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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Very thorough article, Joey. I had a go on this last night and thought it was rather enjoyable; I never played Advanced Warfare multiplayer, so it was quite enjoyable boosting right up into the air and then shooting people on my descent.
I'm not so sure about the Specialists, though. I think it's a cool idea, but seeing people running around as the same character felt odd to me. I know you say you'll be able to customise, but even seeing a team of idential heads in the loading screen seemed strange to me. A minor issue in the grand scheme of things, I guess.
I must admit, I do suck intensely at these games. They're undeniably fun, though!
Really good read @DrJoeystein. Didn't get a chance to play the beta myself but it sounds like it could be another solid multiplayer offering after Advanced Warfare, which I quite liked when I reviewed it. Liking the sound of some of these changes - hopefully it'll do enough to satiate most fans.
Whilst I agree that the game feels very familiar to the last Black Ops game, the movement is excellent and enhances the experience, and overall this was a good beta, It was a few 'niggles' that stopped it being great. In the last few CoD's we have had a perk called 'toughness' that reduced 'Flinch'. This perk was basically essential and conducive to good gun-fights but as everyone used it, it was a 'crutch perk'. In the year 2065, the year the game is set, I find it funny that the augmented tough super-soldier has so much flinch. As a result, it means those camping, head glitching players have an advantage as trying to shoot at them becomes very difficult under-fire. I think Treyarch should reduce the flinch to the same degree as with toughness for everyone - after all they have incorporated Marathon.
My other issue was with the Grenade toss. It felt weak and could not get good distance. Either grenades are very heavy in 2065, or soldiers can't throw!
We have specialists that can come back to life, have robots that can't feel pain etc yet flinch a lot and throw like a little girl - I am not being sexists but little girls can't throw far - women on the other hand could throw further than these can!
I do think some of the Specialists need tweaking and refining but overall, I thought they were ok. Some weapons seemed more powerful than others and some abilities too. No doubt when the game comes out there will be a few changes and no doubt more as the game gets older too.
I had some issues with Lag, matchmaking, inconsistency in games (guns appear to kill very quickly at times and others a lot of hit markers) but that could be down to the lack of players and distances between them. I appreciate this was a 'beta' so Treyarch could have been doing things on the servers to test the impact too
I still intend to purchase BO3 on launch (I don't intend to cancel my pre-order). However unless or until these things are amended/tweaked etc, I can't see myself playing this as much as BO2 despite the potential to be a lot better - its certainly fun and the movement is great. With SW:BF out a few weeks later, I do think this needs to hit the ground running. As it is at the moment, the campaign and Zombies are greatly anticipated, the MP is not as much as I had hoped it would be.
@get2sammyb Yes, I do think it's really jarring seeing (sometimes) 4-5 of the same Specialist on one team. That's the sacrifice Treyarch's making by removing original, customizable characters (like in Advanced Warfare). However, like I said, hopefully this customizable armor (and hopefully skins, too) will mitigate this issue.
@ShogunRok I liked Advanced Warfare, too! I don't think that one got enough appreciation for what it tried to do differently. It certainly worked, but now we're seeing the opposite with Black Ops III, which seems to be molded after the more classic stuff than trying to be something different. Hopefully it will turn out well by November! I know I'm already going to buy the game...as I do with each CoD.
@BAMozzy Thanks for the in-depth thoughts on the beta! I couldn't go into too much detail with the minutiae in the article, but you definitely touched on a lot of things I thought about as well. The lack of something to mitigate flinch is somewhat disappointing, especially when - as you pointed out - you are trying to hit someone who's head is popping out from behind cover. It's near impossible, and you'll surely die in that kind of encounter more likely than you would in past CoD games. Instead of implementing a new perk, I hope they do decrease the flinch a bit after this beta.
The grenades were okay, I think. I agree they could cover more distance (especially since most of the characters have cybernetic arms), but I don't mind either way if they address this. And as you pointed out, there are a whole bunch of little things that need to be balanced out with weapons and the Specialist abilities. One thing that surprised me personally is how difficult it is to use sniper rifles this time! They're very sensitive to the touch and take longer to acquire enemies in your line of sight. I've always been an assault rifle/sniper guy, but I just couldn't get into using sniper rifles this time. I hope Treyarch makes the aiming more smooth and slow, since it felt so...twitchy to me. By the time I even locked on to most enemies, I was way past gone.
