Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 – Competitive multiplayer review

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 has been with us for just over a week. In that time, I’ve played every game mode, dabbled in the hardcore playlists, and filled the boots of every single specialist. For Call of Duty fans, there’s a ton of value here. In the single-player world, games are many times valued by both the quality and length of storylines or campaigns. For years, Call of Duty has offered great length and replayability with its addictive multiplayer. Based on that idea alone, Black Ops 4 will have you wanting to come back for more for quite some time. And while this is a point of a preference, the campaign is hardly even missed.

Depth and customization

The competitive multiplayer for Black Ops 4 is deep and engaging. Treyarch’s latest foray into the franchise carries on a decade-old tradition of player engagement and depth in its multiplayer experience. In terms of player loadouts and customization, Treyarch excels here simply by design. Black Ops 4 gathers all the components of past entries that worked while tweaking the formula.

Specialists

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 - Heist mode - Treyarch

Specialists make a return from Black Ops 3. There is a total of ten specialists each with their own Special Issue Equipment and Weaponry. While some of the special issue items feature gadgets that are offensive such as Prophet’s seeker shock mine that seeks out an enemy and immobilizes them with an electrical charge, others are defensive like Torque’s razor wire that can be used to block entryways. Interestingly enough, the defensive options are tough to destroy, and in a fast-moving game, can be strategically placed to control the influx of enemy combatants. They’re especially useful in control-point modes.

Specialists aren’t only for the individual, but also for the team. They can provide tactical advantages for the rest of the team if coordinated properly. As I mentioned, Torque can help funnel enemy teammates with the strategic placement of his defenses. Ruin can clear a room with his Grav Slam ability (or Hulk Smash as I like to call it). Recon can tag enemies for his team. Playing to a Specialist’s strength always has a great impact on the rest of your team, which is something I’m thrilled about. Games that focus more effort on encouraging players to work together instead of lone wolfing it is always a plus in my book.

Weapons and equipment

To my satisfaction, the Pick 10 system has also returned allowing players to select 10 customization options for each loadout. For those unfamiliar, this deepens the strategic element of this game by letting players lean heavily in whatever area they choose. For instance, players can spend most of their options on weapons attachments instead of perks or vice versa. In essence, it’s a solid mechanic Treyarch established in Black Ops 2 and fits with the old adage that if isn’t broken, don’t fix it. However, a new layer has been added with second-tier upgrades as well as operator mods that heavily impact your weapon. But be warned: they take more from your Pick 10 than a single space.

The added intensity that comes with operator mods can, in my experience, unbalance the game a bit. I played a domination match in the Slums map where one player was running amok with a popular operator mod for his MOG 12 shotgun. This mod, Dragon’s Breath, adds a fire element to each shot. Let’s just say he obliterated just about everyone. A single shot resulted in instant death. And, if not instant, then eventual death due to burning damage that players cannot heal during. I attempted to engage the player from a distance and he still managed to kill me with a single shot. Eventually, I shot him in the back, picked up his shotgun, and went to town. I was now on the other side of the situation and saw just how entirely overpowered this mod was. Treyarch has some work to do in balancing these items.

Maps

Many of the maps in rotation for the competitive multiplayer modes are well balanced and fun. Of course, modes that involve rounds allow players to switch between the sides of the map they start on so everything is fair in that regard. However, Treyarch touted in advance of the game that some fan-favorites were making a return. These include Jungle, Slums, Summit, and Firing Range. Eventually, Nuketown will also join that lineup. While I do love these maps, they largely dominate the rotation in many of the games I joined. Much more than half the time I’ve been playing was spent on old maps that we’ve already had our fun with in previous Black Ops games. I’d like to see a playlist where these maps are excluded from the rotation. I enjoy the new maps and want to experience them more frequently.

Game Modes

Heist

The game modes are where Black Ops 4 shines. I haven’t been secretive about this during the beta or in my initial impressions of the game, but Heist is a true Call of Duty gem. It’s one I hope to see continue on in future titles. This new mode is a round-based mode where players only have a single life each round, just like Search & Destroy. However, this game-type is all about eliminating the other team and earning cash to buy more gear for the next skirmish.

