This year could see some of the biggest changes to Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, with this year's entry dropping the single-player campaign and making big changes to some pretty core multiplayer mechanics. Things like tracer fire to locate enemies, manual healing, a bot mode for zombies so you can play solo, and [drum roll] a battle royale mod. While some of what’s happening might seem odd at first, it makes sense if you think about this as a potential stepping stone towards Call of Duty becoming an ongoing ‘live’ game; something like Overwatch or Fortnite, that relies on updates and seasons rather than yearly releases. There’s a lot happening here that feels like Activision is testing that water, especially when developers at Treyarch talk about things like plans to make Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Zombies an “evergreen mode, for daily, weekly, monthly and yearly engagement.”
Let’s take a look at all the big beats of the Call Of Duty: Black Ops 4 announcement and the differences to the latest instalment ahead of the Black Ops 4 release date on October 12.
1. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 has no single-player campaign, it’s just multiplayer, zombies and battle royale
The rumour that Black Ops 4 wouldn’t have a traditional single player campaign seemed almost incomprehensible when it did the rounds recently, but it’s true. There will be single-player stuff in the game, but as Treyarch chairman, Mark Lamia, puts it, “no traditional campaign.” Instead the ‘three pillars’ are its multiplayer, Zombies and Blackout, Call of Duty’s new battle royal mode.
2. Black Ops 4 DOES have solo player experiences, though
There’s no dedicated single-player experience this year but there are solo… things. “There’s a story, but it’s being told inside of the multiplayer universe,” I was told at Treyarch. That’s happening mainly via skill-based solo missions that act as tutorials for the multiplayer characters: the Specialist classes returning from Call of Duty: Black Ops 3. They’re described as “a series of fun and fast paced trials” by co-studio head Dan Bunting, happening “inside of a narrative universe that takes place between Black Ops 2 and Black Ops 3.” The new Black Ops 4 Zombies modes will also include bots for the first time, letting you play the game with an AI team instead of other players.
3. The Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 battle royale mode is called Blackout
The fact that Call of Duty is doing a battle royale mode isn’t that surprising given Fortnite is the game mode right now, but it’s taking an interesting angle with the idea. Blackout, as the battle royale mode is known, takes place in a map “100 times bigger than your traditional [multiplayer] map,” according to studio director David Vonderhaar. The interesting thing, however, is this massive area appears to be mushing together the entire Black Ops universe: characters, vehicles, scorestreaks, multiplayer maps and more. Treyarch’s presentation suggested almost the entire history of the series was making an appearance, from Reznov to old zombie heroes, the RC-XD remote control car bomb was mentioned, and even set pieces and story beats appear to be on the cards somehow as well. Plus there’ll be land sea and air vehicles. There’s no player count yet other than “lots".
4. Black Ops 4 is boots on the ground again, so no boost jumps or wall running
When Call of Duty: World War 2 ditched all the jet powered double jumps it made sense, but surprisingly Black Ops 4 is sticking with that decision. “No wall running or boost jumps, 100% boots on the ground,” stated Vonderhaar. Instead it’s introducing what the studio calls a ‘guns up’ philosophy to keep the pace high. That means whatever you do in the game - from throwing grenades to using equipment, or even calling in scorestreaks - your weapon is always raised and ready to fire.
5. Black Ops 4 multiplayer characters double down on unique abilities and feel a bit like Overwatch-meets-Rainbow 6 as a result
The Black Ops 3 Specialists return, bring back old characters like Ruin and Seraph, alongside new faces. The key thing is that, like BLOPs 3, each has a unique piece of equipment or skill. But with a larger cast and much more specific abilities it’s all starting to feel a lot more like Overwatch or Rainbow 6. There’s potential here for combo plays - a barricading character teamed with a high damage Heavy for example. Take a look at the ones we know about so far, and their abilities, to see what you think:
Ruin - This returning Specialist now has a Titanfall-like grapple gun to zip across the map quickly.
Crash - A new medic character with the ability to heal other players, and distribute assault packs to act in a support role.
Recon - A scout style character that comes with a sensor dart to highlight areas of the map. He also has the enemy highlighting Vision Pulse ability, previously used by Outrider in Black Ops 3, that’s now shared with the entire team.
Seraph - Another returning character who has a Tac Beacon, a portable spawn point.
Torque - This is a very Rainbow 6 character with deployable rolls of razor wire to impede the opposition's movement and a portable barricade for cover.
Firebreak - Another returning character who has a Reactor Core, a device that lets him exchange some health for an area of effect fire damage attack that can block off areas of the map.
6. Black Ops 4 weapons now have unique attachments and special abilities
This is one of the bigger changes in Black Ops 4 that, combined with character abilities, could really change the game: gun classes no longer share attachments. Instead each weapon has a unique set of add ons. The idea is that each gun feels different, special and rewards those that master its differences. In addition, each gun has an Operator Mod, a specific attachment that amplifies its overall role or ability. The Titan LMG, for example, has a suppressive fire mod that, when equipped, blurs the screen of any enemies the bullets fly past.
7. Black Ops 4 has tracer fire now, so you can see where shots are coming from
This is a small detail but potentially a literal game changer. According to Dan Bunting, “for the first time weapons have 3D tracers that tell you where gunfire is coming from.” That means that instead of a red dot on the mini-map telling when an enemy’s firing, you’ll actually be able to see where the bullets are coming from.
8. Black Ops 4 multiplayer has manual healing now
There’s no regenerating health in Black Ops 4, instead there’s a button to manually trigger it. According to Treyarch this adds a couple of tactical layers. Partly because you have to choose when to heal, but also because taking damage will cancel the healing process. So you need to make space to find the time to do it, and inversely can decide to go after a player that’s taken damage because you know they haven’t had a chance to heal yet.
9. Black Ops 4’s multiplayer introduces a fog of war effect to the minimap
Treyarch are making a big deal about situation awareness this year by introducing a fog of war mechanism. Essentially you can only see the map in a small radius around you, and your teammates in turn. Outside of that everything else is blacked out, although unsuppressed gunfire will still give away positions, and things like UAV scorestreaks will still work the way you expect. The idea is that it will increase the opportunities players have to communicate and work together.
10. Black Ops 4 zombies launches with three campaigns, player customisable missions, seasonal events and bots
Prepare for a lot more of the undead this year as Black Ops 4 zombies mode will launch with what co-studio head Jason Blundell is is calling “three fully fledged, fully loaded Zombie experiences” on day one. They are as follows:
- Nine: The trailer for this showed four heroes fighting zombies a roman gladiator arena.
- Voyage of Despair: This one takes place on the Titanic.
- Blood of the Dead: This campaign has only been teased so far. It's an all new narrative with new characters and new enemies (although the basic monsters are still zombies). The exact details are still secret but it revolves around an evil secret society up to no good and using some sort of Egyptian looking totem that turns people into monsters.
There are also customisation tools that that let you adjust things like zombie speed, health, type, player damage, magic box functionality and so on to create your own shareable challenges. As well as time limited challenges known as Callings, bot support to play solo, difficulty settings and a mode called Zombie Rush which will “simplify the experience to create a whole new tempo of gameplay".
According to Blundell the aim is to “provide the community with customisable tools and social systems to evolve zombies into an evergreen mode, for daily, weekly, monthly and yearly engagement".