Much of the talk lately around the highly anticipated fall release of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 has surrounded Treyarch’s decision to focus entirely on the multiplayer experience, including the vaunted Battle Royale mode Blackout. Unlike previous entries, Black Ops 4 completely eschews any single-player campaign, delivering a boxed AAA product designed from the ground up as a social and competitive multiplayer experience.
It’s a bold decision, but one that at least has reasonable origins in Call of Duty’s lauded multiplayer, which has been an integral part of the franchise throughout its lifespan. Simply saying the word “Nuketown” sends most players into a reverie, already seeing a surprise noobtube killcam flash before their eyes. It’s a component of play that has greatly affected how gamers approach Call of Duty, so to center this release on a popular game mechanic like the Battle Royale style of play combines the zeitgeist of the modern era sensibly with Treyarch’s wheelhouse.
In a Screen Rant exclusive, gameplay designer Matt Scronce details what propelled Treyarch into completely disposing of the single player campaign in their newest release, Call of Duty: Black Ops 4:
"Well, we never set out to really make a traditional campaign. It’s always been about creating a social experience for our players, high replayability. Even going back to Black Ops 3 it wasn’t your typical campaign. You could play it with your friends. You could play it in any order you wanted to.
There comes a time during the iterative process of development where you take a look at something that’s not achieving the goals you set out to achieve or it’s not hitting the bar that you expect from yourself or that the players expect from us, then we’re not afraid to cut that and move on to the next thing. And that’s what happened there. That kind of gave us the ability to move to Blackout which we’re super excited about – you know, the biggest map in Call of Duty history with the most players in Call of Duty history. It’s kind of part of the process of development and at Treyarch we’re not afraid to do things like that."
It’s clear that Blackout represents a potential sea change for the series and, specifically, the Black Ops name, with a map that is purportedly 1,500 times larger than the aforementioned Nuketown. While the total maximum amount of simultaneous players has not been detailed yet, with Fortnite and Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds maxing out at 100, that cap appears to be the bare minimum to reach for in Blackout but rumors which we believe to be true, and from what senior producer Yale Miller hinted for us, the player counts likely won't reach that high.
"Right now the exact number, we’re not giving the exact number. Really, because it comes down to the map. The map, [David] Vonderhaar already touched on, is about 1500 Nuketowns and when you step into it you’ll understand. It’s about finding the right number of players for that map, so there’s that classic Black Ops feel that we want to bring to it. Like, how fast we do we want to get into engagements, the engagement distances, how do guns feel when you’re running around in there. And then adjusting the player count down. Even if you look at what we did for MP right now – obviously we have different modes in MP where we’ve gone to higher player counts, we can do that, but do we? No. We actually dropped it down to 5v5… we feel like that’s the best. It makes the specialists really matter. It makes your team [composition] matter more and more because it’s not just a ton of people in there. It’s gonna be the same thing with Blackout so we’ll continue to refine. Hands down, it will be more players than anything you have ever seen in a Call of Duty map, I guarantee it, also with vehicles – land and see and air – and just finding what’s the right number."
Speaking of those two games: one aspect that distinguishes Battle Royale modes in multiplayer shooters is the potential for emergent gameplay surprises. Collaborating with teammates, organizing ambushes, and being surprised into profanity-strewn terror is partially why these titles have broken through as the leading games people line up to watch on streaming platform Twitch. With their newest outing, Treyarch is gambling on this experience as being substantial enough to replace an offline campaign entirely, a feature that’s been arguably central to Call of Duty...until now.
While early rumors suggested that this pivot was due to extended delays in development of the single-player campaign — and Scronce does not necessarily contradict those rumors, here — the designer’s articulation of Treyarch focusing on their strengths and developing to player expectations seems like money well spent.