Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 still feels like a Call of Duty game. That was never in doubt But, Treyarch did make one huge change to the core gameplay loop by adding a new heal mechanic.
Gone are the days of waiting for your character to magically regenerate health. Now, you’re in complete control.
Here’s how a typical firefight plays out now. Kill the other person, pop the heal, and keep moving. I didn’t have to pause and wait for my health to regenerate. I could keep pushing the action. The downtime waiting for my health to regenerate was gone. It’s all about looking for the next fight, the next objective, the next flank.
The heal mechanic also works on the flipside. Say a player gets the drop on you. Instead of being at a disadvantage even if you get to cover, you can hit the heal button and be almost back to full health by the time the other player rounds the corner. I can’t count the times I managed to flip a firefight that in previous Call of Duty’s was always a struggle to win.
Not only does the new heal mechanic improve the gameplay loop, but it’s also damn satisfying to use. It reminds me of how cool the ‘active reload’ mechanic from Gears of War is. And how seamless it integrates into the gameplay. After a couple of matches, the heal mechanic feels second nature. Even after just two weekends with Black Ops 4, it’s hard to imagine a Call of Duty without it. That’s how you know it’s a great feature.
Treyarch also integrated the heal mechanic within the toolset of some of the specialists. Most notably, Firebreak. One of his abilities is called ‘Reactor Core,’ a damaging radiation field that sweeps across a small area around him. Anyone caught in it enters a ‘wounded’ state. While ‘wounded,’ you can’t heal. It isn’t permanent, but it may as well be as fast as Black Ops 4 plays.
While I’ve talked about all the new stuff the heal mechanic adds to Call of Duty, it also impacts parts of the game like map design and the spawn system.
During the two weekend betas, the folks at Treyarch tweaked the movement speed (especially the slide) several times as they tried to balance out the faster play style of Black Ops 4 with the maps.
The map size themselves don’t feel all that different from other Call of Duty’s Treyarch has worked on. You still have each map broken down into ‘lanes.’ But the heal mechanic does affect how these maps playout. Sure, the slide was too fast – but with no downtime to heal now, players can get from one end to the other quickly. I especially noticed this when playing Domination.
It’s no problem now to rush from one side of the map to the other and start capturing objective points. While map design and movement speed play their role, you can’t discount the faster gameplay made possible by the new heal mechanic.
This faster gameplay also shows some of the limitations of Black Ops 4’s spawn system. This is especially true in the Team Deathmatch and Kill Confirmed modes. Again, the faster gameplay created in part due to the heal mechanic creates instances of people spawning behind you or in front of you. There’s only so many places for the game to spawn you in.
Add in a faster gameplay style, and you’re bound to see some spawn camping. It never felt game breaking, but it did happen enough to be noticeable.
Bottom line, Black Ops 4’s multiplayer plays much faster than COD: WWII. And I like it. Maybe it’s because I’ve been on a Battle Royale kick over the past year, but I enjoyed the hell out of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. It was nice jumping back into a more traditional multiplayer experience. And the new heal mechanic changes up the core gameplay loop in all the right ways and feels great to use too.
We also get a glimpse at how Call of Duty’s Battle Royale mode ‘Blackout’ might play out. One of the core gameplay pillars of any Battle Royale game is being able to heal. The new heal mechanic shows us how it will work. But I doubt Treyarch will go with a rechargeable heal for ‘Blackout.’
Instead, it’ll probably be like the new ‘Heist’ mode we played in the second weekend. During a ‘Heist’ match, there were health and ammo pickups littered across the map. Each health pickup gave you one heal to use. Treyarch’s description of ‘Blackout’ points to looting and scavenging across the map.
The mode will feature classic Black Ops weapons with different ammo types and equipment that players will loot and scavenge in the map. Players will also find and drive land, sea and air vehicles.
I imagine a similar system we saw in ‘Heist’ will play out in ‘Blackout.’
Call of Duty’s core gameplay loop hasn’t changed all that much since Call of Duty 4 brought the franchise mainstream. Yes, we saw huge changes in movement in Advanced Warfare and Black Ops 3 – but the franchise ultimately returned to boots on the ground gameplay. But the gunplay, perks, and killstreaks we’ve seen since Call of Duty 4 are all still here. I hope this new heal mechanic joins them.