Other than that, I could also point out pistols seem more useful this time, launchers have way less splash damage, perks like Sixth Sense might need to be nerfed, and so on. But yeah, you got some of the major stuff I noticed as well.
In terms of multiplayers in the CoD franchise I've only tried the last three, I actually preferred Ghosts, this and AW, this I pretty much hated and gave up on after 5 minutes.
@DrJoeystein Flinch was something I found most frustrating and the grenade toss felt very weak - too quite easily adjusted factors. Much easier than trying to tweak the maps or movement - both of which felt good.
I too found the snipers difficult to use unless you were watching a long sight line but again the flinch made them very difficult to use under fire. The movement doesn't help much either as its a lot quicker than earlier CoD's.
Pistols actually felt like viable secondaries and worth using a 'point' for. I didn't use the launchers myself though. Sixth Sense is an interesting perk - it can be countered by one of the others and it seemed to work if an enemy was very close so maybe not the 'best' perk in that set but useful when you are at lower levels.
One thing that annoyed me in the later stages though was Black Hat. The ease of hacking top score streaks and then earning points from some one elses 'efforts' seemed very unfair and OP. It takes 2 Black Hats to hack a Wraith (for example) which can then get you several kills towards your own scorestreak - same with other big ones too. I think that is more likely to cause issues and annoyance than 'Sixth Sense' or the Specialist abilities. I don't think they should be able to hack these scorestreaks and turn them to yours!
@BAMozzy I thought about the potential abuse of Black Hat, too! All you need to do is equip two of them and you can hack any scorestreak you want...that's a real bummer for the person who worked hard to get the scorestreak in the first place. It'd be like someone taking over your AC-130 in Modern Warfare 2...man, that was the best, but if I had it taken away from me, I'd be so mad! But I guess we'll have to wait and see if the rest of the community agrees on whether Black Hat should be changed or not.
@DrJoeystein I have mentioned it (along with Flinch and Grenade toss) in the feedback option to Activision and I guess if others do as well then it stands a bigger chance...
I am a cat, so I don't drink Mountain Dew, but I do nibble on Doritos I find on the floor, and what's wrong with that?
The best CoD was Black Ops, and if anybody disagrees, I will scratch them. Unfortunately, because Activision doesn't care about supporting their games for more than 12 months after release, Black Ops MP has been unplayable for years now, due to all the l33t haxx0rs running around in invisible Godmode.
I liked the jumpy-jumpy action of Advanced Warfare, but it didn't quite recapture the glory days of BO. It was better than Ghosts though. A more methodically paced game sounds right up my scratching post.
I'll be honest with you: although I never use the microphone myself - you try putting on headphones when you're a cat - I do enjoy knifing people (or axeing them in Sticks and Stones) and then hearing their screams of rage.
"Hiss you, you hissing cat! I'm going to spay your mother!" and so forth.
People tears are so delicious. Better than Mountain Dew.
I hate saying this but the beta wasn't bad.
But if battlefield 5 gets announced soon I'll abandon my black ops 3 preorder
Havent played the beta, but my main gripe with call of duty is how static everything feels. Especially compared to battlefield4 which I still play regularly.
Weapon sounds, bullet impact sounds, dying animations, lack of blood..they all add up to a very detached feel. Once I played battlefield3 iI knew I would never go back to CoD (even though I played a bit of AW)
I suck at these games but i had a blast playing this. My comeback to COD after the terrible piece of garage called BO2 that game wad ugly and ran terrible on the PS3. It was so ugly i thought my PS3 was broken.
Missed my chance for the beta, but this all sounds up my street. BO was brilliant, but everything since has just not appealed to me. Will probably wait a while before I buy, but it's definitely on my radar now!
Well,a lean feature would be nice (like ghosts) better grenade throw distance,and i know its a beta but server performance seems pretty laggy - needs work.I didn't obtain rapid fire on any weapons but i've spotted a fair few guys with insanely fast fire rate on their guns (including pistols that aren't machine pistols) Hmm...On the plus side,the wall running and double jumping and sliding are good - It would feel quite flat after aw without those features i think.Lovely underwater with combat i commend personally,not a big deal for most i guess.I wonder how much the beta was a stress-test/opportunity for feedback - rather than basically a demo.It'd be nice if Treyarch could cut down on cheaters this time..Anyhow,suckered in once again for me i spose -I've bought every cod since mw2 and each game (except aw so far) has been traded in/snapped/deleted at some point.
