If you preordered a copy of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 already then you'll be gearing up to play the closed beta. PlayStation 4 (PS4) owners have already had a weekend to get to grips with it, and now it's about to open up to Xbox One players, as well as PC folks, with an open beta.
Much has been said of Black Ops 4. There's no campaign as we know it; there will be a new, as yet unrevealed battle royale mode called Blackout; and there are always the naysayers who somehow think the franchise is dying.
I've played the first weekend of the closed beta on PS4, and before Xbox players get sucked in, here are some early thoughts on things that you'll like, and some things that could use a little TLC.
What you'll like about Call of Duty: Black Ops 4
It's a better version of Black Ops III
Black Ops 3 is arguably the last good Call of Duty game. But even today, Black Ops 3 is still given fresh reasons for players to go back in, and it launched in November 2015. That's also a sign of how much the community still enjoys the game.
The biggest difference in Black Ops 4 immediately is the lack of "advanced movement," a.k.a., no jetpacks. It's set in the near future, sometime between Black Ops 2 and Black Ops 3. So that means modern combat, fast action and, crucially, plenty of familiarity with its direct predecessor.
So, even though it's not a sequel in terms of the timeline, it's very much the successor fans will have been looking for. And visually it's a nice change to the subdued looking settings of the current game.
A happy movement medium
Advanced movement was one of the most polarizing parts of Call of Duty during its three-year run. Black Ops 3 had the full experience, as did Infinite Warfare, before returning to the classic "boots on the ground" style combat in 2017's WWII. Whether you hated the jetpacks or not, they're not coming back. At least not in Black Ops 4.
What we've got from Treyarch, I think, is a happy medium. The movement in Black Ops 4 is sublime. It's fast and it's fluid, and even though after the first beta weekend some fixes have been deployed to prevent bunny hopping, it's a real joy to play.
The major difference in the current game is that you can slide, which helps keep up the pace and also makes you a more difficult target. Sliding was present in Black Ops 3, but the difference now is that you can't take off into the sky afterward.
There's also Ruin, one of the returning specialists, with a party trick that seemed to go down well in the beta. His grappling hook can be deployed for lightning-fast travel across the map, which if used properly can be devastating in objective play.
The most tactical Call of Duty yet
There are a number of changes in Black Ops 4 that change the overall feel of the game. Health is now higher, as is time to kill, so going off like Rambo on your own isn't necessarily the best strategy. Likewise, specialists have access to unique abilities and equipment, and perhaps the biggest change is that health no longer regenerates.
If you choose you can run stim packs as one of your pieces of gear (though it seems even without choosing it, you get one to use as it stands), which means you can heal yourself in battle. Otherwise, your health will run down until you're done. In some game modes, Search and Destroy springs to mind, or manning a hardpoint, being able to heal yourself could change the course of the game.
Then you have gun-specific attachments to unlock, so you're going to have to feel out each weapon, how it plays, and how it mixes with your playstyle and that of your team.
Black Ops 4 just feels like it promotes teamwork better than previous games. For the competitive scene, in particular, that's a good thing.
Everyone can contribute meaningfully
It's hard being a new player sometimes, or someone who enjoys the game but just can't post the mega kills and crazy stats. I'm usually one of those players. But Black Ops 4 is easily the most welcoming to players of all skill levels.
For starters, even if you don't get the final shot for a kill, if you caused significant damage you still get credited with it, along with the player who did finish them off. Not only is this part of good teamwork, it means players who aren't crazy slayers can still work towards streaks.
Becoming proficient with a specialist's individual abilities or gear, or being great at making objective plays will all bring you credit. If you think you need to drop 30 kills every game to be good, Black Ops 4 will help shed that impression. Everyone is useful. Dropping 30 kills is a bonus.
That's just some of the good, but there are a couple of things in particular that are less enamoring and probably need some work.
What you will not like about Call of Duty: Black Ops 4
Body armor needs attention
One of the pieces of new gear for Black Ops 4 is body armor. And if you come up against an entire team with it, you're going to do a lot of cursing. It does exactly what you'd think: Makes getting kills harder by protecting the player.
It's far from impossible to get the kill on a player in body armor, but whether you're solo or working with teammates, coming up against multiple opponents with it equipped is infuriating.
It's been a fairly high profile criticism in the early beta weekend, and Treyarch is at least paying attention to community feedback.. Used in the right way, body armor is just another piece of the puzzle to getting a well-balanced team, but the gear as a whole will still need some balancing work before launch.
Right now, it's just pissing a lot of people off. It'll be interesting to see where Treyarch goes with it, but it's here to stay. I'd be happy to see either a cut to its ability or just make it so you can't strap it to a whole team, perhaps limiting it to certain specialists.
Some maps will drive you mad
Popular streamer (and a man who used to design Call of Duty maps), Dr Disrespect, had some brief thoughts on Black Ops 4 that certainly resonate.
From what we've seen so far, some maps more than others fit into that "corridor" design. Seaside, for example, is essentially a dead straight, three-lane setup. The maps all basically follow the three-lane template, and Treyarch has introduced various high and low points that break it up and compensate for the jetpack-free age we now live in. But in this case, you're mostly just running into the other team head first.
There are a number of pinch points, and on some map and game mode combinations, you're constantly running head first at the opposing team. Add that to the higher TTK, body armor and such, and there are times it can get frustrating. It's not too likely maps will get any serious work ahead of launch, but perhaps other aspects of the game can be balanced around it, and already, weapon balancing has been introduced to improve assault rifles for the second weekend.
The Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 final beta weekend runs August 10 to August 13 on PS4, Xbox One and PC. A Breakout mode beta should follow in September, and the game is available to preorder now.
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