It’s been an important week for the Call of Duty scene, as the Black Ops 4 beta was finally playable. Call of Duty’s latest title had a private beta on PS4, and will be available again August 10th on PS4 and Xbox for those who have pre-ordered. There is open access to the game for PC players, with rumours of extending the open invitation to console players too.
Reminiscing of the Black Ops 2 golden days, fans have high expectations for Treyarch’s new instalment. There is limited opportunity for changes, as the game is only two months from release. In its current state, does Treyarch’s title bode well for a great competitive season?
Although it’s in its early days, there are some notable problems to be dealt with if Black Ops 4 (BO4) is going to be a great competitive title.
Innovation or Deterioration?
Every year, Call of Duty developers claim their game is the “most innovative ever”, but this one might take the cake. Treyarch completely overhauled the health system; players now conduct regeneration manually. This change is a welcome one, allowing aggressive and experienced players to get back in the fight faster. There is a cooldown of approximately seven seconds between regenerations, so a skill-gap develops in when to use the health-shot.
However, Treyarch have introduced a new “Gear” element of Create-a-Class, which allows further changes to player health. Firstly, “Body Armor” operates like CoD 4’s Juggernaut, granting an extra 50 health on top of BO4’s base 150. Additionally, there is “Stim Shot” which enables faster regeneration and significantly reduced cool-down.
Both of these items pose great problems for competitive, as it is important for players to be aware of when they are entering disadvantageous gunfights (e.g. against a player with Armor). As there are no visual indicators before engaging, this introduces a frustrating level of luck.
Specialists, the controversial characters from Black Ops 3 (BO3) are back in full force. Battery, Ruin, Prophet and Seraph return among ten confirmed operators. While they may add a depth and variety to public matches, their viability is questionable in competitive play. BO3 did utilise the specialists, banning only a select few. With a specialist weapon and tactical equipment for each character this time, many more items are on the chopping block.
Considering specialist progression does not reset after death as with scorestreaks, anything particularly strong is cause for concern. For example, Recon’s “Vision Pulse” shows outlines of all enemies through walls to every teammate. “Cold Blooded” offers a counter, but this is a heavy price to pay to limit such crucial information. Nomad can deploy an “Attack Dog” which chases down and dispatches of enemies willy-nilly – problematic, considering earning it is guaranteed. Furthermore, he can deploy a “Mesh Mine” which all-but-confirms a skilless kill on an enemy without the required perks.
This barely scratches the surface of the weapons and abilities that have a contentious place in the competitive ruleset. From this author’s estimation, the ruleset should restrict at least half the specialist powers. For a superpower achieved without cost, the effects are often far too strong and in many cases only serve to add randomness: reducing the likelihood that the better team will win. For an in-depth analysis and further discussion on problematic specialists, see here.
Weapons are an integral element of a good Call of Duty game, and BO4 hits the nail on the head. Treyarch re-introduces fan-favourite iron-sights, and each weapon feels unique and enjoyable to use. However, balance is a key priority for variation in guns in the CWL. BO3 passed this test in flying colours, with at least three weapons from the Assault Rifle (AR) and Sub-machine Gun (SMG) category competing well. BO4’s Mx-9 and Spitfire were both arguably the strongest SMG, and the most powerful AR was equally hard to determine.
While Treyarch has done an excellent job of in-category balancing, the overall story is not a traditional one. Due to the high time-to-kill of BO4, SMGs have difficulty out-gunning any AR in medium-to-long range. In the same vein, the high rate-of-fire of SMGs makes close range gunfights easy against AR users. Usually, the weapons are more all-purpose, but this stricter focus on ranged gameplay sets an exciting precedent. Players will have to be more careful to stay within their weapon’s preferred ranges, another skill-gap for the very best to take advantage of.
Overall, the game is very enjoyable and impressive for a beta version. However, it contains probably the most anti-competitive items and features of any CoD ever assembled. Treyarch will have to be attentive to the competitive community, and be willing to make changes to the CWL ruleset if Black Ops 4 is to live up to its esports potential.