Well, the Blackout beta for Call of Duty Black Ops 4 is over. I have to say, I’m pretty disappointed. Not in the gameplay, which was stellar, but that I have to wait almost a month until I can drop onto Nuketown Island with my buddies again. Treyarch have created a fairly accessible battle royale mode that captures both the essence of the genre, and of Call of Duty. It almost feels like this mode should have been in any of the previous titles already, because Blackout felt smooth and right at home in the gameplay. It should’ve been unsurprising what a Triple-A developer could do with the genre, but until now I had remained cautiously optimistic.
I played Blackout on two platforms: Xbox One X and Playstation 4 Pro. Both versions ran really well during gameplay, while I had a few hiccups during the Xbox One beta portion. This is a beta, I wasn’t expecting it to be perfect, but I definitely expected the party menu to work. Instead, I had to navigate through the finicky in-game social menu. Playstation 4 didn’t have these problems, and Treyarch have said since the conclusion of the beta that this would be fixed by launch. Another weird thing that happened is every time I hit the guide button on Xbox One, my game would lose controller input in the menus. It wasn’t as big a deal when I wasn’t the party leader, because once we got in game, the issue went away. However, it was still a weird hiccup that lost me a bunch of time.
In the pre-game lobby, when players are still loading in, players have the opportunity to test out guns and equipment that they aren’t sure what they do. It was a nice touch, especially for my first match, when I was trying to get my bearings on weapons. I play a lot of PUBG, which used to have this type of lobby, but has since been removed. It was something I really liked, getting to test out weapons, so I can learn how recoil affects the different firearms.
The beta initially started off at an 80 player cap, but during the course of the week, Treyarch upped that count. By the end of the beta’s run, 100 players were wingsuiting out of helicopters to rush for weapons and armor. The wingsuiting in Blackout feels really good, and the physics behind it helps cross the entire map fairly quickly. Often, you should jump early and utilize the wingsuit speeds to get to places before your enemies. This gets you into hot-drops faster, so you can be ready for the countless other players that seemed to drop everywhere. The map isn’t so big that you’ll often drop anywhere alone. It happens, but it seemed rare to me.
The high loot distribution of weapons makes dropping almost anywhere with a few houses viable. There were a few frustrating deaths due to not finding anything, but that’s just the nature of the Battle Royale genre. There are tons of weapons to utilize, and of course, some are flat-out better than others. I generally gravitated towards a 5.56 weapon like the Maddox or ICR for close range, and a sniper or DMR for long range. SMG’s, especially in the early game, are still balanced well though, so even if I found an MX9 in the beginning of a match I was still happy. Hell, a revolver got me through some tense encounters early game due to its high fire rate.
For those that played the multiplayer beta, some specialist equipment makes an appearance. Recon’s sensor dart reveals a circular portion of the map around wherever the dart lands, and the mesh mine creates a deadly trap for unsuspecting enemies. There’s plenty of equipment to mess around with. A lot of it seems really situational, but they all have their uses. One encounter will hold a special place in my heart. I was playing with my squad, and I dropped a sensor dart in a group of houses about three quarters of the way through a match. The dart revealed an enemy hiding in a house. We moved up together and explored the house without finding anyone, but the enemy dot on the minimap told us there was definitely someone there. I noticed the bathroom door was shut, so I opened it to find three enemies hiding in the smallest room of the house behind barbed wired. Things quickly escalated to random hip-fire as they fragged us from the inside of the room, but we still came out on top. This is the beauty of the amount of things players can do in Blackout. If you want to have fun and mess around, there’s plenty of time for that even while remaining competitive during the match.
There are a few vehicles for transport scattered around the map randomly, but the best addition to Blackout is a helicopter. The chopper can transport up to five players (why, when the game only supports four man teams?) but ended up being a ton of fun to use. This became ten-fold when we ended up in a battle with another team flying in a helicopter, and the warfare became airborne.
The guns are incredibly fun to shoot, and everything feels really responsive, unlike another battle royale game I play. The biggest issue I had with the beta was the inventory system. Detaching attachments from weapons is cumbersome, and takes far too much time. Luckily, equipping attachments is really easy. If a gun I had didn’t have the attachment I wanted to pick up, holding the ‘x’ button automatically puts it on the gun I had equipped. If I already had an attachment in that slot, the game would swap it out if I found a better one. It’s a pretty easy system, unlike detaching them.
A quick-equip menu lets players use perks they pick up or change equipment without actually hitting the start button and using the menu. However, the d-pad is severely underutilized, and it feels like left and right on the d-pad would be easier to change equipped health items and equipment than opening the “quick” menu.
One thing I really do have to commend Treyarch on is how actively they are listening to player feedback. Level 3 armor in Blackout is pretty powerful, and because of its high spawn rate, players felt it was too strong. Instead of reducing the amount of damage it could withstand, Treyarch reduced the spawn rate by 75%. This is just an example, as a host of changes came throughout the week, but how much they listened to the community is pretty impressive.
I have high hopes for the future of Blackout and Call of Duty Black Ops 4. We had a ton of fun with the multiplayer beta, and I played a ton of Blackout over the last week. There are some tweaks that need to be made for the health of the mode, but a strong focus on community feedback and balancing will keep Blackout alive. This paints a strong picture for what Treyarch says they will be supporting for a number of years.
Call of Duty Black Ops 4 launches on October 12th for Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC through Battle.net. Preorders are available here.