The past 2 Call of Duty games weren’t really up to the standard that I’d come to expect from the franchise. Part of this can be attributed to Black Ops 3 being my favourite in the series, the multiplayer keeping me going for a good 150+ hours before I decided to call it quits. So my expectations were probably higher than they’d otherwise be for Black Ops 4, hoping to rekindle that love of the COD multiplayer which I’d lost for the last couple years. Whilst on one hand all the ingredients are there for that to happen again there’s been some glaring omissions and strange launch-day decisions that have marred what could’ve otherwise been yet another solid COD game from Treyarch.
This is typically where I’d give a brief synopsis of the initial plot for the game but since Black Ops 4 lacks a single player campaign I have none to give. Sure they’ve buried some meagre bits and pieces on the specialists training modes, giving you a brief cutscene here or there that speaks to why each of the character classes have their abilities, but that does not a single player campaign make. After it was announced that this was the case Treyarch confirmed unequivocally that they never intended to put a single player campaign in, citing the fact that most players simply jump straight into the multi. I have no reason to doubt that but out of the 3 Call of Duty developers they were always the ones who made the most interesting and engaging stories. Leaving that out seems like a missed opportunity, one that this reviewer certainly laments. Of course it wasn’t taken away for just any old reason as it was replaced with Blackout although whether or not the trade off was worth it will be entirely up to you. For me it certainly wasn’t (more on that later).
The Call of Duty games were never known for their cutting edge visuals, instead favouring higher performance to go along with the game’s rapid pace of combat. This trend continues with Black Ops 4 with the game striving to maintain a smooth, high frame rate experience over providing Crysis-like eye candy. There’s also less opportunity for level and set designers to showcase what the engine is capable of doing due to the game being multiplayer only. All things considered though the game looks perfectly fine for what it wants to be: a fast paced shooter. I will admit though that I figured that for the handful of cutscenes they created they would’ve spent a little more of their ridiculous budget on making them a little more cutting edge.
Black Ops 4 retains its 2 core game modes that most players will know, regular multiplayer and zombies, along with the new Battle Royal mode called Blackout. The base multiplayer games don’t deviate from the COD formula much, retaining the same Pick 10 system alongside a familiar cast of weapons. Some weapons now have the option of an Operator Mod which will significantly change the way the gun operates from simple things like massive rates of fire increases to strobe lights for one of the shotguns. Deviating from the last few titles as well is the lack of loot boxes with the only microtransactions in sight being used for buying different cosmetic skins for the specialists. Perhaps the biggest change though is the lack of automatically regenerating health, instead relegated to a piece of equipment which you’ll have you manually trigger to regenerate health. Most interesting of all is that the stim pack is actually a choice, you can replace it with another piece of gear if you so wish. For those who are really at the top of their game this gives them a very high risk/reward balance to play with, one I’ve seen used to both great and ill effect. Suffice to say the core of Black Ops 4 doesn’t deviate too much from the formula with the exception of Blackout.
To be completely open here I’m not the biggest fan of the Battle Royal format. I’ve played my share of PUBG, both on PC and mobile, and it can be enjoyable with a bunch of mates. However I like my FPS games fast and furious, something which the COD franchise has supported me with for many years. Battle Royal on the other hand is very much a slow and considered game, one that favours being patient and formulating a strategy if you want to win. Sure I could just parachute into a hot zone and likely die in the first couple minutes if I wanted to speed things up a bit but honestly, given that there’s a much more capable TDM and other modes available right there I’m far more likely to want to play that. Still in the interests of seeing everything that Black Ops 4 had to offer I figured I should give Blackout a try and, well, it’s pretty much as you’d expect: PUBG with COD weapons. I’ve heard from many that it’s a pretty great experience (which is likely given that Black Ops 4 has seen incredible sales) but for me, as a rusher type player in these kinds of games, it’s the antithesis of what I want from this kind of game. Your mileage may vary, though.
