Thrust jumps and wall running are out. Deeper Specialist abilities are in.
Listen: Our new interview with Treyarch studio design director David Vonderhaar.
Let’s answer the question you’re probably wondering. Yes, Call of Duty Black Ops 4 is a big, big improvement on Black Ops 3. It’s drop-dead gorgeous, highly responsive, and, even in its pre-release state, already a hell of a lot of fun. The multiplayer gameplay eliminates the polarizing movement features that marked the Black Ops 3 and Infinite Warfare era, and it’s a change for the better.
Technically set before the timeline of Black Ops 3, Black Ops 4 is a return to classic “boots on the ground” form. But the real innovation here is a slew of refinements and powerful combat abilities that upend the battlefield in fascinating new ways.
First, some nitty-gritty details. Healing is no longer automatic, but handled via a button press (L1), a mechanic that injects a welcome element of tension and frequently forces tactical decision making. You’ll spot health meters on enemies too, something that seems weird on paper but just feels right during a heated firefight.
The new “predictive recoil” system makes ballistics feel more accurate and responsive, particularly with automatic weapons, while tracers and other special effects look more realistic. One clear takeaway from my play session is that Treyarch has been busy making Black Ops 4’s weapons look, feel, and sound better than anyone else in the business.
“Pick 10” character customization returns with a whole new bag of tricks. The new Gear slot allows you to equip helpful items like an armored vest for protection, or a stim pack for faster healing.
Whether Black Ops 4 is consciously taking cues from Overwatch is impossible to say, but its refined approach to Specialists will speak to fans of the popular Blizzard shooter. Each Specialist feels like a unique and distinct character, sporting a unique piece of equipment (R1) and a slow-to-charge special ability (L1+R1).
The new R1 equipment abilities are an instant gamechanger, and replace the traditional grenade toss with a function far more tailored to a particular play style.
For example, Ajax can toss out a “9-Bang” flash grenade that, with enough cooking time, will blind an entire team. Meanwhile, Torque can lay down skin-shredding Razor Wire to limit enemy mobility, and Ruin can fire his Grappling Gun to zip from place to place ala Batman in Arkham Asylum.
These abilities are incredibly fun and interesting on their own. But when you consider the way that they quietly disrupt the traditional Call of Duty triad of gun, melee, and grenade. Whatever you may think, you can’t accuse Treyarch of playing it safe.
You’re free to re-assign the R1 equipment to more traditional fare like grenades, throwing axes, and concussion bombs (which, by the way, all recharge over time ala Destiny now). But I appreciated Black Ops 4’s spirit of adventure, and found it made for a more interesting overall match flow.
There’s so much more to talk about, though details remain hazy for now.
For starters, the new Zombies experience represents a near-total rethink on the thematic elements that have thus defined the Treyarch series entries. A Roman gladiator-based experience? Unique class-based characters? It’s all speculative for now, but watch the reveal trailers and tell me what you take away.
Then there’s the battle royale-inspired Blackout mode, the announcement of which drew a roar from fans at last week’s reveal event in Inglewood. We still don’t yet know much about Blackout. It’ll be large-scale battle set in a huge map, and allow players to pilot vehicles across land, sea, and air.
It all adds up to a major step forward for the larger Call of Duty formula. And, if I’m honest, I’m more excited about the future here than I’ve been in years.