Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War may be a direct sequel to the original Black Ops story, but eager fans couldn’t help but wonder what that meant for the multiplayer. Treyarch’s been known to make some pretty daring decisions, but always providing an experience rather different from other Call of Duty studios Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer.
Last week I had the opportunity to spend more than three hours with various maps, modes, weapons, and evolutions that Black Ops Cold War is bringing to the table this year. Even with a solid three hours, it was by no means an exhaustive look at what multiplayer has to offer, instead only scratching the surface and making me hungry for even more.
From the outside looking in, it’s perhaps easy to see all Call of Duty games as largely the same first-person shooter experience. I admit at one point years ago being one of those people too. Call of Duty was Call of Duty. But there are key differences in gameplay feel and loadout decisions, not to mention unique maps and modes, that set each developer—and even each game—distinctly apart.
Black Ops Cold War returns to a multiplayer style most comparable to Treyarch’s own Black Ops 2. Gone are the crazy jet jumps and wall running experiments of years past. But through Black Ops 3 and 4, Treyarch learned a lot of lessons that carry through. “Guns up” and fluid movement remains a consistent theme from the developer, keeping the barrel of your weapon aimed during almost all actions. Unlimited sprint. Auto health regen. Sprint takeoff and slide to crouch. All of these small adjustments let players focus on the game and the gunplay instead of fighting with systems designed to limit them. It’s got an arcadey feel in that way, still boots on the ground, but an evolution of the things Treyarch learned by experimenting a bit in their last couple of games.
Map design returns to Treyarch’s beloved three-lane design that keeps combat flowing. Don’t count on being able to camp much. At least in the levels I played, Treyarch designed them in such a way that there aren’t easy corners or hideaway spots, even on some of the notably larger maps. Again, it’s all about fluid movement and keeping the action flowing.
Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War Multiplayer Hands-On Preview – Retro Warfare
Many of the other evolutions to the multiplayer feel designed to maintain a kind of constant through-line from Warzone and Modern Warfare. Operators return again this year. The Campaign’s mysterious Adler was one, though Woods and Mason were absent in our build. Maps are designed around narrative that follows the main campaign, similar to Modern Warfare, meaning they each come with slick load-in cinematics that get your characters to the battlefield in style. Massive team battles are here, with one even featuring 10 teams of 4 fighting for a variety of objectives in a new series of game modes labeled “Fireteam.”
Treyarch’s “Create-a-Class” system is back, though it’s simplified and wraps in elements that will be familiar to Modern Warfare’s loadouts. In fact, the system is a bit of a combination of the two in some ways, what Treyarch describes as a “slot-based loadout system.” Wildcards afford the ability to really dive deep into customizing your loadout by letting players do different things like equip a weapon attachment on all 8 slots (versus 5 without) or double up on perks. I was able to throw together a few loadouts of my own optimized to my playstyle, though balancing wasn’t final, so it’s tough to judge what weapons, attachments, and perks will truly be meta on full release.
Treyarch’s scorestreaks let all players feel like they are earning progress towards cool and powerful multiplayer abilities, with score not resetting on death. However, multiple kills in a single life and playing the objective will get you multipliers and bonus score that gets you scorestreaks faster. To prevent spam of these abilities, Treyarch added a cooldown, meaning they can turn the tide of battle, but not be used to completely dominate and crush your opponent; a nice balance. Sure, I never managed to get one of the top-level scorestreaks when playing against a bunch of Call of Duty streamers and content creators, but score being saved on death meant I managed to get at least a few things to help my team out.
Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War Multiplayer Hands-On Preview – The Maps
The first map we played was called Armada, an enormous battle taking place across a fleet of ships. Swimming is back—a decidedly confusing element initially as we all reached the edge of the ship we spawned on and wondered how to get to the objective. Waverunners and gunboats flank the battle, waiting for players to take control, while ziplines let players quickly get from ship to ship.
Coming from Modern Warfare, I immediately noticed that certain Modern Warfare staples were gone. Most notably, you can no longer mount your gun on edges and doorframes. Being one of the combat developments I liked most from Infinity Ward’s game, I’m a bit sad to see it go here, though I understand it promotes slower gameplay where Treyarch wants to instill movement into every match.
Satellite is a desert map centered on what seems to be a crashed satellite, its parachute billowing in the wind. One lane features a series of cliffs and caves, while the other is open desert with dunes. Its visual simplicity made it a rather engaging level that focused purely on gunplay and skill between combatants.
A neon-soaked Miami marked our third match, an impressive showcase of lighting and design that evoked a truly ‘80s feel. This match featured a brand new game mode called VIP, where one team must escort a randomly selected VIP to one of two extraction points while the other tries to stop them. It’s an interesting concept that I’d like to get more time with in order to appreciate its nuances, which flew by way too quickly in our brief play session.
The Moscow map was a brutalist design of towering drab grey cement structures, while Crossroads featured a snow covered base in a remote forested location, also offering vehicles such as snowmobiles and tanks to get around and fight with.
Classic modes like Team Deathmatch and Hardpoint make a return, even while Treyarch puts its own new twist on game modes like Control, now a life-based mode where one team tries to capture two points while the other defends, and each only has 40 total team lives to work with.
Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War Multiplayer Hands-On Preview – To the Warzone
A great mix of visual presentation, map sizes, and a variety of modes, even the limited three-hour session was able to show off a lot of Black Ops Cold War’s potential. And Treyarch has a pedigree for beloved multiplayer and innovation that we’ve only just begun to see the surface of so far in Black Ops Cold War.
In fact, one of my biggest curiosities is how Treyarch’s influence will all carry over to the Warzone experience. Warzone was designed with Modern Warfare as a “base,” and the gameplay of Black Ops Cold War feels quite different. Treyarch will be embracing the Battle Pass system to deliver free content to players throughout the year in multiplayer, as well as tying Warzone into the experience with a “unified progression system” now shared between Black Ops Cold War and the free to play battle royale title.
It’s almost certain new Warzone developments will be influenced, driven, and developed by Treyarch, but will that tie in extend to the gameplay nuances like “guns up” and the removal of mounting guns? I’m leaning towards yes, as the map and narrative tie-in will shift to Black Ops Cold War when it releases, but the details here remain a bit murky. However, if you bounced off of Warzone because of its ties to MW earlier this year, you might want to give it a second look in November.
Our at-home preview sessions also didn’t allow us to fully enjoy or appreciate the next-gen innovations coming to Black Ops Cold War’s multiplayer. As the first Call of Duty on the PS5, it will take advantage of the DualSense, 3D audio, 120hz support, and hardware-based ray tracing. While it was impressive in its own right on a PS4 Pro in both visuals and sound design, I’m eager to play it on a next-gen console to see how it stacks up.
All in all, allowing Raven to focus on the campaign side of Black Ops Cold War has let Treyarch run with multiplayer, delivering an experience that feels driven by years of experience, experimentation, and player feedback. It’s a decidedly Black Ops multiplayer, the kind of experience only Treyarch can deliver.
Activision provided a loaner PS4 Pro and alpha build of Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War multiplayer for the purposes of this hands-on preview.