After months of leaks, teases, and speculation over hats, Activision finally took the wraps off Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 at today's event. And it was certainly... surprising?
As expected, Treyarch confirmed that Black Ops 4 will have a battle royale mode, and that single-player will be taking a backseat. Less expected were Romans fighting zombies in a coliseum. It was a crazy event with a lot of twists and turns, often barely resembling Call of Duty at all. And yet, there was a lot to be excited for.
Here are some of my main takewaways after the big event, and what I'm expecting when Black Ops 4 launches on October 12.
1. Black Ops 4 Battle Royale is finally confirmed with Blackout
We've all known for ages that Call of Duty will have a battle royale mode of some kind, and Treyarch finally confirmed it at the the conclusion of their multiplayer reveal event. The new map will be called Blackout and will apparently feature maps "1500 times bigger than Nuketown." Oh, and it will include 10 years worth of Black Ops features. Neat.
Treyarch didn't actually reveal that much—it was more of a nostalgia tour from previous Black Ops games than anything else—but they did offer some hints as to what to expect. For one thing, it appears that the entire cast of characters from the Black Ops universe will be playable, including characters from zombies. It will include "your favorite characters, favorite weapons, and the most iconic areas of your favorite maps." Oh, and it will have vehicles, too.
It sounds a little like Treyarch is taking structures from fan-favorite maps and basically stitching them together in one big playground. It will be fascinating to see if it works. If I were to guess, it will be closer in scope to Fortnite than PUBG, with maps encouraging the faster-paced action that Call of Duty is known for.
Between Blackout, the reported battle royale mode in Battlefield 5 (and hell, Red Dead Redemption 2), this is the year that the big guns come out. And the winner may well end up defining big-budget shooters for years to come.
2. This is the cartooniest Call of Duty has ever been
Black Ops has always been more colorful than your average grim and gritty Call of Duty. But in the year of Fortnite, it seems as if Black Ops 4 is keener than ever to tap into the gonzo spirit of Epic's breakout megahit. The colors are brighter; the action just a bit crazier, and the character models more stylized.
Yes, I know that Fortnite has only truly been a thing for a few months now, but I have to believe that Treyarch took one look at its success and decided to punch up things a few notches. Hell, just take a look at Zombies. New maps like "Voyage of Despair" put the living dead in different scenarios, from the Roman coliseum to the Titanic, giving it a host of different flavors. This has to be the cartooniest the series has ever been.
This isn't a bad thing! Call of Duty was once derided for being grey (well, beige) and dark first-person shooter, so seeing the series gradually do a 180 starting with the original Black Ops has been refreshing to say the least. The tide has fully turned from the days of Gears of Wars and, yes, Modern Warfare. Black Ops 4 is yet one more example.
3. Treyarch hints at their approach to single-player in Black Ops 4
After the stream was done, social media was quick to note the lack of a traditional single-player campaign. And indeed, it appears that the days of big special guest stars like Kevin Spacey (yikes) showing up as villains in over-the-top campaigns is over. But Treyarch doesn't appear to be leaving single-player fans completely high and dry.
During the presentation, Treyarch noted that every one of the new specialists will be getting their own narrative mini-campaign. This will allow newcomers to get comfortable with the class roles that they offer and delve a bit into the Black Ops universe. It's reminiscent of the approach taken by Battlefield 1—less a single campaign than a series of vignettes.
We'll see how it goes. I strongly suspect that Activision and Treyarch are simply going by their internal metrics, and have concluded that single-player isn't important enough anymore to warrant a full-blown campaign. That's kind of a bummer given the rich history of Call of Duty's single-player campaigns (seriously, there have been some good ones over the years), and it's bound to turn off at least a few casuals. But the campaign has also been feeling increasingly vestigial of late, and this was perhaps inevitable.
In any case, press F to pay respects to Call of Duty's single-player campaign.
4. Black Ops 4 is going all out to appease the traditional fans
Probably the most cringeworthy moment in the entire presentation was when Treyarch led the crowd in a chant deriding the key features from Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare, which came out only just a few years ago.
"Will there be wall-running?" Treyarch asked.
"No!" The crowd enthusiastically responded.
It's every bit as bad as a sports franchise hyping up some key marketing-driven back-of-the-box feature, only to disown it the following year. Still, Advance Warfare's Halo-like mobility features were not popular with fans, and Treyarch is keen to have them all onboard for the game that may finally turn Call of Duty into a proper platform (more on that in a moment).
This event was full of deliberately crowdpleasing moments, from hype reels featuring the previous Black Ops games to the return of fan-favorite modes like Leagues. After a relatively lackluster run this generation—Call of Duty: WW2 was dropped comparatively quickly by the community—Treyarch seems keen to get the bad taste left by Infinity War and other games out of the community's mouth.
Tacky denouncements of their own games aside, this seemed like a good start.
5. This may be the beginning of the end of CoD as an annualized franchise
The annualized franchise may finally be dying. As mega-platforms with persistent platform grow more and more dominant, forcing fans to spend $60 each new year on a boxed game is feeling increasingly quaint. Sure, Call of Duty tops sales every year, but how much more successful would it be if it didn't hit the reset button every year?
In putting a ton of emphasis on Call of Duty's potential as a platform—custom toolsets for Zombies, Leagues, Blackout, and all the rest—Activision seems to be acknowledging that the tide has indeed finally turned. Treyarch then concluded with perhaps the biggest statement of all: "It's a game built to last for years to come."
Okay, so yes, Activision wants you to play every Call of Duty for years to come. I'm pretty sure Black Ops 2 multiplayer still pops up on tracking services from time to time. But this time feels more urgent. Maybe this is the moment that Activision finally lets Call of Duty rest for a year or two. Maybe this is the year that it becomes... get ready for it... a service.
One way or another, Call of Duty has managed to remain relevant in the shooter space for more than a decade by riding the tides and picking the right moments to innovate. Zombies was one such moment, Blackout will be another. And one way or another, Call of Duty will march on.
But I will say this. Even if Activision is bound to hit the reset button yet again next year, this definitely feels like the momentous Call of Duty release since probably the original Black Ops. They're going all out on this one, and with their best studio. It's gonna be a fun one.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 will be out October 12. Here's everything we know so far about what's been revealed.
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