Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is Good

It’s the most wonderful time of the year for everyone who was raised on a diet of murder simulators, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is out, and it’s good, with some caveats.

This year’s Treyarch-designed Call of Duty is something like three years of work now that there are three studios working on their own individual series within the Call of Duty brand.

As usual, I’ll note here that I have good friends at this Activision studio but I try to not let that influence my opinions about any of their games.

Black Ops 4 is split into three subsidiary modes: competitive multiplayer, blackout (battle royale mode), and zombies. There is no single-player campaign, which I am pretty disappointed by, but there are a set of tutorial matches with vignettes that tell the tales of Black Ops’ different playable characters.

The playable characters – with different abilities in the regular competitive multiplayer mode – took some getting used to. I never cared for defined “hero characters” in games that didn’t traditionally have them. WarCraft 3 being the example that first sticks to mind. Nevertheless, I enjoy them in Black Ops 4

BLOPS 4’s UI is somewhat broken and poorly designed. Look at this icon, what does it mean to you: Settings question mark

If you said “settings” or “options” you’re wrong, just like I was. It is the “custom game” icon. If you click that icon while you’re in a party the UI changes from this:

Shot 0015

to this:

Shot 0016

Which are quite similar except for the disappearing “settings” button and the addition of some text that says “custom games.”

If you don’t notice either of those changes, and you hit “play” you’re plunged into a match that you’re hosting without any human players. If you’re as dumb as I was, you’ll sit there for a few minutes wondering when they’ll join.

Still, despite all the quirks to the UI, Black Ops 4 is an undeniably fun multiplayer-only romp through murder town. The competitive multiplayer modes are fine, there’s one like Counter-Strike this year, it’s called Heist. You can still just play team deathmatch if you want. This year you can only heal when you press a button instead of by hiding and waiting for the jelly to disappear from the screen’s edges.

Blackout is the new Battle Royale-like and it’s fun, it feels a little bit incomplete but miles ahead of the competition in terms of how the game feels to play. With PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds I’m always struggling to do the most basic tasks. Clambering over or onto an object in Blackout works 9 times out of 10 instead of PUBG’s 4 or 5 times out of 10. Blackout also has it’s own spin on almost everything. There are packs that provide you with perks, and you can’t examine items that are on the ground to see their stats. I’m guessing they want us to learn what they look like.

The downside to Blackout is that there’s only one map, for now, and it isn’t clear where this mode is going to go. It can’t compete with Fortnite, per se, because it isn’t free-to-play, or at least not yet. Does that mean there will be a Blackout mode in next year’s Call of Duty? Will Treyarch continue to work on this one, including adding more content? That isn’t clear to me.

Finally, there’s still a Zombies mode if you enjoy co-operative zombie hunting with ridiculous dialog between Zombies-specific characters the studio designed. I want to enjoy this mode, I almost never do. There are a lot of hidden things about it, and I’ve never learned about them.

For me, the best single-player Call of Duty campaign was Infinite Warfare in 2016, and I also miss playing that game’s multiplayer. I enjoyed all of the sci-fi movement trappings that this game has eschewed by placing the timeline in-between Black Ops 2 and 3, which seems like the weirdest decision of all given that this game has no single-player campaign and a bunch of cutscenes instead. Also, the number is 4 which is higher than 3. I’m not sure Treyarch understands how the numbers work. Maybe they need to call Mason.

This is the first year that Activision has gone all-in on Blizzard’s Battle.net launcher and Black Ops 4 is only available there for Windows players alongside Destiny 2 (Destiny 1 was never available on Windows). As disappointed as I am with Valve, lately, there isn’t any good reason for this from a player’s perspective. We get Battle.net’s social features and rich presence notifications but that is about it. I’m curious where 2019’s Call of Duty will end up, but it is extremely unlikely it’ll be on Steam. Activision definitely doesn’t want to give up any cut to Valve. The negative feedback in the reviews for WW2, Infinite Warfare, and Advanced Warfare on Steam probably didn’t help things, either.

