The secrets of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 have finally been declassified. The classic fan-favorite multiplayer is returning, but there are some notable deviations from established convention revealed as well. In line with earlier reports, Black Ops 4 is shirking the conventional story campaign, to be replaced by tutorial-like missions highlighting the multiplayer’s various Specialist classes. The game’s previously reported battle royale mode was also announced, along with the first look at the return of the series’ Zombies survival mode. While the game’s reveal gave many of us even more questions than answers about these new features, only the multiplayer was on display at the subsequent preview event, but it had some pleasant surprises of its own.
The demo took players through three different modes. Two of the modes, Domination and Hardpoint, will be familiar to Call of Duty veterans. The third mode is called Control, an asymmetric battle in which one team must attack and capture two objectives, while the other team defends them. Think of it as a single phase of Call of Duty: WWII‘s War mode, with similarly limited respawns.
As mentioned above, Specialists are making their return from the previous Black Ops III. The selection of Specialists will include some veterans like Ruin and Seraph, fighting alongside new faces like Crash and Ajax. Each Specialist boasts a unique primary ability that is regularly available, as well as a special ability that charges over time. During my time with the demo, I got to try out Crash, Torque, and Recon, and the usefulness of each new Specialist seemed notably continent on the situation.
Crash was the first character I tried, but I found his loadout a little hard to get into. As the game’s token support Specialist, his primary ability allows him to throw down ammo for his team, while his Special ability allows him to instantly heal multiple friendlies. The problem was that these abilities required some coordination, which wasn’t much of an option in the environment I was in, but they could prove potently useful is properly synced with your team.
Playing as Torque was a much easier time, even resulting in the acquisition of several of the series’ returning scorestreaks. I serendipitously ended up playing Torque on the Control mode, which seems to be his bread and butter give his propensity for positional defense. His primary ability is razor wire, which slows and damages enemies trying to breach through a choke point, while his special ability steps up the defense with a massive barricade that allowed me to create perfect cover wherever I saw fit. It also slows and damages enemies that get too close, as an added perk.
Saving the best for last, Recon seemed like a Specialist that would prove useful in any situation. His primary ability is a dart that sticks to walls and reveals enemies in an area around it, and his special ability pulls down goggles that give him and his teammates a pulsating X-ray view of all enemies on the map. Once I charged that ability up, no enemy was safe from me for its entire duration.
Before choosing a Specialist, players will want to build their classes using the returning Pick Ten loadout system. Black Ops 4 offers some new gear and equipment to keep things interesting, such as Body Armor that reduces first-shot damage, but the loadout options otherwise seem like relatively standard fare. One interesting change was shotguns begin found in the Secondary Weapon category, but even more interesting than the firearms we could equip was the combat they facilitated.
The core gunplay of Black Ops 4 has evolved dramatically since the previous installment. Developer Treyarch mentioned “predictive recoil” during the reveal, and while this could play a significant factor for the most dedicated players looking to master every weapons, the more prominent, surface-level changes are found in the shooter’s increased health pools and lack of aerial platforming. It makes for a much slower Call of Duty experience, not just in a literal sense, but also in terms of the general pace of a match.
The larger health pools force players to dedicate more focus to each individual target, mitigating the annoying twitchiness of older games necessitating more caution when facing down larger groups. This is balanced by Black Ops 4‘s removal of auto-regenerating health, replacing it with a manual ability. As this manual heal takes a few seconds to recharge, it brings in a lot of strategic thinking that was never in the Call of Duty formula before. Judging if you want to wait to lose a little more health before risking a heal, or determining if healing should take priority over reloading your weapons are choices that take much of the recklessness out of the series, landing in at a very satisfying pace.
Call of Duty games are known to hit a certain standard of quality, but that hasn’t stopped fans—myself included—from getting burnt out on them in recent years. As games have evolved, so to have gamers, and it seems like the unrelenting speed has exhausted many to the point of looking for different murder outlets, but the changes coming to the series most fundamental systems may produce a experience that welcomes new players and brings old players back into the fold. Now all Treyach needs to do is convince us that a battle royale mode and three Zombies maps are enough to make up for the lack of a single-player campaign.