Black Ops 4: Hands-on with the multiplayer beta

The PlayStation 4-exclusive weekend of the Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 multiplayer beta is drawing to a close. I played this for the majority of the weekend, and let me kick off my impressions with a simple overall statement of the beta content: I had a lot of fun with it.

If anything, that’s the core of what video games are supposed to be, right? The fun factor is fundamental to the longevity of online multiplayer titles.

What sets the Black Ops 4 beta apart?

At one point, I was a Call of Duty fan through and through. I hopped on the COD train with the launch of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare in 2007. I was aboard that train for better or worse through the release Call of Duty: Black Ops 3. Although I played each of the yearly releases, I never considered myself a skilled Call of Duty player since I’ve always spread myself thin when it comes to playing a multitude of games. Rarely has one game ever been my sole focus.

During my time with Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, I started to notice a shift in my feelings towards the franchise. As an average Call of Duty gamer, I felt that I was being pushed out of the competitive online arena. With the advent of futuristic tech that largely began with Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, the ceiling for skilled players jumped further out of reach. Each new ability given to player avatars through technology advancement required increased precision. However, those abilities were highly effective when players who honed the craft could use them accurately. Wall running, double jumping, power sliding, and devastating scorestreaks were making life difficult for the average Call of Duty gamer. Gone were the days of simple boots-on-the-ground action.

Saving a franchise that lost sight of its casual audience

I don’t care what anyone says; it’s never fun to be utterly destroyed match after match with barely a win in sight. That’s the position I found myself in. So, my time with Black Ops 3 was shorter than past entries. I played the beta for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and found the same cyclical destruction leveled at me match after match. I wasn’t bitter, but the game simply was no longer for me. Therefore, I didn’t even bother stepping foot in the Infinite Warfare multiplayer arena upon launch. I skipped over Call of Duty: WWII entirely due to my exhaustion with the series, despite the game being rooted in classic territory.

When Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 was announced, I was skeptical. At first blush, it looked like we were back to complex futuristic action. Instantly, I wrote the game off with its debut trailer. However, I still felt the desire to at least give the franchise a try after some time apart from it. My personal findings were that my first impression was completely wrong. Unlike its predecessor, the feet of the players stay planted firmly on level ground. Throughout the course of my engagement with the game, I won and lost many matches. I had highs and lows. It was the perfect blend for an average gamer such as myself.

Firebreak specialist – Photo courtesy of Activision

Tweaking an old recipe

Some tweaks have been made to the formula that, I feel, have actually made the multiplayer more accessible. For starters, health regeneration is no longer a thing. When players take damage, they carry that with them unless they manually heal themselves. Healing is as simple as equipping a stim injector and clicking the L2 button on PS4. It opens up more strategy by giving the healing power to players themselves. Some specialists have the ability to still hold a gun in their right arm and fire from the hip while quickly injecting themselves.

Players can swap out the stim injector for other options such as body armor. Because of these options, players have life bars above their heads. Being able to see health drain from your opponents is a huge assist to me. It helps me strategize a potential firefight. I can take cover if I know that I’m not going to take my opponent out before I’d be killed. It also eliminates my age-old frustrated barking at the screen that the game cheated me from a kill that should have been mine. Now I can see for myself that I didn’t take his/her health bar down.

Another tweak that I found intriguing was the radar map. I love that players can see their teammates’ field of view (presented as cones projecting from each teammate’s position). Any time an enemy enters that field of view for any teammate, the red blip is shown on the entire team’s radar. This is a welcome addition to the long-running series as it enabled me to strategize more effectively.

More bang for your bu–free beta code

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 - Multiplayer Beta

Specialists

The multiplayer beta is rather large compared to past beta releases for the series. Players were given access to 10 specialists. Each specialist has their own gnarly abilities just as before. For example, Torque can activate a barricade that emits radiation! I didn’t even realize this until the first time I dropped a barricade and received XP for damage and kills taken by other players from the radiation. Ruin’s “Hulk Smash” ability is perfect for clearing out captured areas. You’ll see a lot of Ruin specialists running around in a game of Headquarters, so beware. All of these abilities are great fun. I enjoyed the one-shot kills of Seraph’s high-powered revolver and the ability to target players through walls with Recon’s specialty.

Each specialist has secondary abilities that recharge faster such as Ruin’s grapple hook. The grappling hook is perfect for zipping in and out of hot spots. Prophet’s seeker shock mine is the best gadget to bail a player out of a tough spot. I found myself taking cover many times after being hurt badly. I’d pull the mine out, let it zip around the corner of my cover to hit my opponent, and then I’d pop out and finish them off. Check out my gameplay footage below for a quick look at the varying degrees of the specialist abilities. The video includes Ruin, Seraph, Nomad, and Prophet.

Special issue equipment, perks, and wildcards

Special issue equipment are standard-fare throwable items such as a retrievable combat axe, frag grenades, molotovs, and the trophy system. The trophy system should be familiar to long-time fans. It destroys enemy Lethals, Tacticals, and explosives within a 10-meter radius. Perks also return in a similar fashion to prior iterations, with options ranging from the ability to see enemy footprints (Tracker) to being able to detect enemy equipment and scorestreaks through walls (Engineer). Of course, the more common options such as fast reload, invisibility to UAV detection, and silent movement for stealthier tactics are available, as well.

Then players can unlock wildcards to equip that provide additional perks. Wildcard options include, but are not limited to, opening up an additional attachment slot for the primary weapon, enabling a second primary weapon to replace the sidearm, or increasing the number of perks a player can select.

Game Modes

Control is the new game mode that was available during this beta. All of the other modes such as Hardpoint, Domination, and Team Deathmatch were old standards. Essentially, the assaulting team in Control has to capture multiple points without running out of lives. Both sides are limited and running out of lives prior to completing the objective will result in a loss. Control is an exciting new mode that ramps up the intensity for strategy much in the same way that Search & Destroy has done. S&D was always a popular mode because every death counted in a big way. Control offers a similar sentiment while still giving players a chance to bounce back in a given round.

Final Thoughts

The Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 multiplayer beta was an absolute surprise. I fully expected to be turned off by a potentially complex combat system that didn’t play well with less-skilled players. Instead, I was thrilled to see that the playing field has been leveled. This was partially done by bringing the boots-on-the-ground feel back to the Black Ops series while also tweaking actions such as health regeneration. There were many times when other players had the drop on me, but I managed to stay alive and, at times, reverse fortunes by obliterating the offending player. That was never an opportunity that I had in Black Ops 3 or the Infinite Warfare beta.

The modes, old and new, are a blast. There wasn’t much to be said about the maps as they felt like typical Call of Duty map designs. The equipment and customization options are as deep as Call of Duty fans would expect for maximum replayability. This was a solid beta, and I’m excited to see more from Blackout mode.

And, for those that are still skeptical or do not have the opportunity to try the betas, be sure to check back in with Daily Esports as we cover the Blackout beta (battle royale) for Black Ops 4 in September.

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.