Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is, without a doubt, one of the most impactful video games ever released. Not only was it the catalyst for the start of the series’ yearly release cycle, but it also had a lasting impact on the way shooters as a whole approached multiplayer. Competitive modes became almost obligatory for all shooters that followed. A lack of multiplayer was widely considered an unacceptable detriment for shooters that came after, even if the single-player experience was of an outstanding quality. This multiplayer phenomenon has now progressed to a point where we stand at the precipice of a Call of Duty game launching without a single-player campaign at all.
Multiple reports circulating recently allege that Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 will not feature a single-player campaign at launch. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that it’s definitely true. No reasonable person could deny that it at least makes some sense. Call of Duty has become the competitive multiplayer powerhouse of the game’s industry, with each iteration’s single-player campaign feeling progressively vestigial. Some campaigns have certainly been of higher quality than others, but it is common knowledge that a relatively low percentage of Call of Duty players bother to check out each new installment’s campaign, and even fewer complete them. Removing the campaign seems like a logical decision considering these facts, but is this ultimately what we, as gamers, want?
The most evident downside to this initiative is the old bang-for-your-buck dilemma. Assuming Black Ops 4 will feature the subseries’ Zombies cooperative mode, and that the game will retail for the usual $60, that’s one-third of the contemporary Call of Duty experience players will miss out on despite paying the same price. One could argue that most gamers spend tens, if not hundreds, as many hours in the multiplayer, but no matter which way you slice it, gamers would be spending the same money for quantifiably less content.
What is more, there are still many gamers out there—myself included—that believe the Black Ops games feature the best narrative of any Call of Duty subseries. If Black Ops 4 is indeed lacking in the campaign department, all of these fans are being left out to dry. Such an omission also begs the question: Why even bother calling it Black Ops 4? Without a story campaign, there presumably aren’t any narrative threads directly tying it to the previous Black Ops games, which suggests that using the name is a potentially shallow tactic to hook in fans of the subseries that would otherwise pass on the game were it named something different.
Surfacing in tandem with the reports of Black Ops 4‘s solo-lessness are rumors that a battle royale mode will be replacing the story campaign. Now, first of all, battle royale is a competitive mode, meaning it essential adds to the multiplayer, so it’s not “replacing” a campaign or doing anything of the sort. Secondly, this would be a shameless attempt to jump on an increasingly exhausting bandwagon via a game series whose systems don’t seem particularly conducive to such a mode. It is very possible that the developers—reportedly Raven Software, in this case—could surprise us and create a perfectly competent battle royale mode for Black Ops 4, but this would do nothing to address its lack of originality, nor would it come close to filling the void left by the missing solo adventure, particularly one that would be set in an universe with such storytelling promise.
There are currently two factors reassuring fans concerned by these reports: nothing is yet confirmed for the game, and the phrasing of the reports would suggest that if the game does launch without a single-player campaign, one may well be added later down the line. It’s always important to not jump the gun when it comes to rumors, but assuming the reports are as we read them and Treyarch’s development strategy prioritized a battle royale mode over an entire single-player campaign, it is still rather disheartening.
Business is business, and it’s not necessarily fair to blame a company for doing what’s popular, but you can’t help but respect a developer that goes against the grain. Whether it be avoiding the implementation of loot boxes, or omitting a highly requested feature that would otherwise imbalance an experience, developers whose decisions align with their vision of a game, over the fastest route to sales, give us hope that there is still some creativity in this creative industry. Most would agree that the popularity of Call of Duty 4 put its multiplayer template through the ringer in iteration after iteration. It’s probably safe to say even the biggest battle royale fans wouldn’t want the genre to suffer the same oversaturated fate.
As for Black Ops 4‘s potential lack of single-player? Call of Duty’s role in creating this multiplayer-centric world in which we live never stopped it from putting the effort into its story campaigns. Finally giving in could set a dangerous precedent for other games going forward. As long as Call of Duty still thinks single-player shooters are worth a damn, others will too.