I can’t get enough of the Battle Royale genre. From H1Z1 and PUBG to Fortnite, I’ve poured countless hours into them all. For me, every match is its own story. But we’ve yet to see the biggest multiplayer franchises try Battle Royale. Until now.
Call of Duty’s Blackout beta was live across three platforms this weekend. And it delivered. Big time. Were there bugs? Yep. But the gameplay I enjoyed from the Black Ops 4 multiplayer beta was here, and it felt great.
I’m going to break down what worked for me, and what didn’t.
Guns, perks, abilities
I picked up way too many shotguns right after landing, but the usual suite of guns were all here. What surprised me were the ‘gold’ (the weapons aren’t gold, but they have a gold outline around them when looting them) variants sprinkled across the map. I landed at Cargo Docks one match and the first gun I grabbed was a fully decked out ICR-7. I’m talking scope, grip, magazine, suppressor. Everything.
But there were plenty of matches where I never found one of these ‘gold’ variants. At first glance, it might seem unbalanced – but I like it. It gives players more of an incentive to jump into hot spots around the map. Places like Nuketown Island and Asylum will always be crowded, but tossing in these variants gives folks something to fight over besides themselves.
I do hope the devs look into adding these variants across the map. It could help split 88 players across the map. More importantly, it could help make the mid-game a little better.
Perks are also in. In Blackout, they’re used as consumables. And each one has a specific time duration. Dead Silence (silent footsteps) lasts 240 seconds while Awareness (hear enemy footsteps better) lasts 140 seconds. The devs went into Blackout with balance in mind. I’m sure these timers will be tweaked, but the timing system is a good launch point.
Explaining what each perk does could be done better, though. I dig the quick-equip system (especially on consoles), but you have to open the full inventory screen to see what they do. It’s not a huge deal since it takes maybe a match or two to figure out what they all do. But for new players, it will break up the gameplay flow as they figure out what each perk does.
Overall though, I dig the perk system inside Blackout. It keeps one of the pillars of Call of Duty multiplayer with an eye on balancing it too.
Finally, abilities. I don’t think all of them are in here, but I did see plenty of sensor darts, cluster grenades, barricades, barb wire, and grappling hooks. The only purely offensive one I saw was the War Machine out of a care package. Again, there might be more – but those are the ones I saw the most of.
The grappling hook is an absolute blast to use and feels tailor-made for Blackout.
It’s moments like these that make Blackout so much fun. And then there’s craziness like this.
My name is ChrisRadial but I like to go by Spiderman pic.twitter.com/xVb47SNIq1
— Chris Abbott (@ChrisRadial) September 15, 2018
Just like perks, I was impressed with how the devs are already looking at balancing. It would be easy to throw all this stuff in Blackout and let players run wild. Take the grappling hook; you only get five uses with it.
That sensor dart needs to be toned down a bit. I love it, but they last way too long. Plus, if you manage to find a couple – you’ll have a huge leg up on those who don’t have them. Maybe extend the time between pings so it’s not so easy to see where players are moving.
Treyarch managed to stuff pretty much all of Black Ops 4 into Blackout. Guns, perks, abilities, zombies, the mystery box, and more. It’s all here wrapped into an ever-closing circle until one player (or team) is the last standing. It’s fast, it’s smooth, and it’s a whole lot of fun.
Quick-equip is great on consoles (when it works)
Managing your inventory on PUBG on Xbox One is a giant pain in the ass. A controller only has so many buttons so it’s hard to bash on developers too much. But with Blackout, the developers implemented a quick-equip system using the d-pad.
Say you have a frag grenade equipped, but want to switch to the grappling hook. You tap up on the d-pad, scroll over and hit ‘X’ over the grappling hook. All while still moving around and even engaging an enemy player that sneaks up on you.
Now it’s not perfect. I’m not sure if it’s server lag or something messed up with the system, but there were several times it didn’t want to scroll. It would just get stuck. I noticed this the most when looting dead players.
The system is promising, though. It keeps you in the action when changing sights, using perks, or equipping abilities. For a controller, it’s hard to imagine a system much better. All Treyarch needs to do is iron out the bugs.
Heal on the move
Healing is another cornerstone of Battle Royale gameplay. In Blackout, it works a lot like it does in multiplayer with a few notable changes. Heals aren’t instant, and there are three different healing items. The big one here is trauma kit. It heals you all the way up to 200. Combine that with level 3 armor, and you’re damn near a tank.
I like how you can keep sprinting while healing too. It makes dumb deaths to the gas pretty much a non-issue. I also love how it keeps the tempo high during fights. The action doesn’t come to a screeching halt as you pause several seconds to heal. I can throw a grenade and heal up while pushing another player. I can be aggressive even if at a momentary health disadvantage.
Like perks, I won’t be surprised if the devs tweak the system a little bit. I do think healing on the move should stay, but bumping the time it takes to use a heal is something I can see happening.
Level 3 Armor is absurd
Maybe the entire armor system needs to be tweaked, but something needs to be done for sure about level 3 armor. Here’s how the description read during the beta:
Body Armor that reduces damage from bullets by 65%. Protects from Headshots. Reduced damage from explosives and fire. Adds resistance to 9-Bang, Concussion, and Razor Wire.
65% is already crazy, plus it protects from headshots. Combine that with 200 health (via trauma kit), and you’re a walking tank. I won several gunfights I had no business winning because I was wearing level 3 armor. And I also died to several people despite dumping an entire clip into them.
Treyarch is already working on changing the armor system.
We are going to be making changes to the armor system before the game ships.
— Alexander Conserva (@AlexConserva) September 16, 2018
Toning down the damage reduction percentage would be a good start. 65% is way too much. It should be 45% max. Hell, a simple 10% (lvl 1), 20% (lvl 2), and 30% (lvl 3) would be best.
It’s a problem all Battle Royale games have. The beginning and the end of matches are always compelling. But matches can lag in the mid-game. It doesn’t always happen, but you will have games were you just don’t run into other people no matter how much you try to push the action.
It’s a problem with no easy solution. The main reason why the mid-game is often dull is us. Players like to drop in hot zones to get into the action quicker. But what happens is you lose half the players in the first few minutes.
To Treyarch’s credit, they have implemented several ways to spread players out. Gold variant guns, a moving mystery box, and care packages give folks incentive to go to new locations. It’ll be interesting to see how matches and the player base evolve when the game launches. Right now, a lot of people follow the ‘Titled Towers’ approach. Jump into the busiest location and see who comes out standing.
A fast, fun blend of Call of Duty and Battle Royale
Blackout takes the Call of Duty I love and meshes it with the genre I can’t stop playing. It won’t win any graphics of the year awards, but it’s a joy to play with. Solo or with three friends, Blackout is the real deal. There were some server issues and bugs, but nothing Treyarch shouldn’t be able to take care of over the next month.
Let’s hope those servers are ready for the onslaught of players, new and old.
Black Ops 4’s betas were damn near perfect. Call of Duty’s betas were designed to sell us on Black Ops 4. And they succeeded. I haven’t been this pumped for a Call of Duty in years.