Game Reviews

Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 Review

Did the bold changes pay off?

by William Schwartz

The Call of Duty franchise has followed a pretty predictable template when it comes to content in the yearly shooter.  There’s always been a strong competitive multiplayer component. Due to popular demand, zombies has become a yearly inclusion.  But there’s always been a single player campaign to tie it all together.  While it’s probably safe to assume that if you asked most people who play Call of Duty what part of the game they spend the most time in, their answer would likely be either of the first two. That’s probably why Activision made the unprecedented move to remove the single player component to this year’s game.  With Black Ops 4, what we have is a Call of Duty game that focuses entirely on what it does best.

The trade-off for no single player campaign is a great Battle Royale mode

This is definitely not a case of losing something without getting anything in return.  Without having to focus on the single player side of things, it’s given Activision some room to try new things with their own take on Battle Royale.  Competitive multiplayer has been completely reworked to be a more tactical shooter across all modes, old and new.  And this year, the zombies mode is going to give players far more at launch than any Call of Duty game before it.  If you like Call of Duty multiplayer, there is something here that will spark your interest.

Call of Duty has been trying a lot of different things lately and a lot has changed since Treyarch was last at the helm for Black Ops 3. Not all their work from that game has been lost though.  The Specialist characters that they introduced back in 2015 return with some familiar faces and abilities alongside some new ones as well.  What they didn’t bring forward is the jetpacking and wall-running abilities from that game.  Specialist abilities are at the forefront of Black Ops 4 multiplayer and they look to change the way the game is played.  This in objective modes and even more specifically in the new objective mode called Control that has teams attacking and defending objectives.  The abilities are wide-ranging for the Specialists in Black Ops 4.  There something for every taste here, from support roles to attackers and defenders.  Whether it’s healing or boosting characters, putting up barricades, calling in radars, or bringing out death dealing weaponry, the specialists are varied, if anything.


While most players will likely opt for specialist abilities, they don’t have to use them.  There’s a completely customizable loadout system that allows to mix and match any of the primary and secondary weapons, equipment, perks, and abilities with one another in the Pick-10 system.  This system allows any combination of loadout, so long as you don’t go over the ten item limit.  Pick-10 has always been one of the best systems in these games if just for the freedom it provides the player.  Though Treyarch has taken a big step in a new direction for Call of Duty with Black Ops 4 multiplayer, it’s still very much grounded in its roots.  Gunplay feels wholly familiar to previous years.  The level of quality in multiplayer is up to par with what we’ve come to expect from the franchise.  It’s that same high frame rate, low time to kill, crazy spawns, fast-paced shooter that it’s been for years.  Yes, you’re still going to melt people’s faces off with the right combination of weapons and attachments.  You’re going to get no-scoped at point blank range by a adept sniper.  You’re going to get shot in the back when you think you’re safe.

Competitive Multiplayer is more about team work than previous games

Sticking to the traditional multiplayer modes, Black Ops 4 feels pretty familiar.  Game modes like Team Death Match, Kill Confirmed don’t really highlight the new Specialists and their abilities, but modes like Domination, Search and Destroy, Hardpoint, and the new Control Mode really do.  A team of Specialists that are all working together are definitely going to have the upper of hand over a single good “lone wolf” player and that’s due to the complimentary elements of the specialists.  In the spirit of trying new things, another new mode has been added to the mix with Black Ops 4 multiplayer in Heist.  This mode has players vying for a bag of money in a “Last Man Standing” style mode where participants gain cash for performing well in game and then can use this cash to purchase weapons, items, and equipment to take into the match.  Players will start each Heist Match with a loadout that is limited to what they can purchase with a small amount of cash.  As the multi-round affair progresses, players will purchase more powerful weapons, perks, and equipment.

At launch there are fourteen multiplayer maps in all, with four of them being remakes from previous Black Ops games.  Summit, Slums, Jungle, and Firing Range are “fan favorites” from previous games that will certainly bring back some memories for Call of Duty fans.  Fourteen maps actually feels like a lot when compared to Call of Duty WW2 because of the War Mode which had it’s own dedicated maps.  It’s also up from Infinite Warfare, which launched with 12 multiplayer maps.  Not all maps will show up in all game modes and different modes will feature different numbers of players for each.  Team Deathmatch is going to have the highest player count with up to 12 players, while modes like Free for All can start with as little as six players in a lobby.


If Call of Duty competitive multiplayer is the #1 draw for fans of these games, Zombies is a close second.  The mode which started as an Easter Egg in Call of Duty World at War has grown into much more in recent years.  In Black Ops 4 it’s bigger than ever, not just from a content standpoint, but in its modes and features as well.  On the surface, Black Ops 4 is going to launch with three zombies experiences (4 if you include the one included in the Black Ops Pass).  There are two Chaos Storyline missions that follow Scarlett, Diego, Bruno and Shaw in two totally unique missions and settings called IX and Voyage of Despair.  IX thrusts the group into a gladiator arena where they’ll take on hordes of undead on their way to tracking down the High Priest of Chaos.  In Voyage of Despair, the group finds themselves on the Titanic after striking an iceberg.  They’ll need to battle through wave after wave of zombie after the theft of an ancient artifact goes wrong.  The third story based Zombie mission follows the old zombie crew of Richtofen, Dempsey, Takeo, and Nikolai in a prison setting which feels like a more traditional Call of Duty zombies experience.

