Sunday saw the world reveal of Black Ops III, and the trailer was no shock whatsoever: another bombastic Call of Duty game.
Watching the trailer evoked a strong sense of déjà vu: a compilation featuring perfectly timed set pieces with the sole goal of cramming in as many ostentatious explosions and gunshots into two minutes as humanly (or robotically, in this case) possible. The resulting fallout was expected, a notable resemblance to the heavily divisive Advanced Warfare spurring on acolytes and apostates to argue across every possible message board, with little in the way of middle ground. It's more Deus Ex than Exo Suit to me, though, sharing core thematics with Advanced Warfare but exploring them in a wildly different way. Then, as more details begin to surface, things start getting really interesting.
Specialists Add Depth
It's no secret that the folk at Treyarch are big fans of Destiny. The addition of Specialists to Black Ops III is certainly a testament to that, heavily mimicking the typecast Hunter, Titan and Warlock classes. 9 Specialists are confirmed, each possessing two abilities - a unique weapon and a personal ability. 18 potential choices. Before each match, you lock in your choice of specialist and ability for that match and in doing so, a move that clearly hopes to replicate the personal attachment players of Bungie's title have to their favourite guardian.
They're also not as intrusive as some may fear, with an on-screen bar maxing out dictating usage that is charged via a mixture of time and kills. It creates a three pronged system in combination with the more familiar scorestreaks and regular gun-play, Specialist Abilities often only being accessible by skilled players more than roughly once per match. Heavily reminiscent of super abilities in Bungie's shooter and Titans from Titanfall, without a doubt.
These Specialist characters are built from the ground-up as a to be an integral part of the multiplayer experience, to feel and play differently, to encourage different play styles and combinations as a unit. It's interesting, it's new, and I'm curious to see if it adds a new layer of meaningful depth like it clearly aims to.
Building on Advanced Warfare
Sledgehammer's first standalone entry into the Call of Duty series was a far cry from what many players were used to - exo suit movement and weapon and armour loot-drops completely altering the overall speed, level of control and economy. It wasn't perfect by any means, but it helped shove the series into next-gen tendencies for better or worse. Black Ops III looks to build on that, further aiming to increase player customisation and the ability for individual, unique player experiences. They don't want 8 players to enter the game uniform in both appearance in loadout, instead encouraging experimenting and adopting specific approaches depending on preference rather on a flat "what's good".
Weapon Variants are back, this time enabling players to build their own weapon variants rather than simply acquiring them through random drops, sharing their favourites with friends. Customisable appearances are similarly included, and I'd be absolutely shocked if Loot Chest microtransactions didn't make the cut in some form. Weapon levelling makes a belated return from previous titles, further incentivising trial and error with different builds for extra gain.
Of course, Advanced Warfare's biggest virtue was changing how soldiers moved through the maps from the ground up, a mechanic Treyarch aim to innovate on further.
Call of Duty: Black Ops III seeks to shake things up through streamlining movement into what seems to be a harmonious mesh between old and new. In fact, this quote given by David Vonderhaar to The Guardian concisely sums up the changes.
“It’s not to be confused with the [Advanced Warfare] exo jump; mechanically, it works extremely differently. Ours has nothing to do with verticality – our maps have a height limit of two storeys and staying in the combat frame [i.e. being able to always see the opponent] are keys to our design strategy. But we did want to remove the obstacles that slow the player down. Ladders in [multiplayer] suck. They’re not fun to get on and climb up.”
Movement based perks have been completely elminated, obstacles no longer impede shooting and anything that could possibly slow the action down has been completely cut. Instead of a weighty dolphin dive, hitting the right analogue stick initiate a power slide.
“There is no marathon perk, there is no lightweight perk, it just works that way. This is really important. It’s the glue that holds everything else together. You can continue to stay guns-up. The aim is to wind the combat loop as tight as possible.”
Exo jumps no longer feel like an analogue boost, instead more of a controlled, jetpack-esque experience. Wall running is a completely new traversal method, and it sound like it works intuitively and won't be any kind of essential to get around with ease for those that want to stick to older systems.
More options, more real choices, both in the battlefield and in the menu. That seems to be the modus operandi here.
Breadth of Experience
Zombies are unsurprisingly making a resurgence, this time complete with a full campaign experience including multiple maps, co-operative play and an overt storyline. Interestingly, it's hinted that the trifecta of traditional campaign, Zombies and competitive multiplayer have been streamlined, all launching from the same universal lobby system rather than a part of their own standalone menus. Always connected, always online.
Campaign missions are clearly borrowing from multiplayer too, with co-operative play, RPG style character growth and customisable special abilities throughout the length of the storyline being noted as features. Couple this with open ended, explorable environments and you have what sounds to be a much more exciting package focusing on emergent gameplay and water-cooler storytelling potential over a bunch of static, traditional Hollywood setpieces.
It's intruiging, and it seems that Call of Duty is bringing parity to the overall experience across the board by giving players what they want: a chance to have fun with their friends in a multitude of ways.
Treyarch are often seen as veritable saints in Call of Duty's eSports community, their high level of activity and willingness to engage on a personal level with fans of their product brings a lot of goodwill, and it helps that Black Ops II is seen by the majority as the outright best competitive title in the series to date.
Everything that has been announced in multiplayer so far seems to be keeping in with that core theme of simplicity and choice coalescing wonderfully. They've stressed that 3 map lanes are a focus, with a core goal being to avoid clutter and too many vantage points, working under the methodology that no player should be shot at from more than three places at once. The company also mentioned that it had developed a completely new engine for their latest title to ensure their vision was achieveable
It's all very impressive, extremely heartening, and overwhelmingly exciting, honestly. The Black Ops series have always pushed the fundamentals of what Call of Duty is to new levels, attempting to perfect rather than to simply add more. This new title has the makings of something truly great if they pull of their vision, heck, it could just be the most impressive Call of Duty title yet.
We believe in you, Vonderhaar.
The best Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare teams from around the world are set to compete at the Gfinity Spring Masters I, May 8-10th. You can grab tickets to spectate the entire thing live, or read up on additional information here.
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