Fantastic Beta loved every minute.
I just cant play cod anymore, this whole "i dont know what im doing so im running around like crazy people" kind of game just doesnt click me anymore.
After so much counter strike i just cant go back to "run and gun", i need muh tactics and financial skills... And the maps feel so random, its just like they "made" them and thats it, not much thought process went into the maps
I did have SOME fun with the beta tho, but i can already tell i will stop playing it quite fast, juat like i did with AW
Used to quite like the original WW2 ones on PC and the original MW was fresh ,became sick of it all and years later have now tried beta and well if Battlefield 4 is a 9/10 then this is a 5/10 . I wanted to like it but the style of gameplay just wasn't my thing ,its more like Unreal Tournament with all this jumping around , I personally hated it but I'm in the minority I guess.
First COD to peak my interests since COD4:MW. I didnt think for a second I'd like this booster pack double jump thingy but it makes all the maps much more fun/playable. THe game still plays well staying put on the ground but when the walls start to get used the fun really kicks off. I have always enjoyed a run/gun style tho so Im slightly biased. Sniping was found a bit lacking tho but I'm sure it'll be evened out a bit better by release.
When the beta ended I preordered the £80 version which includes the season pass.
It's worth £80 of my hard earned to see if Treyarch has pulled me back to the COD franchise.
@SuperCat Nothing wrong with drinking Mountain Dew or Doritos! It's when you consume them both at the same time that you should be worried about turning into one of those MLG CoD kids. And yeah! Black Ops had one of the best campaigns and a really balanced multiplayer. AW was great as well for everything it did differently. So it's nice to see that BO3 is like a combination of these two games. Hopefully it'll turn out great. Oh, and I too enjoy the tears of gamers, especially when playing One in the Chamber. lol
@Flurpsel They're two different shooters for different crowds, so I can see why BO3 still wouldn't appeal to you. I love both series, but while CoD is about quick-paced, contained skirmishes on small maps with an arcade-y shooter feel (does that make sense?), Battlefield has always been about longer, methodical, team-oriented matches with giant, open maps. The latter is more "realistic," of course, but CoD is fun in its own way as well. I'll admit that DICE has always made superior audio though! But I wouldn't say the guns sound bad in CoD. They're just...not as good in comparison. lol
@special_donkey Yes! This is something I noticed that was missing. Perhaps the removal of the leaning mechanic was intentional to streamline the gameplay to be more like the older games? That was something I liked in Ghosts. But still, I'm not that upset that it's gone. It wasn't in AW after all, and I still really liked that one, so I think BO3 will be okay without it, especially with the more simpler gameplay it seems to be going for.
@Faruko Right! I can see why it would be hard acclimating to CoD after playing games like Counter-Strike or Battlefield for a while. It's all about being constantly active and going for the kill in most modes, but still, some restraint is required in "running and gunning," and I think BO3 has more of that than previous CoD games. Most of Treyarch's titles have been less about that and more about taking things a bit more slowly. But still, the same gameplay tactic applies. As for the maps, I don't know. I thought they were pretty good! Really liked the placement of walls to run on, since they promoted good flow between major areas of some maps. I will say though that these maps felt slightly more open and spacious than in previous games, which I found an interesting change.
@MinerWilly Oh, don't worry. You aren't in a minority! CoD tends to divide players a lot, and while I think a lot of people think ill of it for no legitimate reasons besides the fact that it's "cool" to hate and complain about the franchise, you sound like you've got good reasons for why you didn't like it. The playstyle of shooters ranges across the board, and CoD is in a class that will only appeal to certain audiences. Nothing wrong with that.
@TomKingPhooey Wow, that's a long time! I'd definitely advice jumping back in to CoD if it's been that long for you since a CoD caught your attention. Glad you like it. And I do agree about sniping. As I mentioned somewhere above, I was really surprised by how difficult it was to do. I didn't like it at all, and that's coming from someone who's primarily used assault rifles and sniper rifles in every CoD!
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