Trimming the Fat – Hands-on With Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’s Multiplayer

Most people who play Call of Duty for longer than the six to eight hours it takes to complete the campaign will be embroiled in the multiplayer mode. That’s why Treyarch’s decision to remove a traditional campaign from Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 makes sense. I’ve already written extensively about how the latest Call of Duty game aims to be one for the fans, hardcore players, and people who return to the game time and time again. Trimming the fat of modes that players barely log any hours into leaves Treyarch free to really focus on tuning and perfecting the multiplayer aspect of the game, where most fans will invest their time.

Black Ops 4 has a lot going for it, with the multiplayer, solo ops training missions for the specialists, three complete Zombies campaigns, and Blackout, Treyarch’s take on the battle royale craze. They aren’t showing off a lot yet, so I only had the opportunity to get my hands on the multiplayer at last week’s reveal event, but even that showed some major leaps for the series.

Perhaps most notably, the crazy vertical movement we saw in Black Ops 3 is now gone. There’s no more wall running or boost jumping, so combat stays decidedly grounded. It’s anything but slow though. While Treyarch might be rolling back on those crazy elements, they’ve kept that incredibly smooth flowing movement around the environment. The studio’s commitment to “guns up” is more present than ever, and as I tend to feel with Treyarch games, Black Ops 4 just feels really good to run around in. That was something I noted with Black Ops 3’s movement, that it was fun even when you were failing. Though the wall running an boost jumping are gone, Black Ops 4 remains just as fun to play.

Everyone’s Special(ist)

Specialists make a return, this time with dedicated pockets and roles that each of them fill. I hate to make the comparison to Overwatch, because Black Ops 4 isn’t Overwatch, but, I mean, Overwatch. Guns are a whole separate system, but each specialist has an ability (triggered by the R1 button) and a super (triggered by holding down L1 + R1). Specialists are limited to one of each type per team, and with what looks like ten total specialists up for grabs so far. Matches are 5v5, so there are plenty of specialists to choose from should your favorite selection get picked. They play roles ranging from frontline attackers to support units like medics. Yes, Call of Duty has a medic class, and you can thrive and succeed without feeling like you have to pad that kill/death ratio.

Call of Duty Black Ops 4 Hands on preview

In fact, that’s a lot of what makes this Black Ops 4 so different. Somehow, Treyarch took a game that feels like Call of Duty, plays like Call of Duty, and even smells like Call of Duty, and they’ve made it more tactical and team focused. You can still be that lone gunman who posts up at the top of the leaderboard, but there are more opportunities for different play styles to find a modicum of success. Small changes like the ability to see an opponent’s health bar (something I am used to from playing Destiny PVP) and having to manually trigger health regen makes me feel like I am playing the game on my own terms.

Guns are also being reworked to each feel like they have their own unique character. Attachments will no longer be universal to an entire class of guns, rather each gun will get its own set of attachments to really highlight the strengths and playstyles of that specific weapon. In a brief demo, it’s hard to really get a sense of that rework, and I’m sure that’s something that more casual players like myself may not even notice. The microdetails of each weapon are imperative to people that play a lot though, so that feature definitely caters to players who will be pouring a lot of time into this game.

More Than Expected

I wasn’t expecting a lot from getting hands-on with Black Ops 4 multiplayer, but came away surprised at how much even this staple mode of Call of Duty will be changing. The Call of Duty fans will still find the game they know and love, but Treyarch is really trying to push at the edges of the experience to make people rethink what Call of Duty is and can be. They are seeding elements from other popular shooters into their own game to find what works to appeal to a broader multiplayer audience.

Call of Duty Black Ops 4 Hands on preview

Influence from other Activision properties (specifically Destiny and Overwatch) really shines, particularly to someone like me who shies away from Call of Duty’s fast-paced focus on kills and succeeding as a lone wolf. I mean, Blizzard’s Jeff Kaplan showed up on the reveal stream. Sure, he was talking about bringing Black Ops 4 to, but it’s still great to see these teams working together and collaborating on ideas to make each of their experiences the best that they can possibly be.

Of course, this is only one portion of the full experience. In the time leading to October’s launch, we’ll learn more about the three Zombies campaigns and Blackout, Call of Duty’s take on the popular battle royale game mode. With each of the Call of Duty developers approaching the series differently, I’m glad to see Activision allowing the studios the opportunity to develop the game they really want to make, even if it steps away from the traditional. No campaign is a bold move, but trimming the fat allows Treyarch the opportunity to really hone in on what longtime players and fans love about their game, and the smooth, tactical, and class-based multiplayer is already showing those fruits.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 hands-on preview seen at the Black Ops 4 reveal event. Travel and accommodations were provided by Activision.