types available were Team Deathmatch, Hardpoint, Domination, Search and Destroy, and Contol. All of these modes will be familiar to anyone who's played a Call of Duty game before except for Control. This is a hybrid mode that has one team protecting a set of control points and the other team trying to take them. Each team has a limited number of respawns available for each round, as well, and each team is restricted from having duplicate Specialists. Teams alternate between being the attacking and defending team, and play continues until one team wins four rounds.

The second beta weekend introduced a new mode, Heist. This mode is something entirely new and makes me wonder what else Treyarch is keeping under wraps for now. Heist is played in rounds in which two teams compete to grab a bag of cash and deliver it to an extraction point. Like Control, respawns are limited so a team can win a round by eliminating the other team as well. There are also some interesting mechanics in place that change the rules in Heist. First is that Specialist powers are disabled, so picking a Specialist in this mode is basically just selecting your skin. Next, the health system has been modified so that you no longer have unlimited self-heals available. You'll need to find a health pack and use that when your health is low instead. Ammunition is also very limited and must be collected from ammo packs or you'll be fighting with fists once you're out of ammo. You also won't have access to any of your loadouts ' every player begins the first round of the match armed with just a pistol. Between rounds you'll earn cash that can be spent to fill out your loadout. You can choose to spend the money on a new weapon, a perk, an attachment, or extra ammo, as a few examples. This is a fun mode type to just jump in and play, but I can see it making for a good competitive esports mode. There's a lot of room for strategy in players taking on specific roles on the team and spending their cash on loadouts to help fulfil their roles.

The beta may have locked away many of the features that will be a part of Black Ops 4 when it goes live in full release, but the beta gave us a good look at what Treyarch is doing with Black Ops 4. When it was revealed that the game would not have a single player component, there were questions about how the game would make up for the lack of what has been a major component of Call of Duty games in the past. It looks like the answer may be that we'll see a much larger multiplayer game than in years past, with modes that add more variation to the core gameplay. There's also an indication that the game is moving more towards objective-based gameplay that will require even more teamwork than in the past. We're still a couple of months away from the game's release and it will be interesting to see what else is revealed in that time and to get an even clearer picture of Treyarch's vision for Black Ops 4 multiplayer gameplay.

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Transmitted: 6/13/2024 9:13:37 PM