Over the last two weeks, two of the most high profile and most anticipated games had their official reveal events. We're of course, talking about Battlefield V from developer DICE and publisher Electronic Arts, and Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 from developer Treyarch (with the help of Beenox for its PC version) and publisher Activision.
Both events earned mixed reactions (over 300,000 dislikes for the Battlefield V trailer) however and oddly held back so much, focusing instead on marketing keywords and less so on gameplay, and we can't figure out why.
In the case of Black Ops 4, which went first (we were in attendance), the industry was curious going into this one since it was all but confirmed that Treyarch would skip doing a traditional blockbuster single-player story campaign this year and instead add on a battle royale mode. The goal, according to their presentation, is to offer a more replayable, more social, long-term experience. Yet all they let attendees see and play was the regular multiplayer, now a more intimate and more tactical 5v5 experience that tries to emulate the tactical layer of Overwatch and Rainbow Six Siege. We didn't actually experience gameplay of the new Zombies content, and we saw absolutely nothing on gameplay or specifics on the Blackout battle royale mode - the singular new thing this year would bring to the Call of Duty formula.
We were told that even without an actual story campaign, Black Ops 4 would weave a stronger narrative experience through its multiplayer but this was not shown and in our interviews, the devs couldn't specify what this means other than the idea that in multiplayer, players choose a specialist who they hope become iconic characters (again, the Siege and Overwatch comparison). We didn't see or hear anything on narrative, similar to the lack of details on the Blackout mode. We did confirm however, that the Blackout battle royale mode was a relatively last-minute addition to the game. We can confirm it was thought about internally sometime last year as PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG) and Fornite exploded in popularity, but the specific idea for their own Black Ops-style take on the formula didn't come until the beginning of this year, meaning this big mode is getting less than a year's development to be ready for launch in October.
Still, the reveal event didn't showcase this and it should have. For Battlefield V, DICE's reveal even makes less sense since their livestream wasn't to come until the following week from an event in London. They somehow showed even less gameplay, and worse, didn't let people get hands-on with the game. Why do this event then? We know the game is coming so what's the purpose of such a limited, disappointing reveal now?
DICE brought in Trevor Noah (host of The Daily Show) to keep the Battlefield V presentation quippy and light but not all of his jokes landed, and it was made worse by the 30 minutes comprising of mostly talking and teleprompter reading. The only showcase was in the game's cinematic trailer which doesn't give an honest look at gameplay. While we didn't attend the actual event for this one, we did spend three hours with the dev leads a day earlier who walked us through the impressive new animations, level of detail, and post-release plans for the game. It looked and sounded awesome. We saw a hint of so much more exciting stuff which promised a game that really does push the shooter genre forward in quality and presentation, but this was absent from the public reveal. Again, we didn't see gameplay though, and basic details like squad size we couldn't get an answer to.
What's With All the Secrecy?
Both publishers made the smart move of dropping season passes and paid-for DLC expansions for map packs and such this year, and making this a key point of their reveal events, but both acted shady in avoiding details on how post-release monetization would work. Premium currencies? Dreaded cosmetic loot boxes? Crappy XP boosters? Why is this a secret? Through interviews we learned for BFV there will be a premium currency but we don't yet know exactly how it can be spent.
The Battlefield V team also demonstrated an impressive level of customization coming to the game's player characters, weapons, and vehicles (through what's call the 'Company' system that's shared between the Battlefield V's multiplayer and co-op modes), but didn't show how this works in-game. For Black Ops 4, we saw no customization whatsoever from a visual standpoint since the characters revealed for Zombies and competitive multiplayer are all pre-defined. We suspect weapon skins are a guarantee for regular multiplayer and more ideas to be taken from the other battle royale juggernauts to be embraced in their own Blackout mode.
Why are details on the new stuff so secret? Why aren't these devs showing us new gameplay? Does it matter if we see some now, and more in a few weeks at E3? What's the point of these events if it leaves a mixed response to first impressions? What's the point if the very first official look at these games isn't fleshed out, and therefore not really impressive? Both Black Ops 4 and Battlefield V are new installments in long-running franchises that have been around over a decade and both are games we knew a whole lot about from rumors and reports confirmed true - Their existence and basic feature sets are not at all surprising. Their marketing teams need to step up.
We'll know more though and be able to speak to gameplay on the new stuff as we attend E3 in Los Angeles next month.
- Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 (2018 Video Game) release date: Oct 12, 2018