Unfortunately, this year Activision has again chosen to split their players up with an add-on pass that isn’t included with the “standard” $60 version of Black Ops 4. They’re also adding in some kind of in-game microtransactions.

I’m not going to fully review Black Ops 4, there are good reviews elsewhere. Notably, IGN split their review into four pieces, one  for each mode and an overall score. It’s a game that I’m surprised to find my friends who abandoned Call of Duty years ago talking about and playing, and I love it.

Despite all of the odd decisions and bad UI, I love playing Black Ops 4. It’s the definitive way to play Treyarch’s version of multiplayer Call of Duty, and I have fun with their take on the Battle Royale genre. If you miss dumb, exciting, and fun multiplayer shooters, this is that. If you loved any campaign from previous Call of Duty games and you like to skip multiplayer because you didn’t want to be schooled by 12-year-olds, this isn’t for you. I’m losing to them every night, and that’s OK. I can still get to the top of the leaderboards sometimes.

Heroes of the Storm’s Great Updates

Kat Bailey has this interview with Blizzard’s lead designer on Heroes of the Storm, Travis McGeathy titled On its Second Anniversary, Heroes of the Storm Has Finally Turned a Corner.

It’s a sentiment I completely agree with, and I’ll slightly disclaim my discussion of this game by noting that a good friend works at Activision. When I first tried HOTS a few years ago it was clear that they had made changes to make the DOTA-style of gameplay more palatable, but it didn’t click with me until the 2 year-anniversary updates. Yes, I was another Overwatch player who initially went back to HOTS for the skins, but stuck around for the gameplay.

Now I play it a few times a week, and it’s great to not have to worry about last-hitting and other stuff I didn’t care to grasp from more traditional MOBAs like having to come up with an item build for each game and map and situation. Maybe that’s something that hardcore DOTA players miss, they can stick to DOTA so I don’t have to hear them whining on team chat.

There’s also this part of the interview:

One of McGeathy’s favorite moments was when a high-level player told him about their experience with Zarya. “They said, ‘I never really enjoyed Zarya in Overwatch until I played her in Heroes of the Storm and I figured her out.’ So that’s a special case. Just in general we’re always looking for new and unique ways for heroes to work.”

I don’t play much Overwatch so I never understood the use of D.Va’s defense matrix ability except as a blunt shield. It took Heroes of the Storm for me to understand that her Defense Matrix actually powers up her self-destruct ability faster. Duh.

The only big criticism I have about HOTS is that while it is available (free to play) on macOS and Windows Blizzard hasn’t chosen this opportunity to bring the game to Linux yet. It’s an obvious next-step that is baffling to me at this point.

Call of Duty: WWII Trailer & Release Date

Activision’s Sledgehammer Games studio is responsible for 2017’s Call of Duty, and they’ve put out the first trailer for their return to World War 2.

Call of Duty: WWII is to be released on November 3rd for Windows, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. It looks like PS4 gets the DLC first again. The Call of Duty blog has more details on the campaign and multiplayer.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is Splitting Windows Players Up

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Call of Duty: IW image via Activision

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is coming out tomorrow and it turns out that players on Windows will be split depending on which digital store they buy the game from. If you buy the boxed copy you get a Steam code and can only play with other players who bought the Steam version. If you buy the game from the app store built-into Windows you can’t play with Steam players. This is according to an FAQ on Activision’s support site for Call of Duty, via IGN, and goes for both Infinite Warfare’s multiplayer as well as the remastered version of Modern Warfare.

If you’ve been playing Call of Duty on Windows for a few years you’ve probably seen what I’ve seen, it feels like there are fewer players in multiplayer than ever, and it’s impossible to find anyone playing any modes except for team deathmatch. I can’t believe anyone would splinter the smallest of the three groups of players (Playstation 4, Xbox One, Windows) intentionally.

Rocket League has cross-platform multiplayer across Xbox One and Steam, so it doesn’t seem like a policy prevents multiplayer from functioning between Microsoft-purchased games and other platforms. Really strange move on Activision’s part.

