Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Beta Impressions -Shaking It Up

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How things have changed. Before, fans clamored for Call of Duty to change things up, and with each studio’s iteration of the franchise, that’s what we got. It’s gotten so shaken up that now fans are yelling for studios to bring it back to what it once was.

We won’t be going over the basics of the beta (like how many maps it featured, Specialists, etc.) since you can read that here. What’s written below is an impressions piece on the overall gunplay, gameplay and core mechanics of the Black Ops 4 beta.

Treyarch is in an unenviable position wherein the studio needs to placate both the old school players who are asking for “boots on ground” gameplay, and the new school — the one that needs heros, abilities and more to spice up each encounter. While we’ll reserve judgement on the full game come October, has the Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 beta alleviated fears or left a sour taste in our mouths? Read on to find out.

Specialists Are Here to Stay

Introduced in Black Ops 3, Specialists are back in Black Ops 4, though with a few welcome tweaks. For those not familiar with Specialists, think of them as heroes from Overwatch or something to that effect. Each character has a special move and a “super” move that can help in various ways. In Black Ops 4, Specialists are given a much bigger role, and their abilities can determine the outcome of each match.

Like it or not, Specialists are here in Black Ops 4. First the good news: Specialists offer a whole other gameplay mechanic, and each Specialist is useful in their own right. The bad? Each side can only pick one Specialist per match! Yes, that means people with the better connection will manage to be able to pick first, so there’s a good chance you won’t be able to pick the Specialist that you want to play as every single time.

Aside from that little niggle, Specialists in BO4 are a step above those in BO3 in every conceivable way. There are now two abilities per Specialists, and you can tell each one was made with care and balance in mind. There’s no go-to Specialist (at least so far in the beta), or anything game-breaking.

However, it bears mentioning that if you didn’t dig the Specialists in BO3, then chances are you won’t be converted in BO4. These characters will definitely affect each match, and it’s highly unlikely that you’ll curse their existence at one time or another.

Die Now, Please!

If there’s one thing I’m certain of in Black Ops 4, it’s that the gunplay is very satisfying. Regardless of what gun you use, the sound and feel of each hit feels heavy and with impact. Having said that, the time to kill (TTK) in BO4 is definitely a lot longer compared to past Call of Duty games, and it’s something which will bother long-time fans.

I admit, it bothered me at first as well, since this meant that it’s harder to get double or triple kills, but it makes engagements mean more when you take someone out. Add in the new health system (which we’ll touch on in a bit), and the fact that BO4 is just 5vs5 compared to the franchise’s staple 6vs6, and you have a Call of Duty title that’s not only shaking up in how it handles gameplay confrontations and the like, but it’s even changing things up in terms of core game mechanics.

Possibly the biggest change in Black Ops 4 compared to past Call of Duty titles is how health regeneration is handled. Before, regenerating health would kick in just by ducking out of harm’s way, but in BO4, you have to press L1 (or LB on Xbox One), and wait for the health to slowly fill up (which is now shown as a meter with numerical values). There’s no self regenerating health in BO4, and stabbing yourself with health will oftentimes mean you’re a sitting duck for a quick second or two, which is a long enough time to get killed in any CoD game.

Is this health change a good one? Depends on who you ask, I guess. On one hand, it provides a more campier playstyle given players can just poke constantly at long ranges and just inject themselves with health whenever they get shot; on the other, it promotes more skill when going head to head since it (health regen) now involves proper tactics as well. Should you regen health now? Or maybe try to get the kill since your enemy is most likely injecting themselves by being hit a few times. It’s big change to the franchise’s core mechanics, and time will tell if the fanbase will grow to love it or hate it.

Streaks and Stones May Break My Bones…

If you were disappointed by the scorestreaks in Call of Duty: WWII, then don’t fret! Black Ops 4 continues Treyarch’s streak of having meaningful ‘streaks in matches. While we weren’t able to see the entire list of scorestreaks, we did see enough to see that it’ll be at least on par with BO3. There’s the new Mantis bot that can fire missiles, old staples like the RCXD, and lots more. Those who missed the Attack Dogs in previous Treyarch-developed COD titles will be disappointed to hear that they aren’t returning. There’s no RAPS from BO3, but in BO4, they’re replaced by a duo of operatives that can shoot, hide and attack like a regular player.

While there’s a fair bit of balancing that needs to be made in terms of scorestreaks, it toes the fine line between being powerful enough that it feels rewarding getting ’em, and not too powerful that it can dictate the outcome of an entire match. Given this is a beta, I’ll give Treyarch the benefit of the doubt.

Fog of War?

Another big change in Black Ops 4 compared to past Call of Duty titles is the “fog of war” mechanic that lets you see players on your mini map in a 360 angle. Yes, that means sneaking up is super hard to do now, but given how much ruckus the community has made so far regarding it, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it heavily downgraded come launch.

In terms of map design, Treyarch seemingly has nailed it yet again. If you’re a fan of the studio’s three-lane approach to multiplayer level design, then you’ll find a lot to love in BO4. Sure, it might not be for everyone, but it’s hard to get annoyed when it just works, and you won’t feel like you got killed due to crappy level design that gives an advantage to one team and such.

Looking Ahead

After hours of leveling up and trying the different game modes, it’s safe to say I was converted to skeptical to now being excited to play the full multiplayer experience come October. Will there be enough depth? Will the Specialists, manual health regen and such get in the way of how much fun multiplayer matches of Call of Duty are? I honestly can’t say at this point without reaching Prestige and seeing if the thrill of resetting everything and grinding again is there or not.

While we wait for Treyarch to make adjustments and polish the multiplayer based on player feedback, the beta ultimately did what it was supposed to — provide feedback to the developers, and whet player appetites. Based on the Black Ops 4 subreddit, the beta managed to convert a lot of skeptics (including me) and turn them into fans, and if you’re Treyarch, that’s good enough for now especially after shaking the status quo this much.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 beta code provided by Activision for preview and giveaway purposes. Played on PS4 Pro. Black Ops 4 will be out this October 21 on the PS4, Xbox One and PC.