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The first weekend of the Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 private beta is over and it’s been a surprisingly entertaining ride. The series’ multiplayer mode has always been very popular, but the last two instalments seemed a little too comfortable, despite their setting of the far future and World War II being very different from each other. The Pick 10 class system, three-lane multiplayer maps, and BOOTS. ON. THE. GROUND. gameplay have obviously worked in increasing the game’s appeal and its transformation into an e-sport, but it’s clear that the rise of the Battle Royale genre and the impressive long-term player bases of games like Overwatch and Rainbow Six: Siege have shaken Treyarch into making some changes.

The biggest and arguably worst of these is the removal of the jump packs that were present in Black Ops 3: playing the beta for the first hour or so feels a little sluggish as you get used to the lack of verticality and agility. Things aren’t necessarily slow, but comparing movement between the two games leaves Black Ops 4 feeling less responsive. Power sliding is still present, though, and not only is it fun, but it’s also pretty useful when you’re rushing an objective in Hardpoint or Domination mode.

Other than that, though, the alterations that Treyarch has made are a forward step for the franchise, transforming Black Ops into something a little more akin to a hero shooter. Regenerative health is gone now, replaced with stimpacks that you can use if you get shot up. It’s an interesting change that adds another dimension to the multiplayer, as cover now is a lot more important: instead of running away and waiting for your health to recharge as in previous games, you can simply duck behind a wall, heal yourself, and get back to fighting before your opponent flanks you.

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Specialists return from Black Ops 3 but now have a more central role in the game. Instead of having to unlock them, all ten of them are available right from the start and can be switched between during matches. In the place of grenades – although you can choose to have them instead at later levels – is each specialist’s ability. They each also have a special weapon that’s acquired by scoring points.

It’s here where comparisons with Overwatch can most be made, since the fact that most modes only allow one of each specialist means that it’s important to strike a balance on the team. New specialist Crash plays the role of the healer, dropping ammo boxes and using his Tak-5 special weapon to boost his team’s maximum health. Ajax, another new addition, is more of a tank-type character, using his Ballistic Shield to charge enemies and provide cover for others.

Besides the two other new characters – Torque (who can place a microwave-emitting barricade and barbed wire) and Recon (who can mark enemies on the map and sense other enemies through walls) – the rest of the specialists return from Black Ops 3 with only minor alterations. Seraph’s ability is changed to a beacon that serves as spawn point for teammates, Nomad gets a new dog friend that he can sick on enemies, and Firebreak now gets a reactor core that reduces enemy health.

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Every specialist feels unique and fun to play as, although there are a few problems with some of them. Ajax feels a bit overpowered at points due to the fact that he can shoot through his shield without exposing his body, while Ruin’s grapple hook seems badly-placed in a game that scraps verticality – you’ll be hitting invisible walls a lot. For the most part, though, the fact that specialists are accessible to everyone makes the multiplayer feel a lot more balanced, and the fact that you can still customise your loadout, whoever you play as, means that Black Ops 4 is a lot more personalised than any other hero shooter on the market.

Hardpoint, Domination, Search & Destroy, and Team Deathmatch are all fun as usual, but the standout mode in the beta has been the new Capture mode. Each team takes turns defending and attacking two objectives, but the catch is that both teams have a limited amount of lives. Run out of those lives and you’re dead for good, meaning that the end of every Capture match turns into a tense affair – dying at this part leaves your team outnumbered. Admittedly it isn’t too original, but it meshes very well with the changes Treyarch has made this year.

The maps, as always, have been a mixed bag. Three-lane maps like Payload, as reliably good as they are, are starting to get stale now, so when something like Contraband or Seaside comes along, with their bright colour palettes and mazes of alleyways and flanking points, it feels like a breath of fresh air. Contraband in particular is a fantastic map containing underwater sections, buildings to clamber onto, and plenty of sprawling footways to run through.

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We did get a feeling of deja-vu on a few maps, though. Contraband feels quite similar to Black Ops 3’s Hunted, as does Payload to Metro. The fact that we’re not huge Call of Duty fans and still noticed this could cause some issues for more dedicated fans of the series, although no games (especially first-person shooters) are ever truly original.

Still, the new changes have served to make Black Ops 4 a very enjoyable multiplayer experience, and it feels like Treyarch has made concerted efforts to alter the franchise’s flagship mode for the better. Time will only tell how long it’ll hold up after launch, but from what we’ve played so far it’s pretty promising.

Did you participate in the Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 beta? What are your thoughts on the changes? Aim down the sights and into the comments section below.