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare Announcement Trailer

Speaking of which, here’s the Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare announcement trailer. It features the worst cover of a David Bowie song I’ve ever heard. In the year he died, why not pay out the bucks and license the real thing instead? Awful.

At least it has something closer to gameplay footage, but the Modern Warfare remastered footage at the end looks more interesting than Infinite Warfare. But you’ll have to buy the special $80 version of Infinite Warfare (“Legacy Edition”) to get a crack at the remake of MW on November 4th for Playstation 4, Xbox One, and Windows.

I’m not expecting much at all from Infinity Ward after the mediocre Ghosts. Thank goodness it’s Raven working on the Modern Warfare remaster, even though it’ll only contain 10 of the multiplayer maps and the single-player campaign I’m definitely looking forward to playing that again.

Also note the VTOL jet flying clipping through the building as it comes in for a landing at 1:14. They must have noticed it late in production of this trailer and added the lens-flare to cover it up.

Raven Software’s 25th Anniversary

Judy Newman in the Wisconsin State Journal:

In a place like the Madison area, where people supported home-grown businesses way before the phrase “Buy local” became a battle cry, it’s not all that unusual to find companies that have been a mainstay for decades.

But in the highly competitive and ever-evolving world of video games, it’s much more rare.

Raven Software is one such survivor.

Launched in 1990 by brothers Brian and Steve Raffel, Raven, 8496 Greenway Blvd., Middleton, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

[…]

Raven is one of several studios working on any particular game for Activision, its parent company.

Daniel Suarez, vice president of production for Activision, called Raven “an impressive developer with a wide range of experience.”

“As the primary studio on ‘Call of Duty Online,’ Activision’s free-to-play product for China, and as a supporting studio on the last several ‘Call of Duty’ games, the team is an incredible group of talented designers, engineers and artists whose contributions are invaluable to Activision,” Suarez said from company headquarters in Santa Monica, California.

[…]

Raven is responsible for 10 to 25 percent of the “Call of Duty” games, he said, a series that has drawn more than $11 billion in worldwide revenue since it launched in 2003. “Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare” was the No. 1 console game, worldwide, in 2014, Activision said.

“Yeah, we’re part of the success,” Raffel said.

The company that made Jedi Knight, Jedi Academy, Elite Force, Soldier of Fortune, Heretic, Hexen and so many other great games has been reduced to a B-team working on a free-to-play Call of Duty redux, and 10-25 percent of assets and code for other Call of Duty developers at Activision.

EA’s Response to Activision’s Call of Duty Shenanigans?

The lawsuit did not name the rival company, but Electronic Arts Inc. is based in Northern California’s Redwood City and is thought to be who Activision is referring to in its filing. Asked whether this was the case, EA spokesman Jeff Brown said, “We don’t have the time to comment on the many lawsuits Activision files against its employees and creative partners.”

via Activision fires back at ex-Call of Duty developers, calling them ‘self-serving schemers’.

Call of Duty: World at War DLC to be Free on PC

Call of Duty: World at War Dogfight in the PacificTreyarch’s previously announced Call of Duty: World at War DLC is now almost certainly free for the PC.

Official confirmation is not yet available from Activision, but via twitter the updated patch notes for COD:WAW seem to indicate that no charge will be made since the DLC will be bundled with a patch fixing various issues (emphasis added):

Just a quick update to the PC Patch 1.4 status. This is the patch which will include the DLC Map Pack 1 content, as well as address a few issues with the game.

    Items Addressed:

  • IWD / dedicated server anomalies (the people this effects will know what I mean by this)
  • “Tank Lag” with logfile enabled
  • Improvements to the MP spawn logic
  • Autobalance functionality in various game modes

A complete list of change will be posted when the patch releases. We are working as quickly as possible to get this patch and DLC out as soon as possible.

This DLC pack adds four new maps, that count includes one new for Nazi Zombie mode and will be available tomorrow (March 19) for PS3 and Xbox 360 consoles. The posting was on their forums and is screenshotted after the break in case it is removed or edited.

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