A good chunk of content for Black Ops 4 comes from 3 so right off the bat you’re going to be back in familiar territory. The same goes for the character classes with half of them being direct copy and pastes of their former selves. At first I was a little miffed at that, wanting a whole new experience, but I got over that relatively quickly as I realised it gave me a headstart on knowing the maps and which character classes I’d fit best into. A lot of the weapons have been changed around and there’s a much more wide variety of mods to choose from, making a great deal of the game’s weapons viable in PVP (so long as you can get the right unlocks done, of course). The starter classes are also well rounded as well, one of them coming with a fully kitted out gun that you won’t be able to get until level 50 or so. I’ve found the most success running with the Spitfire SMG, a bullet hose of a weapon that feels like a long range shotgun when you upgrade it with laser sights 2 and the extended mag. The ARs and shotguns were also somewhat viable depending on the map but SMGs felt like the better all round weapon if I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into.
The class abilities are a bit of a mixed bag given that they all seem to have rather lengthy cooldowns and can be real hit and miss affairs. The shock drone, radar beacon, assault pack and razor wire ones seem to be the most useful, having a direct impact on your performance in a match. Other ones like the cluster grenade and trip wire feel hit or miss, unlikely to provide a consistent boost to your ability to win matches. For some of the ultimate abilities you’ll be lucky to get 1 off per game (like the vision pulse one) whereas the other, less impactful ones (like Crash’s overheal) you’ll likely be able to get off 2~3 times easily. I’m sure this is going to be a boon for competitive teams as there’s a clear delineation between support and offensive ultimates, allowing them to fine tune team comps quite well. For pub players like me though it’ll just come down to whichever one feels best to you. I’ve standardised on Crash for the most part since that seems to help my team out the most.
I couldn’t do this review without talking about the current state of the multiplayer networking, specifically the 20hz server debacle. To put it simply the Black Ops 4’s server engine runs at 20hz, meaning all in-game events are updated 20 times per second. That sounds plenty fast enough however most modern games run at double or triple that and even Black Ops 4 itself ran at 60hz during its beta phase. The problem with this is that it leads to really inconsistent play with players able to one shot kill each other, seemingly land shots on you when you’re around a corner or, if you’re lucky, seemingly grant you super powers with the ability to kill anyone before they have a chance to react. This issue only seems to be amplify the host advantage problem as well, making some games an absolute nightmare for the opposing team. Treyarch has said that the limit on server tick rate was done to ensure that they could maintain the service during the initial rush and that it would eventually be put back up to 60hz. If they stay true to their word then Black Ops 4 might actually be a great game to pick up around the holiday season but for now, if you’re someone who’s interested in playing competitively, it may be best to give it a miss until 60hz makes a return.
The lack of single player and the 20hz servers might not sound like big issues but for someone like me, who really enjoyed Treyarch’s cerebral plots and glass smooth multi, they’re huge marks against the best Call of Duty game I’ve played in the last 3 years. To be sure I still feel that Treyarch is the one the others should follow but even this instalment feels like the weakest one from the developer to date. Perhaps I’ve begun to outgrow the series or maybe it’s taking a new direction that leads it away from me, I’m not sure, as all I really know is that the near unmitigated fun I found in previous titles has been gone for some time. Black Ops 4 has a potential redemption story ahead of it in the form of better multiplayer servers but I’ll still have that hole in my heart which only a Treyarch COD story can fill.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 retains the trademarks of the Treyarch style that, in my opinion, makes their version of the IP the best. The combat is still great, the various weapon options still a joy to fiddle with and the familiarity of old maps made the transition in that much smoother. Blackout is something that I personally could do without but it’s likely to be a drawcard for the numerous players out there who love the format and have tired of current offerings. The lack of a campaign is certainly disappointing and the inclusion of a token effort felt more insulting than if they had just left it out completely. The 20hz server issue is certainly annoying but I’m hopeful that it will be fixed as the player base declines from its launch highs. For what it’s worth I’m still enjoying the multi and I’ll probably put a few more good hours into it before I call it quits completely. Perhaps the residual hype from Black Ops 3 is what has doomed me here but I can’t help feeling that I wanted just a little bit more from Treyarch this time around.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $89.95. Game was played on the PC with a total of 8 hours of play time.
