Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War multiplayer preview: Large-scale and tactical evolutions

Bocw Mp Event Wm
Bocw Mp Event Wm (Image credit: Activision)

So far, the main focus for Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War has been the campaign led by Raven Software, with previews showcasing a world of espionage, intrigue, and player choice amidst real-world turmoil. With the reveal taking place far later in the year than Call of Duty games are usually shown, we didn't know exactly what was in store outside of the campaign.

That has now changed with the reveal of the multiplayer mode, which is another major pillar. I recently got the chance to go hands-on with the Treyarch-led multiplayer portion of Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War. Much like the campaign preview, this was all done remotely due to the nature of the world right now.

Over the course of a three-hour session, I got to play several different modes on several different maps, giving me a broad look at what the multiplayer aspect of this game will have to offer. While there's a lot that hasn't changed and series veterans will know what to expect, some new elements and a couple of new modes definitely caught my attention.

Here are my thoughts on what I played.

Go big or go home

Staples of the series like Create-a-Class are in, with guns able to handle up to eight attachments depending on your chosen perks. Weapon stats are also clearly displayed with percentages, so you're not left guessing and estimating improvements or downsides to chosen attachments based on red and green bars.

The first mode I played (and one that I enjoyed the most) was Combined Arms. This 12v12 spinoff of Domination has teams capturing several objective points on larger maps. Vehicles are in play here, such as on the Armada map, which features several gunboats that can be used to speed in and around the large ships that compose the map. Combined with ziplines and swimming, it always felt easy to get back into the thick of fighting no matter where I died.

Another map, Crossroads, traded sinking ships with a snowy railway and gunboats for tanks. While traversal wasn't quite as easy here, both maps felt like they offered a satisfying rate of engagement and large-scale destruction without getting too hectic.

An interesting change of pace

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Source: Activision (Image credit: Source: Activision)

One of the more exciting changes to the multiplayer formula revolves around acquiring killstreaks — or rather, scorestreaks. Scorestreaks no longer reset when you die. Instead, you can keep on earning points through kills and completing different objectives depending on the game mode, with bonuses for things like multi-kills. In theory, this is a nice change that lowers the skill gap for acquiring streak rewards like artillery strikes or spy planes.

In theory, this is a nice change that lowers the skill gap.

In practice, I found that it made using these rewards much sparser and harder to achieve overall. Even lower-end scorestreaks like artillery strikes were very infrequent, and it was a huge shock whenever a higher-end streak was activated, which does reduce the overall action somewhat.

At the same time, being able to keep your progress towards a huge reward, such as being the gunner in a helicopter, is rather nice. I'm not really sure about how I feel on this change overall, but if it is tweaked to provide slighter faster progression, I think Treyarch will have a nice accessible balance.

Slower-paced action

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Finally, the other new mode that I took to is VIP Escort. In VIP Escort, one team is chosen as the attackers and the others as defenders. You've only got one life, and one member of the defenders is a VIP armed with a handgun and a Spy Plane scorestreak, while scorestreaks are disabled for all other players. The defenders have to escort the VIP to one of two locations for extraction or wipe out the attackers, while the attackers need to kill the VIP.

[VIP Escort] feels like it's on the verge of greatness.

Due to only having one life, everyone in the matches I was in played far more defensively here. Teams would actually move up together, setting ambush points as the attackers or working to huddle around the VIP as defenders. I loved the slower pace here, and this mode feels like it's on the verge of greatness. Perhaps a primitive form of pinging for communication would elevate it and allow teams to coordinate better.

A work in progress

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Source: Activision (Image credit: Source: Activision)

This was an alpha build, so it's to be expected that everything isn't quite as polished as it will be in the final game. Nonetheless, I have to note that I ran into lots of blurred and low-resolution textures, not hidden away on the map but in plain sight and prominent positions. Character models would also ragdoll weirdly upon death or even T-pose and not fall over.

Some maps definitely look more polished than others. The Miami setting is full of neon and reflections, which looked fantastic. Meanwhile, Armada and Moscow are a bit rougher, with more low-resolution textures and framerate drops.

As previously mentioned in the campaign previews, the game will support 120Hz refresh rates and hardware ray-tracing on Xbox Series X and PS5, meaning smoother framerates with more realistic lighting and shadow effects. DirectX ray-tracing is also confirmed for the PC version, which is being handled by Beenox. Players on PS5 will also benefit from that haptic feedback technology in the DualSense controller.

Summing it up

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Source: Activision (Image credit: Source: Activision)

Overall, there's some promising new stuff in this year's Call of Duty multiplayer, though I definitely hope we see a large amount of polish between now and the game's release. There's also a question of post-launch support. Many players are perfectly okay with the Battle Pass system used by Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Call of Duty: Warzone, with free maps and modes added for all players. Right now, it appears this new entry will use the same system, so I hope this means we won't be seeing the aggressive monetization of Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII.

We've now seen what the campaign and multiplayer are bringing to the table this holiday. All that's left to see is the fan-favorite Zombies mode, which is coming, but no details have been given yet.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War is set to release on November 13, 2020, for Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S, Xbox One, PC, PS5, and PS4. Much like last year's Modern Warfare, it supports cross-play between all platforms.

Samuel Tolbert

Samuel Tolbert is a freelance writer covering gaming news, previews, reviews, interviews and different aspects of the gaming industry, specifically focusing on PlayStation on Android Central. You can find him on Twitter @SamuelTolbert