Impressions from the Blackout Beta
The inevitable has happened: Battle Royale games have moved into the AAA sphere. The next Call of Duty, Black Ops 4, has a Battle Royale game mode called Blackout, and so, with much languish, I’ve signed my soul away in order to play its beta. I’ve compiled notes that include impressions I’ve read online, things my friends have said, and of course my own impressions. Given that the Call of Duty series has always been remarked for its player customization, snappy gunplay, and map design, I’ll tackle Blackout from these three core areas.
Blackout’s map is dense. The player-to-map ratio seems much smaller than other BRs, (as I’ll refer to Battle Royale games for now on). Running to circles instead of using vehicles is a fairly reliable option, and moving from one town to the next requires little to no time. Given the sheer number of towns, it comes as no surprise that you can often hear gunfights happening all around you. That being said, the southeast corner of the map is extremely wide open. There’s not a whole lot between the factory and the turbines besides sparsely vegetated rolling desert hills and jutting rocks. My guess is that this provides a chance for the final circle to be somewhere that isn’t a awkward slice of a building.
The use of vertical space across the map is also extremely important given the size of the map. For example, the construction site has floors upon floors of labyrinthine, poorly-lit areas for all kinds of frantic stairwell and elevator shaft engagements. One of the most exciting details about navigation is that, given enough height, you can engage your wing-suit when jumping from tall heights. This has proved itself to be extremely useful when getting the hell out of a firefight, or for when the edge of the circle has trapped you on an outcropping with no conventional way down. Even the wide-open areas have plenty of hills and those jutting rocks I mentioned, so most of your engagements are going to facilitate opportunities to flank, take cover, and take full advantage of vertical space.
When it comes to tactical movement, the biggest hurdle is upward movement. Losing elevation is easy, but attempting to engage an enemy that is above you can be very difficult, and getting yourself trapped in a low-altitude area can get you pinned from above with no cover between you and your attackers. Movement speed is also wicked-fast. You can close distances very quickly, and this means the world when you and your squad are performing flanks or covering your flanks. As a result, fights are much more volatile. Even one-on-one skirmishes, buildings or no, can result in sliding, jumping into windows, jumping onto rocks, running behind defilades for flanks, and more. This is both exciting and nerve-wracking from a strategic standpoint. Think fast, and move faster. Let’s move onto the gunplay aspect of Blackout.
The time-to-kill in Call of Duty games is usually very fast, and that’s no exception in Blackout. The biggest change to this formula is instead armor. You can find and equip armor in levels 1, 2, and 3. Level 3 can win you the game. That isn’t meant to be a hyperbolic statement. That’s literally how good armor 3 is. Check out the clip below to see it in action.
That guy was tanking shots. Of course, you could always throw the one-hit-kill-no-matter-the-health-nor-armor Hail Mary Battle Axe.
Many impressions have mentioned bullet drop, but not in ways that I think communicate how the bullet drop actually affects the gunplay. You can almost always see the bullet and where it lands, so if you spread your shots and observe the flight path you can adjust your spacing appropriately. Snipers apparently have very little bullet drop, but I’ve only landed shots when enemies are barely outside of assault rifle range. Distances beyond that have eluded me. Most guns are effective, except shotguns. We don’t talk about shotguns. All of this is bound to change, but my impression was that assault rifles were the most useful in most engagements, near or far. I’d also emphasize that your attachments are more likely to affect the usefulness of your gun more so than anything else. Many of the iron sights aren’t great, so make sure you get those sights and silencers. If you can’t see and hit your target, it doesn’t matter how good your gun is.
Customization in a BR game? “Blasphemy!”, you shout. But wait, alright? Because you’re missing my point. You can only customize your soldier based on what you find, (or loot, of course.) But not every player will kit themselves out in the same way. The variety of guns, attachments, equipment items, and perks is massive, and you can only carry so many at a time. Perks can be huge, but are only active for a certain amount of time. This means that they can be easy to waste if you activate them and see no combat during their duration. Certain equipment can also be very useful. The sensor dart paints enemies on the mini map if they’re within the range of where you placed the dart. This can be essential when the circle is small and there’s lots of nooks and crannies for baddies to tuck their butts into. The deployable shield and other equipment items are very hit or miss, and their reliance can often get you killed.
This is exciting for a BR game because you aren’t just looking for the “gold” guns. You have options that are viable depending upon how you want to play, and that’s something I really appreciate in games.
Speaking of perks, the dead silence perk mutes most of your character’s noises. This means that footsteps can be nearly silent, and thus, your ears are not to be relied upon for detecting the presence of enemies. Ever since the first Modern Warfare title, footsteps have been a dead giveaway for those without dead silence. Other BR games have implemented footstep noise as a consistent mechanism, (perhaps depending on your choice of footwear), but Blackout wants to keep you on your toes. Always be aware of your surroundings, because sound isn’t going to be enough to keep you safe.
I am fucking stoked about the helicopter.
But I am worried that my friends will never let me be the pilot again. You bet your ass I’m going to attempt this move again when the game comes out. Oh, and shooting down helicopters is amazing as well.
I haven’t said much about how I feel about Blackout. Instead I’ve analyzed the gameplay to give context to my thoughts. Alas, I have to say that I’ve really enjoyed Blackout so far. I played for a few hours in solo matches, and painfully learned the ins-and-outs of the towns, looting, and combat, but it felt rewarding to learn these lessons. I relayed this information to my squad and we got down to business: mostly losing, but claiming a few wins as well. Blackouts engagements are varied. They can be frantic, calculated, and sometimes goofy. It does everything you’d expect out of a Call of Duty experience, and these strengths fit well within the context of BR.
I hope they find ways to mix up the standard playlists, and in ways that aren’t as contrived as “snipers only” and “best guns only.” (I badly want a vehicular chaos BR game, à la Mad Max.) I also hope that they add challenges and cosmetic awards based on how you play. If I average more revives than is normal, I’d love to get awarded with a medic patch on my player’s uniform. Likewise if I get tomahawk kills, pilot the chopper frequently, or wingsuit way more often than is practical. Call of Duty is like Burger King, and I hope Blackout allows me to Have it Your [My] Way, and to show it off, too.