Destiny 2 wasn’t in a great spot. The last 2 expansions were met with derision from the community and many were questioning whether or not Bungie was really listening to the community. Curse of Osiris might have been a well timed injection of content for PC players but for others it didn’t even touch the sides after months of waiting. Warmind did little to address this, failing to bring enough to the table to even keep casualcore players like myself interested. For many then Forsaken was a make or break moment, either bringing them wholly back into the fold or pushing them away for good. Thankfully it seems Bungie took some inspiration from The Taken King expansion and revamped many aspects of the game, providing a vastly improved experience for all players. Whilst the changes might not be for everyone, indeed more casual players might feel a little left out in the cold, there’s no denying that this expansion has breathed much needed life into the franchise.
The Prison of Elders has suffered another breakout and you travel there alongside Cayde-6 in order to put a stop to it. When you arrive there however you discover that Uldren, brother to Mara Sov Queen of the Awoken, has escaped from his prison and now commands a bunch of Fallen with disturbing new powers. It is there, in the depths of the prison, that Cayde falls to Uldren; his light snuffed out. Upon returning to the tower the Vanguard is split about what to do: Zavala stating that they’re not an army and they won’t step into a war with the Reef and Ikora grieving heavily for the loss of one of her closest friends. It is there where you, the Guardian, begin to walk the path of revenge seeking out Uldren by picking apart his army and discovering the darkness that now binds the Reef.
Destiny 2 is looking is as good as always, exemplified by the absolutely incredible level design that has become their signature style for this franchise. All the new areas are simply stunning, smothered in details both large and small that make exploring each environment an absolute joy. I wasn’t on board with it the initially, the cramped confines of the Tangled Shore feeling somewhat antithetical to the typical massive, open space environment. However that all changed once I was in the Dreaming City which was a visual marvel all of its own. I’ve yet to explore all of the strikes, dungeons and the raid yet but I’m sure the trademark visual style is present there too. Whilst games are rarely made or broken by their visuals it certainly doesn’t hurt when they’re as good as what Bungie is putting out here.
Forsaken shakes up Destiny 2 significantly by adding in a lot of mechanics (some new, some old), integrating various quality of life improvements and revamping the progression systems. Each of the subclasses get a new talent tree that comes along with a new super, giving players a whole bunch of new mechanics to tinker with. The max light level is now a whopping 600 although you’ll find yourself at 500 before the campaign ends. The various kiosks that were present in the original Destiny have now come back in the form of a collections tab, enabling you to track your various armour sets and access them instantly from anywhere. Bounties have returned and function much like they used to, although they now (thankfully) share their own inventory tab with other pursuits and quests. A new PvEvP mode called Gambit as been added in, something which both myself and the wider community enjoys immensely. The end game area of the Dreaming City is a seemingly ever changing landscape, one that is still yet to reveal all of its secrets to us. Suffice to say Forsaken is the shot in the arm that Destiny 2 needed, even managing to bring back many players I never thought I’d see playing Destiny again.
Progression up to 500 is a whirlwind of loot, much of which you’ll be casting aside as you push your way up through the levels. For someone like myself who wasn’t 400 at the start of the expansion there’s a little bit of grinding to do between missions to ensure you’re at the right light level but once you’re beyond 440 or so it doesn’t appear to be an issue anymore. Once you’re at the first soft cap things slow down a little bit, powerful engrams being your primary source of power ups moving forward. There’s a second soft cap at 520 where powerful rewards outside of the Dreaming City only bump you up one light level or so, making them far less useful for progression. For casuals like myself this means you’re not going to be hitting the max light cap anytime soon and unfortunately there’s no real way to catch up either. This is directly geared towards those who view Destiny as their hobby with 3 characters that they max every expansion. Whilst I admit it was somewhat disappointing to learn that I probably couldn’t raid for a month or two I’m hopeful that it’ll be worth it once I do finally get the chance to do it. Going by the light levels in the tower it seems like there’ll be a lot of people who will be right there with me.
