With Call of Duty being the most successful multiplayer shooter franchise in video game history, you would think that betas would've been the norm by now. Instead, each instalment has had infamous issues. Annoying perks such as Juggernaut in Modern Warfare, overpowered weapons like the FAMAS and AK74u in Black Ops, and, er, a host of problems that plagued the fun yet flawed Modern Warfare 2, ranging from perks like Commando and One Man Army to the exploitative Tactical Insertions.
Much of these annoyances could have been avoided had Activision pushed its developers to release betas, so, with late being better than never, Black Ops III is the first to enter the fray of public testing since World at War. Seeing as this particular author has been a long time fan and played nearly every Call of Duty, we were excited to jump in and see what Treyarch has been concocting for nearly three years.
People often complain that the yearly franchise is the same game with different coats of paint, and while we understand this criticism, it's an unfair one since you can only alter so much around the near-perfect gameplay formula at the core of Call of Duty's success. This is why we appreciated other efforts to freshen things up like the innovative campaign structure of Black Ops 2 with its branching story paths and optional real-time strategy missions, and why we praised Advanced Warfare for stretching the core gameplay with the Exosuit and how it introduced double-jumping, Exo abilities, and boost dodging.
But what if the next Call of Duty took a smart step backwards, honing in on its simpler roots? What if shaking things up to appease young and old fans alike meant bringing back the feel of the multiplayer from the late 2000s, with fresh ideas that enhance it rather than morph it into something else? This is what Black Ops III multiplayer was like in our experience with the beta, and it has piqued our interest and given us faith once again that Treyarch will keep its track record of not letting us down.
Starting from the main menu, Create-a-Class is nearly identical to how Black Ops II had its version set up: the Pick Ten System remains, weapons must be levelled up to acquire attachments, Unlock Tokens are earned by reaching new ranks and spent on all sorts of items, and Wildcards return. The only notable differences are that knives are qualified as secondary weapons, optics are a separate attachment – meaning that you could hypothetically equip four attachments – and Unlock Tokens are harder to save up since you have something else to work to obtain: the Specialists.
Generic characters finally ended with Ghosts, which brought on customisable characters and skins, which carried over to Advanced Warfare, too. This was a long-requested feature, but Treyarch is partially bucking this in favour of these Specialists. They're nine colourful characters, with each having their own exciting weapon and ability. You can only choose one to equip at once, and when you earn enough points to use them in a match (they stack even with death), it can mean the difference between saving or losing your life.
For example, the Outrider is a cool, covert female assassin that can wield an explosive compound bow or activate Vision Pulse, which sends out a signal that tags enemies for a brief time. One of our favourites was the cybernetically-enhanced Prophet, who has the option of using his instakilling electricity weapon Tempest or the life-saving Glitch ability that teleports you to a previous location.
While some of the Specialists' abilities are a bit unbalanced in their usefulness, Treyarch has touched on something nice that lets people play to their strengths and loadouts in a meaningful way. It also helps that each Specialist has their own unique personality, making their dialogue more entertaining than with any past multiplayer characters, especially when they talk back and forth. It reminds us of how games like Team Fortress 2 and Evolve have used this concept of quirky characters to great effect, and since Black Ops III's cast will have customizable armour you level up toward at full release, we think that this will a great new addition to the multiplayer.
We just hope the blatantly obvious future of more Specialists as DLC will be reasonably priced to add more diversity in how you can play. Oh, and we wish that we could've assigned Specialists to specific loadouts since you can only assign one at a time for all your classes. Perhaps there's a reason for this, but it would be a welcome change if possible.
While we couldn't access emblems, camos, or the enticing Gunsmith feature, we could play around with the Paintshop. It's literally Emblem Editor for guns, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that. You can add a host of layers to the top and left and right sides of any weapon. While you can only decorate specific sections, it's still a wonderful way to put your mark on your favourite firearms. And in conjunction with Gunsmith, which will allow you to change the design of attachments, this will be a level of personalisation unlike anything in Call of Duty before.
There's not much different about Scorestreaks besides there being new ones like a flying RC-XD or robot, so the last thing we'll mention before gameplay are the modes. Every one in the beta is old except for Safeguard, which is an escort mission of sorts with one team guiding a robot to the enemy base while the opposition attempts to halt the robot's progress by damaging it and keeping its defenders at bay. It's a great new mode that can get really intense in the last minute, so we hope to see more experimental ones like this later on.
But how does Black Ops III play? We've seen on social media that it's the fastest Call of Duty yet, but we couldn't disagree more. It reminds us of the days when the franchise felt heavier and slower with Modern Warfare and World at War, and Black Ops III even simplifies things by not implementing dodge boosting or Exo abilities. This isn't a bad, though. We love the more deliberate pace of Treyarch's games, whether it comes to the sprinting or aiming down your sights; it forces you to take more time and assess the battlefield rather than running and gunning all over the place. It's still fast to be sure, but you have to be methodically fast.
It may be slower, but the gameplay still encourages you to go high and low. Double-jumping returns, but instead of being used with simple taps like in Advanced Warfare, this boost is more deliberate, has duration differences depending on how long you hold X, and can be slightly guided left or right as you jump. You can slide great distances, too, and what's notable about this and with all movement is that you can continuously shoot, even when you're vaulting over cover or swimming.
The biggest addition that'll draw comparisons to Titanfall is wall-running, which is activated by simply jumping once alongside a feasibly long, vertical surface. It feels completely intuitive and fitting after getting the hang of it and doesn't disrupt the slow pace Treyarch is going for here. You can even chain this wall-running by jumping to another parallel or perpendicular wall to your character on every map thanks to their thoughtful layouts, and whenever you get a kill while doing this, it's supremely satisfying.
Black Ops III multiplayer feels like a more refined experience, focusing on what made the franchise successful in the first place while throwing in meaningful features and changes that promote the simpler, heavier, slower gameplay instead of trying to fundamentally alter it or heap needless things on top. Yes, this is still Call of Duty, and while it's understandable that yet another one may not appeal to you, lapsed fans should take note: Treyarch is banking on its legacy and building upon it with a futuristic flair that may just pull you back in after a long hiatus to relive the glory days afresh.
What are your thoughts on Black Ops III? Is it only fit for the Mountain Dew and Doritos crowd at this point, or do you think this one might bring back some of the original spark of the older games? Did you play the beta? If so, what did you like and dislike about it? Give us a cybernetic upgrade in the comments section by letting us know.
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