Every player starts the game off with a pistol. After each round, both teams are granted cash to buy weapons, attachments, perks, gadgets, armor, and even big-ticket items like scorestreaks. Rounds can be won one of two ways: either the other team is entirely eliminated, or players manage to grab a bag of cash in the middle of the map and extract it. Doing so grants every player of that team more cash for the next round. If players eliminate the opposing team, the game does allow for a limited window to grab the cash and get it to extraction, as well.

What’s so thrilling about Heist is the volatility of what could happen. Players can choose to purchase anything. Some players can even horde their cash to buy a Hellstorm scorestreak in the later rounds and obliterate a chunk of the other team in one fast stroke. This mode strips everyone of their pre-designed loadouts, which in essence makes this the most balanced mode available as all players have the exact same options. It only depends on how everyone decides to spend their cash.

Control

Control is also new to Call of Duty multiplayer. It, too, is a fun control-point style mode where players have to capture two points in order to win a round. Each point has three layers. If a player captures at least one layer of an area but not the rest, that part will stick and the capture-gauge will stick at that point. So, the assaulting team doesn’t necessarily have to capture each point in its entirety in just one attempt. A majority of the other Call of Duty game-types that fans are familiar with have also returned including Kill Confirmed, Domination, Search & Destroy, Team Deathmatch, and more. Hardcore modes are also available for those seeking an experience with a low TTK (time to kill enemy players).

EKIA and scoreboards

I used to be an avid hardcore player. However, Black Ops 4 has changed that with the introduction of “EKIA” to the franchise. EKIA stands for “enemy killed in action.” There are no “assist” kills or “assist” XP granted. If you manage to put a few bullets in an enemy and then a teammate finished the enemy off, you both get one EKIA added to your tally and you both receive the full amount of XP for the kill.

This is something Destiny 2 implemented in Crucible PVP matches that I applauded. It encourages players to work together as a team instead of trying to round up all the kills for themselves. In the end, it won’t matter who finished off an enemy if all players involved received an EKIA tally and full XP for the kill. EKIA and “damage dealt” are items that are displayed on scoreboards now instead of simply just kills.  There’s no point in playing hardcore with nearly instant kills any longer if I can’t take advantage of the teamwork that is employed with EKIA.

Final Thoughts

Black Ops 4 looks great and handles well. It has held the high-bar standard for fast-and-fluid action that Call of Duty is known for. It eliminates the more complex movements such as wall-running and double-jumping that seemed to skew toward skilled players. Call of Duty: WWII gained popularity for returning to form with boots-on-the-ground combat, and that is most certainly welcome here. I did experience a few glitches including things like Prophet’s seeker shock mine spinning in circles instead of heading for an enemy. But overall, they’re infrequent and nothing that can’t be patched.

The competitive multiplayer of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is the most fun that I’ve had in a Call of Duty in a long time. I initially wrote the game off after viewing its announcement trailer earlier this year as just more of the same. I anticipated another complex shooter that was about to focus solely on multiplayer where I wouldn’t even have a prayer against the most skilled players. The beta changed all of that for me. While I still tend to die a lot, I also now have advantages that I can employ. Regardless of your level of skill, Black Ops 4 does a great job of driving players to want to progress. Treyarch likely improved many player experiences by implementing EKIA, keeping scorestreaks instead of killstreaks, eliminating complicated maneuvers, and putting more of the strategy in the players’ hands with Pick 10, specialist selections, and manual healing.

For prospective buyers that are on the fence about Black Ops 4, I recommend giving this title a shot. It is the same Call of Duty experience we all know but with enough tweaks and changes to feel more satisfying than past entries.

Final Score: 9.0/10

Disclosure: A review code was provided to us for this review.

Accountant by day, video games enthusiast by night.  Somewhere in between all of that, I’m a husband, dad, and generally a giant man-child, too.  If a game is all about action, there’s a safe bet I’m playing it.  I started laying waste to virtual worlds as a youngin’ on the ol’ Atari and haven’t stopped since.