Say what you will about Call of Duty, but its fanbase is ravenous. Year in and year out, players line-up to do battle online in the game’s popular competitive multiplayer modes. While the Modern Warfare era largely revolved around iterations on the original formula that sparked this popularity, the game began to polarize segments of the gaming community. Some wanted big changes, some wanted small ones. The game has been decried for lacking in innovation, demonizing its makers for offering little more than a re-skin. While arguments can be made for and against these points in the past, there’s no denying that in recent years we’ve seen some pretty significant changes to the way we play Call of Duty.
Most notably, 2014’s release of Advanced Warfare brought with it a completely new movement system and changed the way we play the game. It was quite groundbreaking territory for the series. Fans of Call of Duty were beginning to see the fruits of Activision’s three-year approach to developing the shooter, utilizing three distinct studios to work on successive games. This year, Activision’s arguably best studio, Treyarch, is in charge of Call of Duty: Black Ops 3. We recently got a chance to get an extensive hands-on look at Black Ops 3 at E3 2015 and came away with a feeling that the game is changing yet again.
There’s a number of ways that Black Ops 3 will be different than what you expect from a Call of Duty game. The general movement and speed of the game is fast. Specialist units with special abilities and weapons have been introduced as well, but a tight line is being walked in introducing these new elements and fusing them with old ones to make Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 feel both familiar and fresh. David Vonderhaar of Treyarch explained to us the difficult nature of making such drastic changes to the game.
If they weren’t fun I’d be scared to death, says Vonderhaar
When we asked if he was worried that the changes would alienate fans who like a more traditional Call of Duty game, Vonderhaar told us, “No, look we’ve been doing things along the way that people will talk about as ‘will this be alienating or not?’ What do mean you can take six perks in Black Ops 2. I’ve heard it all before,” explained the developer. “This is the thing we live in. You have to really respect where you’ve been and I think we do that. But you have to move forward. You have to try new things. You have to be willing to give new experiences to players. You have to push forward, right? This is 12 years of the franchise and the third Black Ops game. We wanted to make sure that this game had some big chunky, like holy shit what are they doing here’ kinda stuff. And the truth is they’re fun. If they weren’t fun I’d be scared to death. We’re game makers, we don’t want to play the same game we made. We already made that game it was a great game. Black Ops 2 was a fantastic game, it did fantastically well. But we also have to push forward, and the specialist system is a gameplay system that is quite unique. It is a little bit different and that’s OK. Pick 10 was different, people thought I was insane then too.”
Vonderhaar’s confidence that the new movements and Specialists were fun for players was readily apparent in our hands-on time with the game. All of these facets were easy to pick up and indeed fun to play, feeling like natural extensions to the core gameplay. Perhaps it was the introduction of the Exo-Suit in Advanced Warfare that prepped us for this new faster-paced game, but Black Ops 3 feels like it takes this to yet another level. Wall-running, Sliding, Analog Thrusting — the new movement options in Black Ops 3 feel like they fit together better than they did in Advanced Warfare. Chaining together these traversal elements feels fluid and fast, and rewarding for the player as it can all culminate in that moment where you take out an enemy, or two.
Black Ops 3 Movement
Movement is indeed a big part of Black Ops 3 in terms of what’s changing this year, but Specialists, in my opinion, are THE biggest change to the game, adding yet another layer onto the rewards system of a multiplayer match. These unique characters are just as important to the game as the gun and equipment you select to suit your play style. Treyarch has introduced six specialist characters thus far, each with their own backstory, weapon and ability. At the beginning of a match, players must select a specialist and whether or not they want to use their weapon or ability. These can be used multiple times during a match, and can be tide-turning if used right. The implementation of the system as we saw it dictates that the player earns points in their ability bar simply by playing, which once full, will allow access to the special weapon or perk.
The abilities and weapons vary widely for the Specialists, and it all depends on the character you choose. There are powerful gun and weapon variants like a compound bow with explosive tips, a lighting gun with a chain attack, and a high-powered mini-gun among others. While abilities vary also, giving players the power to teleport, have powerful vision, or be granted a burst of speed. Specialists might be the most controversial aspect of Black Ops 3, due to their potential for abuse if the balance of the game isn’t quite right.
Vonderhaar not worried about Specialists balance in Black Ops 3
We asked David Vonderhaar about potential balance issues and here’s what he told us: “We go to great lengths to keep the balance. We use metrics, not just playtest feedback. So am I worried they’re going to break the game? No, they fit into a particular powerband between create-a-class and scorestreaks. If they break the game I didn’t balance it right. I think we can make it so they don’t break the game,” said Vonderhaar.
Hands-on Gameplay Footage Call of Duty: Black Ops 3
There’s no doubting that when you do earn an ability or weapon, a sense of power is granted to the player. Though it’s not quite as simple as just popping your skill or weapon and then dominating the other team. Skilled players will certainly do better than others, but they can be killed just as easily as well. Vonderhaar elaborates, “Not really,” says the developer when asked if Specialists were overpowered. “We talk about them as superheroes, and when they have their weapon or their ability there’s definitely the brief spike of superheroness, no question. But that doesn’t mean they have anymore health that they had before they activated their weapon or ability.”
This was readily apparent in our demo. Eager to test out the new abilities, we activated our compound bow just as soon as it was available in our first match. This one second of joy ended after being killed before getting a single shot off. Specialists play is going to be yet another thing for Call of Duty players to master. Though it was also important to note that was a lot of variety in these characters, not only in their weapons and abilities, but the way that they changed the game as well. You’ll hear these characters speaking during multiplayer matches and each have distinct personalities to go alongside their arsenals.
As someone who’s been waning on Call of Duty in recent years, my playtime has taken a downward turn from Ghosts to Advanced Warfare, Black Ops 3 feels like just the right mix of old and new to rekindle that fire. New systems to learn, fast and furious gameplay, so long as Vonderhaar’s multiplayer team holds up their end of the bargain in terms of balance, Black Ops 3 multiplayer might be the best Call of Duty multiplayer since Black Ops 2.