Call of Duty is Going Down Swinging

By Kevin

In recent years, Call of Duty has seen a steady decline in player base and review scores with each release.  However, Black Ops 4, the franchise’s most recent addition, may have brought new life to Call of Duty’s future.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is the newest installment in the Black Ops series, making Black Ops the largest and one of the best-received Call of Duty series in history – a stark contrast from other Call of Duty titles. Developed by Treyarch, one of now three Call of Duty teams, this game is the first Treyarch title to be created under the new three-year development cycle as opposed to the old two-year cycle, giving the game a full year extra of development time.

On March 8, 2018, the official Call of Duty YouTube channel posted a video – a short 36 second clip – depicting scenes typical of the first person shooter series, the climax of the video came, and the official logo, confirming that Black Ops 4 would be the next Call of Duty game.  Two months later, Activision, Call of Duty’s publisher, held a larger reveal with a public audience.  There, consumers got details of the game’s plot and setting, as well as gameplay and game modes. Black Ops 4 was revealed to be a prequel to Black Ops 3, the previous entry in the series from 3 years before, taking place in the near future of 2045 and featuring several returning characters.  Multiplayer was shown to be boots on the ground, a prominent request from the fanbase that wasn’t quite satisfied with 2017’s Call of Duty game, WWII.  Lastly, they showed that their popular zombies gamemode would continue the storyline from previous Black Ops games, while they would add new cast.  In a surprise reveal at the end, they showed off an entirely new game mode: Blackout, a battle royale mode that features mechanics from both the multiplayer and zombie modes, and entirely new mechanics such as pilotable vehicles for land, sea, and sky.

After the reveal, people pointed out some issues that they had with the game based solely on what they were shown.  While zombies had a positive reception, multiplayer was met with mixed opinions.  Two of the most common complaints dealt with the new health system.  Unlike previous CoD titles, this game gives players 150 health, a 50% bump from the standard, and the first ever change to player health values in the franchise’s history.  Not only was the amount of health changed, but the way it is regenerated also saw a first-ever change.  In Black Ops 4, players now have to regenerate health manually with a button click, rather than wait out a timer for automatic regeneration.  Both of these changes received complaints of their own, but put together, people were led to believe that the time to kill was much longer than previous Call of Duty games, which would lead to frustrating gameplay. However, multiplayer complaints were just the tip of the iceberg, as there were two other elephants in the room.

The first was the introduction of the new Blackout battle royale mode.  A huge portion of critics wrote the mode off as Treyarch and Activision hopping on the battle royale trend in order capitalize on its success.  Fans of the series, as well as those of similar battle royale games, stated that the mode would need to be exceptionally good to stand a chance.  The general consensus was that the game mode could have potential but would likely fail.  Another huge criticism came from something the game was actually missing. Adding to the list of firsts, there was no campaign shown off at the reveal party. While a majority of people play Call of Duty for the multiplayer or zombies experience, a lot of long-term fans of the series would say that the campaign was what made each Call of Duty series unique.  The Black Ops series has one of the most universally loved campaigns with connected and engaging storylines, outstanding structure, and amazing character development. So, to see the fourth entry without a campaign was a huge upset to much of the fanbase.

Before the full release of the game, Treyarch held multiple events where players could try the game early.  The multiplayer and Blackout playtests were largely successful, with people saying the multiplayer gameplay felt very similar to Black Ops 2, a widely loved entry to the series.  Furthermore, the battle royale mode gained the approval of many large videogame community members, such as popular streamer summit1g and internet celebrity Ninja.  Early access to the zombies game modes was given to influential members of the zombies community and received equally positive reviews, with Easter egg hunter ch0pper stating that the game has the potential to have the best zombies experience in Call of Duty history.  Now that the game had nailed pre-launch marketing, all that was left was to have a successful release.

