Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War's multiplayer feels like a step back, but most will see that as a positive. It's ditching Specialists, the blasé hero class-system from Black Ops 3 and Black Ops 4. It leaves behind doors, gun mounting, and the weightier weapons that helped define and set apart last year's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, developed by Infinity Ward. Yet, it retains the large-scale map sizes, gunsmith weapon customization, and slight ditching of three-lane map structure last year's entry pioneered.
In 2019, it felt like Call of Duty was forging a new path for itself, thanks in part to its new engine and a newly heightened focus on detail, such as in sound design. In early 2020 with the standalone release of Call of Duty: Warzone, it felt even more like a new future was possible for Call of Duty; one perhaps not annualized. Instead, Activision recently announced a 2020 Call of Duty after all: a collaboration between Treyarch, who are spearheading the multiplayer and likely Zombies as well, and Raven Software, who are handling the single-player campaign.
Last week, I got a few hours of hands-on time with Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War's multiplayer. It's appropriately fast-paced, as the Black Ops series always is. I played matches with a mix of professional streamers and traditional press like myself. We slid across ludicrous distances; we shot, we were 360-no-scoped by snipers way more agile than us. But I left Black Ops Cold War feeling surprisingly indifferent, realizing I enjoyed the feeling of Modern Warfare far more—perhaps fair, considering I've spent the bulk of this year travelling across Warzone's Verdansk, despite my remaining distaste for most of Modern Warfare's lackluster multiplayer maps. (There's a reason why Shoot House and Shipment 24/7, and the playlist Shoot the Ship that just mixes the two, remain the most popular and recurring map playlists.)
Warzone, as we already know, is not suddenly going away upon the launch of Black Ops Cold War. After getting hands-on time with Black Ops Cold War, however, I'm more intrigued by how Warzone will merge with the battle royale. Top-to-bottom, stock-to-barrel, Black Ops Cold War's weapons feel incredibly different. Recoil is virtually nonexistent, and aiming down sights is speedy no matter what the gun, as if everything had a speedy grip attachment built on even without one equipped. The LMGs I tried—my usual main weapon class—may have felt useless, but there were still standouts like the Type 63, a sneaky versatile marksman rifle with a high rate of fire, and the SMG AK-47u, which seemed to be a quick favorite judging from my squadmates.
It has me worried, however, considering the strikingly different feel. Will Black Ops Cold War's weapons feel different within Warzone, thus casting aside Warzone's previous unified progression where weapons felt consistent across modes? How will Black Ops Cold War's Type 63 feel alongside, say, an SKS? Will the character movement of Warzone change to better pair with Black Ops Cold War's faster movement? I left Black Ops Cold War's multiplayer event with a lot of these sorts of questions that all boil down to How, How, How? We did not get hands-on time with Warzone: Chapter 2, so unfortunately I don't know the answers to these conundrums yet.
Meanwhile, wildcards and scorestreaks—the latter replacing killstreaks—are making a return. In my playtime, there were four wildcards available to equip: Gunfighter nets three additional attachment slots in the gunsmith for your primary weapon (meaning you can have a fully decked out eight attachments), Perk Greed grants three extra perks on top of the three base ones, Law Breaker is essentially the Overkill perk and lets you equip any weapon in either slot as well as any perk (meaning you can double up on perks from an individual section), and Danger Close equips extra lethal and tactical equipment, as well as kicks you off with maximum ammo.
There's also the Field Upgrades that you can customize now per loadout, instead of setting in a different menu entirely. There's the Proximity Mine (yes, not a lethal grenade as in Modern Warfare), the Sam Turret, the Jammer, and the Field Mic. While customizing weapons in the gunsmith, there's also a new section showcasing the exact percentage an attachment affects the weapon. So rather than having to look at the stat meters' green and red change and its accompanying blanket pros and cons list, there's a bit more detail. Considering I usually have to go to separate online guides to read up on weapons attachments, this additional level of transparency in the gunsmith is very welcome.
During my time with Black Ops Cold War, we played on maps based on Miami, Moscow, Angola, and more. The multiplayer, according to Treyarch, is set after the events of the campaign. From Kill Confirmed to Hardpoint, familiar modes are obviously returning to the world of Black Ops. It's also making a big change in introducing some new modes too.
We got hands-on time with two of the three new modes revealed. The 40-player Fireteam mode, which we did not play, pins 10 squads of four players against each other as they work toward miscellaneous map objectives. As for the new modes we did get hands-on time with, one left me interested in playing more, while the other left me cold.
For the former, it came in the larger-scale 12v12 Combined Arms battles. Combined Arms is essentially a smaller scale Ground War mode—or a Domination match, with twice as many players. Of the maps we played Combined Arms on, my favorite is the Armada map. On Armada, you zipline to and from large battleships, and can even leap into the sea below to swim to capturable objectives. Or, you can find a boat or jetski to cruise around on and travel that way. The map is big enough to spread players out, but not too big that you're left wanting for action. It's the perfect middleground.
Meanwhile, the new Escort mode feels woefully unbalanced at the moment. In the mode, one person on your team of six is left with just a pistol, and as a team, your goal is to escort them to one of two extraction points on the map. On the escort side, you must safely guard them as another full team of six with all their weapons and equipment at their behest try to kill you and stop the escort from escaping. During our many matches, which consist of multiple rounds on each side, only one round did an escort actually escape. The pacing of the Escort matches is also slower than the rest of what Black Ops Cold War has to offer, and I found myself wishing it had Warzone's pinging to help with team communication for those not on voice chat.
Of the new maps I played, there's a mix of large-scale, camper-friendly maps and typical three-lane structure—which is where Call of Duty remains at its best, despite its attempts to shake up the formula in recent years. My favorite of the new maps I played is Satellite, a desert map with a crashed aircraft in the middle (immediately bringing to mind Uncharted 3's key art moment). It's deceptively open, but leaves for a lot of unexpected cover courtesy of sand dunes and crevices. Most, I imagine, will find themselves enamored with the glitz of the Vice City-esque Miami map—but I found its indoor-outdoor layout to be a bit too maze-y to wrap my head around during the handful of matches on it.
I left my time with Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War looking forward to playing more of it, but also realizing that unexpectedly I may prefer Modern Warfare in terms of these recent-years Call of Duties. Considering the early Black Ops games are my favorites from a multiplayer perspective in the series, this revelation is a shock to me. While I can't pinpoint exactly what it is about Black Ops Cold War that's not clicking with me yet, I can at least gesture toward the lackluster new Escort mode and general camper-friendly map design, as well as the sameness of all the weapons' ADS as downfalls.
Of course, given this is an alpha build, it's possible that by the time Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War launches it will be spit-shined to a degree where all these rambling thoughts and complaints are rendered moot. I suppose, like everyone, I'll just have to wait and see. (Luckily, this year's Call of Duty is once again making all its post-launch multiplayer maps and modes free, and including a paid battle pass per season.) Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is out on Nov. 13 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC, with next-gen releases to follow whenever the consoles are out. For more on what's new with Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War, check out our deep dive into its single-player campaign here.