Now is the era of the team shooter, when coordinating with those around you is held in higher esteem than running off and doing your own thing. Such experiences aren’t necessarily new, but the building popularity of games like Battlefield V, Overwatch, and Rainbow Six Siege demonstrates gamers’ increasing captivation with working as a team. Even the modern sensation that is the battle royale genre—which, I remind you, is generally defined as “last man standing”—usually offers squad options for players looking to survive alone, together. The Call of Duty series has lately felt like the last bastion of top-tier lone-wolf shooters, but no longer. The recent multiplayer beta has revealed some essential changes coming in Black Ops 4 that heavily incentivize players work more as a team than six individual soldiers.
Black Ops 4‘s first barrage of teamwork encouragement comes in the Specialist design. Specialists are uniquely skilled classes that first showed up in Black Ops III, and while some have returned for the sequel, every Specialist ability is either new, or has been altered to some degree. The Specialist abilities in Black Ops III, as is customary for the series, were solely designed to benefit the player using them, while Black Ops 4 has brought on a more magnanimous unit of fighters.
Not only are many of Black Ops 4‘s Specialist abilities built to be advantageous for all members of a team, some Specialists seem tailor-made to be team players. Torque, for example, is a defensively-focused operator, whose two pieces of exclusive equipment are a barbed-wire barricade and an irradiated barrier. Both abilities can technically deal damage to enemies, but that is certainly not their intended use. A good Torque will set up these defenses to create a safe space for his team, impeding enemy flanking routes and giving his team crucial cover in choke points. If Torque wasn’t evidence enough of the Specialists’ team-oriented direction, there’s Crash, who is nothing short of a support character. His two abilities are to provide ammo and health/armor to his team, which doesn’t get much more textbook support. While someone playing Crash will admittedly spend more time killing than supporting, it is still an unprecedented addition to the Call of Duty formula.
The next attack on our lone-wolf lifestyle comes from Black Ops 4‘s newest game mode. While we don’t know the full breadth of the game’s multiplayer options yet, the beta did include the new Control mode, which is one of the series’ most team-focused modes yet. The premise is extremely simple: teams take turns attacking two separate zones while the other team defends them, with limited numbers of lives for both sides. It’s basically one phase of Call of Duty: WWII‘s War game type pulled out into its own mode, or a reinterpretation of the series’ classic Demolition mode with capturable zones instead of bomb sites. Working in coordination with your allies is essential in this mode, more than nearly any other in the series, which gives the support-oriented abilities of certain Specialist classes even more room to shine.
These changes propose a fairly evident direction for the next Call of Duty installment, but it’s not until a match concludes that you see just how far it’s gone. Now, I have always prided myself on excelling at first-person shooters, but showing off as an individual can be hard in team shooters where the correlation between personal performance and team performance is so taut. This is why I would always jump back into Call of Duty games from time to time, just for the ego boost, but Black Ops 4‘s scoreboard is not built to cater to such a mindset.
In a first for the series, Black Ops 4 does not show each player’s kills and deaths. The game does show a reasonable number of stats, including (in Team Deathmatch’s case) total score, kill/death ratio, damage dealt, and even your kills and deaths against each individual player on the enemy team, but nowhere are your total kills and deaths conveyed but in your own personal match summary. As a long-time lone-wolf Call of Duty player, there is something about my kills not being shared to the lobby that makes me less inclined to care about earning them. Obviously, in something like Team Deathmatch, a total score will generally equate to one’s kill count, but with so many ways for team players to earn points in the game, it dilutes the drive to rack up kills when the stat isn’t being offered up for the world to see. With kills taking a back seat, you might as well stick with your team more, which seems very much to be the intention.
Leaning more toward team play is not inherently bad, and it does give the somewhat repetitive Call of Duty series a fresh face, but this new installment will not satiate a player’s personal bloodlust quite like the games that came before. Outside of some current technical issues, the tight design of Black Ops 4 seems to reward skillful play, but that top spot no longer means what it used to. Sure, games are supposed to be fun, but some of us are in it for the recognition too.