Black Ops 4 finally released on October 12th, 2018 (late October 11th for PST).  So how did it turn out?  Having played the entire Black Ops series myself, including the new entry, I can say that Black Ops 4 offers an enjoyable and satisfying experience, as per usual for Treyarch, and even throws in a few surprises.  The graphics are stunning, and the game is highly optimised, with my game running above 60 frames at almost max graphics on only a mid-end graphics card.  Both the modern XBox and Playstation console families run at a solid 60 frames with respectably high graphics quality as well, though if you aren’t running either the One X or the Playstation Pro, expect to see large dips in gameplay resolution.  Aside from the health changes, the multiplayer does indeed feel like Black Ops 2, only prettier and with a few extra quirks.  The battle royale mode is on-par with other popular games of the same genre, allowing enough room to outplay others and giving players an expansive map to explore and gear up.  The zombies gamemode is what shines the most, though.  The three maps available (four, if you buy the DLC pack) offer the most variety ever for Call of Duty zombies on release, each with their own detailed story Easter egg. The game even managed to squeeze in a pseudo-campaign with detailed cut scenes that explain the backstories of each of the specialists, and the leader who organized them.

The game isn’t perfect, however. Many people, including myself, ran into issues in the modes – some minor, while others major, and possibly even big enough to be considered deal breakers.  For the most part, multiplayer is fine; the weapons, specialist abilities, and specialist gear are relatively balanced for release and the new health system takes some adjusting, but is essentially the same. The problem lies in the game’s leveling system.  The main quirk of Black Ops 4 multiplayer is the re-inclusion of specialist abilities and the addition of specialist gear, which replace your standard gear. While you can eventually equip standard gear, such as the stun or flash grenade, you are locked into using your specialist gear until at least level 29.  You don’t even unlock the frag grenade, the basic lethal equipment, until you are at level 42, which is 80% of the way until you prestige, which resets your level back to 1. Players trying out Blackout will have their graphics quality dropped for the game mode, even if they are using a PC setup that can handle it. The graphics drop is understandable, considering how expansive the blackout mode is, but it’s a small thing that makes the experience a little less enjoyable.

Despite zombies being one of the best parts of Black Ops 4, it has its own problems. A lot of systems have been reworked in zombies and while the concepts aren’t inherently bad, the large amount of rebalancing that comes along with the changes is what hurts it the most. The perk system change was meant to prevent users from using the same four perks, but the new perks have huge disparities in strength, which leads players back to using the original perks, anyway. The same goes for the specialist weapons added to the zombies mode: they don’t require any Easter egg to obtain and two of the four of them are so insanely good that they are used every game, as well.  A few core perks have also been excluded completely, without anything sufficient to replace them, leading a lot of people to agree that zombies this year is much harder than it needs to be.

Last of the modes is the game’s “campaign.” Simply put, its structure is awkward. You select a specialist, go through a cheesy tutorial of how to play them, see their backstory cut scene, play a match with AI bots, and finally get to watch a cut scene that details the actual story of Black Ops 4. The cut scenes are interesting and look fantastic, but the distance between them is filled with basic, and frankly boring, gameplay. The lack of linearity also makes the story feel non cohesive, disconnected, and even confusing. The community wasn’t expecting a story, but it might have been more enjoyable to remove the gameplay aspect from it entirely and keep it a movie.

Unfortunately, the most frustrating problem that the game has is not reserved to any specific gamemode.  The game crashes a lot, especially on the PS4 (which is ironic since that is the PS$ if the Call of Duty console partner).  If you’re on PC, then you don’t have to worry about crashing as much, but you have another problem on your hand: Blizzard’s server issues.  Call of Duty partnered with Blizzard to make the PC experience better with dedicated servers and social features, but sadly, the integration just isn’t reliable.  It experiences frequent disconnections from Blizzard services, which, for some reason, forces you to close and restart the game completely if you want to continue playing.

So the game isn’t perfect.  It plays fantastically on the three main modes, with stunning graphics and satisfying gameplay, but that’s only after you get over the game’s flaws.  Luckily, the vast majority of the game’s issues can be fixed over time via updates and patches.  Additionally, Treyarch has already taken it upon themselves to start rebalancing Zombies and fixing glitches and crashes, so hopes are high for the future of this CoD game. If you are a fan of Treyarch’s games and can be patient, this game will not disappoint and is worth the money.

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