One of the big, noteworthy announcements ahead of this year’s E3 show was that the new Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, first revealed back in March, would contain a battle royale mode in the style of Fortnite and Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds. The game mode is going to be called Blackout, and at the time, developer Treyarch and publisher Activision revealed only a few small details about it. We knew Blackout would feature the largest Call of Duty map ever made — approximately 1,500 times larger than the classic Nuketown map — which would also contain land, air, and sea vehicles. Beyond that, we weren’t told anything else.
Unfortunately, Treyarch didn’t have Blackout here at E3 to try ourselves, but The Verge did get some time with co-studio head Dan Bunting, who was able to confirm a few additional details about the mode ahead of a more formal reveal closer to the game’s October launch. Here’s what Bunting had to say about Blackout.
One interesting element of Blackout that Bunting was able to disclose was that it will feature a unique health system unlike any the Call of Duty series has had before. Now, even the standard multiplayer mode for Black Ops 4 features a new, unique timed health system. Essentially, you can heal yourself to full health right after an enemy encounter, but that health option takes some time to recharge. (In my time with standard multiplayer, it felt somewhere in the 30-second range, but I can’t say for sure.)
For Blackout, Treyarch is using a similar system, but it sounds like there will be some tweaks. “We’re changing fundamentally how the health system works in this game, not just in core multiplayer but also in a battle royale situation,” Bunting says. In Blackout, there will be multiple types of health packages, similar in ways to PUBG’s bandages and med kits.
Perhaps the most pressing question on fans’ minds is how many players Blackout will feature. Some games, even in the Call of Duty series, have toyed with battle royale elements in the past, like giving players only one life per round or match and expanding the number of players to as many as 64. But Fortnite and PUBG succeed best by putting a large number of players, up to 100 typically, in a map with no respawns whatsoever.
For Blackout to succeed, it needs to replicate that feeling of having everything on the line in each encounter. “We actually haven’t arrived at the final number we will have at launch,” Bunting says, adding that it’s still contingent on the final map size and some additional fine-tuning the team at Treyarch is doing to ensure the game’s don’t drag on too long or wrap up too soon. Hopefully, we’ll hear more about this soon.
Bunting mentioned how the Blackout trailer video featured a large tower, and he told me that vericality will be an important element in the game mode. In PUBG and Fortnite, having the high ground is critical because it allows you to obscure parts of your body while having full view of an enemy. Also, in those games, because you only have one life, having that high ground when it matters can win you the game.
Most Call of Duty maps don’t have a high level of verticality. Typically, it’s either one floor above the standard starting point of the map, or sometimes a few stories higher in a house or building. But Bunting is suggesting that the debut Blackout map will feature skyscraper-sized structures that could radically change the Call of Duty experience, especially for skilled snipers.
A core element of a battle royale game is some type of environmental factor that drives players in a certain direction and creates tighter, more intense firefights, like the supernatural storm in Fortnite or the blue wall of death in PUBG. That way, players can’t just hide all game, and movement comes with its own unique calculus that only becomes more critical as the game goes on.
Bunting wouldn’t say what kind of similar element Blackout would feature, but from our conversation, it seems clear Treyarch has something in mind, or else it wouldn’t be stressing the importance of helicopters and boats. There’s also the matter of killstreaks, and how sustained performance in a Call of Duty game typically rewards players with more deadly weaponry. Although Bunting said that there would be some form of progression through a Blackout match, he did not speak to any form of looting. That suggests players might start with identical loadouts that can be upgraded over the course of the game.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 comes out for PS4, Xbox One, and PC on October 12th, 2018