Later this year, the 15th main franchise Call of Duty title will arrive. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 is a sequel to the 2015 Black Ops 3, but we’re already hearing rumors Activision might opt for a different approach to the series this time.
Previous main Call of Duty titles have always included a story. This used to be a differentiating factor between the Battlefield series and CoD, and while the quality of the storylines and characters has inevitably varied, Infinity War and Treyarch have usually done a reasonable job of packing at least a few standout missions into each game. Sneaking into Pripyat in a gillie suit remains one of my favorite gaming memories.
But this year, we may see Black Ops 4 junk its single-player campaign in favor of an expanded Zombies and Battle Royale mode. It may also reflect the newfound priority on e-sports, which don’t care about single-player campaigns. This is bound to have an affect on overall gameplay — developers have to consider how player abilities, weapons, and tactics will play in front of an audience in addition to their impact on the game itself. It also tends to change how devs balance a title.
The success of PUBG has sent virtually every publisher sprinting to build new games or convert old ones with new combat modes. Cliff Bleszinski’s Boss Key’s Early Access title Radical Heights launched so early, most of its buildings are featureless boxes. Ars Technica recently wrote about the game, noting: “Nothing in Radical Heights feels like it was built for the kind of emergent battles—either close-up or ranged—that pop up in a given 15-minute battle royale game. Everything in this game’s world is either stupidly flat (with one to three empty, useless cars tossed in for good measure) or set up as an obnoxious, twisty series of corridors.”
We’re not suggesting that Activision would ship a Battle Royale mode so terrible that Rock Paper Shotgun notes, “If Radical Heights was any more early access, we might well be trying to play a design document.” But the fact that the company is pivoting away from storytelling to put more effort into ideas like Battle Royale and its long-running Zombie mode suggests e-sports could have a significant negative impact on single-player gaming in the future. If a game becomes established as a multiplayer e-sport, it’s guaranteed to drive users towards itself for years to come. That alone likely explains the focus on multiplayer — it’s the easiest way to turn the game into a major event.
Activision didn’t comment on the rumor to Polygon, but said it will reveal more details about Black Ops 4 on May 17.
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