The return of random rolled loot, along with the much more expensive infusion system, is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand it does make duplicate drops less of a let down as there’s always the option of getting a god roll on one of your favourite weapons. On the other because infusion costs so much you’re likely going to be wearing a mixed bag of items for quite some time as keeping your favourite items upgraded is going to be too expensive. This does mean you’re far more likely to experiment with your loadout than you previously were which is probably a good thing (especially given that I’d been using the same armour and weapon set for the last 2 expansions). One of the saving graces is that infusion the same items into each other is very cheap, just glimmer, giving you a relatively easy way of keeping your god rolled items around. The previous item type lockout has been reverted to the old Destiny 1 style as well, meaning if you do really want to keep an item in a particular slot at max light level you’re no longer restricted. That’s probably out of necessity however, given the radical changes to the weapon system.
Weapon variety has been dramatically increased thanks to nearly all weapon types being available for all slots. Power weapons are still restricted to their slot but fusion rifles, sniper rifles and shotguns can now roll for both your kinetic and energy slots. This means that, if you’re so inclined, you could roll a build that’s all shotguns but you’re likely not going to want to due to the ammo types. You see weapons now also carry with them an ammo type which is aligned to the old Destiny 1 style. That means the more powerful special ammo weapons, even if they roll in the kinetic slot, will still use that ammo type. They all have independent pools , so say if you’re using 2 primary ammo type weapons and run one dry the other one won’t run out as well, but you’ll still probably want one of each type for a balanced load out. If that sounds confusion it is a bit but once you’ve figured out what kind of load out you want to run balancing around it isn’t too much of a challenge. To be honest I’ve been running 2 primary and 1 power weapon for most of the game, only switching in a shotgun or fusion rifle when it makes sense.
My love/hate relationship with Destiny’s PVP scene continues with Forsaken although the reasons for each have shifted somewhat. The core PVP remains unchanged although the meta has shifted significantly from what I remember (pulse rifles being the bees knees? Weird…). Gambit is certainly one of the more enjoyable modes, even if it’s being ruined somewhat by the overuse of Sleeper Simulant, something which can’t be nerfed fast enough. Iron Banner was honestly a complete shit show for someone who was somewhat underleveled like myself, being routinely matched with guardians 20+ light levels above me. The new talent trees seem to be dominating over their older companions, much like they were back in the Taken King. Given that there’s one for each subclass though that’s less of an issue than what it was back then but it still feels a little sad that the old guard has been left out in the cold once again. Still I’ve managed to top out my share of games here and there, both in Gambit and regular PvP, so it hasn’t been all bad.
The story takes a while to find its feet due in no small part to the whole CAYDE IS GOING TO DIE IN FORSAKEN hype that Bungie unceremoniously engaged in leading up to Forsaken’s release. The initial part of hunting down the Barons and chasing after Uldren though is really just a long setup for this expansion’s on-going story which keeps on evolving as the game progresses. I mean Cayde’s death was treated well given the pivotal role he’s played in the franchise up to this point but really it’s a secondary point to the game’s main story: that of the Awoken and the dreaming city. Given that I was discovering new story elements even as recently as yesterday says something about the narrative depth of this expansion. I’m quite keen to see how it progresses and am excited to see how the story evolves as I get to experience more of the content.
Destiny 2: Forsaken is the expansion that many of us long time fans of the franchise were hoping for. The improvements to the game’s various core mechanics, quality of life improvements and the large injection of content are all things that the community had been desperately waiting for. Some of those things might not be for everyone, like those of us who don’t have nor want to dedicate the time to the new grind, but it’s undeniable that the game has been vastly improved. This does mean that some of us will have to wait until we can fully experience everything that this expansion has to offer but, strangely, I’m ok with that this time around. I may not hit max light again this time around but I certainly feel like I’ll be sticking around to get a few raid completions under my belt. That’s honestly all I’ve ever asked of Destiny in the past anyway so it’s great to have the franchise back in full form.
Destiny 2: Forsaken is available on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One right now for $59.95. Total time spent in Destiny 2 is now at 130 hours with approximately 44 of those spent playing the Forsaken expansion.