There’s a lot for zombies fans at launch

All three of these story missions are accompanied by a familiar progression and upgrades system that was introduced a few games ago.  The mode still has a heavy loot box mechanic that allows players to purchase Elixirs that give them powers in a match.  Complete zombies matches and you’ll earn currency which can be used to purchase random elixirs of varying strengths.  The pre-launch environment in which we played zombies mode didn’t allow us to get too far into the Easter Eggs of these different zombies maps.  Treyarch has said that they are holding things back during this time so that the community can go after them as a whole at launch.  Since this is a pretty big part of the zombies experience for someone who comes to these games primarily for this mode, it’s hard to tell how well this has been handled this time around.  Treyarch has certainly sent players on some crazy easter egg hunts in the past, and we expect this trend to continue in Black Ops 4.

Outside of Easter Eggs, there are a ton of ways to play Zombies mode in Black Ops 4.  There are the story missions that can be played via Public Lobbies.  Though this year you can get a pretty good cooperative experience with the help of bots.  You previously had to rely on having friends around to tackle these challenges or through partying up with random players.  Neither a great option, it’s nice to be able to get in and get a pretty good experience on the zombies front without having to rely on other players.  The A.I. for the Zombies C0-op bots is actually pretty good.  Though the only downside is the inability to control how money is spent by these bot characters.  There are numerous difficulty modes to tackle in these classic modes, with each of the maps being able to played on casual, normal, hardcore, and realistic difficulties.  Last but not least is the new Zombie Rush mode.  Zombie Rush can be played on any of the maps and adds modifiers to the traditional experience, tasking the player with heading to different areas of the map to hold specific areas while zombies are attacking.  It’s definitely a good mode to get a grasp of each map.


So a couple of extra multiplayer and zombies maps doesn’t make up for the abandonment of single player, and what we’ve really got in return is Blackout.  This Battle Royale mode is Call of Duty’s take on the popular mode that PUBG and Fortnite made famous over the last year and a half.  It puts up to 100-players on an island as gives them one simple task, be last the one alive.  To do this, players will be battling each other with whatever weapons and items that they can find across the massive map.  Treyarch doesn’t take too many risks here.  They’ve found a nice spot to land as far as Battle Royale is concerned.  It’s got the incredible sense of tension and realism that PUBG has, while also having the level of quality and polish that’s come to be expected from the Call of Duty series.  It’s exactly what I was looking for in terms of Battle Royale.

Blackout instantly leapfrogs the competition in Battle Royale

The map for Blackout is by far the biggest thing we’ve ever seen in the series and the same goes for the player count.  The map itself has a mixture of popular locales from the Black Ops series, as well as some popular locations from the zombies mode.  It places random weapons, body armor, perks, and gun attachments on to the map and then drops players out of helicopters to fend for themselves as the map gets smaller and smaller.  It’s every bit as tense as PUBG, every bit as fun as Fortnite.  Blackout could have easily been a disappointment had Treyarch took too many risks to make it their own, but it turns out the Battle Royale formula made popular in recent years fits incredibly well with Call of Duty gameplay.  PUBG may have started the Battle Royale trend, but it’s clear that there are developers out there that can build a more stable and refined experience than what’s currently available.

After spending about 40 hours with Black Ops 4 in the pre-launch environment, I never really thought about the lack of the single player campaign.  It was always just a starter course to get to the main meal in terms of multiplayer, in my opinion.  The single player campaign did serve as a good primer or tutorial though and that’s been replaced with what Treyarch is calling the Specialist HQ.  This area gives everyone a chance to learn about the different multiplayer modes and the specialist abilities while competing against computer opponents.   The bonus for completing each Specialist’s tutorial is a series of story cinematics that tell an abridged version of the backstory for these characters.  It certainly does not take the place of a 6-8 hour campaign, but does a pretty good job of setting up a narrative for these multiplayer characters.

Not many games can do what Call of Duty did with Black Ops 4.  Completely removing a franchise staple should seemingly have its downsides but for most fans they shouldn’t miss it too much.  There’s just so much to dig into here at launch that it’s easy to forget about that single player offering.

The Verdict

Call of Duty feels better off this year without the single player campaign when you look at its replacement.  That replacement is more maps and modes in competitive multiplayer and zombies, as well as something that you could sink a ton of hours into when it comes to Blackout if Battle Royale is your thing.  It’s a bold move to remove something that’s been so fondly remembered and even more so when you consider that Treyarch was taking the most risks with Call of Duty campaigns, but the result is the ultimate Call of Duty multiplayer experience.

- This article was updated on:October 11th, 2018


Call of Duty: Black Ops 4

  • Available On: Xbox One, PS4, PC
  • Published By: Activision
  • Developed By: Treyarch
  • Genre: Shooter
  • US Release Date: October 11th, 2018
  • Reviewed On: PS4
  • Quote: "The ultimate Call of Duty multiplayer experience."
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