I’ve been familiar with the concept of the Battle Pass ever since Fortnite introduced it a few years ago, but I’ve never actually paid to participate in one. I’ve grabbed some of the free rewards in titles like Rocket League, and I’ve enjoyed the non-premium season structure in NBA 2K21 – but in order to glean a better understanding of the whole business model, I decided to plump up for the Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War Battle Pass over the Christmas break.
To be honest, if I wasn’t a games writer, I probably wouldn’t have invested: this was as much about educating myself as it was entertainment. But I haven’t played a Call of Duty game since Infinite Warfare, so I’m not as burned out on the six-versus-six format as Assistant Editor Liam Croft was in his review, and I have to say I liked the look of a lot of the rewards on offer. I decided that, while I’m playing the game for at least a couple of matches every day, I’d give it a go.
Now if you never play multiplayer and don’t know what a Battle Pass is, indulge me for a paragraph while I explain. Effectively, it’s a time limited tier of content unlocks. In the case of Black Ops Cold War, you get emblems (or avatars), character skins, weapon blueprints, boosters, and various other cosmetic trinkets. The tiers are unified across the aforementioned competitive shooter and Battle Royale title Call of Duty: Warzone, and any XP you earn in either title contributes to your progress.
There are a bunch of free tiers, which to Activision’s credit generally pertain to the weapons, so you’re mostly unlocking cosmetic things. It must be said that while many of these are generally quite pointless, they are cool: I love all of the animated avatars and other nonsense that you see in Call of Duty, and I actively seek it. If you’re not interested in playing dress-up with your soldier, then you can safely ignore it all.
The Battle Pass cost me 1,000 CoD Points for the basic version – there’s also a more premium option which includes 25 tier skips – but in real-money I had to pay approximately £10, which didn’t seem outrageous to me. Here’s the thing, unlike in the PlayStation 3 era, Call of Duty no longer charges for DLC packs, so everyone has access to all of the maps. When you consider that the old map packs cost roughly the same as the Battle Pass, I actually think this is a superior model because it’s optional.
So, having put in about 10 hours with the Battle Pass – I’m still on Tier 22 out of a total 100, but more on that later – I figured I’d share my thoughts on the experience. Let’s start with the pros:
- Now that Call of Duty is completely cross-platform, the unification of the playerbase is a big deal. Obviously, post-release support costs Activision money and it needs to have a revenue stream to support that. I actually think the Battle Pass, which is completely optional and even includes a bunch of complimentary items, is a fair way of monetising the game over time.
- Of the 100 tiers, around 13 reward you with 100 CoD Points. This means that, if you complete the entire Battle Pass, you’ll actually end up with enough in-game currency to buy the next one without having to spend real money. Obviously there’s a degree of grinding involved here, but it seems like a nice way of rewarding the game’s most hardcore fans.
- The constant sense of progression taps into a primal instinct that’s very satisfying. Just watching the Battle Pass progress, unlocking goodies along the way, is very gratifying. We’re all familiar with the concept of unlocking items in games, but this feels like that on steroids. If you pay for the premium version, you’re inundated with stuff every session.
- The most coveted rewards, like the Stitch character skin, are awarded immediately upon purchasing the Battle Pass. This means you get instant access to them and can enjoy them right off the bat. It’s also fun, as you can use the new character to then unlock all of the other stuff, like the weapons and cosmetics.
However, having now financially invested in the Battle Pass, I do have a few gripes about how the model works – and how it’s implemented in Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War and Call of Duty: Warzone specifically:
- It’s honestly quite stressful. There are 100 tiers available as part of the Battle Pass but there’s a time limit attached to them, and despite playing the game a reasonable amount, I’m not even a quarter of the way through yet. That means I’ll probably need to play about 40 hours or so to unlock the rest, and because I’ve paid for it I feel compelled to get it all otherwise I’m not technically getting the full value of my investment. It’s kind of like when you pay for a gym membership but you don’t feel like working out; there’s this niggling sense that you have to go because you’re paying for the privilege. Now, you can spend CoD Points to skip tiers, but obviously this may result in additional monetary investment – although I’m informed the publisher has discounted these towards the end of each season before.
- I love the way Black Ops Cold War and Warzone unify the Battle Pass, because sometimes I feel like traditional Call of Duty and other times I want to experience Battle Royale. But the progress is not consistent across the two titles. I can play mediocre in a six-versus-six Team Deathmatch game and jump almost an entire tier; meanwhile, coming second in a lengthy Battle Royale match barely moves the Battle Pass a pixel. As such, I feel more compelled to play Black Ops Cold War. Considering Warzone is free, I’m beginning to assume this is intentional.
- Honestly, some of the rewards are really superfluous, and it’s going to come down to taste whether you actually want them or not. Don’t get me wrong, the emblems are much better than the ones you unlock in FIFA 21, where they give you a crappy picture of a badger for no particular reason. But yeah, not every tier is an absolute winner, although I do enjoy the watches and little dangly bits you can attach to your guns.
All in all, I’d say I’m quite enjoying the Battle Pass, and while I was trying to educate myself by buying it, I’ve gotten quite a bit of entertainment out of it. I think the most important part about this is that it allows Activision to monetise the game – and, regardless of what you think, that is important in an era of weekly updates – without leaving anyone out. I think it’s cool that all of the maps and core features are available to everyone in a completely cross-platform (and cross-game, in this case) environment. It’s all optional, and honestly that’s the best way to handle it.
I think I just need to get over the fact that, realistically, I might not unlock everything and that’s okay. To be honest, even at Tier 22 (and I’ll end up a lot higher than this once the season ends) I feel like I’ve more or less gotten my money’s worth. And, y’know what, I’ll probably buy the next Battle Pass as well. So I’m happy and I’m glad I coughed up in the end; I’m curious to hear your thoughts.
Have you ever paid for a Battle Pass? How far did you get with it, and were you happy with the value overall? What do you think about this business model? Let us know in the comments section below.