Call of Duty: Black Ops 3: Descent DLC Review – Descending (PS4)
We’re on the downhill slope of the Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 Season Pass, with only one DLC left to release before the next year’s focus is tuned to Infinity Ward’s Infinite Warfare and Treyarch goes back on information blackout as they presumably develop 2018’s Call of Duty. Feeling like a few of the maps were inspired by other games, the third DLC pack, Descent, has some poorly executed good ideas, and outside of the Zombies campaign, a couple of the the multiplayer maps miss the mark, making this DLC a descent from the previous two.
Empire is Descent’s reimagined map, coming from the Black Ops 2 map, Raid. It’s easily the best of the bunch, with a beautifully detailed visage. Imagine a modern day billionaire decided to build a Roman villa, and you’ve got the idea for Empire’s design. Classic architecture is punctuated by a courtyard filled with futuristic sports cars. Best of all, it’s bright and doesn’t fall to that traditional dim first-person shooter map design awash with browns and grays. In a lot of ways it reminds me of the Auction House map on Uncharted 4, and somehow it amazes me that I am able to make a direct comparison between Call of Duty and Uncharted.
Of course the layout is tried, tested, and proven, having been a fan favorite in the last game. The lanes are unpredictable, featuring long sightlines in the outdoor areas, tight corridors inside, and everything in between connecting the map together. It all feels naturally built, rather than forcibly crafted to be a shooter level, which is a sign of great map design. As someone who isn’t the best at Call of Duty, I found this one most enjoyable for myself, providing real opportunities for any style of player.
I’ve already brought Uncharted 4 into a Call of Duty review, so why not round it off and add Skyrim as well? Berserk is a frozen viking village and feels like Treyarch dropped their near future soldiers into Bethesda’s beloved Elder Scrolls. Berserk is a fun map because of how bizarrely out of place the guns and technology seem in a world that is more fit for swords, axes, and dragon shouts. It’s a far cry from the futuristic compounds we’ve been doing battle in and adds a nice sense of flavor.
The ravine beneath the center wooden bridge offers some great opportunities to switch lanes quickly and silently, and there are some tricky sightlines that can lead to either a great advantage or an unexpected death. Berserk is a map that I hope to learn a little bit more. It seems like it has a lot of hidden potential that isn’t immediately apparent after just a few rounds running through the snow.
Warning: Boring basic futuristic industrial complex FPS level design incoming. Cryogen might have a pretty cool back story — being a futuristic cryogenic holding facility for criminals — but the map hardly screams innovation. One outside edge has a few large circular cryo tubes to wallrun around, with nothing but a long fall waiting below (a design we’ve seen similarly done in a few other Black Ops 3 maps), but instead of being strategic points, these surfaces were always camped out to take out newbs and players just looking to use the movement system, effectively rendering these avenues deathtraps as opposed to true strategic alleys.
Once you take away these points of interest, Cryogen is just any other futuristic industrial shooter map, which is disappointing given its potential for the usage of Black Ops 3’s unique flowing movement system. It could have incorporated water areas or added verticality, or even made more use of the cryo tubes for crazy wall running sections. Instead Cryogen plays it safe and is decidedly boring because if it.
A poster child for ineffective use of great ideas, Rumble is a massive robot battle arena that does everything but offer the grandeur that a massive robot battle arena should. Each side of the arena has tight hallways, VIP areas, and bathrooms, all funneling combat to the central arena area, which is mostly open except for some scattered battle robots husks that aren’t moving or anything, just sitting around acting as blocks to a couple of long sightlines. The main place players focus combat is actually inside one of the side areas.
The worst part of Rumble is that more than half of the arena is unplayable, yet there’s nothing blocking the player from getting over there. Instead the player is met with a giant “out of bounds” alert giving them just a few seconds before death. This feels like such a lazy way out of not designing the full arena around multiplayer play, and not even creating unique or compelling ways to blockade off the playable area. It feels like a half baked idea that could have made an awesome level.
I’ve Got the Moves
One of my largest concerns originally with the new movement system in Black Ops 3 was the slew of invisible walls and out of bounds areas to restrict players from getting to exploitable or advantageous positions. Instead of building map design around these intended blocks, Descent is full of even more deceptive invisible walls and out of bounds places, perhaps more than the main game. Sure it keeps players from exploiting a position, but it also loses intuitive level design when something looks accessible but is not.
In many ways, it feels like parts of the movement system are being relegated to setpieces, or forgotten altogether. Aside from a pool of water in Empire, the swimming aspect of the movement system — my personal delight and the most potential for altered gameplay — seems to have been all but forgotten in Descent. I still have my fingers crossed that they’ll do something crazy with the swimming mechanic in the final DLC pack.
Rounding out the DLC pack is the latest in unpronounceable Zombies campaigns. Combining firebreathing dragons and assault mechs in a bloody battle for a ruined alternate dimension Stalingrad, Gorod Krovi is one of the most compelling Zombies maps so far, and quite effectively the saving grace of Descent. It really seems like this is where all of the work and energy went, considering the lackluster execution of ideas that should have been really cool like Rumble.
As much as I’m holding out for a grand return of the Shadows of Evil cast, Gorod Krovi manages to make excellent use of the Origins lineup. I don’t think the fourth DLC will bring up the all star Shadows cast either, given that it’s the final DLC, and likely the one where purchases drop off the most. It simply wouldn’t make sense to spring for the likes of Jeff Goldblum and the rest.
Descent’s maps seem like Treyarch is tapering off. Possibly getting to work on the next big Treyarch game? If you were brainstorming great ideas, would you use them in late life DLC or as a selling point for your next full game? I can see the fourth DLC pack either being explosively unexpected — a great send off for Black Ops 3 before Infinite Warfare — or a massive disappointment full of even more half baked ideas. I’m fervently hoping for some drastic and crazy uses of the movement system, massive water areas, complex wall running courses, a lot more verticality; exciting maps the likes of which we haven’t seen at all before. If they give us a final Zombies on par with Gorod Krovi though, we’re at least in for that much of a treat.
Call of Duty Black Ops 3 Descent review code provided by publisher (via Season pass). For more information on scoring please see our Review Policy here.